Final Fantasy XIII-2's Developers Discuss Feedback, Twitter, And Admiring Skyrim

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Posted by patrickklepek (3469 posts) -

Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to be a PlayStation 2 game, the company's role-playing finale between Sony’s last piece of hardware and the next. Development started in 2004, but a move to PlayStation 3 and onto a new engine proved more troublesome than expected--the game finally released in late 2009 in Japan, early 2010 everywhere else.

It’s not often that Square Enix commissions a direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game, but the practice has become more and more commonplace, with Final Fantasy XIII being the latest to receive one with Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Final Fantasy X received a sequel, too, focusing on a trio of female characters from the game.

“With Final Fantasy XIII being the first Final Fantasy on the next-gen consoles, or at least what was considered next-gen, and we spent a lot of time creating the environment and the characters and we had a great satisfaction in what we created,” said producer Yoshinori Kitase in an interview with me back in October.

While Final Fantasy XIII was not the most critically beloved of the Final Fantasy games, it sold well. More than six million copies of the game have been shipped worldwide, and since creating a brand-new Final Fantasy game would take years, a sequel made more sense.

“The difficult in this is that because it’s a direct sequel and the foundation remains the same, it’s how to provide users with a new experience, where it’s still new and exciting, and I think that becomes the biggest challenge for a sequel,” said Kitase.

One of the biggest complaints about Final Fantasy XIII was the linearity, a criticism not lost on the development staff. Final Fantasy XIII-2 introduces a time travel element (making our latest Endurance Run well-timed) that gives new options to the player, a feature that’s seen tweaks based on what players have been saying while the game is still in development.

Focus testing is a new concept for Square Enix, one it picked up from the acquisition of Eidos Interactive. Kitase said the conversations he’s been having with Western designers from Eidos Interactive's many studios has proven very influential, and pushed Square Enix to start soliciting player feedback before development wrapped.

Previously, the game would finish development and then the team would seek out feedback. This meant most meaningful notes from fans could not be incorporated until the next game, potentially years out.

“A lot of the titles coming out of Japan have a tendency to not use any focus testing,” said Kitase, “and especially with Final Fantasy, especially with [what we] learned from XIII, especially hearing all the fan feedback and media feedback post launch, we took that a cue to incorporate that from an early stage, and we feel this is a good method that we would like to incorporate into our development.”

Players can travel back in time with leveled up characters to tackle previously unbeatable bosses in XIII-2.

Kitase said he’s aware of how players these days are able to provide more direct, real-time feedback through Facebook and Twitter, but admitted the issue is that much of Japan hasn’t accepted social media just yet.

“We’re learning,” he said.

Another problem, one that we can all relate to, is figuring out what users are asking for, as most people are anonymous on the Internet, and determining if a user is being serious can be...challenging. His team still actively read message boards, however.

Part of this learning process has been adopting the idea of the “vertical slice,” an industry insider term that refers to a development team extracting a small section of an unfinished game and spending time polishing that for presentation purposes. It’s what makes up many of the demos you see at E3, PAX-- shows where games are shown over and over again.

If you didn't care for Final Fantasy XIII, it's unclear whether XIII-2 will change that much.

When asked about the rising influence of Western-made RPGs, Kitase said he enjoys talking to the media about what makes them enjoyable. When in the thick of development, he doesn’t have time to play much, and the media gives him perspective as that aspect winds down.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 art director Isamu Kamikokuryo had a particular eye for Western games, showing admiration for Rockstar GamesRed Dead Redemption, and jealousy after I said I’d played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ahead of release (remember, this is back in October).

“I really enjoyed the previous rendition [The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion],” said Kamikokuryo, “but the graphic quality for this new one is just extremely impressive, and it really strikes my curiosity to see if I were to create something like that...how I would design a game, or the characters, or the world?”

Maybe he'll have a chance with the Final Fantasy game, which is most likely already well into development.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 arrives on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 31.

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (3469 posts) -

Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to be a PlayStation 2 game, the company's role-playing finale between Sony’s last piece of hardware and the next. Development started in 2004, but a move to PlayStation 3 and onto a new engine proved more troublesome than expected--the game finally released in late 2009 in Japan, early 2010 everywhere else.

It’s not often that Square Enix commissions a direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game, but the practice has become more and more commonplace, with Final Fantasy XIII being the latest to receive one with Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Final Fantasy X received a sequel, too, focusing on a trio of female characters from the game.

