Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker media tour: An interview with Naoki Yoshida

The FFXIV boss talks jobs, storylines, and crunch

    
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The promise fulfilled

One of the things that I’ve always respected about Naoki Yoshida as a director and producer is that the man is clearly deeply involved and invested in the game that he designs. Given the opportunity to talk at length about Final Fantasy XIV, he can easily take a quick question and turn it into an elaborate and well-considered answer. The man knows his games like few people in charge ever do, and he has a passion for the job that’s infectious and energizing.

Our interview for the media tour was conducted via Zoom call, with the typical media tour format of a couple people asking questions and receiving answers as he discussed elements of the game’s design and the upcoming expansion. The answers here are presented slightly out of order from the actual interview for the purposes of clarity and thematic connection.

Of course, the first question would seem rather obvious to anyone who’s been following fan response to the various Endwalker reveals and the job action trailer: What’s going on with Scholar? What can be said to the players who feel like the job is lagging behind or not getting nearly as much love as it deserves?

The answer was multi-part, and the first part of the answer is a matter of perception as much as anything. Yoshida explained that he’s tried to avoid talking too much about jobs that aren’t changing significantly in prior live letters covering job changes, but he noticed that players felt like Scholar got underserved by a lack of attention in the letter, which certainly wasn’t intentional. He also wants to let people get hands-on time with the jobs rather than trying to explain every aspect of gameplay, since he feels the media tour and press impressions are an important tool in communicating the overall set of changes.

(Those of you who have already read my piece on the healers will note that I see Scholar as pretty solid right now; it’s just the more healing-oriented of the two barrier healers, while Sage is more damaging.)

Yoshida also explained that the battle design team includes hard-core progression-focused Scholar players, and so the job is not being neglected and the team’s goal is to give cool stuff to every job as much as is possible. That being said, he welcomes feedback about a lack of flashy skills or feeling like the jobs aren’t being quite as well-designed as they could be, as that’s useful feedback for future expansions and further revision.

Preparation.

Moving on from Scholars, Yoshida also answered some questions about the design behind Reaper, which is admittedly complex and difficult to play correctly. He noted that some of the difficult is just due to the nature of the media tour, throwing players into the job’s high-level rotation with little prep time. But it’s also true that Reaper is a very technical and complex job, up there with Ninja in sheer execution complexity.

The rationale behind it? Well, Reaper can do a lot of different things, so the designers wanted to make sure that it felt distinct and to balance all the requirements. That being said, he also noted that it felt good to play the job and gain more mastery over it; as you slowly grow more accustomed to how Reaper is supposed to play, you find it becoming easier to pour out lots of damage, and the steady maintenance feels good as you continue to gain mastery. While the devs considered trying to make the job somewhat easier, for the most part they’ve left it alone to keep that satisfying sense of mastery through progression.

So what leads the team to make a choice between smaller changes to an existing job and larger ones? Yoshida explained that there are a couple of major reasons that major changes get made to jobs, often with both coinciding. The first and most obvious reason for changes is when there’s a lot of feedback that the existing rotation is confusing or unpleasant to play; the second and less obvious reason is when technical limitations for a job’s programming start to come into play, which was one of the issues that Summoner was having.

He suggested that it’s sometimes hard to understand why some systems are changed and others aren’t, with some elements related to technical behind-the-scenes implementations that may not be obvious to outside observers. For example, the subroutines responsible for Ninja Mudras was completely replaced during Shadowbringers, but it was largely invisible on the player side.

From a designer standpoint, when asked about the job he’s most excited to see people play, Yoshida laughed and said that it felt like a trap to find out that he himself hadn’t yet decided on a main job to play. However, he definitely feels like Reaper will be a fun new experience for veteran DPS players. Summoner is also a highlight of the expansion, as it should feel like a totally new job that comes closer to the classic feel of Final Fantasy Summoners from the past, so he’s excited to see how players like it.

Color blank.

