To My Dear Friend and Comrade
To the FFXIV players:
I really struggled to decide where to publish these words. This is the official FFXIV Developers' Blog, after all, and I was torn until the very end on whether it is appropriate to post this here. But, I'm sorry - please allow me to be selfish just this one time.
"To my dear friend and comrade..."
On December 6, 2020, a friend of mine who loved the realm of online games as much as I do departed this world for another. "It was way too soon..." I thought to myself, as I am still in disbelief.
The news came in on the evening of December 6. I received an email from "P-san," the producer who worked tirelessly to adapt my friend's story into a drama series after reading about his plan to rekindle his relationship with his dad - the "Dad of Light Project." I just so happened to be online playing FFXIV with my personal character, trying to gather more tomestones before the 5.4 patch released two days later, and I was working on my laptop while I waited in queue. Because of that, I noticed the email right away, and the moment I saw the subject line, a heavy "ah..." audibly slipped out of my mouth.
The last time I spoke with him directly was October 21, so only six weeks passed since then. When he told me "My prognosis is poor, and I was told I only have a limited amount of time left," I responded that "I want to tell you something," and wrote him a long email the next day. He didn't respond directly to that email, but when I saw my friend's blog site, he did make a mention about it, so I believe what I wanted to say was more than likely conveyed to him. The fact that he went out of his way to respond via an online blog was very much like him.
By some curious coincidence, I first came to know him ten years ago on this very day, December 6, 2010. In the midst of massive criticism due to the poor state of the original FFXIV, I had been assigned as Producer and Director to rebuild it, and I spoke about that with the development team and operations teams on December 3. That weekend, I met with various people for drinks, so that I can listen to what they had to say about the development, the issues, any gripes they wanted to vent, etc., and the following Monday, I started checking FFXIV players' websites so that I could learn more about those who play the game, and that's when I came across his site.
The CEO at the time made a statement that "the game has yet to achieve the level of enjoyability..., [and] it was decided that the most viable step was to approach improvements..." and I remember he had written a very angry blog post about that statement. Furthermore, he was angry not because "the game has yet to achieve the level of enjoyability," but because he did not want the mighty SQUARE ENIX to admit that! He was basically saying, "We are enjoying playing the game! Don't say anything unnecessary!" He was the kind of person who liked to find the good in any situation or person and wanted to be kind to as many of the people he met as possible; and I think this blog entry really showed that personality.
That being said, I felt extremely guilty forcing our customers to work hard at trying to play our games, or making them think in that way, so I was determined all the more to create a much more enjoyable FFXIV than it was at the time, and I remember I had renewed my resolve because of that. From then on, it became my daily routine to read his blog, and I'm sure he saw that there were visits from SQUARE ENIX whenever he checked the traffic analytics. So he would always write about how "I'm still playing!" every day, and I would access his site to "respond" to him that "I'm reading!" It may have been quite a roundabout way of doing things, but we continued this game of "catch" that felt just right for us online gamers.
Then came the start of the "Dad of Light Project." A plan that anyone could've come up with, but no one would actually put into action - he took the steps to begin his journey with his own father with the help of his friends. That caught the attention of a producer who had a burning passion to adapt that journey into a visual medium; and despite the harsh challenges that one would face with working on a TV series, he would continue to charge forward once again, with the help of his friends. I'm sure my friend himself was thinking, "I'm not sure what is reality anymore (laughs)," as he continued to plug along.
On July 28, 2016, in ramping up the production of the TV drama series, I felt I had the need to meet him in person, so we met in the conference room of the SQUARE ENIX office. As I imagined, he was a very gentle person, and we found out we both are fans of Gundam, which broke the ice almost instantly. Moreover, we've been playing this weird game of "catch" for the last five and a half years. I knew about the guy as well as I know about myself.
From then on, we connected as gamers who simply love online games, as friends, and as comrades, laughing and sometimes having serious discussions; we would also get fired up talking about Gundam; as the TV drama and movie became a reality, we also expressed our amazement with each other at the fact that online games have such great potential for entertainment. Had it not been for online games, us two would not have even gotten to know each other, but because they existed, we could engage in conversation as if we were long-time friends. There are lots of people who set foot in Eorzea thanks to "Dad of Light." And I'm sure there were also lots of people whose lives were changed because of that. I want to express my utmost respect and gratitude to him for showing the possibilities that an online game could have.
Once the drama series concluded its broadcast and things somewhat settled down, I had the opportunity to go out for dinner with him and his "Dad of Light." The dad confessed to me "I'm so proud of my son" in a letter he sent me, but having him actually in front of him, he said "My son has a long way to go yet. Please continue being friends and teach him." Hearing that, my friend grimaced and said, "this is the kind of person my dad is," as he sipped on his beer.
...... I can remember this as if it was just yesterday, but I am not able to see him anymore.
November 2018, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. It was so like him to avoid telling me until the last minute, so that I won't worry, but at the same time I thought how unfriendly it was for him to do that. After being torn about whether I should visit him in the hospital, I brought a plastic model kit of Nu Gundam Version Ka with me and paid him a visit. I didn't expect him to build this during his hospitalization, but I wanted for him to have some kind of goal during his fight with sickness... a promise between him and me. Once he looked inside the bag and showed his excitement at its contents, I told him "give it to me once you've finished building it, so that I can display it on my desk." He looked at me like a deer in headlights, and then burst out laughing. "Oh, I see what you mean."
However, his cancer came back. I have so many regrets regarding that. After he was discharged from the hospital, I should've made him go to a specialist to thoroughly check everything out. I should've followed up more on his recovery. There were so many opportunities I could've met up to grab some food with him, but I thought everything was fine because I saw him smiling, looking like he was well. Come to think of it, he never got started with building the Nu Gundam model I handed to him, because maybe he knew something somewhere in the depths of his mind. But I'm unable to ask him about that anymore.
I never received the Nu Gundam model he promised to build for me. But I believe he took it with him to the other side. He loved lots of different toys, I'm sure it would be hard for him without his plastic Gundam models. He was such an optimistic and kind man, that I'm sure he'll continue to invite Warriors of Light and continue their adventures on the other side. I hope he's happily building his Nu Gundam, laughing "long live the bachelor's life."
Unfortunately, I don't intend to join him for the time being. And, I'm sure he doesn't want me to, anyway. I still have a mission, and that is to spread the realm of online games that he loved so dearly, using the name FFXIV, so that more and more people can continue to enjoy it.
When it was decided that "Dad of Light" was going to be adapted, we made a promise to each other. He would continue to enjoy FFXIV as a player, and I would continue to create content for it, as a developer. But outside of work, we're just comrades who both love online games and Gundam.
Once time passes, I'm sure there will be a day when I can see him again. When that happens, I'm sure he'll find me with a sprout on my head, not knowing my right from my left, and reach his hand out to me with allies he found on the other side, saying: "Oh, you must be a newcomer! It's okay, it's lots of fun over on this side, too. Let's go adventuring together!" And in that hand, will be the Nu Gundam. I sincerely believe that.
Rest in peace, Maidy. You did really well. I'll see you again.
December 10, 2020
Onliner & Warrior of Light, Naoki Yoshida