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“The Death and Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV” – A Summary of Noclip’s Documentary: Part Two

August 2nd, 2017 by Raptorchan

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The Death and Rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV is a three-part video series created and released by Noclip, a Youtube channel that specializes in video game documentaries.

Noclip had set out on a mission: To hear Final Fantasy XIV’s tragic tale, but rather from outside sources, they wanted the story told by Square Enix themselves. The series of videos were emotional and at times, even shocking. It showcased just how much the company struggled with the failed launch, and how one man turned the entire company upside down to save them.

While this is a summary of the documentary, we highly recommend that readers watch the videos and provide them with views. Much love, work and dedication went into these videos and it’s important to support the creators.

Part Two: “Rewriting History”


 

Upon looking at Yoshida’s proposal from a business standpoint, Yosuke Matsuda, the CEO of Square Enix, said it was a risky venture to keep one game running while simultaneously working on another one in secret. But he felt if Square Enix continued to provide service to one of their flagship titles, one that had been so poorly received, it would be extremely damaging to the company. Choosing Plan B of Yoshida’s proposal was a dangerous risk, but it was a risk they felt they were required to make. It was either sink or at least try to swim.

Yoshida had planned for a 2013 release date, as Square Enix had promised FFXIV would be released during the Playstation 3’s lifespan. Host Danny O’Dwyer was curious to know how Yoshida managed to succeed in meeting the planned release date, as most MMOs probably need roughly four to five years of development time and Yoshida did it in less than half.

Yoshida explained that he had broken it down for his staff, he had each member assess the maximum and minimum time it would take for them to complete a task, then he would have them report their timings. Yoshida would then look at those numbers and schedule his team accordingly. He did this once a week, to let his team get used to the changes, and then extended this system once they had adjusted to the changes in their work scheduling. It went from weekly, to biweekly, and they would have a meeting every morning to report on their project status.

Yoshida strongly does not recommend this method of project management, and that the only reason they had done it in the first place was due to the fact they were attempting to create an entirely new MMO in less than two years.

The first order of business the developers had to tackle was regaining the trust of their community and open a dialogue between player and creator. Toshio Murouchi states that the first thing they had to admit was that the first iteration of Final Fantasy XIV was a failure and that they needed to restart. However, they had not announced their plans for A Realm Reborn to the public, and instead, said they were going to fix 1.0 and created a list of changes they were going to make, all the while asking the community for aid in providing feedback. Toshio mentions that upper management weren’t too keen on the idea of sharing all their future changes with the players, because if they couldn’t make due on those ideas, the community would be angry, or perhaps they wouldn’t like the changes to begin with. Yoshida and Toshio had discussed this, and what mattered most to them was reestablishing trust with their players. Being transparent–to an extent–was key.

Yoshida goes on to talk about the players who remained with Final Fantasy XIV and says that, while it seemed like such a small number of people, they were the people who stayed and supported the game, even when faced with criticism. The players who stayed would mention that FFXI, at launch, had a lot of problems too, and the fact that the development team had announced they were going to fix FFXIV’s issues through patches, these players remained.

“So numbers-wise, yes, it may seem small, but those are the very people who supported Square Enix and Final Fantasy throughout all this.” Yoshida explained. “And so if we ignored them, I thought Final Fantasy would probably be over. Above anything else, we had to treat this element as most important.”

To Yoshida, it didn’t matter if they had to spend millions of dollars, it was a cost spent that wouldn’t have been repairable had this continued. Trust was something they had to rebuild and keep with their players if Final Fantasy XIV was to succeed and Square Enix was to survive. This was why he felt it was necessary for them to continue the 1.0 series, he wanted to give back to those few players who remained. They needed their help.

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The development team was split into two, with half the team working on A Realm Reborn, while the other half worked on the 1.0 patch series. According to Yoshida, the first thing the team began working on was the interface, as the game was nearly impossible to play with a keyboard that he couldn’t even imagine using a controller. To address this massive issue, Yoshida brought in Hiroshi Minagawa, who was part of the 1.0 task force, and put him in charge of designing the new interface. Having worked on Final Fantasy Tactics, Hiroshi Minagawa was no stranger to interfaces, and set out to create the new cross hotbar feature, allowance for customization and adding item icons to the item menu.

The next issue addressed was a change to the battle system. According to Yoshida, in the original formula of the game, 15 people were allowed in parties and there was no MP management; allowing for players to spam a single spell without worry. Yoshida wanted to add calculations and strategy to FFXIV, and sought to change those things in order to make the game more fun and exciting. Yoshida also mentioned another issue he wanted to tackle was that, while Final Fantasy XIV was a main numbered title in the franchise, there were no Final Fantasy elements. Jobs like Paladin, White Mage and Black Mage did not exist in the original version of FFXIV, Ifrit made an appearance but you couldn’t fight him. Players couldn’t even ride chocobos. So Yoshida felt it was important to include those elements, and through the 1.0 patch series, began gradually introducing the Primal Battles players know and love today, and had started the groundwork for jobs and chocobo mounts to be included.

As these changes were gradually added, Yoshida notes that players began to turn around and say the game was starting to get good. It boosted their morale and it was motivating to see players steadily return to play the game. To the development team, it brought a sense of relief that as long as they made a good, solid game; players would appreciate that. They introduced seven new jobs, and had begun to grow hopeful. Until an unexpected disaster struck.

