Head-to-head with Hajime Tabata and Takeshi Nozue about FFXV - Making FF Great Again

公開日時:2016-04-07 16:10:00

On 3/30/2016 (local time) in Los Angeles, Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV revealed some much-awaited information about FFXV. We talked to Tabata-san and Nozue-san not only about the announced release date, but also about the multiple titles that were announced as part of their impressively wide-reaching project.

Translation: Jake Ayres (Impetus)

[Japanese]『FFXV』のプロジェクトについて田畑端氏と野末武志氏を直撃! 「もう一度、『FF』が勝つ姿を見せたい」


Interview with Hajime Tabata (“Tabata”) and Takeshi Nozue (“Nozue”). Interview conducted by Weekly Famitsu’s Editor in Chief, Katsuhiko Hayashi.

Final Fantasy’s IP crisis, and changing how the team thinks about the franchise

Famitsu: “The recent announcement gave us a good sense of how the project as a whole is looking. The project had to overcome a number of hurdles to get this far, from a change in title, to a new director. Could you start by telling us what core idea was driving the development team as they worked on FFXV?”

Tabata: Initially, as a company, we really wanted to make things up to the fans of the franchise, who’d been left waiting quite a while for the release of FF Versus XIII. One thing we knew we had to do when restarting the title as FFXV, was modernize Final Fantasy. In other words, make a Final Fantasy that can compete in the modern era of gaming. To do that, we decided we needed to think of Final Fantasy as a challenger in the games market, and do everything we could to make it succeed.

--“How did you view the series when you took over the project?”

Tabata: Having never personally been involved in the creation of a numbered Final Fantasy, I was able to look at the series objectively. One way I looked at it was to ask myself, would the company I was previously with be able to make a game from the series. It’s easy to nitpick about the numbered FF titles, but at the end of the day, if you were to ask me if we could have made it, the answer would have been “No.” This was true of each of the numbered games from the series, but eventually, at one point, I started to think, “You know what, maybe we could!” I’ve experienced the FF series as a gamer myself, and couldn’t help but be impressed with the overwhelming power and edge of VII; it’s easy to see how the title became legendary among its fans. But I don’t think there has been another FF title since with as much impact.

--“By that, would you say you have a sense of concern surrounding the current FF franchise?”

Tabata: Yes, I was indeed concerned. But that sense of urgency only increased after I got involved with the project. When it was decided that we’d be going ahead with FFXV, I noticed a rapidly building feeling, both within the company and among other companies; especially in the responses of foreign developers, that Final Fantasy as an IP (Intellectual Property) was in danger. I was now in a position directly exposed to this sense of crisis.

--“Quite the load to bear when just getting started.”

Tabata: That’s right. However, whether or not the IP was in danger, the reality was that the games being produced just weren’t the games the developers set out to make. I’m aware that there’s a lot of criticism surrounding FFXIII, however the end product wasn’t what the developers initially envisioned; their sights were originally set higher. Despite that, the title was criticized as being linear. That wasn’t something planned for by the developers, the reality is that the higher requirements of developing an HD game, while adhering to their tried-and-tested way of doing things, determined what they came up with. If anything, overcoming the reality of this situation was the biggest issue that needed addressing. The crisis surrounding the IP further compounded this main problem.

--“So with all this going on, how did you tackle the project?”

Tabata: I brought together the game team, movie team, and technical team to create a new, independent team. This team then merged with the former FF Versus XIII team to make FFXV, forming the predecessor to the current Business Division 2.

--“And then you started production. Did you set any core themes for the production of FFXV?”

Tabata: Not initially. There was something we needed to do before we could think about what to do with FFXV. We needed to accept the fact that FF was no longer a winning franchise, and needed to think about what to do to make it great again. Every one of us agreed that the FF formula was failing in the HD market, and as such, rather than making another game by the book, we should do everything within our power to make a game capable of succeeding in the HD-era. That’s why we started production by creating a united team, with all of us viewing ourselves as challengers rather than established winners.

--“And from there…?”

