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Exclusive: Behind The Scenes Of Square Enix's  Final Fantasy XIII
Exclusive: Behind The Scenes Of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII
October 14, 2010 | By Staff

October 14, 2010 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

The latest issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine, available for subscribers and for digital purchase now, includes an exclusive, in-depth postmortem of Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XIII, written by Motomu Toriyama and Akihiko Maeda.

Final Fantasy XIII is Square-Enix's most recent single-player entry in its flagship franchise, and is one of several title's in the company's Fabula Nova Crystalis series, which also includes the upcoming Final Fantasy Agito XIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

Announced in 2006, Final Fantasy XIII was developed using Square-Enix's internal Crystal Tools engine, and launched for PS3 and Xbox 360 in North America in March 2010, receiving generally favorable reviews and shipping millions of copies worldwide.

These excerpts, extracted from the October 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine, reveal various "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" highlights from throughout the creation of the game.

Along the way, the creators reveal how Final Fantasy XIII's large scope and internal miscommunication presented significant challenges to the team, and how the game's ultimate design arose from its first playable demo.

Lack Of A Shared Vision

Although the game was announced with an elaborate trailer, the team had little direction beyond this proof of concept, which led to problems as development ramped up.

"Final Fantasy XIII was first introduced through a concept trailer shown alongside the announcement of the Fabula Nova Crystallis project at E3 2006 (Fabula Nova Crystallis represents a suite of games and other entertainment media related to Final Fantasy XIII). The trailer was merely a visual concept, and we had not yet created anything playable at that point.

I felt that this trailer set the bar for the quality we were aiming to achieve, in terms of battle speed and cutscene imagery, and believed that this sentiment was shared by the rest of the team.

However, it became clear that, at the time, there were actually very few members who saw the trailer as a representation of what we wanted to achieve with Final Fantasy XIII. This lack of a shared vision became the root of many conflicts that arose later in development."

The Universal Engine And Narrowing Down The Specs

In addition to developing the game, the team was also working on Square-Enix's multiplatform engine Crystal Tools, which added an extra layer of complexity to an already demanding project.

"Another issue was the universal engine. Because we were so focused on creating an engine for next-gen hardware that could be utilized across all platforms, we made the mistake of trying to accommodate every single project that was in progress at the time.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that it would be impossible to fully satisfy all of these needs. As a result, we spent a considerable amount of time prioritizing all the different requests and ended up not being able to determine the final spec requirements.

This created a standstill between the engine and game development teams, because if the engine’s specs couldn’t be finalized, neither could the game’s. As the debates continued without resolution, the timetable was also affected."

International Player Tests That Came Too Late

Late international player tests introduced more scheduling constraints on the game as the team tried to ensure the game would appeal to Western audiences:

"Even before the current generation of consoles was introduced, it was obvious that the game market in the West was gaining momentum, and we couldn’t ignore it. The sentiment that stood out the most to us at the time was the increasingly harsh criticism towards JRPGs.

Linearity and command-based battles were two of the features being perceived negatively. This was something that the team was very conscious about, and there were concerns about whether JRPGs would still be accepted in the West. Because Final Fantasy XIII’s mission was to succeed worldwide, we could not ignore this issue, as we felt it could deeply affect the future of the franchise.

Around the same time, we were experimenting with Western development methods, and there were talks within the team of global focus groups, which we had rarely conducted with previous projects. At the same time, Square Enix set up international focus groups for certain titles, including Final Fantasy XIII.

Unfortunately, we were already quite far along in development, and knew it would be too late to implement most of the feedback from the player test sessions. Even so, we still signed up for the opportunity, as this would be our only chance before the game’s release to see how Western players would respond to all that we had been working on.

There were some minor hiccups, as we did not have much time to prepare for the focus group sessions, but we were able to successfully conduct player tests and interviews globally. Even though it was too late to apply the majority of the feedback, most team members felt the tests were worthwhile, as it gave them insight into what players wanted globally.

With the changes that were being considered, because of the lack of a clear communication line, the development team was not receiving clear instructions. This resulted in conflicts within the team on whether it was worth forcing certain changes into an already tight schedule."

Realizing A Shared Vision Through The Demo

Curiously, the game's overall vision did not fully realize itself until the team was tasked with creating a vertical slice to be included in the Blu-ray version of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete.

