This is the start of a 5-part(!) series on Stormblood development. In other words, yes, this is definitely FFXIV-related :v
#88: “Stormblood Development Tales – Part 1”
Published in 2017/07/20 issue
FFXIV’s latest expansion pack, Stormblood, went on sale on June 20th. Those who pre-ordered it were given early access starting June 16th, so for the development and management teams, that was the real start date.
Compared to our previous expansion, Heavensward, this time I’ve been more concerned with issues pertaining to the expansion’s launch rather than its content. The marketing and PR leading up to launch went quite well, but the development side was really cutting it close, and early access was in a chaotic state of congestion for roughly 28 hours.
For the next several columns, I’ll be digging into Stormblood’s development, marketing/PR, launch, and the significance of an MMORPG expansion pack (like an actual game developer column).
– Starting the Expansion –
Planning for Stormblood began in Fall 2015. In other words, it was even before Patch 3.1 was released. It had to be that early because it was going to be announced at our second Fan Festival. If work on the trailer didn’t start at around the same time we secured the venue, it wouldn’t make it in time. Also, since the development schedule for Heavensward was dangerously tight, I thought it would lessen the overall burden if we started earlier this time (although that plan ended up in failure…).
The earliest deadline we had was undoubtedly the teaser trailer that would be done by the Visual Works department. Creating a high-quality full-CGI video definitely takes a long time. How many important characters would appear in it? What would the terrain be like? How detailed would the character models have to be? All of these things would affect workload and scheduling. Checking the materials, the first draft of the trailer storyboard was dated September 24, 2015.
I did wonder if we were starting too early, considering that we hadn’t released a single 3.X patch yet. But, an expansion pack for a subscription MMORPG has to have as much content as a full-fledged RPG, and we had less than 2 years to make it. The project manager insisted, “There’s nothing strange about starting work now!” and I succumbed to his glare. We had to decide where Stormblood would be taking place.
The storyboard for this trailer was the first piece of work we had to get done, and the following notes are written at the top:
- There are 3 main regions for 4.0: “Doma” (East end of the Eastern continent) + “Hingashi” (only the trading post) + “Ala Mhigo”
- The representative jobs are Monk for Ala Mhigo and Samurai for Doma (probably 2 new jobs; 1 is undetermined)
- Still looking into how to implement the seabed between Doma and Hingashi
So, it seems like the fundamental composition for Stormblood was already decided at this point in time (I can’t really remember).
I rummaged through my work PC, but I don’t have any official materials with timestamps earlier than this (though I do have memos), so I must’ve already had a general outline decided in my head. The “Content Roadmap List” we were using at that time also has 4.0 content in it, so this really must’ve been the starting point.
“Is it safe to start working on the expansion when you haven’t even gone into 3.X?” My response to that question is that this might actually be an advantage of subscription MMORPGs (most launch with a monthly subscription model because they want to have long-term stable service). At the time, Heavensward was well-received. I tried a “worst-case simulation” of what would happen if I moved certain amounts of staff onto the next expansion, and it seemed like there was plenty of leeway. That said, it’s not like we were going to slack off on 3.X development and management. Deciding on 4.0’s subject matter also set the overall flow for the 3.X series, so we began long-term planning for how to make effective use of each patch.
For both Heavensward and Stormblood, the expansion direction began with me racking my brain for ideas by myself. Deciding on overall ideas such as FFXIV’s game design, future direction, and surprise elements are the job of the producer and director, so I’m in charge of doing that alone. After I decide on the overall theme, I ask key staff members for their opinions. Will they be able to flesh out this story completely? Are there any concerns about the jobs? What are the potential issues with implementing underwater actions? And so on.
After the direction is solidified, we move on to discussing the marketing and PR themes that are the basis for the outline. The expansion proposal was already based on data gathered from FFXIV staff worldwide, but we still have to check to make sure there aren’t any concerns with this direction. If there aren’t any major problems, then the general framework of the expansion is set.
Thus, Stormblood’s general outline was decided in late September 2015, and the Visual Works department began working on the trailer. At this point in time, we’d already decided on the identity of the girl who appeared in the trailer, but there wasn’t even a hint of a main story yet. All we had was the theme: “Travel via the trading post in Hingashi to free Doma and Ala Mhigo from the Empire’s clutches!” As the FFXIV team was preparing for Patch 3.1’s release, we were also slowly but steadily working on Stormblood in the background.
There were roughly 21 months left until Stormblood’s release date, June 20, 2017. During this time, the FFXIV team released 5 major patches and 54 updates. How did we make progress on Stormblood while all of this was going on…? Find out next time.
…Writing this column reminded me that the next expansion is already right around the corner. *dead eyes*