Tabata: We reset the hierarchy of the whole team. We had section leads who had been in the position for a dozen years. This of course led to a clearly defined hierarchy among the staff, which not only affected the team’s chance at succeeding, but also forces each team member to adhere to the subjective values of their supervisor. In the hope of putting aside the unnecessary hierarchy that existed between them, I told the team that we were equals in a free-for-all environment. (laughs)

--“You created a meritocracy.”

Tabata: Yes. Before anything, I met with each member of the team and told them, “It’s up to you whether you stay or not. If you stay, you’ll have to abide by my changes. I don’t care how things were done in the past.” To get a clear idea of what each individual could bring to the team, I asked them what they were capable of. Next I assigned them their positions; mixing things up by assigning an all-round, balanced developer to head the preproduction phase, telling a former lead that for certain phases they’d be working under someone else, as although the quality of their work was impressive, they were less great at coordinating their section and negotiating with others. We really argued back and forth!

--“I bet you did…!”

Tabata: But there were a lot of people who were upbeat about the changes; many of them felt they were learning and growing, so spirits were high. We removed the invisible power balances and streamlined the chain of command, so everyone was making the most of their abilities. Many were trying their hand at something new, something previously out of reach, and this was being reflected in the game itself.

--"Sounds like you were thorough. I feel the success of your restructuring pivoted on the fact that each member of the team shared the passion to create a successful FF title, to rally their strength and, dare I say, make a comeback."

Tabata: That's right. The FF franchise might be struggling, but deep down I think each of us knew we were yet to be defeated. People often talk about how Japan has been trailing behind the West since entering the HD-age, but we want people to know that battle wasn't lost by us, we're only just stepping up to the plate. I was certain that Japanese games would be able to compete on the world stage, but as we ourselves weren't working with HD platforms at the time, we hadn’t even entered the race back then. That's why we're keen to take up the mantle and succeed. Don’t count us out just yet, we’re just getting started.


The multitude of collaborative FFXV media

--"FFXV's release date was finally announced at Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV"

Tabata: That's right, it's coming out on the 30th of September, give or take a few days depending on the region.

--"You seem to have a clear end in sight. How are things going?"

Tabata: Let’s just say September 30th... is a date we think we can make. (laughs)

--"Cutting it a little fine (laughs)?"

Tabata: It'd be no problem at all if we only had to worry about the Japanese release, but as we'll be releasing worldwide, we're having to condense the development process to spend enough time on localization. We’re stepping into uncharted territory, and until we give it a go we won’t know for sure. Yet we were well aware of this when we announced the date, so the September 30th release is a firm promise.

--“Kingsglaive: FFXV will be coming out sooner than September 30th. Why is the film due to be released before the game itself?”

Tabata: If Kingsglaive were to come out after the game’s release, people would already be comfortable with the series and it’d be far easier to estimate profits. By releasing the game first we’re unable to make any such estimation. However, the very act of releasing the movie first gives it new meaning and value. This is what we’re betting on. We’re hoping to expand the Japanese PS4 and Xbox One markets; we’re working hard to build a favorable market environment before FFXV launches.

--“Nozue-san, did the decision to release the movie before the game put you under pressure?”

Nozue: I’m pretty proactive when it comes to getting things done, so I was in the “should be loads of fun” camp (laughs). I wasn’t the least bit concerned or worried. Everyone in our team takes their job seriously, so this optimism comes naturally.

--“Let’s talk about the project you’re overseeing, Kingsglaive: FFXV. Coming in at 110 minutes, it feels like a serious feature film.”

Nozue: Everyone is working their hardest on FFXV, so Kingsglaive: FFXV deserves the same devotion. We wanted to be sure the viewers could enjoy Kingsglaive: FFXV as a feature film, so from the initial planning stage we ensured it would be long enough. From there, in order to deliver a cinematic experience, we brought in a talented professional screenwriter, and other staff from Hollywood.

--“Hollywood! How did you approach the production process?”

