Below is a full transcript of our interview with the Final Fantasy XI development team. Other members of the media present at the interview were Emily Balistrieri (The Escapist), Cody Bye (Ten Ton Hammer), and Michael Vreeland (Gamasutra). The developer's panel was composed of Yoji Fujito (Planner), Mitsutoshi Gondai (Planner), Mizuki Ito (Planner), Akihiko Matsui (Battle Director), Kouichi Ogawa (Director), Steven Reinhart (Localization), Sage Sundi (Global Online Producer), and Hiromichi Tanaka (Producer).
Note that, except for Sage Sundi's statements, all responses from the FFXI dev. team were translated through Steven Reinhart. In cases where the speaker cannot be distinguished, they will be listed as "FFXI Staff." Some responses are from multiple members of the Dev team, all translated through Reinhart. These are noted as "FFXI Staff (multiple)." Without further ado...
From left to right: Sundi, Fujito, Ogawa, Tanaka (rear), Gondai, Matsui, Ito
Gann: Most of my questions come from people that I've spoken to on my Server and my Linkshell...so what I present to you is not just my questions but the questions of many players, at least on the Leviathan server.
My first question is a general one, and I have some specific [citations]. Basically, a lot of players are concerned about the mismatching of old and new content. And basically, what gamers would like to see is old content updated. For example, Dynamis can't be instanced, it's only one per, or one group can be in at a time, versus Salvage, you know in Salvage it's instanced. Why can't we go back and instance Dynamis?
Or, issues such as graphical issues: some of the new areas look better than some of the old areas. Is there any way to go back and fix that? One example given was the clouds in Sky [Ru'Aun Gardens].
And then...also, most people believe that in Dynamis, it's still difficult but it's conceivable to collect the currency to make a relic weapon. However, Alexandrite still just isn't plentiful enough. Alexandrite, they feel, should be more plentiful. And I know you guys have already made a lot of strides towards that but a lot of players feel like there should be more: perhaps putting it also in Nyzul Isle runs or in other areas, I don't know. Or decrease the thing even more from 30,000 down to 20,000. But people just feel like it's still far...too far away.
And so they feel like there's a mismatch in old versus new content and they'd like to see consistency among what's available right now.
...that's going to be really hard to translate.
Reinhart: So what's the question? No, I'm kidding, I got it.
Tanaka: We don't really consider, like you said, the instance aspect of Salvage as compared to something like Dynamis a "mismatch." It's just, when we designed it, when it was conceptualized, it was just from different standpoints, so it's just different content.
Gann: Exactly, but now, people are...they feel pleased about the fact that Salvage is instanced but then when you want to go and schedule a Dynamis run, "oh! Someone else is in it, now we can't go!" I mean, that was the purpose of instancing Salvage, right? So why not go back and fix that old concept?
Tanaka: When we designed Dynamis like that, our thinking was, it's kind of the uniqueness of it. It's one area, it's one world. This can only be entered by one group at a time. So it's kind of one way we...
Gann: So the limitation of one group at a time is important, is that what you're saying?
Tanaka: Well, it's also the size. The Dynamis areas are very large. So that's another aspect...
Ogawa: [Regarding graphics], when those original areas are made, it's "what you see is what you get." It's one area, so you can't really take the clouds away and mix and match. They're not like puzzle pieces that can be moved around. When the area was made, that's the way it was designed so...it's kind of "set."
Gann: Are there any plans to just do major graphical rehauling on some of the older areas or would that be left alone?
Ogawa: No. No rehauling!
FFXI Staff: [Regarding Alexandrite], the adjustments we made a little awhile ago, we feel that now it's within the realm of possibility. We did calculations, it's about at the degree of difficulty that we would like it to be. So, of course it's not supposed to be anything that's too easy to get.
Vreeland: Do you feel that the currency requirements for Relic and Mythic weapons, though, encourage Real Money Trading (RMT) activities?
How long did it take this Puppetmaster to get his mythic weapon? And, more importantly, did he buy gil to help with the 30,000 Alexandrite requirement?
