Wisdom of Nym: Why Final Fantasy XIV may have needed Hrothgar and Viera now

    
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Cold analysis.

All right. It’s been three weeks, but yes, I do actually have a theory about why Final Fantasy XIV is adding two gender-locked races to the game now when the developers know full well that it’s a bad idea. But we’ve had some time to get used to the idea, at least, and people are now… no, wait, they’re still just as angry about it as they were when the announcement happened. It’s just a bit less urgent.

We have also had time to hear that feedback is being considered and it’s not out of the question to get the other genders added to the game in the future. This does not surprise me in and of itself; in fact, I fully predict we’ll get this in 6.0. I’m not reserving names for the characters now, but it seems like something that will happen. But then, that raises the question of why we didn’t just get one race now and the other race then. In order to explain this, you have to explain why we would need these things to be split. And the answer, I think, comes down to database management.

Let’s start by taking a step back and looking at one of the more interesting elements of the race reveal. Yoshida kept using the same vocabulary to talk about the additional races, that this is almost certainly the last time. At one point the translation even came out specifically to say that this was the last opportunity to add a new race.

At face value, that statement makes no damn sense. This is almost certainly not the last expansion for the game. There’s no reason to assume that it’s running out of money. We have no signs that there’s a strict rule about how many races you can have playable within a game. You could argue that it’s a matter of poor translation… but the translation is being handled by the head of localization himself, someone who knows about the development and is familiar with the reasoning behind decisions.

Long story short? If we’re being told that this is the last opportunity to add new races, there’s probably a reason why it’s being phrased that way instead of any other way. There’s a reason why we’re not being told that, say, the developers don’t think it’s worth the investment when fewer people will race-change or anything. For some reason, yes, this is probably the last opportunity to do this. Why?

Why, we can explain that with a terrible explanation of how databases work!

Yay, except not.

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a developer on FFXIV. My programming knowledge is limited. What follows should not be derived as an absolute primer on the way that every single game works or even a gospel explanation of every game’s coding. It is a series of examples based on the concept and will no doubt contain some inaccuracies. We good? Cool.

Any time something happens in the game, the client running on your computer relies on the game’s data to translate that information into a visual format. So let’s say you walk around a corner and the server tells your computer that there’s another player character there. It proceeds to tell your computer the character’s race, height, equipped gear, facial features, and so forth, and the game has the information to pull that information and put all of it together.

This sort of back-and-forth relies on having certain bits of data segmented off. For example, any time your computer looks for “What race is this player character,” it’s pointed to an index consisting of six entries. This is how a lot of bugs can happen if a computer is told to “retrieve the information for X from the database” and there’s no actual entry there to retrieve; it has to grab whatever it uses as the default. So if a texture is missing and it’s told to retrieve that texture, it throws up the default texture because it doesn’t know what else to do.

Adding a new race means adding another entry here. Instead of “what race is this character” having six valid entries after Shadowbringers launches, it’ll have eight. And the thing is that this needs to be called and referenced a lot.

Entering a cutscene? The game needs to reference your race to figure out where the camera angles are placed, how the animations work, and so forth. Doing an emote? Several of them require different animations based on your race. Trying on a piece of gear? Mounting up on something? Entering dialogue? All of these things need to be adjusted based on your race, and I have no doubt there are more things I’m forgetting.

It’d be enough of a hassle to do this if you had to just add this for every expansion moving forward… but no, you need to do this for every prior expansion. Adding new races now means going back through the entirety of the base game, Heavensward, and Stormblood to make sure that the game knows how to handle the races properly, or else you get awful glitches that could do anything from screwing up your model to outright crashing the servers.

More yay, but also less.

Now… let’s take a step back. What we know, from interviews with Yoshida, is that the staff originally wanted to add Hrothgar for a different beastly race. Viera were also being constantly requested, and he no doubt knew that was going to intensify with the Ivalice raid series. However, as it stands, adding a new race requires a huge amount of extra work to account for three prior installments of the game. It might not be possible to do with the code for four versions; it might take too much time and effort to be worthwhile. So you have two races you want to add for fan demands, and you thus have three options.

