Ligray pointed out on the other thread that there was a recent Famitsu interview regarding the Vana'diel Project.
Original source: http://www.famitsu.com/news/201504/09076211.html
Translation below is complete. Let me know if anything sounds obviously wrong and I can take a second look.
Recap of the Vana'diel Project
At the review of the "Vana'diel Project" that was held on March 19, 2015, a presentation was given on the future of Final Fantasy XI (hereafter, "FFXI").
For the current plans for FFXI, new scenarios called "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel" which will be a culmination of all prior stories will be implemented in May, August, and November. Once the scenario is completed, major version updates will no longer be implemented, but there will continue to be basic version updates with bug fixes and improvements for convenience. In March 2016, Playstation 2 and Xbox 360 support will end, and the main focus will become the Windows version.
In parallel with this, a new RPG set in Vana'diel called Final Fantasy Grandmasters will be created for smartphones, along with a native app project based on the MMM (Massive Multiplayer Mobile) concept.
To follow up on these announcements, we spoke with producer Akihiko Matsui and lead scenario planner Yoshitsugu Saito.
Delivering an ending that everyone can enjoy.
Please give us an overview of the Vana'diel Project.
Matsui: Our new project is aimed at development to expand the scope of FFXI. Instead of just announcing the expansion project, we also wanted to talk about the future of the current FFXI at the same time, as the two smartphone projects are going in a separate direction. Because of that, we aligned the timing of the announcements to happen together. The story of the current FFXI will celebrate its closing chapter in 2015, and I also decided that we would end PS2 and Xbox 360 version service in March of 2016. When I was thinking of how to make this annoucement, I knew it was something I couldn't just post on the website, it had to be something that I said in person from my own mouth. When my predecessor Tanaka was still here, he reminded us that someday it would all have to end, but we need to end it on good terms. Although, at the time I didn't want to think too much about the future (laughs). Looking at the actual numbers, things are shrinking little by little, so we made the final decision to give one final ending that everyone can enjoy. Rather than adding a bunch of small things over a longer period of time, I decided to make one last climax to end things.
It feels like that time has finally come.
Matsui: This May, Final Fantasy XI will celebrate its 14th year from the start of service, but the player population has also been gradually decreasing. To continue development, ultimately the only two ways are to either reduce spending or increase our revenues, but it's tough to just pull new customers as we have other MMORPGs ourselves (FFXIV, Dragon Quest X) and there are plenty of rival works from other companies. So, in order to capture some younger players over to FFXI in light of current trends, we would need to completely revamp. The cost to do that would be about the same as making a new MMORPG. We thought about all of our current players and how they would feel about changes, and ultimately we decided that rather than modifying the current FFXI, we should just work on new titles.
Around when did you make these decisions?
Matsui: When we launched the expansion Seekers of Adoulin in 2013, we decided that we would continue with the current Vana'diel and make things as convenient as we can for as long as possible rather than doing any large scale remodeling. However, the management aspects aren't the only problem, but we also have to support game consoles like PS2 and Xbox 360, which means we need to maintain the equipment and development environment for all of that, so finally we made the overall decision to end that support.
Saito: From the players' perspective, a lot of people seem to have thought we should cut PS2 support, but we're in a difficult position because the development for the different hardwares were all integrated. It's not like the Windows version is entirely independent.
What do you mean that it's all integrated?
Matsui: When we designed the development tools, we created an integrated environment so that we could control all of the resources on PS2 development equipment. All of the graphics resources and music were also made relative to the PS2, and those were then transplanted to the Windows version.
Saito: The PS2 environment is at the heart. So even if we remove that support, we're stuck with it. We once thought it would be good if we could specialize on the Windows version, but we weren't really able to pull it off. Since it was originally released as a PS2 title, the PS2 environment was the primary focus. The camera functionality and even event scenes were made on PS2 equipment. But as the equipment is aging, we're not left with much to develop on.
So you have some major physical problems.
Matsui: By the way, we're the only ones left using SCE's DNS server, but they've told us they'll maintain it until FFXI ends. The other day, I had the opportunity to speak with the people in charge of repairs at SCE and they say that many customers are still coming in to get PS2s repaired to play FFXI, so they said those PS2 FFXI users are like their "royal customers." I was happy to hear him say that because I thought it might have been more troublesome.
Did you have any plans other than the announced expansions at this time?
Matsui: Well one thing we were thinking was to turn the current FFXI into a free-to-play game by adding mechanisms where there are additional fees for in-game items that can be purchased for real money. We also thought about this when we were considering how to increase revenue without bringing in new customers. However, by going in that direction, we might have had more refurbishment costs involved, so we didn't want to do that.
