Something to read during pre-Shadowbringers maintenance!
This column… is actually FFXIV-related!
#108: “Escaping from Reality”
Published in 2018/05/10 and 2018/05/17 combined issue
FFXIV’s development has a stage called the “P/D check.” In general game development terms, this would be the director’s end-to-end check. Modern HD games are extremely large in scale, so development gets divided into sections such as system, characters, stages, maps, real-time cutscenes, etc. which are worked on separately.
Of course, the game’s general director will verify the specifications for each section prior to development, as well as perform a hands-on check after completion (or so I believe, but there are probably minor differences in procedures). However, when you put together parts that were developed separately, you’ll often find a lot of unexpected issues.
Video games are entertainment goods rather than industrial goods, so there are no exact answers, and there are “variances” in their degree of completion. When manufacturing industrial goods, detailed blueprints are created that document how parts are connected, and if you follow those instructions to a T, you should be able to create the product at the standard quality with a low error rate. However, in game development, this often isn’t the case. The connections are inadequate or uneven, and parts don’t join together cleanly. An “end-to-end check” is where you play the game from start to finish the same way a regular player would, and fix any issues that you discover.
Naturally, since FFXIV is an MMORPG that’s constantly being updated, we do end-to-end checks for each patch. In my case, since I’m the producer and director, we abbreviate it to the P/D check. By the way, I’m not the one who named it. I think it was probably one of the project managers, but it’s been called that for so long now that the original source is unknown.
FFXIV is currently in its final preparations for Patch 4.3, which will be released in late May. This means that I’m writing this manuscript during the aforementioned P/D check period, where I play Patch 4.3 on a vast and empty FFXIV test server, day after day starting from around 8 p.m.
“What, all you have to do is play the game and then complain to the development team? That sounds easy.”
…is what you might think, but it’s incredibly painful. First off, even though it’s an MMORPG, the test server is completely devoid of life. During the day, the QA team is logged in while debugging, but at night, no one is there. No one is walking around, and there are elite marks everywhere. When I’m entering a dungeon, I have to use a debug command and go in by myself. Basically, it’s lonely.
In FFXIV, patches come with main scenario quests. In TV drama terms, right now we’ve finished filming Season 3 Episode 3, and the final editing work is in progress. Additionally, we’re finishing up Episode 2 of Return to Ivalice, a sub-story with game designer Yasumi Matsuno in charge of the script. There are also the third entries of the slice-of-life beast tribe quests and the comedic Hildibrand quests, as well as side quests for the instanced dungeons, the Doman reconstruction story which depicts the aftermath of Doma’s liberation from the Empire, and the story around the second deep dungeon, Heaven-On-High. All of these have to be checked… Even the story content alone is a lot.
Also, since I can’t check the battle content balancing by myself, we schedule separate times for that. Return to Ivalice is done by myself and 23 other Warriors of Light/Development, while instanced dungeons are done with a party of four people that vary in player skill. For deep dungeon, the difficulty is very different between the floor 1-30 check and the floor 31-100 check, so we switch out party members for that.
Also, there’s the newest installment of FFXIV’s highest-difficulty content, “The Weapon’s Refrain (Ultimate).” Here, the mechanics are as complex and cryptic as mathematical formulas, so it feels like my head is going to burst when I’m checking it. And of course, the new crafting recipes have to be checked, as well as the item drop rates for each new fight. There’s also a new “guestbook” system for housing, and that needs to be physically checked, too.
There’s plenty more, but if I write out everything, it’ll probably take up the rest of the column space by itself (although that would make things easy). Though it’s called a “check,” it’s more than just playing the game. How would the player feel about this part? Are we repeating the same animations anywhere? Do any of the interface improvements make things harder to understand? I have to look at the game from various different angles and indicate areas that need fixing. Just indicating wouldn’t be so bad, but I also have to present alternative solutions. It starts to feel like doing all of your summer homework at once.
Of course, the development team leaders are also checking their own areas to avoid P/D check retakes, frantically fitting it all within the schedule. However, there’ll always be a difference in objective point of view between the development team, myself, and the player. Everyone has subtle differences in how they perceive things, and the end-to-end check is crucial for closing that gap.
If my check is delayed, then that leaves less time to fix things before release. That results in a lower quality product for our players, so I need to avoid that at all costs.
…So, I’m currently in the middle of the most rigorous of my FFXIV duties. I’m tired and my shoulders are stiff. And this happens every 3.5 months. I can’t take it.
“Once this is done, I’m going to gorge on delicious BBQ!” “I’m going on a shopping spree for clothes!” “I’ll take a day off and play FFXIV all day!”
Those kinds of fantasies are what keep me going while I’m doing the P/D check.
At times, I do wish that I could flee to a resort on a sunny Southern island, but then I remember my distaste for airplanes and give up without fail. Ahh, I just want to go to Eureka and leech… (total inside joke)
 The Japanese word here is FFXIV-exclusive slang, ノの民 “the ノ people”, which refers to players who sit at the base camp in Eureka and only join parties when NMs are spawned. They type “ノ” in shout chat as an LFG message.