Final Fantasy XI TGS Update

We visit Square Enix's Japan offices and hear from members of the online game's development team.

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At a press event today in Tokyo, Square Enix invited members of the media to chat with members of the Final Fantasy XI development team. Producer Koichi Ishii, director Hiromichi Tanaka, and US online producer Yasu Kurosawa were on hand to share insight on the upcoming game. The online entry in the Final Fantasy franchise lets players create a virtual self from one of several familiar races, and it has been out in Japan for both the PC and PlayStation 2 for some time. A significant amount of new content has been added to the game, thanks to the recent release of an expansion pack. The US version of the game, currently undergoing its beta phase for both the PC and PS2, is slated to include the additional content from the expansion pack when it ships with the PlayStation 2 hard drive early next year. During a roundtable Q&A, the team discussed the game's evolution, unique story, gameplay mechanics and future.

The years of development that have gone into crafting FFXI have been spent focusing on two key elements, its story and gameplay. As development on FFXI began, the team faced a unique challenge in balancing the need for a strong story--a staple of the Final Fantasy franchise--with the open-ended structure of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The team's solution was to craft an epic tale that would be doled out in serialized chunks based on which of the game's three main nations you selected in the beginning. What story information you receive will depend on which of the three nations you start out in, since each nation will have its own unique perspective on events. One of Square's goals is to encourage you to compare notes with other users in the hopes that you'll discover even more bits of information. This approach allows Final Fantasy XI to get quite a bit of mileage out of the chunks of its story that the team has chosen to reveal. The team aims to add new bits of story elements for players to discover every month via patches.

An equal amount of effort went into FFXI's gameplay, which draws liberally from many of the standard conventions seen in PC MMORPGs. The reason for such an approach was the team's desire to make FFXI for both the PC and PlayStation 2. In order to ensure that the game offered the same type of experience to both sets of users, the team opted to take a uniform approach that offered the same functionality to both platforms. At the same time, the team wanted to ensure that the game was accessible to all and tweaked some of the standard MMORPG elements to ensure novice gamers wouldn't be intimidated. For example, the game does not presently support any kind of player killing, although the functionality is there and will be introduced when the game's story calls for it. Stealing items is also not possible due to one of the many checks and balances in the game incorporated to ensure that players have positive experiences when they start out. This desire to protect new users extends to the high levels of security being taken to try to prevent hackers from having an impact on the game.

One interesting point raised by the team is the unique way US gamers have been playing FFXI during its beta test. The conquest game, a competition between members of the three nations that tallies how many reps from each nation have killed enemies, was exploited in a unique way by US players. The tally system for conquest reflects wins and losses by the assorted reps, which led players to intentionally die while playing for different nations, thus lowering that nation's standing. The resulting chaos from the losses eventually affected the entire game's economy.

At present, Final Fantasy XI is slated to ship this March for the PlayStation 2. The game will come preinstalled on Sony's upcoming hard drive peripheral, although an installation disc will be included in case you need to manually reinstall the game. We'll have more on the game as it approaches its final release.

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