  1. Abandon Hrothgar and add the Viera in both genders. Players who wanted these rabbits are happy; however, this means that you don’t ever get your beastly race because you can’t do this database dance again. So instead you get another race that people will complain feels too similar to prior races and that feels like naked fanservice.
  2. Just leave out Viera and add in the Hrothgar. This one is going to earn backlash from people who (justifiably) expected Viera, and you can’t even claim that you don’t want to just copy old titles because the Hrothgar are clearly based off of the Ronso. And you’ll probably never get to Viera, either.
  3. Add in one gender of each race. This is going to make everyone upset because the fans hate gender locking. On the bright side, though, you can set up the database now to handle those two additional races, even if all the information for the non-playable gender is currently empty; if there’s a lot of demand, you can do the art work without having to overwhelm your database.

That looks like three bad choices because they are. The third option just looks least bad. It means that you never wind up in a situation wherein you cannot do one of these races, and it’s definitely possible to add those other genders in the future. You get closest to what you want with that option, even if you know it’s going to disappoint people along the way.

Am I saying that this is definitely what happened? No. For all I know the team genuinely had no idea anyone would want the other gender (that seems unlikely in the extreme, but I’m willing to speculate). But what I do know is that it’s a plausible enough reason for hearing that this was the team’s last chance on more than one occasion. Maybe it really was the last chance for any new races… and Yoshida chose the path that at least didn’t close the door on two full races forever. Just most of the way.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I want to start up my no-doubt lengthy review series on Stormblood as a whole, just like I did for Heavensward. That should cover us until near the expansion launch, huh? Let’s jump into that main scenario.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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Santos Pizarro

It would be addequate if we had young beastmen from each tribe for players who don’t like vieras or hrothgar since they are realistically possible breeds that could enhance each expansion with hope for a rework of each area outskirts, they would help fight evil, also it’s funny there are no dog race, flappy ears,🐕 now we have two cat and tail were people to like lizard or spectroMagickarobots, or watever departing from human and animalistic xrossmerges in regards, wild ronsok will have to do5.it’s worth adding some additional hinting at ff11 players who are transfer Mithra and galka races to rush the mog station because the market is jot. The later will ensure once the two Sadie are stabilizednin all the game areas, so male bunny ears calm down. Go outside with a skateboard until they arrive lol. Good luck am fast!

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Santos Pizarro

I just it’s really weird they don’t have any dog humanoids, viera is a great choice because it’s different but honestly all races are chromatic compared to galkas, ronso, and the other big guys, but most are cat.there’s no ideal detective dog, or dalmatian, but we got Lupin wolf which should be added with another female say or beastmen player hybrid like a lizardmen who has a long tongue lamia and frog features and everything is great for adult players who like uglier dark things, orcs, goths and players who listen to vampires rather use wicked creaturea,versus someone who wants a beautiful bunnymen or viera.

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Bannex

3.5) Make the game how you want to because it’s your game and don’t listen to the cries of a small amount of fans that are unlikely to race change anyways despite what “injustice” they’re claiming.

The devs don’t have a vision of a Male viera, I dont see why that’s a big deal.

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Woody Payne

Sticking with your example, when you round the corner, your client receives the relevant data for that other character from the server and displays whatever assets (meshes, textures, emotes, etc) are associated with those values from your game files. No attempt will be made by your client to validate this data or ensure it’s a valid racial index because the encrypted connection to the server is (fairly) considered a trusted source that will always deliver correct values. It’s kind of weird to assume the game server might have difficulty with new races on these grounds. Other game clients (potentially tamperable data) are not providing you with a character’s data when you turn the corner, the server is. There’s no way adding new races will in anyway mess up existing quests, etc.