“With Final Fantasy XIII being the first Final Fantasy on the next-gen consoles, or at least what was considered next-gen, and we spent a lot of time creating the environment and the characters and we had a great satisfaction in what we created,” said producer Yoshinori Kitase in an interview with me back in October.

While Final Fantasy XIII was not the most critically beloved of the Final Fantasy games, it sold well. More than six million copies of the game have been shipped worldwide, and since creating a brand-new Final Fantasy game would take years, a sequel made more sense.

“The difficult in this is that because it’s a direct sequel and the foundation remains the same, it’s how to provide users with a new experience, where it’s still new and exciting, and I think that becomes the biggest challenge for a sequel,” said Kitase.

One of the biggest complaints about Final Fantasy XIII was the linearity, a criticism not lost on the development staff. Final Fantasy XIII-2 introduces a time travel element (making our latest Endurance Run well-timed) that gives new options to the player, a feature that’s seen tweaks based on what players have been saying while the game is still in development.

Focus testing is a new concept for Square Enix, one it picked up from the acquisition of Eidos Interactive. Kitase said the conversations he’s been having with Western designers from Eidos Interactive's many studios has proven very influential, and pushed Square Enix to start soliciting player feedback before development wrapped.

Previously, the game would finish development and then the team would seek out feedback. This meant most meaningful notes from fans could not be incorporated until the next game, potentially years out.

“A lot of the titles coming out of Japan have a tendency to not use any focus testing,” said Kitase, “and especially with Final Fantasy, especially with [what we] learned from XIII, especially hearing all the fan feedback and media feedback post launch, we took that a cue to incorporate that from an early stage, and we feel this is a good method that we would like to incorporate into our development.”

Players can travel back in time with leveled up characters to tackle previously unbeatable bosses in XIII-2.

Kitase said he’s aware of how players these days are able to provide more direct, real-time feedback through Facebook and Twitter, but admitted the issue is that much of Japan hasn’t accepted social media just yet.

“We’re learning,” he said.

Another problem, one that we can all relate to, is figuring out what users are asking for, as most people are anonymous on the Internet, and determining if a user is being serious can be...challenging. His team still actively read message boards, however.

Part of this learning process has been adopting the idea of the “vertical slice,” an industry insider term that refers to a development team extracting a small section of an unfinished game and spending time polishing that for presentation purposes. It’s what makes up many of the demos you see at E3, PAX-- shows where games are shown over and over again.

If you didn't care for Final Fantasy XIII, it's unclear whether XIII-2 will change that much.

When asked about the rising influence of Western-made RPGs, Kitase said he enjoys talking to the media about what makes them enjoyable. When in the thick of development, he doesn’t have time to play much, and the media gives him perspective as that aspect winds down.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 art director Isamu Kamikokuryo had a particular eye for Western games, showing admiration for Rockstar GamesRed Dead Redemption, and jealousy after I said I’d played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ahead of release (remember, this is back in October).

“I really enjoyed the previous rendition [The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion],” said Kamikokuryo, “but the graphic quality for this new one is just extremely impressive, and it really strikes my curiosity to see if I were to create something like that...how I would design a game, or the characters, or the world?”

Maybe he'll have a chance with the Final Fantasy game, which is most likely already well into development.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 arrives on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 31.

Staff
#2 Posted by Jamin52 (6 posts) -

Woo

#3 Posted by TechHits (1367 posts) -

what he's saying is what I want to hear, I give it a go.

#4 Posted by enthalpy (37 posts) -

I assume that it was "maybe he'll have a chance with the next Final Fantasy game." The lack of focus testing is an interesting decision.

#5 Posted by Marz (5642 posts) -

While FFXIII-2 might be a leap forward from FFXIII....  it's really not the next FF game people wanted...

#6 Posted by InfiniteGeass (2051 posts) -

I really enjoyed FFXIII. It was my first FF game and I eagerly await to play this one.

#7 Posted by Veektarius (4590 posts) -

It's definitely good that Final Fantasy is looking for some direction from Western gamers, at least, it's good for Western gamers. However, FFXIII's story and world were the furthest off the mark in a long time. Focusing on the mechanical issues is well and good, but based on the trailers, I'd say they haven't come to grips with the west's intolerance for their sappy melodrama. In a story-based game, that's easily as important as whether there are any towns to buy your potions in.

