FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 3): Web Director Hiroyuki Takachi
Hello everyone, this is Hama 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.
I'll be conducting today's interview in place of my younger sister (in spirit) Miyamiya, who did the first and second interviews.
The subject of our third interview is...
Takachi is in charge of creating and maintaining the Lodestone website, which I'm sure many of you are quite familiar with. Although he's yet to make a public appearance, he's a veteran member who's been with the team since before the launch of A Realm Reborn!
So without further ado: Investigators, move out!
Hama: Let's get right into it. Please introduce yourself to our readers!
Takachi: My name is Hiroyuki Takachi, and I'm the web director of the Lodestone team.
The Lodestone team is in charge of creating and maintaining the Lodestone website. Not only that, but we also handle the official promotional sites, special sites for patches, and even the Mog Station and Online Store. Our team consists of several members including myself, and I'm primarily in charge of the Lodestone.
Hama: The Promotional team often collaborates with the Lodestone team on various projects, particularly the promo and special sites. However, I personally haven't had many opportunities to work with you since our roles usually don't overlap. I think the last time we spoke was over a year ago, when we sat next to each other at a drinking party! (laughs) There's a lot we don't know about you, so please be sure to tell us a lot about yourself today!
To begin, we often call refer to "the Lodestone" as a whole, but the website is comprised of various features.
Takachi: It certainly is. All sorts of game data is adapted for the website. You can view the Character Profile for character-specific information, while the Eorzea Database contains information on items, quests, and all kinds of other in-game content. Keeping these up-to-date with every game update is also part of our job.
Hama: As a someone completely unfamiliar with web design, I'd like to know: does integrating in-game information into the website make it any different from managing a regular website?
Takachi: Yes. For FFXIV, there's a database server that relays game data, and a separate one that manages Lodestone data. In order to display in-game information on the Lodestone, we have to connect these two servers, then convert and compile the data.One example of this is when you change your character's equipment in-game, there's a delay before that information is displayed on your character's Lodestone page. This is because the two servers are relaying information to each other.
Nowadays, it takes about an hour for in-game information to be displayed on the Lodestone. However, back when A Realm Reborn was released 7 years ago, we underestimated the amount of incoming data and were over-optimistic about certain aspects of the website's design, and sometimes it took up to more than half a day for the Lodestone to reflect in-game changes.
"Is there any point in visiting the website to view this outdated information?" sums up the situation back then. (smiles wryly) It took many discussions with the Web Programming team and maintenances for the Lodestone to reach its current state.
Hama: On a different note, how long have you been with the FFXIV team?
Takachi: I've been with the team since about a year and a half before A Realm Reborn was released. During my hiring interview, Producer and Director Yoshida made it clear that my mission would be to create the Lodestone website. Having said that, there weren't any other team members when I joined.
Hama: You were all alone? (laughs) That sounds like quite the predicament!
Takachi: The designers who worked on the old Lodestone joined me a month later, and I also called on some connections from my previous jobs, so our team expanded over time.
Speaking of when I was first hired, I spent about two weeks playing FFXIV version 1.0 and other companies' games to learn more about online games of the time. I had some experience with Ultima Online when I was still a student but hadn't played any online games after I started working.
Hama: I believe FFXIV version 1.0 and A Realm Reborn were being developed alongside each other around the time that you joined.
Takachi: That's right. Although I hadn't worked on version 1.0 myself, I felt a lot of pressure when remaking the site, since players were already familiar with the Lodestone during FFXIV version 1.0. It was also my first time working on a website of this scale, and there was already a deadline to finish it in time for the launch of A Realm Reborn, so I remember it being very challenging.
Hama: The Lodestone has all sorts of features now, but what kind of website were you aiming to create back then?
Takachi: I emphasize two main goals: building community and relaying information.
Building community can be seen in the Blog feature, which allows players to interact with each other even if they're not logged into the game.
Relaying information is achieved through the Eorzea Database and the ability to see the latest notices and news for the game. I also thought it might be exciting for players to be able t0 view their character information outside of the game. (laughs)
No need to remember what level you reached yesterday, or how many more Allagan tomestones you need for the week; you can check that information without signing into the game, which I hope you find convenient.