FFXI Staff: While that certainly may be the case, that some people do do that, the numbers and statistics we have show that, the majority of people buying gil – 50 percent or more – are not even level 75. So what we're thinking is that one of the main reasons people buy gil is to level, to help them along in their leveling. We don't see the Relic/Mythic weapons as a big contributor to RMT activities.
Vreeland: The reason I ask: at least on my server, once they started banning people for actually buying gil...like, half of the people with Relics disappeared.
FFXI Staff: Most of the banning we did were sellers, and selling agencies. But I guess that's just one of those things...if they're buying gil, they shouldn't do that.
Bye: As far as solo content, from my perspective (I haven't played a lot of Final Fantasy XI yet) it seems like the game is very party-intensive. But it seems like there's a big mindset, at least in the North American market, that casual-friendly, solo-friendly gameplay is really coming around. Are you planning on putting more solo-friendly type material into Final Fantasy XI or is the game going to continue to be party-based?
Matsui: Solo play is something we definitely want players to engage in, something we're always thinking about. But one thing we want, even when players engage in solo content, we want to make it so that they are exposed to partying and they'll see "oh, party play is also fun." That the depth of gameplay is there as well, that's something we want people to develop an appreciation for.
Sundi: Games that focus on solo content, the people don't tend to play them as long as games that have group activity. Games that focus on solo events, solo gameplay, they finish the content quickly, there's no depth of gameplay there.
Gann: Can I actually answer a bit of that question? Or is that wrong...
Gann: I was just going to weigh in that Besieged and Campaign encourage a lot of solo play. You can now level up your character to 75 without needing the help of friends. Thanks to Besieged and Campaign, I thought those were excellent additions to the game. So, there has been a push towards more solo play than what had been there in the past.
Now, there are plenty of people there, but you don't have to be friends with them necessarily.
FFXI Staff: FFXI's been around a long time, seven years now, so you know, we have to make it so that people who come in even recently can still compete and play with these people who have been around since the beginning.
Bye: So I guess it's more of a thing of trying to balance the solo play up to a point and then encourage players to get into parties.
Gann: The level sync system, also, helps with this. Good job on Level Sync! (To the developers) Thank you, I appreciate it very much!
Vreeland: Now, regarding endgame content... downstairs, in regards to the new expansion, you talked about how there has always been lateral content. The problem is, there's now so many different endgame activities: like Sky, Sea, Salvage, Einherjar, everything. Now for newer players it's harder for them to get some of the older endgame content items because they're so busy doing the new stuff.
Like, for example, now it's fairly common to see people who have completed Chains of Promathia but have not completed Rise of the Zilart. Because of that, there's a huge divide in people trying to get old gear that's still very relevant for newer characters, but the Linkshells are older don't want to go back and do that content. So my question is, are there plans to create gear that substitutes old things, like Byakko's Haidate, or improves on it, so that there's not always this tension between the old and the new content in terms of scheduling Linkshell activities?
FFXI Staff (multiple): One thing, as with the ZNM system, there's comparable gear you can get from newer things. But old content is something we want people to play; you know, we don't want to make something like Byakko's Haidate totally obsolete by making an easy, new piece of gear to get so that nobody will go fight Byakko, and get the triggers, and stop doing Sky, etc. We want people to continue to play old content; we still make those items viable.
Vreeland: So where does it stop? I mean, right now, it's kind of...barely holding together, the ability to do all of these things. There's going to be new endgame content in the new expansions that's going to compete with these existing events. I mean, there's only so much time that people have to schedule these large-scale events.
FFXI Staff (multiple): It's not your duty, you're not obligated to do it all. Nobody's saying you have to do all of these to be "endgame." Nobody ever said you had to get all the gear. You gotta pick your battles, do what you want to do, figure out which gear you want and do that content.
Vreeland: Would making some more of those items salable be an option as the RMT problem declines?