#8 Posted by metalsnakezero (2288 posts) -

It does sound like they are learning from their mistakes. Let see if it works out.

#9 Edited by DaBuddaDa (290 posts) -

Focus testing is a dangerous road to travel down if they're new to it and don't know how to utilize information gathered from it correctly. I hope they are leaning more toward the Valve-style of play testing rather than the Activision-style of focus testing.

#10 Posted by ildon (360 posts) -

Typo on the last line: says "XII-2" instead of "XIII-2".

#11 Posted by Vexxan (4615 posts) -

@ildon said:

Typo on the last line: says "XII-2" instead of "XIII-2".

Same typo under one of the pictures.

Great article, I'm eager to see how it all turns out, I liked FF13.

#12 Posted by kerikxi (531 posts) -

What's horrifying is the realization it took Squeenix this long, this many years and this many games, before it occurred to them hey guys, maybe we should ask some other people what they think about our game before we finish it, maybe even listen to them. It's not very surprising that Japanese game development has been left in the dust when they've lived in a bubble for so long.

#13 Posted by Sawboss (95 posts) -

How about a Japanese Voice Track...is that asking so much?

#14 Posted by endaround (2138 posts) -

Or hey he could be working on an unreal engine action rpg....

#15 Posted by AndrewBeardsley (371 posts) -

I look forward to this game.

#16 Posted by Daracon (26 posts) -

@Sawboss said:

How about a Japanese Voice Track...is that asking so much?

I would die for this!

#17 Posted by bricewgilbert (179 posts) -

Japanese developers with their insane corporate structure getting into focus testing? That sounds bad. You've already got companies in the US doing it wrong. Valve and Naughty Dog do it right, but even then it's quite scary to think they might design a game to the lowest common denominator. So far they've used their discretion well though.

#18 Posted by SuperJoe (870 posts) -

I don't believe Japan is behind in social media. If I learned anything from the earthquake, it's that Japan loves Twitter.

#19 Posted by Hailinel (23885 posts) -

I played the FFXIII-2 demo at PAX, and it was awesome. I can't wait for the full game.

#20 Posted by DaBuddaDa (290 posts) -

Regarding the picture subtitle above: "If you didn't care for Final Fantasy XIII, it's unclear whether XIII-2 will change that much." If you need to ask, why not find out? There is a laundry list of massive changes XIII-2 is bringing from XIII. If you do your research it's actually quite clear that XIII-2 is going to be a very different experience from a gameplay perspective.

#21 Posted by Canteu (2821 posts) -

FF13 was great, looking forward to this to see what's different.

#22 Posted by xxizzypop (577 posts) -

@kerikxi said:

What's horrifying is the realization it took Squeenix this long, this many years and this many games, before it occurred to them hey guys, maybe we should ask some other people what they think about our game before we finish it, maybe even listen to them. It's not very surprising that Japanese game development has been left in the dust when they've lived in a bubble for so long.

While I entirely agree, consider the company we're talking about. Even before it became Square-Enix, there was Squaresoft, then Square, and Enix. Both of these companies have been working on JRPGs since, essentially, the infancy of gaming. I think people's nostalgia fading, the aging and loss of a fanbase without working hard enough to build up good will and a new base, and being critically lambasted for XIII helped to pop that little bubble and make them realize they need to listen. Hopefully. Hopefully.

#23 Posted by shenstra (163 posts) -

@kerikxi said:

What's horrifying is the realization it took Squeenix this long, this many years and this many games, before it occurred to them hey guys, maybe we should ask some other people what they think about our game before we finish it, maybe even listen to them. It's not very surprising that Japanese game development has been left in the dust when they've lived in a bubble for so long.

Yet that very same approach is what has made Apple one of the most successful companies in the world. Focus testing, excessive reliance on and overly eager acceptance of feedback, these are the things that make for boringly familiar games. If you ask people what they want, they'll say they want more of the last awesome thing they had. What they actually want is a new awesome thing. The trick is finding out what the next awesome thing should be.

The problem (or I should say: a major problem) with Japanese game design lately has been that they don't innovate enough. They constantly fall back in the same old routine, which seems to appeal to the Japanese market, but not so much to the rest of the world. If there's one thing they shouldn't do, it's listening to focus groups or consumer feedback. That would only further hamper any kind of progress.

