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FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 2): Lead Level Designer Arata Takahashi

Hello everyone, this is Miyamiya from the Promotional team!

FFXIV Backstage Investigators is a blog series that shares behind-the-scenes stories from the team members who work on all aspects of FFXIV.

The subject of our second interview is...


Lead Level Designer Arata Takahashi!

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Without further ado: Investigators, move out!

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Miyamiya: Thank you for agreeing to today's interview! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Takahashi: My name is Arata Takahashi. I have a leading role in the Level Design team.

Miyamiya: Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the term "level design." Could you explain the Level Design team's role?

Takahashi: In Japan, the word "level" evokes an idea of ranks and progression, like "leveling up." In other regions, however, it typically means a stage or scene. Level Design refers to the latter meaning, and our team creates stages and scenes.

To elaborate, we propose and direct all of the scenery in-game, and we're also involved in the stage design for all sorts of content, including dungeons, raids, and the Gold Saucer. When the team is working on an expansion, for example, we design and direct the overworld and city areas, and propose ideas for seasonal events where FATEs are involved. You could say that, in one way or another, we've worked on the scenery for every single area you can visit in the game.

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Miyamiya: That's such a wide variety! You could say that all players, regardless of playstyle, have seen your work. We've talked about creating the overworld and cities in a previous interview. Taking an example from what you've listed, how is the Level Design team involved in creating battle content?

Takahashi: When it comes to dungeons, it goes without saying that we work on the scenery, but we also have a hand in designing everything that occurs as you progress through the instance. This includes where and how enemies appear and how the dungeon unfolds. I handled the level design proposal for the first dungeon of Shadowbringers, Holminster Switch, so I'll use that an example to explain.

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Considering the story leading up to Holminster Switch, I felt that the dungeon should present a real-time portrayal of the miserable situation brought about by sin eaters. From there, I pieced together a story structure and its components.

In the case of Holminster Switch, it was something like this:

・ Adventurers arrive after hearing that the village was attacked.

・ Phase 1: In the forest leading up to the village, they witness beasts being attacked by sin eaters and being turned into sin eaters themselves.

・ Phase 2: After exiting the forest, they get a full view of the ongoing chaos and become enraged.

・ Phase 3: They feel powerless as villagers flee the scene, only to be attacked and turned into sin eaters.

Once the structure of the story was solidified, I added mechanics and scenes such as "sin eaters hatch from the cocoons found along the way" and "encountering villagers fleeing from the back of the village" to finalize the proposal. The scenario isn't too specific about these components or what goes on in the dungeon, so Level Design members have room to create their own stories for them.

With that said, the Level Design team doesn't work alone during this process. We confer with other teams, such as the Event and Scenario teams for story elements, and the Monster team for battle elements.

Miyamiya: So instead of having the teams work solely on their own specific parts, various teams are working together to create each content. Now I understand how the Level Design team is involved in battle content.

On a different note, when flying in A Realm Reborn areas was introduced in Patch 5.3, I was blown away by how different the scenery looked from above! I'm sure the Level Design was also deeply involved in this revamp.

Do you have any recommended sightseeing locations, or areas where you put special focus on while working on the revamp?

Takahashi: I'm tempted to recommend all of the A Realm Reborn areas. (Laughs) I'd especially recommend standing on the palms of the statue below Highbridge in Eastern Thanalan, and flying above the crane and masts of the ships in the Moraby Drydocks in Lower La Noscea.

20201130_mm_06.png▲ Eastern Thanalan: Palms of the statue below Highbridge
(Around X:21.3, Y:19.7, Z:0.1)

20201130_mm_07.png ▲ Lower La Noscea: Above the crane and masts of ships in the Moraby Drydocks
(Around X:26.2, Y:34.3, Z:1.1)

This gorgeous screenshot was taken during sunset. The sunrise (about 5:50 a.m. Eorzean Time) during clear weather is a sight to see as well!