Saito: Also just talking about possibilities, we had a number of discussions about whether we should try porting to Playstation Vita.
Matsui: When we thought about the things that would need to be fixed or remedied to get that to work and tried to come up with the costs, the estimates were pretty enormous. It wasn't very realistic.
I see. For the future with the Vana'diel Project, is it possible that further titles will come out of that?
Matsui: Well we are just now saying that we are putting out two different smartphone titles, so people aren't exactly volunteering to take on more (laughs). There was some talk that we could make it as an offline game, but because of all the technical data for FFXI we gave up on that. We would have to figure out what to do with characters, large area maps, and what to do with all of the content to make it playable alone. That said, it would be cool if we could pull it off.
If someone would volunteer, would it be possible?
Saito: If you have a friend who could help...
Matsui: After that, it's still up to the judgment of the company (laughs).
Saito: Since many of the folks on our teams still love Vana'diel, there is still interest. Personally, rather than focusing on just RPGs, I think it'd be interesting to think of action games or other genres.
Matsui: Maybe Fujito (Associate Director) would make a miniature gardening game (laughs).
It would have a leisurely feel to it (laughs).
Saito: Well, Mog Garden is basically Fujito World (laughs).
"We all struggled with it."
What did you consider this time for the concepts of Vana'diel's final chapter in "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel"?
Matsui: The development team didn't even really find out that this would be the final chapter until the last minute. I had been speaking with the leader of the development team a little earlier, but it only recently became known to the full team.
Saito: I think it was around the time of the November version update last year.
Matsui: Once it became known to the full staff, everyone was pretty shocked. Some of the team only recently started and there are many cases of people who joined in the middle as we started developing something new.
Saito: I think there was the same kind of shock from players who watched the presentation, there was a lot of worrisome speculation beforehand.
Matsui: Yeah. So even after I had broken the news to the development team, I was still under a lot of stress until I was able to make the announcement to all players. I wanted to be as honest with everyone as soon as possible, but we also had to get the timing right. So what we wanted to do with the Rhapsodies of Vana'diel, is to give the final chapter from all of the staff. The team was tired as the Seekers of Adoulin missions had just reached their climax and there was a lot of work just completed, but nevertheless they had to move forward under the circumstances.
Saito: That's right. First we had to finish Seekers of Adoulin (laughs). The November version update last year was really packed with content. The animation team, effects team, and battle teams, really the whole group was involved. Although the staff was shocked by the decision then, it was met with enthusiasm also and everyone decided "let's get to work."
Matsui: Because it was a lot to take in, rather than subjecting all of our players to the same shock, we decided to first give the development team some time to move forward. We needed some time to get past the disappointment, even for myself. It took a little time to understand the situation.
Saito: It was tough, I think we all struggled with it.
Is there anything in particular that's a focus in the final chapter?
Matsui: My requests to the scenario team were that "the main character is gathering an all star cast" and "the story begins from desparation."
Will it have a happy ending?
Matsui: I think that will depend on all of the adventurers (laughs). I didn't give much specific instruction regarding the overall story so I can't say much about it right now.
Saito: Yeah. We got a theme and not much else. Up until now we had gotten strong themes, so it was a strange feeling to get something so vague. We were thinking, "All-stars? Really?" (laughs)
Matsui: Yeah. (laughs)
We're interested to see what characters will be appearing.
Matsui: I leave that in the hands of Saito and Sato (Yaeko Sato, event planner) (laughs).
Saito: I'd like to get as many in as possible.
Will there be a moment where they all come out at once together?
Saito: We already have a vision of what we want to do, but I'm a little nervous with how many characters we can have moving at the same time (laughs). We'll try it out and see.
Will there be any characters returning who players might have forgotten about?
Saito: I can't say that all of the NPCs will be involved, so I'm sorry about that. All of the heroines from the different missions will be involved. I've also been working to include many the NPCs who work tirelessly from the background.
Matsui: Halver's a favorite of mine.
Saito: He'll be there! We also plan to add a Halver Trust.
Matsui: We haven't made the AI yet (laughs).
Saito: I think you'll see the request soon (laughs).
Matsui: I haven't thought about it much... I wonder what he'll feature?
Saito: I think he'll mainly be a support role.
Will this be the modern Halver? Or the one from the past?
Saito: It will be the modern version. In the past he had been carrying weapons, although I think he might have been better dressed in the past (laughs).
I'd also like to see Prince Trion in there. When you're talking about all-stars, are you even talking about the villain NPCs?
Saito: You'll find out pretty early on.
For example, Nag'molada has quite a mysterious presence.