Talking from a database point of view, there is zero difference to the client or the server between 0 and 128 (fairly) assuming that race data is a single bit. It takes the same amount of bytes in transit. There’s still plenty of space left there for new races there. Now, if they were nearing the 128 index limit on that bit you would have a good point. Changing existing functions to consume a bigger integer would indeed require a lot of changes to the source.

Honestly, I doubt this has anything to do with their decision making with the new races. I suspect they have race and clan on one bit field in a character’s data having previously studied network transfer on this game. That would leave room for 64 races before they encountered mandatory refactoring.

I really enjoy your articles but this week’s was a swing and a miss.

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Reiss Wind

I’m afraid Eliot’s explanation of code references to races/sexes in this article isn’t really an accurate representation of how this type of thing works.

They’ve already explained in several interviews since fan fest (and several times in the years prior) the true reasoning here. It has to do with the process of creating gear models which have to be tailored to each new body type. Adding new races and sexes complicates this process and makes it take longer. If the extra effort required due to new races/sexes outpaces the efficiencies gained over time in their gear development pipeline then they end up creating fewer new pieces of gear overall.

As this is an undesirable outcome for players, they had only planned to add 1 new male and 1 new female body type to the game in order to minimize the impact on their gear pipeline. In an attempt to satisfy player requests for more diversity in races they made the compromise of one sex of each race.

Yoshida: This game has been launched for 6 years currently. It has tens of thousands of armors available. We have to make sure every race can use every outfit correctly. The more unique the appearance of the race, the more difficult these adjustments are to make.

When we create one gear, we have to make adjustments so it fits all these different races. So when we add new races, we have to adjust how to approach this process. The development cost for making a new race is very intense because of how much work we put into the graphics of the game. We also have to make sure these things all work properly. Thats why we are saying these may be the last races because of how taxing it is on the development team.

MrHappy – 25 Mar 2019

Here’s a bit more info from Yoshi-P regarding the gear model pipeline (here in regards to adjusting appearances of existing models to a higher graphical fidelity, but the principles are the same):

Yoshida: But FFXIV already has 20,000 assets for equipment alone, and I don’t even want to think about how much it would cost to convert all of them to the new graphics pipeline.

But if we did those things, then we’d only be able to add 2/3 the amount of equipment per patch. Volume is part of quality, so we can’t let that drop either. It’s a double-edged sword. Our current assignment is to keep researching how we can efficiently create high-level assets.

GameWatch – 24 Aug 2018

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Santos Pizarro

Delete armor

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Santos Pizarro

Use magic

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John Christianson

Now all they need to implement is the hideyoshi gender for all races as well as allowing all clothing to be equipped regardless of sex

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Java Jawa

In my opinion their server code probably has issues. We’ve repeatedly seen statements on how difficult it’s for the team to even do something about inventory.

While look at other newer games and everything is snappy and typically doesn’t have limitations. I’m looking at you ESO.

Also who knows how big the team is and if they have the resources.

bereman99
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bereman99

About the only bonus I found with ESO’s inventory system was that you can craft items while the materials are in your bank.

Everything else was subpar to what XIV offers.

ESO’s bank maxes at 110 less inventory than the two free retainers we get in XIV (and costs quite a bit of gold – 768,200 according to their wiki). The personal inventory is also 30 slots smaller at max at 110. The mount bags are a paltry 10 slots (that you have to continually feed the horse to access that total) compared to our 70.

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Frank White

I think he was actually outing ESO as another MMO that does it wrong. People don’t typically say “I’m looking at you…” to indicate some kind of praise. And it was released in 2014, so not exactly a “newer” game – unless, I guess, you’re comparing to something like WoW. ;)

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Jeremy Barnes

I believe they’re still tied to a lot of 1.0 design decisions regarding the database which is part of what makes it difficult.

