The story of Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers got a pretty explosive sendoff in patch 5.3, which brought several major plotlines to their conclusion and set up the next portion of the game’s ongoing story. It was major, it was epic, and it was big enough that a lot of players were still left somewhat staggered even a month later, due in no small part to this being the first time in ages when a patch for the game was delayed in some significant fashion as a result of the global pandemic.reveal of FFXVI, we had a chance to sit down with producer and director Naoki Yoshida to talk about the delays of working from home, the design choices made for the patch, and some possibilities for future content. If you’re curious to learn more about upcoming Monk changes or the design process for the NieR: Automata raid series, you must needs read on. There may be some minor spoilers for those who have not finished the patch, however!
Massively OP: How different was the process of developing this patch due to work-from-home restrictions and the challenges of the global pandemic?
Naoki Yoshida: Hands down the most challenging part of this was setting up the development environment for each of our team members. I think it would have been easier if we were working on a standalone game that didn’t require access to a number of servers, but it is imperative for the development of FFXIV to utilize these servers. Not everything can be done on just the game client itself, so the biggest challenge for us was how to set up and work with a large-scale development server, local servers on which team members would work, and the game client set up for a work-from-home situation.
Once the environment was set up and we smoothed out any bumps through initial testing, there wasn’t much of a difference in our production process itself. However, as you can imagine communication between the developers shifted to and entirely online setting, and section leaders had to be constantly available for someone to reach out to them online. It was pretty tough for them because more time had to be allocated to manage this communication change. While this is still the case now, they’ve implemented processes that mesh with the work from home environment, like defining “off work hours” and setting up times to answer questions, which has helped a lot.
Massively OP: With 5.3 having brought a major narrative arc running since 2.0 to a close, is there any worry about the game running out of large-scope villains to pit against the player?
Naoki Yoshida: Not at all. Actually, the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story arc that has been ongoing since the original FFXIV (version 1.0) still hasn’t fully come to a close. There are a few big mysteries that need to be resolved. Please do not worry…? (:p)
Interviewer’s note: Yes, that smiley was there from Yoshida.
Massively OP: When was the identity of the final trial boss for the 5.3 story decided upon? Was this always the plan, or did plans change?
Naoki Yoshida: We decided that almost immediately after the Shadowbringers expansion finished development. It was interesting because we decided Elidibus’ fate at the same time we decided upon the trial boss. This was actually a very unique situation because generally the scenario is solidified in advance, so in most cases we will have already determined who the player will be fighting and why they are fighting by the time we plan for the gameplay content.
We never improvise when we are creating bosses, which is only natural given how many bosses in FFXIV are so closely intertwined with the story.
Massively OP: Aside from the ongoing dwarf storyline (and the YoRHa raids/Eden series), are there plans to return to the First for future stories?
Naoki Yoshida: There might be, and there might not be. I’m a bit worried that if I carelessly say something specific here that it might come back to haunt us down the line, and I also want to leave room for everyone to speculate on what could happen. I think it would be weird for me to discuss something here at this stage. (laughs)
Massively OP: The new alliance raid offers some challenging different ways of splitting up parties and different mechanics to take on. What was the design process for coming up with these new mechanics? (A good example of the novel mechanics would be the variable numbers of players in circles during the third boss, or the hallway rush before the last boss.)
Naoki Yoshida: We’ve never had any specific requests from Yoko Taro or the NieR team staff where they tell us, “Make this mechanic do this!” Generally speaking, the FFXIV content design team takes the proposed plot we receive from [Yoko Taro] and the NieR team, think about what bosses should be included based on it, and also brainstorm the battle mechanics for these bosses. No matter the content being worked on, the content team always places importance on how to showcase both the story and the characters through the gameplay.
The theme for this crossover raid is of course NieR, and our team members played through NieR: Automata, using that experience as a base in coming up with the gameplay elements for FFXIV. I believe this opportunity for the team to think in ways not typical to FFXIV development is one of the positive aspects of doing crossover content. The Puppets’ Bunker also has lots of Easter eggs that I’m sure would bring a smile to fans of NieR and probably [Yoko Taro] too. We hope all of our players are looking forward to the next installment!
Massively OP: Was the work done for flight in the original zones connected to the plan to streamline the old quests, or were the two simply coincidentally linked?
Naoki Yoshida: It wasn’t a coincidence that the streamlining of A Realm Reborn’s main scenario and enabling flight in ARR were released at the same time. However, truthfully speaking they started out as two completely separate tasks.
The streamlining of A Realm Reborn’s main scenario started quite some time ago—I remember having discussions with the scenario and quest teams when we were still developing Shadowbringers. A small group, including the quest team leads and our main scenario writers, worked through a lot of analytics to decide the overall direction of the adjustments. Once we decided to proceed, the team would work on the content whenever they could find time between patch and expansion development tasks. On top of that, debugging the updated content involved a massive amount of resources, so having factored that into our calculations, we targeted Patch 5.3 as the release. So, when you think about it, from start to finish it took over a year to make those adjustments.
During this time, I also consulted the development team on the possibility of bringing flying to ARR zones, initially envisioning this to coincide with a future expansion release. However, the level design group lead and staff from the background team told me it would be near impossible to accomplish that feat while simultaneously working on an expansion. While I was a bit disheartened, and initially I thought adding flying might be too difficult after all, I realized what they actually meant was that if we were going to add in flying to these areas, we should do it now. That was actually very encouraging. The background team was trying to tell me that an expansion involves creating large, brand-new areas, and that would overlap with their tasks related to adding flight – working simultaneously on these two tasks would not be feasible.
However, and similar to the ARR story overhaul, it was not impossible to utilize the time between major updates to chip away at both implementing the necessary changes and testing them, and once completed it could be released as a single package. I asked the sound team for their cooperation as well in the project, and we were at a point where we could begin right after Shadowbringers had been completed.
Having seen the bigger picture, we set our target for Patch 5.3 not only to be the conclusion of Shadowbringers, but also an update that would help bring in new players in a big way, setting this plan into motion. It was not a coincidence that we greatly expanded the Free Trial at this time as well – all of this was part of a larger plan.
As a final note, flying in the ARR zones took about nine months of steady work before its release.
Massively OP: The changes made to Monk are lighter, but there’s talk about changing it further in a future patch. Is this meant to be a large redesign like for Machinist or something smaller in scope (more like Ninja in patch 5.1)?
Naoki Yoshida: Before diving into the question, I wanted to say that I don’t consider the adjustments made to Ninja smaller in scope… We did try to keep the gameplay as close as possible to what it was previously, so while it might seem like not much had changed, in actuality we rebuilt the basic system of the job. I think the development team’s perspective of Ninja was that it was a pretty large-scale change. Now with the Machinist, since the mechanics and playstyle changed, it might feel that the changes are more significant.
As for how where we’ll land with Monk, I don’t think I can say what the player impression will be in terms of scale just yet. I don’t want speculations to go too far from anything I say here and cause any problems down the line, but what I can say for now is that we are significantly changing internal processing for the job, and the work that the development team is putting in is no small order. They’re working hard towards a finished product, if you could please be patient for just a while longer!
Massively OP: Last but not least, has the team seen the outpouring of fan emotion and praise from the content of this patch’s story? What has the reaction been to this internally?
Naoki Yoshida: Our project managers gather comments from players around the world, and our community teams also share reports with feedback and sentiment as well. Members of the development and operations teams themselves look at their social feeds and Reddit as well, and of course they are very happy!
We always take these reactions as encouragement, and we plan to take you all to an even grander story!