GDC '08: Square Enix - It's good to be the King

Designers Toshiro Tsuchida and Fumiaki Shiraishi talk about the challenges of developing a small WiiWare game based on the epic Square Enix franchise Final Fantasy Chronicles.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Say "Square Enix," and gamers will immediately think of the Final Fantasy series or another of the Japanese developer's epic role-playing games. So it was a challenge for the company to concentrate on a small WiiWare game, according to game designers Toshiro Tsuchida and Fumiaki Shiraishi.

"Hail to the king, baby...whoops, wrong game."

In their Game Developers Conference presentation "WiiWare and New Choices," Toshiro Tsuchida and Fumiaki Shiraishi showed a short trailer of the game in question, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. The downloadable game is not a traditional Square Enix game, in the respect that the core mechanic is about building a city rather than exploring a world.

The trailer started with a title card saying: "For his kingdom is the only gift my father has left me," and then showed a variety of characters from the game. The presenters explained that the character of The King--played by the gamer--was far too important to risk losing in battle. (Think chess.) Therefore, he must stay within the realms of the kingdom.

Shiraishi said that during his time at Square Enix, he had built up a "big wish list" of things that he wanted to try. One was to try creating a game that didn't rely on game volume, and another was to try out a smaller project with a smaller project team. "When I read about WiiWare, I wrote the game proposal that day," he said.

However, the new platform meant that the company couldn't use its standard Square Enix game design model. Instead, Shiraishi proclaimed that, "We started with the game concept rather than the visual assets. This may seem an obvious thing for some studios but not for our studio."

"Our traditional game method is that we are good at creating content with a large amount of high-quality CG," said Shiraishi. "However, the WiiWare memory capacity is limited, so therefore, we cannot use very high-quality CG as a weapon."

He then showed another video, with scenes from the first chapter of the game. "This is very early on...so there's really nothing built except the walls," Shiraishi explained. In it, the King spoke to two of his heroes who, after a brief chat, left the village to adventure in some caves nearby. There were also moogles, a Final Fantasy staple. These creatures appeared to have the job of offering the player advice. At the end of the day, the King is given a report showing what his heroes have been up to, what areas they've explored, what monsters they've battled, and what items they've picked up.

From these daily reports, the player uses the information given by his motley crew of warriors to work out what he needs to build and invest in the village. Next up was a scene from the very end of the game, where the same village was full of buildings and the heroes were shopping for weapons.

In conclusion, Shiraishi weighed up the pros and the cons of working on a smaller project compared to a big-budget one. "In terms of being a smaller project, I think all the team members had more say in the game itself, but there's simply not enough time to really make something that no one else has done," he said.

He then discussed some of the things that ended up being cut from the game in order to make it work as a WiiWare product. Battle scenes and monsters were given the boot, along with the whole world outside the village, which is limited to text only. There are also no villager model variations other than their names.

Development started on the game before WiiWare was even official. "We didn't wait for things to get official," Shiraishi said. "With the industry moving as fast as it is, sometimes you can't wait. We did take a risk by making this game before Nintendo had even announced WiiWare."

Of course, working on a platform that hasn't even been created yet brings with it its own unique set of problems. When asked how the design team dealt with WiiWare memory limitations, Shiraishi said, "We estimated between 32 and 40MB for the actual memory, and that limitation turned out to be right on target. But we actually ended up with memory left over because of the compression. The biggest problem we actually had was the rapid access memory that Nintendo had, not the 40MB."

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King will be coming out in March in Japan. No North American or European release date has yet been set.

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