As with any long running development project that has gone through a major revision and keeps being expanded, I’m sure that database is pure spaghetti.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Oh my head. I’d be super disappointed to learn that Square is packing information so tightly that they can’t spare a whole byte (256 different indexes) to the race id field. It’s not unreasonable to assume they could be encoding sex in one of the bits (so 128 races) and with a whole lot of squinting it’s not hard to imagine spending another bit on sub-race (Raen vs. Xaela). That still leaves us with 64 before your architects start to squirm. Except the field is far more likely to be either a 32 or 64 bit field which can encode 4,294,967,295 and 9,223,372,036,854,775,807 variants respectively.

That said, I do believe there’s a reason they went with one-and-one knowing full well that they’d get pushback. In fact I think they were counting on it. My own theory is that the bean counters told them they won’t fund any more new races.

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Rheem Octuris

I think what Eliot’s trying to say isn’t the problem is space in a database, but rather making sure the new races are backwards compatible with all previous quests and cutscenes and mounts and clothes and the like. Every expansion they add, every race they add, the amount of backtracking they have to do grows exponentially, rather than just focusing on the newest expansion.

bereman99
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bereman99

Exactly.

Much like the art concerns (which was expressed by Yoshida in the interview with Mrhappy as one of their biggest concerns with adding new races and why these may be the last set) where being able to create the art assets for the gear for what will soon be 14 different models (and hopefully 16 in the next year or two) on their timetable is something they have to account for…

Fitting in the time to go through and make all these checks for a new race is likewise something that has to be scheduled.

Unlike a good chunk of other MMOs that either have lighter updates, less frequent updates (or both), or stick to a solid schedule and then spend 9-10 months of no updates while working on an expansion, this team aims for about 3.5 months between major patches, and an expansion every 2 years.

That kind of routine consistency often requires scheduling things well in advance…including checks on previous content when adding a new race.

It’s not an issue with how much data is in the database, but how much time it takes up in a pretty tight schedule (as far as MMOs go) for the human side to make sure everything being added is working properly.

Though, since we have others answers, we know it’s not just a potential database situation…but it certainly could be a combination of the art team schedule and what Eliot suggests.

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blahlbinoa .

The explanation makes a lot more sense. After reading some interviews where Yoshida said he is seriously listening to people’s feedback, it would be a safe bet that they will add the other genders either in a late patch or the next xpac.

I do think the lore explanation they gave was kinda half assed. Why are female Viera only aloud to go anywhere but the men have to stay in the trees? The world is in danger, and knowing that, all races would possibly band together to fight a common enemy, which would make sense to have male Viera come out hiding to help.

bereman99
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bereman99

I honestly don’t think he meant for the lore explanation to have as much weight attributed to it in terms of where their decision making process went while deciding how to handle it…so yeah, it probably was kinda half-assed.

Especially since the follow-up comment even in the reveal was referencing the development side, and the follow-up interviews that have come out since also focus heavily on the “we wanted to do this, and this, and had to account for this element of development to do it.”

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Santos Pizarro

They probably couldn’t complete the whole thing to add the boys, since they had such a heavy workload

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Santos Pizarro

Although the new areas and races are welcome am more concerned with the lack of rework and improvents to old game areas, outdating expansions, boring dungeons in leveling roulette could use randomized enemies, fates, traps & or interesting changes to the ambients VFX so they are fun when replaying them over and over. Small changes to each weather or new rwwards, should be balancing force behind every patch that comes out so that traveling through the realms feels fresh they caught some enemies clumping up crates and now they wear different armor and have higher upa with plated, the big orcs from ff11 made a great gate keepers that made the game fun, versusnthe enemies in open areas of XIVgreatchocolatejesusswindana!!!! This is why there is so much need for high level and new content which puts alot I stress on the developers, if only they reworked it polished up the already abundant shitty places were skypirates live, and soldier slingdown civilians and players keep dying, it’s not good. It’s not good.. at all..

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Santos Pizarro

Ilike your process

JonBuck
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JonBuck

Unfortunately in life you don’t have any good options, so you have to go with the least-bad one. If players keep the pressure up it may convince YoshiP and the SE execs to allocate developer time and money to filling in the missing genders.