Saito: *cough* (clearing his throat)
Matsui: I wonder if that was an answer (laughs).
Saito: I'll let you guess (laughs).
Requirements to play "Rhapsodies"
For the "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel" level requirements to start, right now level 99 is the cap, but with Item Level you can get up to about 117. If players who have been gone for a while restore their character, can they just come back and get into the scenario? Or will they need to level up further?
Matsui: As the culmination of events, the Rhapsodies of Vana'diel are being designed for those who have cleared all of the previous missions to evoke feelings of nostalgia. For those who haven't yet played those missions, I'd like to ask them to first go back and experience those as that will get them up to speed. If you do that, as you go through the different content, you'll need to level up to meet the different level requirements. However, if you compare the current situation to the old days, it's much, much easier to raise your level, so don't worry about it too much.
Saito: Also regarding the level requirements for "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel," it won't just be a steep sudden wall, it will be step by step. All of the expansions will become associated little by little, for example as you complete Rise of the Zilart or Chains of Promathia. So for example if you haven't completed Chains of Promathia, you can start Rhapsodies and at some point you can go back and complete Promathia, and your character will naturally be getting stronger as you go through the different scenarios, then you can come back and continue the Rhapsodies.
You're saying that the stories of all of the different expansions will become involved little by little, but how will you handle the past world with "Wings of the Goddess"?
Saito: It will be visited by the Rhapsodies. The crisis in the world will be a crisis across all dimensions.
It will also affect the past of the world? So you'll have to go to the past...
Saito: You will. However since there's so much material, it's hard to say what exactly will be involved. As "Rhapsodies" advances, and "Wings of the Goddess" and "Seekers of Adoulin" become involved, you'll need to take on those challenges as well. For those who have already cleared, on their return I think they'll make many fond discoveries about things they enjoyed in the game long ago.
If you haven't completed all of the expansion stories, will you be able to keep up with the story of "Rhapsodies"?
Saito: The scenario is written in such a way that you don't have to have played them. But since all of the expansions have essentially independent stories, I think those who have experienced them all will have a better understanding.
Depending on which missions or quests are completed, the adventurer's relationship with NPCs changes. Will this have any impact on the writing?
Saito: The writing is making me go crazy, and there's a lot of checking involved. But when we were told to include all-stars, we knew we would have to work hard. I hope you can appreciate it as you go through the scenario.
What's the overall volume of "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel"?
Saito: It won't be as much as a true expansion pack, but it will be more than the combined Abyssea trilogy. Although it's a single scenario without branches, because a lot of different things happen over the course of each story with NPCs often disappearing in the middle of a scenario, a lot of the writing is dependent on context, so it's really been tough and there's been a lot of writing to do.
Will there be new areas?
Saito: Yes. There will be one place in each of the May and August updates, which will be like a Dynamis-type map. The final release in November will have a totally new area.
When you say a Dynamis-like atmosphere, are you talking about something that's like an alternate version of an existing area?
Saito: Something like that (laughs). It will exist as an independent area. The appearance should certainly give you the impression that it's a different place.
Will the completely new area only be available with the last scenario?
Saito: If you complete the scenarios as they are released, I think you'll be able to go there pretty quickly when November comes.
What's the number of people that you'll need to go through the scenario? Will it be one party (six people)? An alliance (18 people)?
Matsui: We made it with six in mind.
Saito: It won't be an alliance. Depending on how the future goes, it's possible that it will become difficult to assemble even a party, so we want to make this flexible. However, we've gotten a lot of feedback from some players that would not want particularly strong bosses or really just want story and to avoid combat as much as possible, so adjustments are difficult.
Matsui: Since the recommended level isn't 99 until the middle, and then it becomes 99, once you have things like Eminence equipment, etc., up to IL117, I think you'd be able to get through it without any trouble. As far as the battle towards the end once you've seen everything, we haven't yet decided what the difficulty will be.
Saito: The first two chapters should go by easily for anyone who's currently playing.
Will the recommended levels be shown to players?
Saito: We don't believe in showing the specific content levels in the game, but it should be pretty easy to guess based on where you are in the story.
Matsui: If we did, people might hesitate to try certain things. That said, we could announce it outside the game.
Returning players might also have no idea about the item level concept.
Saito: Since you won't need anything like that in chapter 1, you'll be able to get into what the evolved Vana'diel currently offers little by little. For example, from there, you'll find out what item level is, and then little by little you can use that in Chapter 2.
Matsui: Until you get to level 99 you really don't need to know anything about item level.
About what level will the scenarios implemented in May need?
Saito: You should be OK if you can beat Shadow Lord, around level 50~60.