Sundi: The moment you make those things sellable, that'll be a spike for RMT activity. And then I'll become busy!
Balistrieri: I was just curious; this morning, you were talking about how the new content, the downloadable stuff...how you could start it at level 30, and that by the end it will require a level 75 party. And it should take like...two months. So, do you see people as playing it through at level 75 or do you see people like...do you see people having to start and stop to grind through levels and then come back to it? Could you really start at 30 and go, and then become 75?
Reinhart: Well you know the process of leveling from 30 to 75 would take a lot more time...
Valkurm Dunes: the place where all the level-grinding starts.
Balistrieri: Yeah I know, so I'm curious as to how the process actually works.
Ito: When we say one to two months, we are talking about people who are already 75.
Balistrieri: So you could start it at level 30, and then go back to it later? Or would it be better to...
Ito: You could do it that way.
Vreeland: Are the new expansions...will they be complete when they arrive, or will we have to wait for updates?
Reinhart: Complete release, completely finished.
Vreeland: So how do you get one to two months of content out of that? Does every cut scene require a JP midnight to pass before you can see the next one or...?
FFXI Staff: Along the way, certain items you have to get to progress will, you know, it might take a week to get. Or something you need to advance the storyline might take some time to get your hands on or...
FFXI Staff: Even if some high-end players really focus on it and say "let's do this, let's get it done," it may take less than a month, but...you know, there's drop issues, and pop issues, and it will take some time.
Gann: Real quick question about the whole "you can start it at 30." Does that mean we're going to have level capped NM fights? The first thing I thought of when you said "start at 30 end at 75" is Chains of Promathia, because that's what that was. You started at 30, then 40 50 60 and 75. Are you having capped battle fights, or are they all uncapped so that 75s can quickly progress?
FFXI Staff (multiple): No area level restrictions or capped fights. The level 75 player starts off with an advantage, but with those early missions, it's something anybody can do.
Vreeland: How frequently do you plan to release these next three expansions?
FFXI Staff: At Vana'Fest in Japan we said it would be a few months in between.
Vreeland: Wings of the Goddess has been out for about a year now, but they're still adding Aht Urhgan content. Is Aht Urhgan done yet? How much longer will Aht Urhgan continue, and when will see more Wings of the Goddess content? It seems like we've seen more Aht Urhgan content than Wings of the Goddess.
FFXI Staff: There will be more in the upcoming patch, but Aht Urhgan content is almost complete. There's some more we want to add, but for the most part it's finished. Soon you will see more Altana (Wings of the Goddess) content in the future.
Bye: What was the reasoning behind releasing three digital-download-only mini-expansions rather than one full expansion? Even with releasing vertical stuff, most of the other MMOs out there release full expansions. When they have some of the bigger vertical slices ... why decide to go with three instead of just one big one?
FFXI Staff: As you may have heard this morning, these will be running concurrently with the version updates released. We wanted to release more content. So, when we had this idea, the Altana team is so busy with the regular version updates that come every two months, we decided to bring in an outside team, a different development team, to do this story. It's going to be the gentlemen who worked on FFXI previously. Mr. Kato, who did some of the original mission storylines and Zilart, will be working on it. It's a different concept, we wanted to...the fact that we assigned it to another team, it's just a different concept from the series expansions we've done in the past.
Vreeland: For Final Fantasy players who play on multiple machines, or multiple platforms, how will that work? If I have the Xbox 360 version and the PC version, will I have to pay twice to download the content?
FFXI Staff (multiple): Just once, once per account. It's going to be a registration code. Well, we're still playing with the idea of whether it's going to be one per account or one per character. But cross-platform is no problem.
Gann: Is there a time frame: you talked about how Aht Urhgan is still going, but when you talk about the main missions, the main plots, you guys wrapped that up about two months before Wings of the Goddess, back in August, when you (spoiler spoiler spoiler!). When are we going to reach...do you guys have a time frame for when we're going to reach the end of the main storyline for Wings of the Goddess?
