How to Make Sure Final Fantasy XIV Doesn't Suck--Part 5

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hey, and welcome again to Somnambulant Gamer's seven-part feature, "How to Make Sure Final Fantasy XIV Doesn't Suck". The first four parts can be found here, if you care to peruse them.

So far, we've discussed Combat, Story, Jobs and Character Growth--but having these things, even if they are great, is like having paint with no canvas--and you can't paint something beautiful if you don't have something on which to to put it. If we want characters who give us the illusion of being living, breathing adventurers, we better having a living, breathing place for them to roam.


In Final Fantasy XI, the world we explore is called Vana'diel. It is as vast a world as almost any game out there can boast. This is something that is alternately awful and incredible.
Final Fantasy XIV's world, Eorzea, has already been revealed--although the name is about all we know, so far. The question is, how is this world going to operate?

What in Final Fantasy XI's world needs to go? What needs to stay? How should Square Enix revolutionize it, if revolutionize it they can?

What to Toss

Look, Square Enix. We have to talk. Some of the choices you make, well, I just can't understand them. It's like you know how to do some incredible things, but you choose not to do them.

Like in Final Fantasy XI. Your NPCs. Why don't they move or talk? They just stand around, staring off into space. I would understand if it had never occurred to you to make NPCs move or talk--but it has! You even have one in there, just to tease me; that little runt who runs around in Southern San'doria making deliveries. He even says "Here's your delivery!" when he makes one. He is a buff of breeze in a city caught perpetually in the doldrums.

And another thing! The same NPCs are standing in the same places, 24/7. Yeah, I know you need to have someone there in case a player needs to do another crab-killing mission or whatever, but I have some ideas on how to get around that. The point is that a player's "willing suspension of disbelief" is dented when they're supposed to be running through a living world, but that world's inhabitants do nothing lifelike.

Also, I know you two are close, but...zones need to go. Zones were really cool back in the day. We didn't mind because they made playing technologically feasible. But today, zones are tired...and they make you look old, too. No more borders, okay?

And there's just one more thing. I know gaming's an illusion, but it's time to step it up.

Green Texture Mapping


Honestly, I'm reticent to say more about that--if I have faith that you'll change one thing for the better, it's your graphics.

I hope this was helpful, SE. You know I have feelings for you. I just want us to grow together, instead of apart.


What to Keep

There're a lot of good things to keep about Final Fantasy XI's world that should inspire Final Fantasy XIV. Square Enix already revealed that the same races will grace Eorzea as they did Vana'diel, or slightly-updated versions of them. I support this idea--Final Fantasy is an ever-changing entity, with only a semblance of continuity buried here or there--Final Fantasy Online needs more than that, and static races (with, perhaps, new ones added) are a great way to address that.

Square Enix needs to retain whomever did the design and writing for characters like Prince Trion, Prishe, Lion, and other memorable NPCs. These characters drive Final Fantasy XI's storylines in interesting, dramatic, and often hilarious ways. We need more like them.

As far as the world goes, (and far does it go), as dead and dull as some areas are, (Behemoth's Dominion, I'm looking at you) others are simply breathtaking, even today. After years of playing, The Sanctuary of Zi'tah still leaves me tingling with excitement; Lufaise Meadows is still magical; the intricate and (potentially fatally) alluring underwater labyrinth of Nyzul Isle is nothing less than enchanting.

There is something these three areas have in common--aren't at all anything super special to look at; but they all provide a dense sense of atmosphere. Everything within these zones 'clicks' with everything else--the monsters make sense, the music is excellent, the lighting is nuanced. Keep that sort of thing up, big time.

How to Revolutionize It

There are a great many ways FFXIV could take MMO worlds to the next level. Fortunately, none of them are particularly complex.

In fact, Square Enix has successfully executed one thing that would improve the world's 'believability" with flying colors--only in a different game. Final Fantasy XII, (that's 12, for those of you starting to lose track of all these Roman numerals,) had cities bustling with activity. This was accomplished in one simple fashion.