What about August?
Saito: We already have the story set but we're still making adjustments with respect to level. That said, it won't suddenly go up to 99. I think it'll go up pretty slowly.
Now with eminence records it's pretty easy to get equipment up to IL117, will you also need to get some of that equipment?
Matsui: We're not planning that at the moment since it still takes some time to go through the augmentation. Rather, I think it would be better to get people first up to level 99, and then they can think about eminence equipment at that point.
While you're going through "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel," right now the Trusts you can call is limited to a total of three people, but as the population continues to reduce and it becomes difficult to find other players, are you thinking of making adjustments to this?
Matsui: Yeah. While it may not end up that the population keeps decreasing steadily, we're currently assuming that will be the case, so we're working on making improvements. "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel" itself is a mechanism for us to add some of these improvements as we work towards the last major version update.
It would be nice if you could call all five of the Flameserpent Generals. Still, sometimes it's annoying to stablize them. I definitely leave out Gadalar (laughs). He likes to arbitrarily take out random targets (laughs).
Saito: I think he plays properly... everyone wanted the Flameserpent Generals (laughs).
Well if you think Gadalar is using magic properly, you have some complaints coming from me (laughs).
Saito: It sounds like he's doing it just right.
Matsui: I take the blame for that Trust. I'm pretty much a rookie among the development staff.
I have a certain fondness for that character.
Matsui: I think I made Gadalar in my image (laughs). I thought it would be good to have an AI that wasn't so straightforward... I didn't think people would find it so annoying to use such a character (laughs).
Speaking of Trusts, many of them have only been available for limited times. For players who are returning, will there be more chances to obtain them?
Matsui: There will. Since it was a reward for something we want them to retain some value, but we also want to avoid a situation where they're gone forever if you missed the opportunity. For the ones that were available from special events, we're looking at places to add other opportunities to obtain them in the future.
Are there any other bonuses you're thinking about including in "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel" aside from new Trusts?
Matsui: Right now we're thinking about maybe earning capacity points or getting bonuses in accordance with your scenario progress, but we can't really talk specifically about it at the moment.
Saito: As a reward for advancing the scenario I imagine that we'll have a number of different things. For example, we could give a bonus applied to obtained experience points or increasing certain limits, but we're still thinking about what we want to do.
Once major version updates are done, what will happen to things like regular seasonal events?
Matsui: Since the team will be reduced, we'll be limited the amount of new things we can add, like additional data, but we'd like to include them somehow. We might able to do things like add new rewards to events if that's desired, but it might be a priority to adjust things so people can do them solo since there aren't many people gathered to do them. We still don't know how we will be addressing this moving forward.
So you'll be looking at player feedback.
Matsui: Yes. The development team won't necessarily be gone with the native app and Final Fantasy Grandmasters coming out, and we'd like to keep players enjoying FFXI for as long as possible. Now that we've made the new announcements, we're hoping that we can continue to keep Vana'diel as a nostalgic place for players even after version updates end by continuing with normal maintenance.
What were the circumstances which brought about Final Fantasy Grandmasters?
Matsui: Producer Fuchigami, although he's a producer of departments that have developed so-called social games, had said that there was an increasing trend of battle-type games, so we thought why not use the world of FFXI and do a GvG (Guild vs. Guild) type system where different player populations can battle each other. This underscored the high affinity for FFXI and social gaming, so we partnered up with those developers and Fuchigami brought us an overview document. In the summary document, in addition to the staff resumes, we had game proposals. "Character oo in world xx has this job" and it was clear that the people who wrote this understood the game. "This person who fell in battle got married to a stranger who raised them." They wrote things in minute details and you could really see their passion for FFXI (laughs). When I meet with people who like FFXI and talk about job balance, I invariably expect to be attacked, but this wasn't the case here. On the contrary, with the development of Final Fantasy Grandmasters, the emphasis was just on fun elements from FFXI. I was expecting to have conflicting ideas, but rather than saying things like "we wouldn't do that in FFXI," I more often got the feeling like "yeah, that would be fun like that." Saito is focused on checking the settings in more detail to see if there's anything unusual, and since the intent is to use FFXI elements, he's giving some advice about what would be good and what wouldn't.
It sounds like a different way of supervising.
Matsui: FFXI is a big game that has a lot of different, complex elements. After I had first participated in a meeting where we decided to create the game, once we had an agreement with Fuchigami, I basically took a supervisory position. Now and then I'll get a question like "what should we do here?" but I think it will be good if they develop a sensibility of their own to create some variety.