Ogawa: So...there's going to be a peak in the plot with this upcoming December patch. It's not the end, but this is where you can expect it to get kind of juicy.
Vreeland: Longterm players are having serious inventory problems. Is there any inventory relief coming? If you look at the machines downstairs, where the Gobbie Bag size is 80 (which we currently can't get), and also now we have temporary items that go up to 40, there's enough memory for up to 120 items at a time. So will we be seeing our Mog Safe, or Mog Lockers, or Storage limits expanded to 120 anytime soon?
FFXI Staff (multiple): The way the system's set up, it's not as simple as saying "well I can hold 80 permanent, 40 temporary, so total is 120 items I can hold in inventory." It's not that simple. The way the system is set up, 80 is the max you can have for items. If we were going to change that, we'd have to go to the drawing board with the programmers and talk about if it's possible to expand that.
This is something we hear from players a lot: constantly, incessantly! It's always something we're looking into.
Vreeland: Are there plans, say, for example...mages in particular have a profusion of elemental-specific items. Are there plans to have quests that can combine elemental staves, and obis, and grips into "hey, this does all of them!" You get all of them, and you combine them into one all-purpose item. Not only do we get 21 inventory spaces back, but then we'd save macro space as well.
Vreeland: It doesn't seem like inventory space is stopping people from doing all this. But there's also another thing, because of the number of items people want to switch in and out of their gear conditionally, it means a lot of people are using third-party utilities to have conditional macro slots because of it. The game design is pushing people toward behavior the company doesn't permit. So not only would this [suggestion] alleviate a lot of inventory concerns, it would help with [third party macros] as well.
A super-staff to combine the effects of these eight staves? It's a Black Mage's inventory-saving dream come true...
FFXI Staff (multiple): When we design the items, we design them individually with their statistics. We want them each to be hard to get. Each one requires an effort for players to acquire them. But we agree, once players have all of them, it might be something...
Vreeland: Yeah, the quest is to get them all, and the reward is that you get seven inventory spaces back.
FFXI Staff (multiple): We agree. It's definitely something we'll look into.
Bye: I have a question, it might seem a little outlandish... Final Fantasy XI is getting a little, not as far as gameplay or anything like that, but it's been out on the market for a long time. Has there been any discussion about a Final Fantasy XI-2 or something like that?
Reinhart: I'm going to have to ask you to leave.
Tanaka: Another team is currently developing a next-gen MMORPG.
Vreeland: I have a question about Summoner. Summoner seems like a giant kluge, kind of... it's a lot of different kinds of systems that don't really fit together. It's like a Katamari of systems. So, the interface doesn't really work that well, and it's slow, and you lose mp if an enemy moves out of range out of a Blood Pact. It just has all these little problems, and nobody wants to invite them to parties. And also, like three years ago at the first Fan Fest, we were told new Avatars would be coming, but we haven't seen any new Avatars yet. So are there any plans for a major overhaul of the Summoner class? Because it's such a classic Final Fantasy class, and people really want to see it succeed, but it's been stuck in this place for a very long time.
Gann: Yeah, where's the new Avatar?!
FFXI Staff: We are definitely looking into fixing the things that can be fixed. But something like the mp that's been used...once it's used, then the enemy runs, giving the mp back would be something very difficult.
Vreeland: Well at the very least, you use the mp, but you don't lose the Blood Pact charge's recast time?
FFXI Staff: It's something we'll look into.
Vreeland: Another option would be to treat Summoner's Blood Pacts like Scholar's charges so you don't lose it all at once.
FFXI Staff: It's not something we're thinking of changing anytime soon. But once more Summoners exist, the more they raise their voice...one thing we've been saying consistently: if there's enough of a voice from the community that wants to be changed...if it can be changed, we'd like to change it.
Vreeland: It's kind of a chicken/egg problem though. People know about the problems with Summoner, so they don't level it, and then they're not going to request changes because no one's leveling it.
FFXI Staff: Is that a question, or a statement?
This young Summoner, and many like her, really want a new pet!