Not every NPC in FFXII can be spoken with. Many appear to be deeply immersed in conversation with other NPCs, waving their hands about, oblivious of you or your little world-saving errand. Others were busy shopping, or running to and fro, busy with their day's work. I'd estimate only 45% percent of NPCs could be spoken with in FFXII, although they did such a good job integrating the interactive and the static that it could be much higher or much lower--I was immersed, and thus, didn't care to notice, and that right there should be their goal.

If jam-packed cities aren't an option, simply rotating NPCs would make a lot of sense and give the game a big breath of realism. Take, for example, the NPC "Red Ghost" in FFXI. This hulking Galka walks the same 10-step path in Port Jeuno, day in and day out. He's dressed in flashy armor, and can't be missed. He's there twenty-seven hours a day, forty-four days a week. Obviously, he's on guard. And there are other guards around Jeuno!

I ask: Why don't they ever rotate? Wouldn't be cool if Red Ghost was replaced periodically throughout the game day? Or if you go in the middle of the night, and he's there, what if he's fallen asleep on the job? At noon, why isn't he eating his lunch? Another NPC could deliver it! You could use that annoying kid from San'doria!
The same goes for shop clerks, or just people standing around in general. They need to be other places sometimes. This isn't to say that they aren't available--maybe they go home, or to the tavern, or to church. They can almost always be found somewhere, and other related NPCs will tell you where they are if you ask them.


You get a mission involving speaking to Red Ghost, and head to his location--but it's 2 am Eaorzea time and he isn't there. So talk to the nearest guard. The game, knowing you have a quest involving Red Ghost, has the other guard tell you his current location. At that location, obviously the streets are emptier. Maybe the girl from the magic shop is standing near the water with the boy from the weapons shop. Taverns are more crowded at night than during the day. Even these small things would add bursts of life, which would ease the sterility that an MMO gains as time passes. In addition, a more lifelike experience for players creates another subtle connection between player and character.

But what, perhaps, could SE do to accomplish that same vivacity once the player leaves the city?

I already mentioned the problem with texture mapping, but every kid knows that if you don't want someone to see something, you just have to cover it up. That's what SE needs to do here. Add some physical features on those texture maps and we'll be in business. It would be nerdgasmic to run across and area in waist-high grass. Seriously.

But that doesn't make areas revolutionary; giving them atmosphere is what gets you that achievement. The trick is to make these areas (NOT zones!) interact with themselves. If it's windy or stormy, our waist-high grass would sway. If we're walking in said grass, a monster might pop out of it. A big snake would be good or another monster that eats the things that would thrive in a grassy area--so, don't make us fight all the rabbits that live there, but the things that each the rabbits..

Tigers would work! We like tigers...Big, black tigers that will eat your face! I mean, just look at him! Those fangs! Those eyes! Imagine watching that thing watch you. When it aggros, it doesn't just come running. If slinks through the tall grass. You can hear it growling, the low rumble of its empty stomach. The way it sizes you up, wondering if it can digest your armor, even as you draw your sword. You can see its black fur, cutting through the grass like a shark's fin, coming straight at you until...

Well, that's not the important part. Really, the point is that the monsters, the environment, the weather, the music, and everything else in an area should jive to be one breathing entity. Change the zone, and you could have any monster you--


Well, almost any monster. You get my point.

My point is that MMOs are about immersion and interaction with a world and the characters and players inhabit it. Make the world's functions and people connect with one another--make them cogs in one vast machine, rather than simple little self-contained universes of their own. Give us the illusion that the world has a vast undercurrent of life. Let us believe the NPCs know each other exist, outside of how they connect through the player. Above all, leave crabs out of the equation.

Next time, we address what is arguably the greatest area of contention among FFXI players: Partying and Soloing, and how FFXIV needs lots and lots and lots of room for both. Thanks for reading, and don't forget that we have an RSS feed, so that you can have some Somnambulant-flavored instant gratification.

Also, a huge thanks to Line for designing the graphic for this series, seen at the top of this post. I'm all about crabs in dumpsters. Thanks, Line!!

Til next time, somnambulant ones!