Danny O’Dwyer explains in his video that a 9.0 Earthquake had hit 200 miles northeast of Tokyo, resulting in a tsunami that devastated local regions. And what followed was “a humanitarian and infrastructural disaster that could barely be comprehended.” While the country rallied to send aid, Tokyo suffered aftershocks and frequent electrical blackouts. Danny asked Yoshida if this had affected the team, and Yoshida confirmed they had felt the quakes. Some of the staff remained at work to watch the news, deeming it safer than attempting to go home. Some had family members affected by the disaster as well. Yoshida felt that it was not appropriate to push forward with development, and that his team were human beings first, developer second. He also mentions that since Japan had need of electricity, the team had decided to temporarily shut down the servers, hoping that would provide some aid.

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After turning the servers back on, Yoshida began receiving letters from their player base and discovered that, since telephones were still down, players were able to get into communication with friends and confirm their status through FFXIV. So while he believed shutting down the servers helped in some way, keeping them on was also beneficial. Players even thanked them for keeping the servers up.

From a developer’s view point, Yoshida explains the next primal to be added to the 1.0 series was supposed to be Leviathan. However, they felt it would be insensitive, and opted to create a different primal for the time being: King Moggle Mog XII.

Yoshida also notes that it wasn’t too difficult to get back to work, though some people couldn’t come into the office and there had been a time where Square Enix had closed entirely for a few days. According to him, people had wanted to find some ways to help the residents of Fukushima and while jumping on a train to go there was an option, there were already so many people doing that. They decided the best way to help was to provide an environment where, people who were affected by the incident would have a place to settle down and feel comfortable within Eorzea.

“Ultimately, what can we do? Well, we make video games. So we felt continuing to make games was what we could offer.” Yoshida explains. “We didn’t necessarily talk about it verbally but that was the kind of stance that we had as we returned to work.”

Over the next several months, the development team released patch after patch. According to Danny, patch 1.17 introduced player parties and more stable network infrastructure. When patch 1.18 hit, it stabilized the game; it lowered level caps for story quests, added grand companies, class adjustments, instanced dungeons and even autoattack. It got rid of the fatigue system and introduced a player friendly map.

Koji Fox states that they were also faced with the challenge of adding a story into the world of Eorzea that would seamlessly fit into the next game, a story that would be understood by the core players, but wouldn’t alienate new players. He said that while it was difficult, it was equally a lot of fun to setup the world for its destruction and have it carry into A Realm Reborn.

“We got to try a lot of things. We had a lot of freedom then.” He explained. “Because in a sense it would only be released for a few months and then it will be gone forever. We can create all these crazy stories that have these crazy characters. But on the other hand, we’re working day and night on something that only a few thousand people are going to see and will be gone in six months.”

1.19 signified the one year anniversary for the 1.0 series, where players finally got their personalized chocobos and, as said by Danny O’Dwyer: “In the distance one light in the sky burns slightly brighter. A sign of things to come.”

Around the time this was happening, Square Enix had announced that a new game – which they only referred to as the 2.0 series – had been in the works since January, and that current players would receive copies of it for free. They had also announced that player character data and progress would transfer to the new game, what they were calling 2.0 at the time. Monthly fees would be reinstated in January 2012, and to keep players interested in playing the game – to provide the support they needed – they announced the Legacy Campaign. The Legacy Campaign rewarded players who paid for at least three months of game time with permanently reduced monthly fees, a unique-looking chocobo and neck tattoo, and they would get their names featured in the credits as a thank you for their continued support.

“In 2011 – October 14th – that is when we announced A Realm Reborn is coming and we are going to create a completely new Final Fantasy 14.” Yoshida said. “And so you have these people going “Huh?! Are you going to continue updating this? What’s going to happen?” It was so much fun.”

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Gradually as the patches leading up to A Realm Reborn were released and more content was added, the distant light in the sky – known as Dalamud – began to grow larger and larger and, after another patch update, upon logging into the game while at an inn, players would experience nightmares. The community was confused and tried to figure out the puzzle the development team had placed before them: Was the moon going to destroy the world? How would player data be transferred to the new game? They didn’t have to wait long for answers, for that summer a trailer revealed that 2.0 would be named A Realm Reborn.

On September 12th, the final patch for the 1.0 series was released, and with it, an enormous Dalamud. Players had begun to realize that Eorzea didn’t have much time left. And on November 1st 2012, a final in-game battle began. Square Enix made entry free for the final week of the game, while a haunting song – a soft, echoing version of ARR’s main theme Answers – could be heard across all in-game areas. Players got together with their friends one last time as a development team in Japan spawned enemies outside capital cities. One group of players had even became legendary, for outside the city of Ul’dah, they attempted to protect the city with what we now call: The Great Goobbue Wall.

Toshio Murouchi explains that in the final hours of the game, he and the development team had set out to create a chaotic environment in Eorzea by spawning strong monsters. But even with Toshi spawning Manticores or Morbols, players would kill them instantly. “I would snap my fingers and say oooh you killed my monster again!” he laughed.

During the late evening hours while the development team continued to spawn monsters, a programmer – someone he had never met- had approached Toshio and provided him with a code to spawn an even stronger monster. A very fun moment for him, he notes.

It was then on Sunday November 11th 2012, just a little over a year after Final Fantasy XIV had original launched, with Dalamud hanging in the sky, the servers were finally turned off. And as they did, a trailer was released, showing players what had become of their old home.

“The team at Square Enix had worked themselves to the bone,” explains Danny O’Dwyer. “Not only recreating Final Fantasy 14 in A Realm Reborn, but also dedicating time and money to ensuring that 1.0 players felt part of that story. The moon Dalamud crashed into the world of Eorzea. That world was gone forever. Only one question remained: What was going to rise out of its ashes?”

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