Hama: There's so much I'm hearing for the first time about the Lodestone's rebirth, but we don't have all day! Moving on, is there a particular project that left an impression on you?
Takachi: That'd be creating the Job Guide, which we released along with the launch of Stormblood. At the time, many job actions were revamped and there were too many changes for us to convey in the patch notes. A member of the Battle team approached us for help, so we proposed the idea of creating a webpage dedicated to job and action information.
The page was released during Stormblood's early access, and we received positive comments about how easy it was to read. Thus, we decided to keep updating it, but despite being the one who proposed it, it was difficult to manage...(laughs)
Hama: What do you mean by that?
Takachi: At the time, each action on the Job Guide had to be manually updated to match the in-game information. It was manageable if it was just a one-time thing, but keeping the Job Guide up to date with every patch meant a tremendous amount of work. It also required thorough QA checks since it was an official guide, putting an immense strain on the QA team as well.
Hama: I can certainly see why, since there's so many numbers and intricate details involved.
Takachi: Despite these problems, it made us happy to see that players enjoyed the Job Guide, so we still wanted to keep updating it. As we continued to update it manually, we eventually felt that automation would be necessary to continue.
Little by little, we began piecing together a method that would automatically reflect in-game data, and were finally able to automate the task in Patch 5.05. Since then, we've taken that even further, and now the process is almost fully automated whenever the game is updated. The webpage may not have changed from the players' point of view, but it's actually a culmination of our efforts up until that point.
Hama: On the more recent side of things, we had the launch of the Community Finder.
Takachi: As you know, the Community Finder was created through the combined effort of the Promotional and Lodestone teams. The Promotional team wanted something to help form player communities, and the Lodestone team was also independently working on an idea for a recruitment tool. Since our intentions were similar, we decided to collaborate.
Hama: Although I wasn't directly involved, I remember seeing you meticulously coordinating with other Promotional team members.
Takachi: The Community Finder was designed based on the feedback we received from many other staff members within the company. We were very particular about ensuring that the necessary information would be readily available. We also wanted to make sure that recruiters could insert their information easily, while players could find their preferred communities without the need for complex search filters.
A third-party company put together our designs and came up with a sleek UI that was pleasing to the eye. That said, it's still possible to create an elaborate design for your recruitment listing if you prefer.
Hama: What are your thoughts on the Community Finder, now that it's been released?
Takachi: I've been keeping an eye out for feedback, and I'm pleased to see we've received positive comments. There's already been some suggestions on the forums, so we're considering further adjustments to make it even more convenient. Some suggestions, such as favoriting recruitment listings or recruiting co-signers to form a new free company, would take some time, but we're keeping them in consideration. There's also the Events feature on the Lodestone for scheduling get-togethers, so it'd be nice if we define the focus of each feature so they can be used for different situations.
Hama: Now for our usual question about your tools of the trade. Is there anything you simply can't work without, carry everywhere with you, or find useful?
Takachi: I put a lot of thought into it, but couldn't come up with anything other than my computer. (laughs) Even in my personal life, I gather all sorts of web design-related information or develop things when I have time to spare.
Hama: So you're always learning something.
Takachi: Not that it's something I do 24/7. (laughs)
As time passes on, web tools and how people use the web will change. I can't help but bookmark websites that I find fascinating. There's always game data involved when designing websites for FFXIV, so I usually can't replicate what other people have done, but they still give me the inspiration to incorporate them in my own way.
Hama: Speaking of which, there are some talented web designers out there who have created some incredible fan sites!
Takachi: Oh absolutely! Sometimes there are some really technical suggestions when I look over the forums. Since FFXIV is an online game, I suppose there are quite a lot of players who are familiar with that sort of thing.
Hama: I see, that could be a possibility. Finally, do you have any parting words for players who are reading the blog?
Takachi: Thank you to everyone playing FFXIV and using the Lodestone and our other websites!
We were able to launch the Community Finder in Patch 5.35, which we hope will assist you in finding an enjoyable community that meets your needs. We'll continue to work on improving the Community Finder through updates and features to make it a more useful website, so please look forward to it.
And finally, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we hope that you'll continue to stay safe and enjoy FFXIV and the Lodestone!