#24 Posted by Altersparck (70 posts) -

Square-Enix is only NOW coming around to focus testing?

#25 Posted by yoshimitz707 (2450 posts) -

I really enjoyed the combat in XIII but the story really didn't grip me and the corridor crawls didn't help much either. Let's hope this one is a lot better!

#26 Posted by xbob42 (482 posts) -

It's absolutely terrifying that it took them that long to figure this out. Hopefully they'll treat this new-found tool with discretion. Contrary to what many here might believe, feedback isn't just "Hear what everyone says and implement every feature we possibly can," it's more of a way to gauge if players are able to play a game without frustration, and if they're actually having fun.

For example, I believe this was on Extra Credits, and I'm paraphrasing here, so the details may be off, but the overall point should be true. Their friend, James, I believe, was called in to a studio to give feedback on a game they were developing. He couldn't figure out how to open his inventory (It was a PC RPG.) and had to ask them what he had to do. Turns out, you had to triple-click your character. This was not explained in the game, and was very unintuitive. However, to the team, it seemed perfectly normal because that's how they designed it, so it was totally natural to them. Having someone from the outside give a little perspective can make these obvious (To all of us.) flaws far less common and games thus more accessible. (Read: Playable without frustration. Not easy, though the term IS often misused.)

Further, how Valve does it is also great, and a fantastic example to draw upon. They use to to discern at what point in the gameplay a player begins to start experiencing fatigue from too much action, or boredom from not enough action, and pace their games perfectly so it always feels like everything is progressing, but at a rate you can handle without getting stressed out. (Whereas some games, such as Dead Space, thrive on you stressing out and becoming fatigued, which is a pro and not a con in said games.)

Feedback is more than just "here's a bajillion ideas now see what sticks!"

#27 Posted by StriderNo9 (1081 posts) -

Super excited about FF13-2 It looks like the game we've been asking for, I guess it is.

#28 Posted by Beforet (2912 posts) -

That's great. So did they mention when Final Fantasy Versus XIII will be released?

#29 Posted by Junpei (725 posts) -

While I can't say they will know how to focus test properly (every games system may now just be FF7s because "that's what people want") I am glad to hear that they are trying to change things for the better. They are going to need to learn to strike a balance between tweaking for playability and sticking to a design and system that makes each game unique.

#30 Edited by kerikxi (531 posts) -

@shenstra: I can guarantee there isn't a major western based developer out there who doesn't focus test their games right now. And it doesn't take stretching that a lot further to see the rut Japan's dug themselves into. It's not the only thing they need to do, innovation is desperately needed for sure, on both sides of the Pacific. But the idea of just showing your game to people and having them tell you what works for them, what doesn't, is very far from a bad thing. It's mind boggling that this concept is so alien to them.

And everyone whining about how this is a bad thing, please re-read my first line again. Almost every game you have played and enjoyed has been focus tested, at least this console generation. The real key is what kind of information you take away from it, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the process itself.

#31 Posted by Pepsiman (2459 posts) -

@SuperJoe said:

I don't believe Japan is behind in social media. If I learned anything from the earthquake, it's that Japan loves Twitter.

I'm glad somebody else noticed that line in particular. It's hard to know exactly who Kitase was referring to without hearing him speak the original Japanese, but if I were to guess based on my own interpretation skills and the actual line used in the article itself, I'm guessing he was referring more to corporate brass than your average Joe since, as you already mentioned, Twitter is quite the thing over here and has been for quite some time. Obviously older people aren't necessarily as head over heels for it, but it's a service that greatly appeals to a younger crowd, especially since the character limitations are significantly less of a hindrance for Japanese speakers than they are for English ones.

#32 Posted by DG991 (1344 posts) -

If they are already coming to 360, might as well release it on PC as well.

#33 Posted by JackSukeru (5903 posts) -

I'm interested to see how this game will turn out and how it will be different from FFXIII. I still haven't finished that game (only started playing it a couple of months ago though, and will probably go back to it toward the end of this year) so I've kept myself pretty cut off from any information or videos of this one.

That said I'm actually far more interested in seeing Versus XIII, that one is...still coming out, right?

#34 Posted by JayHayabusa (143 posts) -

First Final Fantasy on the 'next gen' 6 years into the life cycle. Way to be efficient.