Nozue: We have an internal team of 50 or so, which brings our supervisors together and are working with various production teams around the world. Other studios we’ve got onboard include Digic Pictures, known for their work with Assassin’s Creed, and Image Engine, known for their work on Hollywood productions including Jurassic World and Game Of Thrones. I think we would have needed around 500 people if we had had to have the entire team in Japan. The project never sleeps, with the Los Angeles team working during our mornings, and the European team working through our night.

--“Will viewers be able to appreciate the film with no prior knowledge of the world of FFXV?”

Nozue: Yes, of course. At the beginning of FFXV, Noctis sets out on a journey to marry a princess from a far-off land. Kingsglaive: FFXV fleshes out the story of Noctis’ father - Regis, King of Lucis. The timeframe is the same for both the game and the movie, with both stories starting from the same point.

Tabata: In principle, you can enjoy the film without having played the game, or vice versa. However experiencing both ensures a deeper appreciation of the two. They are made to complement each other.

Nozue: The core theme of FFXV is the relationship between parent and child, and Kingsglaive: FFXV depicts the parent in this relationship, Regis. Regis acts as a link between the stories of FFXV and Kingsglaive: FFXV.


--“In addition to Kingsglaive: FFXV, you announced the cel-animated Brotherhood: FFXV.”

Tabata: Brotherhood: FFXV is a series of ten-minute animations, with five episodes currently planned, that shed light on how Noctis and his pals ended up traveling together. Normally you’d start an RPG by gathering a party. But in FFXV your allies are with you from the beginning. By illustrating how they came together, we’re hoping the fans will get to know the characters before playing the game and feel emotionally attached to them. We chose an anime series to make this possible. Each of the episodes shows the characters at a different time, be it as children, or a little older.

Nozue: The anime series should show fans a different side to each character. There’s quite a lot of depth to the stories.

Tabata: Also, as in-game mini-games are a staple of the FF series, we’ll be releasing FFXV’s mini-game, Justice Monsters Five, as a mobile app to drum up interest before the main game launches. It’s one of the ways we hope to reach out to new users. Today, an amazing number of people, teenagers especially, say their first experience with FF is through a smartphone app.

--“So Justice Monsters Five will be playable in the main game too?”

Tabata: It’s an arcade game that shows up in the gasoline stands the group visit. The main point here is that both Noctis and his friends love this game. We figured it’d be great to share the game they enjoy with our users. There are other mini-games available in the main game, another one of which we’re hoping to also make available as an app before launch.

--“Do the apps link with the main game in any way?”

Tabata: We’re planning to have shared leaderboards and the like.

--“Next, could you tell us a bit about Platinum Demo: FFXV?”

Tabata: When I spoke to you previously I told you we were thinking of releasing a playable tech demo; this is what we came up with. The demo allows the player to experience the events of a dream Noctis had as a child.

--“Roughly how old is Noctis in this dream?”

Tabata: Eight years old, I believe. In an episode of Brotherhood: FFXV, a young Noctis is attacked by a monster, leaving him on the brink of death. The Platinum Demo: FFXV is the dream Noctis has as he teeters between life and death.

--“And leading the player through the demo is Carbuncle, a summon beast well known to fans of the series.”

Tabata: There are various spots in the demo that trigger conversations between Noctis and Carbuncle, each of which will give the player a small glimpse into Noctis’ life as a child. Noctis is a very reserved child; having lost his mother at a young age, and with his father being constantly busy as King of Lucis, he’s left to eat his meals alone. You might not guess this about him from the main game alone, but knowing this about Noctis’ past should add an extra layer of depth to the character.

--“A lot of effort has gone into this demo. When we originally heard ‘tech demo,’ we hadn’t expected something so story-driven.”

Tabata: We were originally thinking about producing something less emotional, but when we thought about the demo as a way to introduce users to the FF franchise, we realized that wouldn’t cut it. By the way, we had a small team make this demo in about 1.5 to 2 months, using assets we’d already completed. Don’t worry; we didn’t put development of FFXV on hold to produce the demo. (laughs)

--“Roughly how big is it?”