I was particular about adding locations where you could land and dismount and not just fly. Since players would have more freedom to explore, I felt it'd be a shame to go without adding something for them to enjoy. I spoke directly with the staff member in charge as often as time and bandwidth allowed in order to add as many of these locations as possible. We weren't able to make all of them happen so I have mixed feelings about it, but I'd be glad if you could discover these locations and enjoy them.

Making certain areas traversable also made it more convenient when moving from one region of the map to another. You can even cross the enormous lake in Upper La Noscea without having to rely on the Qiqirn. (Laughs)

Miyamiya: Looks like the Qiqirn are out of a job! (Laughs) It's also much easier to travel through areas with large variations in altitude.

As for your past work, is there a project that you found to be the most memorable?

Takahashi: Each project is a new experience, and each one different from the last, so it's hard to pick just one.

For instance, there are a number of Gold Saucer activities such as Leap of Faith and The Slice is Right where the Level Design team not only created the scenery, but designed the system as well.

One notable example is Air Force One. FFXIV didn't have any pre-existing systems that worked in the same way, so the Level Design member in charge painstakingly put together a new system from scratch.

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The Level Design team created systems for other content as well. Each one carries a different memory, whether it be of struggle or enjoyment, and all of them remain in my heart.

Miyamiya: So those unique Gold Saucer activities are created by members of the Level Design team! FFXIV has all kinds of different activities, but is there something you keep in mind when designing content?

Takahashi: In contrast to dungeons and overworld FATEs, when I'm in charge of designing new content or seasonal event FATEs, I try to create something that can be enjoyed differently from battle content.

The Battle System and Monster teams do a great job creating battle content. However, there are various ways to enjoy the game, and I believe some players may not be as confident when it comes to battle content. As such, we challenge ourselves to go with a different design direction from battle content and create something that could be enjoyed by a wider audience.

Seasonal events are one such example. This year's Moonfire Faire involved an activity where players invigorate a Bombard with the Flame Dance to defend the beach from a giant man-eating shark. The event originated from the idea to create something unlike the usual battle content.

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Miyamiya: I see! The Gold Saucer minigames and seasonal events are great for enjoying with friends, since it doesn't matter how long they've been playing or where they are in the main scenario.

Next up, I'd like to ask my usual question about your tools of the trade. Is there anything you simply can't work without, carry everywhere with you, or find useful?

Takahashi: While it's not a physical tool, Google Earth is something I use often and find very useful.

I typically use it for collecting reference images or hunting for locations, but we also bring up Google Earth to compare ideas between multiple team members. It's a highly inspirational tool!

▲ Here's the Square Enix building seen from Google Earth! You can see what it looks like without having to be there in person!

Of course, real-life locations can't be used as-is for the world of FINAL FANTASY, but we use images from Google Earth as a reference for each staff member to start with and give it a FINAL FANTASY flavor.

Miyamiya: Sounds like it'd also be great for looking up those locations we can't easily visit in person! From what you've mentioned so far, I certainly get the impression that the Level Design team collaborates with many people and is involved in a wide variety of elements of the game. Are there any difficulties that arise from acting as a focal point for other teams?

Takahashi: Each team member comes with their own interesting ideas, quirks, and tastes, which can make it difficult to narrow their opinions down into one final product. You could say the Level Design team's job is to act as a mediator for all the other teams, listen to their opinions, then come up with a practical compromise.

20201130_mm_11.png ▲ A scene from the The Creation of FINAL FANTASY XIV: Shadowbringers - "Episode Two: Forging the First"

Our job isn't as glamourous as designing the patch's final boss encounter or writing the main scenario, but I think it's a very important role that bridges the entire development team together.

Miyamiya: It's certainly a valuable role that our teams couldn't do without! Since we're almost out of time, do you have any final words for players who are reading the blog?

Takahashi: We'll keep creating new content and revamping things for even more players to enjoy, so I hope you'll continue to play FFXIV!

Miyamiya: Thank you for joining us today!

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Did you enjoy the interview? I hope I was able to give you a glimpse into my beloved FFXIV team!

See you again soon!

Previous Editions of FFXIV Backstage Investigators
・ (No. 1): Main Scenario Writer Banri Oda

Miyamiya
- Promotional Team