Updated Mon, Sep 20, 2010 by Ethec
Five minutes into my hands-on demo of Final Fantasy XIV at PAX 2010, I’m entirely convinced that the game has seriously wandered off the beaten path of mainstream MMORPGs. But even in this currently innovation-starved category, I’m not entirely sure that this is a good thing.
Here is a game that deliberately hasn’t learned any of the major lessons of the past five years about accessibility (no active tutorial, no hot tips, nothing to get you started), pace of gameplay (oh! the cutscenes), or intuitive user interface design. Case in point: even with a dev helping out, it takes minutes to draw my axe, then figure out that a blinking UI element (to this moment I still don’t know what it was) is preventing me from swinging it at a nearby mob.
Having played literally hundreds of MMOs including in no small measure Final Fantasy XIV’s predecessor, Final Fantasy XI, I’m a little mortified. Fortunately, SquareEnix’s Sage Sundi is on-hand to tell me how FFXIV is such a different beast, and why that’s by design.
Ten Ton Hammer's Ethec and Sardu talk to FFXIV Community Development Manager Sage Sundi at PAX 2010
We started with some softball questions while I shook off my MMO come-uppance. What, to him, makes FFXIV not just unique, but better than what’s on the market right now? “Everyone talks about the game systems, but to me the biggest difference with Final Fantasy XIV is that we share servers, not only between two platforms [PC and PlayStation 3] but globally. US, Europe, and Japan can play together on one server… it feels global. You don’t have to play with people that speak another language, but it’s nice to have that in the background.”
That’s not to say that language is necessarily a barrier in Final Fantasy MMORPGs. “We have an auto-translation system.” Sage explains. “When we introduced it in Final Fantasy XI, that it’s going to be something that players occasionally use. Instead, it’s become a main tool to communicate with other players.
Sage noted that SquareEnix also saves on server costs and delivers a more consistently populated server feel because peak times are staggered almost equally between each major region. “The time difference between North America, Europe, and Japan is almost eight hours between each. If we had regional servers, we’d have just one peak time. With a global server, we have three peak times during the day.”
All that globally cross-platformy timey-wimey stuff won’t come at once, however. As was recently announced, the PlayStation 3 launch will be delayed. “It’s going to be around March – it’s a sad thing.” But Sage notes that the PS3 launch, though delayed, will be revolutionary in its own right. “With Final Fantasy XI, we introduced it in North America a year after the Japanese version. Then two years later we introduced it to Europe, and they don’t even have the PS2 Hard Drive. This time, with Final Fantasy XIV, we can launch simultaneously around the world. That’s great for communities – no one feels like a second-class citizen.”
So that’s the plan for the PS3, but what about the long-rumored Xbox 360 version. It turns out FFXIV’s insistence on global reach is the chief hangup. “We’re still talking to them, but still no good answer. That was the plan, to release on Xbox 360. In XI we could do it, but so far, no luck.”
One concession between the PC and console version of the game, Sage explained, was the controller. PC gamers can pick up a PS3 style controller (FFXIV branded controllers were at demo stations at PAX) and switch between the mouse and keyboard without making any changes on the options screen. But that’s about the limit of peripheral support or extra features. For example, no integrated voicechat will be available for the game.