Gann: So when's that new Avatar coming? We were promised it awhile ago.
Ogawa: It wasn't me, I didn't promise it!
Matsui: Not in the far future, it's something in the near future, something in the works. It'll be sooner than later. We're afraid that if we get to next year's Fan Festival, and we still don't have those Avatars, we're worried what people will say, so maybe before then...
Gann: This is my last question, and I know it's my last question because after I ask it you probably won't want to answer anymore questions.
Gann: So you probably know the next two words coming out of my mouth...
Reinhart: Absolute Virtue?
Gann: Absolute Virtue! What the heck, gentlemen? Do you want me to give you some specifics?
Reinhart: I don't think they need them, but sure, go ahead, it'll make it easier for them to answer. One at a time!
Absolute Virtue...you evil, evil jerk...
Gann: Twice the community has figured out how to beat him, and twice you said "oh that's not the right way" and then blocked that method of beating him. What is the right way? And do you really believe people are going to magically figure it out? Because it's been what...three, four years? The community is upset about it. I'm upset about it!
FFXI Staff (multiple): We think somebody will figure it out someday.
Gann: What, based on the February video? People have tried that, with no success.
FFXI Staff: Since the nerf, since we put the two hour cap on it, we haven't released any new hints. We feel that telling people that it can be completed, putting the two hour limit on the battle (and we answered this in a previous interview) is a tacit way of saying that it is possible to do it in two hours, it's just up to them to figure it out.
Gann: Let me compare it to the Goblin Drink. No one was able to figure out the Goblin Drink. And then, eventually, you guys just came out and said "okay this is how you make a Goblin Drink." The community feels that we need a little more than a hint where you zoom in on the day and the weather and stuff... We get it, you break his Regen by casting the Black Magic in accordance with the day; but how are you supposed to stop him from using Benediction whenever the heck he wants? Huh? Huh?! I mean, people are literally angry about this. (To Steven) I think you need to communicate that. Players are angry about this issue.
FFXI Staff (multiple): The nerf that we implemented after the February video, with the two hour limit, it wasn't just a reduction in the battle time. We also changed the fight schematic itself. So there's a way it can be done that takes two hours.
Gann: Um...can you give us a bigger hint right now? Something better than what the video showed? I am begging you! The community would love you! Think about it...they would love you for it! (pause) they would...
FFXI Staff (multiple): We've heard rumors of Linkshells that have almost killed it, so it's obvious that it can be done. You know, luck plays a roll.
Gann: Japanese Linkshells, or have English-speaking Linkshells figured this out too?
Gondai: I had read it in a Japanese game magazine. A Linkshell, an alliance had gotten it down...
Vreeland: Right now there's been a great proliferation since the release of Aht Urhgan of all these different little currencies and points you need to do things. You know: Campaign, Salvage, and there's two new ones coming in the next update alone, and there's Therion Ichor from Einherjar. Is there a plan coming, a new way coming other than that? And two, is there a way you could add to the character profile menu a list of the values we have for these points so we don't have to travel around to talk to NPCs and see how much we have?
FFXI Staff (multiple): The information for individual players, with those points, that's all saved server-side. So if you access it from the menu, it's definitely possible, but there are issues of the menu becoming heavier and longer to load. But we'll give it a try.
Vreeland: But so, are there any paradigms coming, in relation to the first part of my question?
Balistrieri: Or like, consolidating them into one type of point?
Vreeland: Well not even necessarily that. But have you considered a different model? It's similar to the endgame thing: how do you get Nyzul tokens, and AP for Salvage? Too much is relying on these specialized points.
FFXI Staff: The goals we have in mind for people to achieve when we create these systems are all different, so that's why we keep the point systems different. And if you're a hardcore player that feels you have to do all of them...well, that's why you're a hardcore player. There's good points and bad points, but you gotta take the punches. It's a big game.
Cody (right) and Patrick (left) brighten the room, and everyone becomes unreasonably happy, even after that tough interview!