Beyond class balance and design issues, Yoshida also addressed why now was the right time to end the Hydaelyn and Zodiark storyline. As Yoshida put it, he’s a big fan of long-running serial television shows like Lost and The X-Files, but one of the problems with long-form storytelling like that is that you run into the potential problem of over-extending the central story premise and putting off resolution until it starts to feel ridiculous. He sees each expansion as being analogous to a season of a show, with Endwalker in that regard serving as the fifth season.

This wasn’t always the plan, of course; up through Stormblood there was a real worry on the team that FFXIV wouldn’t be pulling its weight and might be suddenly cancelled. It was only following the release and reception of the second expansion that the team felt confident in building things up and delivering a real building action up to a major conclusion, with reasonable certainty that there would be the space to wrap up one story and continue on to the next one.

So while Endwalker is ending one story and starting off with a new season, Yoshida feels confident that it’s the right time to bring this to a resolution. It keeps the stakes and the build from feeling overwhelming and never finding resolution.

Last but not least, Yoshida talked a little about crunch and player concerns over how much the staff was working. He explained that there are actually strict rules about how long employees are allowed to work, even leading up to expansion time, and overtime has to be very carefully requested and approved for each individual employee. Japan in particular is cracking down on requiring excessive work hours, and Yoshida wants the studio to be an example for other studios to look up to.

That being said, overtime is requested sometimes, and you also have situations like Soken working through cancer, but as Yoshida himself explained, the devs behind the game sees FFXIV as a major part of their lives, a work of art that they want to keep working on. Soken was the one who requested to keep working because in his own words, the faith and goodwill from players was part of what would allow him to fight through cancer. He even describes himself as a crazy person for how devoted he is to his job and how much it means to him.

Long story short? If you’re worried about insane crunch, don’t be. If you’re worried that some of the leadership takes the game very seriously and puts in a dizzying amount of work to support this game… well, that’s true, but it’s true because they want to deliver a memorable experience. So keep playing and enjoying the game to support them.

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Andrew Clear

A lot of times the crunch is a result of poor leadership and planning. Changing designs constantly, and a lot of times on a whim, or what someone sees in a recent game that just released, also leads to crunch.

From following the development of FFXIV as an outside observer, and of course, what content they do release, it is obvious that they have a specific plan, which allows them to set some firm internal deadlines. They also tend to make incremental changes, and only tackle one or two new systems per each 2 to 2 1/2 year dev cycle, which also allows them to plan more effectively and hit their milestones.

Another thing that can really alleviate crunch is having good programmers. When programmers develop to the systems to be easily modifiable, and generally self contained, then iteration and experimentation is faster.

I salute the leadership of the dev team, as they have been doing a great job at steering that ship.

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Josh

Addressing crunch makes me so happy. In a genre where every successive story that drops makes me more and more ashamed to be a consumer of this medium, that one of my favorite games is developed by a team that wants to be an example and seems to genuinely care about the health and welfare of its developers.

It’s nice, it’s such a welcome breath of fresh air amidst what seems like everything else.

Tizmah
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Tizmah

Hopefully, the story is still good after Endwalker. Like he describes it as the 5th season to a TV show, this may be where the TV shows starts to take a nose dive and everyone hates it after season 5 lol.

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Disserino

I’m sure it will still be good, especially since they don’t have any other MMORPG in development which would be a primary focus of current story writers.

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IronSalamander8 .

He reminds me of Eric Lang of board game design fame, whose obvious love and enthusiasm for the hobby and making games is infectious. I’m mixed on his games, but I’ll never deny the man is a boon for the hobby, and Mr. Yoshida is definitely along the same lines here.

I like the discussion of crunch too. I don’t work much overtime these days for various reasons but back in the 90s, my average work week was 56 hours (5 10s and 6 on Saturday), and twice was over 90 hours, and that kicks your rear. Some people thrive on lots of hours while others need time away or just can’t do it for various reasons, and considering how much we’ve heard of crunch over the last couple of years, I really like what I see here in that regard.