Tabata: If you run straight to the end, about 30 minutes. You can also collect coins to unlock weapons, and there’s even a hidden boss in there somewhere, so if you enjoy being thorough there’s quite a lot to do. The demo should let users learn the game’s controls in a natural way while also enjoying the dynamic weather and a small glimpse of certain summon beasts. At the end of the demo there’s a proper battle for users to sink their teeth into, and a little bonus that ties into the main game.

--“And what might that be?”

Tabata: At the end of the demo you can name your Carbuncle. If you do, your Carbuncle will rush to your aid when you’re playing the main game and find yourself in a tight spot. He only joins you through the demo, so we invite everyone to check it out.

FFXV’s three themes and emphasis on user experience

--“You told us the theme of the FFXV story is ‘parent and child’. Could you tell us about the ideas behind the gameplay itself?”

Tabata: We initially decided on three keywords: “Journey”, “Companions” and “Car.” For the “Journey” element, we aimed to offer the user the feeling of an actual road trip. We spent time experimenting with how to convey a sense of travel, making the world as seamless as possible and offering the player a panned-out vantage point. The most transformative element of the journey is the presence of your “Companions.” Ensuring each of the characters feel real will help the player become emotionally involved with the party, enabling them to share the joys and hardships that await the group on their travels. That’s why we paid a lot of attention to details such as small habits and behaviors, all the way down to the sense of distance maintained by each character in their relationships with Noctis. This kind of development doesn’t happen in leaps and bounds, needing a lot of time and effort in AI and animation, but I think it’s shaping up into something we can be proud of. It’s a lot of fun to hang out with Noctis and the gang.

--“So there’s an intimate connection between the “Journey” and “Companions.” But what about the “Car?”

Tabata: The “Car” has its roots in our core theme, “parent and child.” Noctis and his companions are traveling in Regis’ car. The car connects the son and his father. It’s both pivotal to the story experience, and a means of travel. It can also be customized as a game mechanic.

--“The car can be customized?”

Tabata: Yes. It even transforms and flies! (laughs)

Nozue: Everyone laughs and tells us they should have seen that coming...!

--“We should have indeed. (laughs) So the game revolves around those three keywords.”

Tabata: The other thing we’re taking very seriously is user experience. There are many different ways to approach game development, such as starting with the game’s core mechanics, or by creating the game’s setting first. For FFXV, we first asked ourselves what we wanted the player to feel, and this drove our decisions about the mechanics, required tech, and art style.

--“How will combat work?”

Tabata: Battles are a tactical affair. It’s not just a matter of your characters becoming stronger; due to the constant need to strategize, cooperating with your companions is more important than ever. You really get the sense that you’re fighting together. The co-op tactics feel great, allowing a skilled player to attack and defend in one fluid motion. We spent a lot of time tuning the enemy AI and characteristics to make the combat really work.

--“How many hours of play should the user expect?”

Tabata: We expect 40 to 50 hours to reach the end. But, to be honest, I have no idea…! The story has been split up into chapters, but a section presumed to take an hour can end up taking far longer. I would expect the average time to be a bit longer.

--“With the completion of FFXV within your crosshairs, I presume you’re already making plans beyond it?”

Tabata: Now that we have all the environments and foundations we created for FFXV, I’m really excited to think about what we can use them for next. Building those foundations was grueling work, but those efforts will breathe life into something further down the road. I’m well aware, though, that we need to make a success of FFXV first.

--“We’ll be looking forward to hearing about your plans for the future. Do you have any closing comments for the fans?”

Nozue: I always feel like there’s a festive atmosphere surrounding the release of a Final Fantasy title. We’re doing everything within our power to ensure that FFXV will be the ultimate experience. This is our Olympics, and we’re getting ready to take on the world. We’re hoping everyone will enjoy our challenge with us, and cheer us on.

Tabata: FFXV is a challenger preparing to take on the world. I don’t know how best to put it, but I’m hoping to celebrate the launch of the game together with the fans. To make Final Fantasy great again with FFXV, and to enjoy this event with everyone. To impress people from across the globe, and proudly show them what the Japanese game industry is capable of. I’ve done everything within my power to make this dream a reality. We’ve entered the final stretch. Our goal is in sight.



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