Saito: Also playing around with a social game, I've seen a lot of players talking about Final Fantasy Grandmasters with a view like "I wonder what will happen when you put FFXI on a smartphone."
Why the native app?
Matsui: Well, we're still not really at a stage where we can talk about it in much detail. While Final Fantasy Grandmasters is just a smartphone game, the native app was born more from thinking about the "next release of FFXI." We already have Final Fantasy XIV and Dragon Quest X for PC, so rather than also release this there and potentially cannibalize our own user base, we thought we could create more momentum right now by putting it out for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. So, we met with Nexon, who had the technology and experience to do this, and we discussed with them at length what we wanted to do and finally got to a point where we could announce it.
Is Nexon going to be a strong partner?
Matsui: Nexon was definitely enthusiastic to do business with us. At that point, we selected FFXI as the world to give them, and started talking about it. Right now we're just talking about how to proceed. Even if it's Nexon's project, as a FF game, it's very important that it feels like FFXI, so we're talking about the tight supervision we'll want to have.
Although the progress is still pretty light compared to Final Fantasy Grandmasters, based on your discussions and the depth of your involvement and supervision, which will be the bigger project?
Matsui: Since we worked with Fuchigami in the case of Final Fantasy Grandmasters, we don't have a heavy burden there. It will be more on the native app, which we're calling a MMMRPG, since it will be more packed with content.
How will you position the native app?
Matsui: Although the current FFXI's major version updates will end after this year, service will continue on into the future. On the other hand, the native app will be positioned as a new FFXI. Once we start services for the native app, we plan to pass some benefits along to current FFXI players. To make this work, we'll want to convey certain character information for individual players over to Nexon, such as which jobs they have at level 99. We'll create a dedicated page for this, of course, so only people who consent to it will have it done. The current FFXI character data won't all just be handed directly over to Nexon.
So you imagine that existing FFXI players would also play on the native app?
Matsui: I'm not quite sure yet since it's still a ways off, but basically we'll be rebuilding FFXI to an extent. Since I think the gameplay tempo will be different from the current FFXI, we need to come up with ways to ease the gameplay and change things up. Right now we're basically still agreeing on the content.
The difficulty of coming back
In response to this announcement, I think there was a collective feeling among active players and players who have taken a break that they want to continue or start again to enjoy it. Practically speaking, how difficult would that be?
Matsui: Since last year, we've been adjusting our policy for FFXI to have players able to enjoy content alone sometimes. For a while, to keep the world feeling large, we wanted movement to take some time, and we also started cutting this short to allow players to access content faster, and we've made it easier than before to level up so players can access the breadth of different end-game content. Things have changed considerably depending on when players have taken a break, but for players who have been gone for one or two years, or even players starting new, I think it's not too difficult to catch up to current active players. Also, for those who are returning or for those who are considering a new start, we're also considering discounting the expansions and Final Fantasy XI Vana'diel Collection 4, so please come back to Vana'diel and try it out. Also, for anyone who has registration codes for the PS2 or Xbox 360 versions, you can download the data for the Windows version for free, so please take advantage of that.
Saito: This is mainly aimed at players taking a break, but because the environment of FFXI has changed significantly over the past few years, I think now is a good time to come back and check out all of the scenarios. Since "Rhapsodies of Vana'diel" will incorporate elements from throughout the scenarios, we think this would be a good time to have a look back at all of FFXI.
I'll definitely look forward to it.
Final Fantasy Grandmasters Q&A
The interview is completed here, but we also had some separate questions with Takashi Fuchigami, producer of Final Fantasy Grandmasters, in relation to that title. These are showcased below.
What kind of game is Final Fantasy Grandmasters?
Fuchigami: It's an online RPG on smartphones centered on a MMO-like concept for players to enjoy the world of Vana'diel while playing casually on their smartphone. Players will travel to the world of Vana'diel to become adventurers and the aim of the story will be to become the most powerful adventurers, or "Grandmasters," with their companions. This is not only directed at FFXI players, but also at FF series fans and players, so we've put out the title with the name "Final Fantasy Grandmasters" so that many people can come to enjoy it.
Will it include all of the jobs implemented in the current FFXI?
Fuchigami: The jobs that appear in the game when it's released will be limited to certain jobs from FFXI, but that doesn't mean that all jobs that will appear will be ones that were implemented in FFXI. We'll continue to add more as we release updates, so new, fun jobs should continue to appear!
What other parts of Vana'diel will we see besides the jobs and equipment?
Fuchigami: The story! Familiar NPCs will also appear. We've been treating the scenario careful with direction from Matsui and Saito on the FFXI team but we've been told we can be a little more aggressive with our treatment of the story (laughs).