A Final Follow-up Regarding the Dawntrail Official Benchmark

Hello everyone, this is Naoki Yoshida, Producer and Director of FINAL FANTASY XIV.

I would like to share the latest information about our update to the Dawntrail benchmark, including the release date and details of the fixes.

1. Updated Benchmark Release Date

During the recent Letter from the Producer LIVE, I estimated May 30 or 31 as our tentative release date, but I'm afraid this has been pushed back several days to Monday, June 3, 2024.

We are already in the final debugging phase, but on the first day of the final review, we discovered an issue which triggers instability within the software. We corrected the issue and are currently redoing the final review from scratch, which unfortunately put us behind schedule by a little over a day.

Furthermore, our development offices are scheduled for a full power outage during building inspections on Saturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2, which would prevent us from following up on any post-release issues that may arise. In order for us to provide our full support as soon as possible after release, I felt it was necessary to postpone the release until Monday, June 3.

2. Review and Reconfiguration of Character Creation's Environmental Parameters

Various environmental parameters (such as lighting, positioning of light sources, and weather for the environmental maps) have all been reconfigured to match the first round of graphical updates. These revisions have been applied to not only the benchmark, but the game itself from Dawntrail onwards as well.

All environments featured in the character creation menu have received significant updates, and I encourage you to check the details in the revised benchmark software. That being said, some areas have received major specification additions, which I will summarize below.

Lighting in Character Creation's Aetherial Background

This background was originally designed with the concept of an area where aether courses freely, and this imagery was reinforced with the use of blue lighting. However, the blue-colored tint made it difficult to visualize what a character's skin tone would look like under normal lighting. For the revision, we considered eliminating the blue lighting to replicate a typical in-game environment. However, doing so would drastically change the impression of character creation compared to before and could be disorienting, so the blue lighting was left as-is. Instead, the Aetherial Background's "time of day" option (which had gone unused until now) was repurposed to add a new variant of the background with the blue lighting disabled.

With this addition, we were also able to fulfill requests from players who had wanted a photo studio-like environment similar to what screenshot enthusiasts recreate with in-game housing.

As seen in the image above, selecting the clock icon allows you to adjust the lighting and time of day of the displayed background. With the Aetherial Background, however, this feature has been expanded into a lighting selection: the default option with blue lighting, and a second option with plain lighting.

* Click to view each comparison image in a larger size.

I encourage everyone to try both options to see how they affect your character's appearance; I imagine these nuances will add even more depth to the character creation process!

Removal of Vignette Effect on the Character Creation Menu

Up until now, the character creation menu displayed a dark translucency (visually similar to limb darkening) around the menu options to improve their visibility. However, we decided to remove this effect as it tended to influence the color perception of character features, such as hair and skin. This will slightly affect the menu's visibility, but we made this decision in favor of making the visual impression of characters closer to how they appear in the game itself.

3. Addressing Feedback and Issues Related to Certain Data and Processes

Various data revisions and corrections have been made in order to address as much player feedback as possible, and I will summarize a few examples below.

Pupil Highlights/Lip Gloss

The old highlights, which were "drawn in" using textures (and consequently did not change based on lighting positions and other factors), have been removed and replaced with new highlights that are rendered based on lighting processes. However, the initial version of the benchmark featured a weakened version of these lighting process and an insufficient lighting environment. This caused highlights to appear small, and the eyes in particular made characters appear "soulless." The updated benchmark features enhanced lighting processes as well as changes to lighting and other environmental features, so I encourage everyone to check out the new beautifully crisp highlights for themselves.

We also revised the rendering processes and textures of lips to make them more attractive.

Rest assured, these revisions will not only be reflected in character creation, but will be present in the game itself as well.

Facial Impressions, Smile Lines, and Skin

One of the comments we received about the initial version of the benchmark was how the facial impressions of certain races had changed around the eyes. This was an unintended consequence of the updated lighting methods and shaders, as well as high-resolution support for textures and normal maps (data for mimicking surface indentations), which caused the existing wrinkles and contours of these faces to become more pronounced. After carefully reviewing various feedback pertaining to these changes, we redrew the high-resolution textures and normal maps to bring the results as close as we could to the state of Patch 6.58, so I would appreciate if you could check them out.

Correction of Low-Resolution Sections of Hair

Many of these had simply not been addressed in time, but in regard to issues, such as low-resolution textures remaining only in certain sections of certain hairstyles, we referenced player feedback to ensure nothing was left out as we updated them with high-resolution textures.

Self-Shadowing Optimizations and Adjustments

This point is regarding how characters had a somewhat mottled appearance due to shadows projected by their hair and other elements of their character model. We made as many improvements as we could to ensure the self-shadowing would look good on every hairstyle, such as enhancing self-shadowing processes, adjusting normal maps, implementing special lighting, and determining which hair details should and shouldn't cast a shadow.

Environmental Lighting Adjustments

When characters were backlit or in shadow, the softened shading made details appear rather flat. As such, we made overall adjustments to characters' environmental lighting to preserve a three-dimensional appearance even when a character wasn't being lit. We also made minor adjustments to the overall environment, such as fog.

These adjustments too, will be applied to both character creation and the game itself.

We made numerous other adjustments in addition to what I outlined above, so I hope you'll keep an eye out for them in the updated benchmark and Dawntrail!

4. Direction of Character Graphical Update, and Regarding Fantasia

As I mentioned above, during the process of updating the benchmark, we carefully investigated the feedback from all regions to not only update the benchmark as much as possible, but also to refine the graphical update for Dawntrail's launch. We will continue fine-tuning Dawntrail in the period leading up to launch, but the bulk of our adjustments and fixes are reflected in the updated benchmark.

On another note, the upcoming first round of graphical updates is also an upgrade of the FFXIV rendering system overall. In particular, the processes related to shadows, lighting, and shaders have been significantly changed and enhanced from the previous rendering system.

This means that details such as pupil highlights and lip gloss, which were previously rendered with hand-drawn textures to reduce processing load, will be replaced with the "correct" method of rendering them. After the initial version of the benchmark was released, we closely examined the feedback we received and made further adjustments to replicate their previous appearances.

Even so, we imagine the subtle differences in nuance will inevitably cause some characters to look ever so slightly different compared to before. Should that be the case, a phial of Fantasia will be obtainable from a new quest that will be added with the release of Patch 7.0, which will allow you to fine-tune your character's appearance.

Additionally, as I mentioned in our recent Letter from the Producer LIVE, a new feature will be added to phials of Fantasia as of Patch 7.0. After using a phial of Fantasia, you will have 60 minutes of in-game playtime from the initial usage to re-edit your character's appearance as many times as you wish. I hope this new feature will be helpful as well.

As always, we will remain open to feedback even after the updated benchmark update and Dawntrail have been released, and will also continue to address any issues or necessary adjustments in future patches!

With only about a month left until Dawntrail's official release, our final adjustments and debugging are being carried out at breakneck speed. Please look forward to early access on Friday, June 28, as well as the official launch on Tuesday, July 2!

Thank you for your continued support of FINAL FANTASY XIV!

Naoki Yoshida

FINAL FANTASY XIV Producer & Director

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