#35 Posted by Millsington (1 posts) -

I've been a FF fan since FF2(US) and I thought FF12+ have been absolutely terrible.

Fun battle systems and pretty areas do not make a good RPG. I can't even remember the names of the characters in FF12 let alone any real personality traits, and I spent ~40 hours playing through it. Yet I can quote dialogue from 2 hour movies I've seen 10+ years ago.

Hire real writers, make JRPGs a memorable experience again.

#36 Posted by slyely (154 posts) -

It's good to hear they listen to consumers, and not many developers openly show admiration for other games. I just hope that JRPGs keep what makes them JRPGs, and we do not end up with a market full of western style RPGs. Both styles are great for what they do.

#37 Posted by Tesson (85 posts) -

Fantastic story Patrick!

#38 Posted by Chris2KLee (2328 posts) -

@SuperJoe said:

I don't believe Japan is behind in social media. If I learned anything from the earthquake, it's that Japan loves Twitter.

I think it's about how it's used. Twitter is great for getting messages out, but if you're not at a PC, it's not exactly easy to scour it for feedback and seeing what's the hot hashtag about your game. So much of Japanese internet culture is tied to phones still, and I imagine that most western companies who use social media data have at least one person at a PC with multiple alerts set for key phrases related to their products. Japan still does not have that kind of mind set for social media, especially at a corporate level.

Great article overall, and I might give FF a try again someday, if Skyrim releases it's death grip on my life.

#39 Posted by Loopah (133 posts) -

Can. Not. Wait.

#40 Posted by morrelloman (606 posts) -

I gave up after 7 or 8. But RPGs are fast becoming my favorite type of game over action. I will wait for reviews before even considering this.

#41 Edited by Humanity (8809 posts) -

The problem is when your focus testing completely fails and you end up in a weird situation such as Uncharted 3 where long time fans were upset with the control scheme yet they admitted none of their focus tests revealed even a hint of a problem in the aiming.

Japan is strangely the most innovative and most ass-backwards country of developers. Konami games especially show a ton of innovation thats completely overshadowed by weird archaic system designs. Kojima seems to get it and a lot of his ideas are very interesting and evolutionary. For better or worse Metal Gear has moved forward from iteration to iteration. Japanese classic RPG's haven't evolved at all for the most part. Resonance of Fate is a very entertaining, extremely genre pushing Japanese RPG with stereotypical characters and crazy story. How many people have actually played that game?

#42 Posted by Godzilla_Sushi (1084 posts) -

This may sound harsh, but hearing those guys say "Skyrim makes me wonder how I would do that game" is them pondering how they could set a video game back 15 years. Needs more inappropriate creepy sex. Less choice. Some random battles. And can we just get rid of the open world please? All dungeons.

They haven't focus tested a game for feedback prior to release before now.....well that explains everything.

#43 Posted by Norusdog (340 posts) -

FFXIII was dogshit. from the linear story to the auto-pilot no-control over teammates battle system. Unless both of those are changed (at least where the linearity is no worse than FFX's) I don't give a shit what any of these people say they are or are not doing.

FFXIII was a total abortion. The only thing going for it was the graphics.

#44 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

I just don't care about Final Fantasy anymore. Sorry, but you had your chance, Japanese developers.

#45 Posted by VisariLoyalist (2990 posts) -

I'm assuming you meant the "difficulty in this" not "the difficult in this" typo patrol looking out for you patrick

#46 Posted by Vorbis (2749 posts) -

Looking forward to it.

#47 Posted by Lautaro (448 posts) -

@Godzilla_Sushi said:

This may sound harsh, but hearing those guys say "Skyrim makes me wonder how I would do that game" is them pondering how they could set a video game back 15 years. Needs more inappropriate creepy sex. Less choice. Some random battles. And can we just get rid of the open world please? All dungeons.

They haven't focus tested a game for feedback prior to release before now.....well that explains everything.

What inappropriate creepy sex are you referring to? Have you played a Final Fantasy game before?

#48 Posted by ZenaxPure (2569 posts) -

I came into this news story expecting to see the comments being a ton of generic ff13 hate with things not really true or just a bunch of nonsense like usual, I have been pleasantly surprised.

#49 Posted by Commisar123 (1790 posts) -

Well I hoped they figured out how to start video games this time

#50 Posted by kollay (1926 posts) -

So, how long is the tutorial on this one?

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