#90: “Stormblood Development Tales – Part 3”
Published in 2017/08/17 issue
Fall 2015: The general outline of Stormblood was decided and we sent the order to the Visual Works department to create the opening movie. Work on FFXIV’s second expansion pack had officially begun. However, the development team was still in the midst of developing the 3.X series and planning content and system updates.
– The Background (BG) Team Started First –
I think this goes for any HD game, but the backgrounds are what influence development later on the most. In other words, the maps. Since FFXIV expansions contain as much content as a full-fledged RPG, we started work on the backgrounds the earliest.
In April 2016, a few members from the level design team and the BG team began creating maps for Stormblood. It was shortly after the release of Patch 3.2. At this point, all we’d decided on was that there would be 7 areas in total: 3 for the Ala Mhigo arc, 3 for the Eastern arc, and 1 player town which was the trading post for the isolationist region of Hingashi. We hadn’t begun real work on the story yet. This was different from normal RPG development, but we had two big reasons for it:
- If we didn’t start working on this now, we wouldn’t make it in time for the planned release window.
- In order to create a story that follows the game experience, we did not base the game around the story.
Creating the maps begins with the world lore team making a rough composition of the areas. The level design and BG teams then discuss the unique characteristics of each area with the main scenario writers. I participate in this meeting too, and I make requests based on the game experience. For Stormblood, we were going to implement underwater actions, so I wanted one area to be focused on the sea. And since the Ala Mhigo side was definitely going to be bleak, I wanted parts with plains and open fields.
Though we didn’t have a plot yet, we did know that the theme would be the Warrior of Light going on a new journey. The level design and BG teams started creating and labeling the base “blank map” based on what was discussed in the meeting. The blank map is completely empty, with only the boundaries of areas drawn in. Written on it are ideas like “abandoned building”, “ruins”, “battleground remains”, “mysterious giant tree”, etc.
The map creation begins from the world lore, but for the details, the level design and BG teams come up with interesting ideas first. The ideas are checked by me or the scenario staff, and if they’re approved, they go back to the world lore team to be fleshed out. I feel that this approach considerably improves optimization as well as the game experience and setting.
– Main Scenario Training Camp (In a Rental Conference Room…) –
On the last day of May 2016, the training camp for Stormblood’s main scenario finally began. Normally, you would imagine such a thing to take place at a relaxing hotel, but this is FFXIV we’re talking about! It was simply me and the main scenario writers commuting to a local rental conference room and holding meetings there. You may be wondering, “Why not just do it at the office then?” But so long as I’m in the office, I’ll get pulled into all sorts of meetings. Holding this outside was a way to isolate me from all of that.
The training camp was a new thing we tried this time. For Heavensward, the main scenario fixes kept getting delayed and delayed, so this time, I wanted to front-load all of the scenario decisions. That said, it was only a year before release, so it was still pretty late compared to normal game development…
We began by assigning the areas to each part of the main scenario, and at the same time discussing the Warrior of Light’s motive for fighting in each area and who they would be accompanied by. The themes for Stormblood became “the Warrior of Light encounters a powerful foe”, “war will break out, so not everything will resolve happily”, “taking the noble path”, etc. We also decided on the story flow based on what the writers wanted to do.
The training camp lasted roughly 4 days, and in my opinion, I gained a lot from it. Sure, we decided on the story’s outline, but I also got a deeper understanding of what the writers were thinking and what they wanted to do. And at the same time, I was able to share what I wanted to accomplish with Stormblood. Being able to go for after-work drinks together at the same time as ordinary office workers was a surprisingly precious experience. *laughs*
– It’s Almost Time for Las Vegas Fan Festival, But… –
Though the training camp went well, this was where hell began for the main scenario writers… Even when Patch 3.3 was released, they had to get to work on Patch 3.4 and 3.5 right afterwards. FFXIV generally does voice recording for 2 patches at a time, so the voiced parts need to be recorded over 8 months in advance. Once that was done, the lines for the voiced parts of Stormblood were written, reviewed by me, and proofread. Having the plot of Stormblood to work from would increase the map-making team’s effectiveness, but at that particular time, the entire development team was focused on the upcoming patches. (Equipment and other rewards were being worked on at the same time, but that’s a story for next time.)
This and that happened, and we reached October 2016. FFXIV’s second round of fan festivals would kick off in Las Vegas, and Stormblood would be officially announced in my keynote speech… But as I wrote in the previous column, Las Vegas would only be the formal announcement of the expansion and that it would take place in Ala Mhigo. In other words, the teaser trailer was the main reveal.
However, there was a major problem with the teaser trailer. In the full trailer, the second half unveils the new world map which quickly expands to the Eastern regions, where a samurai is shown. But when you cut it to only the first half, there isn’t anything Final Fantasy at all. Honestly, when I saw the rough version, I couldn’t help but laugh nervously because it looked like something straight out of Street Fighter.
We did what we could to address this, like adding in a chocobo scene and a faint FF melody, but it was regrettable how it was lacking in impact. It was a brilliant marketing and PR plan designed to surprise the players, but we didn’t pay enough consideration to its FF-ness. Thank you to the Visual Works department and our sound director Soken-chan for making these last-minute adjustments… The story will continue next time, in Part 4.