"Even at a late stage of development, we did not agree on key elements of the game, which stemmed from the lack of a cohesive vision, the lack of finalized specs, and the remaining problems with communication between departments.

What enabled us to conquer this line of seemingly endless conflicts was the development process for the Final Fantasy XIII demo, which was included in the Japan-only Blu-ray version of the animated film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. The demo was not in our original plan, so we had to make adjustments to the overall schedule to accommodate it. Whatever effects creating the demo had on the schedule, once it was complete we realized it was just the panacea we needed.

With a tangible version of the game that could actually be played, internal debates transitioned from theoretical discussions based solely on abstract concepts to concrete dialogue. The demo not only unified the vision and understanding of the game’s direction across the entire development team, but it was also the first time that everyone could see exactly how the assets they worked on would function within the game. During the internal postmortem, many team members noted that the demo was what finally allowed them to truly realize and embrace the vision for Final Fantasy XIII.

Although a vertical slice is commonplace in Western development, this was never actually practiced with our teams unless there was a company requirement. In retrospect, the demo acted as our vertical slice, and its effectiveness was felt full force by each and every member of the team. This was an essential key learning point that affected how we approached game development moving forward."

Clarification Of Elements And Processes Through Developing The Demo

Using the demo as a learning experience, the team was better able to manage and plan for the rest of the game's development.

"The demo brought together all data, development of which was previously uncoordinated, clarifying many elements and significantly speeding up the process of determining the remaining specs.

Instead of crafting fully detailed assets that looked good from every angle, the team could gauge how much effort to put into each area of the project by keeping in mind exactly how the asset would be used in the game.

This realization had an increase in the team’s ability to assess priorities, and as a result, productivity increased as well. With a much better understanding of the overall workload, we increased our ability to construct highly efficient schedules; the new scheduling was so effective, we actually did not miss a milestone."

Additional Info

The full postmortem of Final Fantasy XIII explores more of "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" during the course of the game's development, and is now available in the October 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine.

The issue also includes a feature revealing Game Developer's 'Companies To Watch' and 'Top 20 Publishers' in the current industry, a piece on Red Faction: Armageddon's shader techniques, an interview with Valve's Erik Johnson on Portal 2, as well as our monthly columns on design, art, music, programming, and humor.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues and PDF downloads of all issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of October 2010's magazine as a single issue.]

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Benjamin Quintero
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Sounds like it was destined to suck all along. Its all so clear now.

Lech Lozny
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Nice to see the new era of Sqare Enix also includes honesty. Instead of PR BS as damage control of fan criticism, the actual developers admitting that they had no clear idea what it was that they were making as the reason for the game's shortcomings. I feel like I've stepped into Bizzaro World.

Eric Geer
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FF looks like it will be another franchise to go down the same dark and lonely path as Sonic The Hedgehog....How many years has it taken Sonic to get his groove back?

Christer Kaitila
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The lesson learned here is that if you try to please everybody, you will please nobody.

An RPG without stores and towns? Without open exploration? Without all the charming optional side quests and minigames? What were they thinking? FFXIII was a great game, but it was not really an RPG which for me was a gigantic disappointment.

In trying to attract a new audience, they pushed away their core audience.

Geoffrey Mackey
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Those are very good points Chris. The real problem is that the game wasn't good enough to attract new players as well. I tried so hard to like it, but I couldn't. I would love to see FF15 come before 6 more years and see square get back to making excellent games. I haven't played one Square Enix game on next gen systems that was above average.

Jacob Barlaam
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While the game probably would have been better had they a clear vision sooner and international testing being conducted sooner, the game still was not that bad. Despite all the problems, I also like how they were honest admitted there we massive issues during development. Hopefully when they are making FFXV, the same mistakes will not be made and the game can be better suited for an international audience.

Gamin Geek
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Initially I hated hated HATED the game. Being a longtime fan of the series it was such a radical departure from what came before. The linearity and lack of longtime RPG conventions such as leveling, towns, branching paths, etc. really made me disgusted at how the game had turned out. But you know the funny thing is that the game actually GREW on me. I actually came to really dig the frentic pace of the battles and the pardigm system it utilized. And as always the artwork and art direction were top-notch. It truly is a BEAUTIFUL looking game. Here's hoping that Suare-Enix can incorporate more of the traditional elemnts of RPGs in the FF15 but still continue to try new and different ways of doing that!

Dan Felder
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Amen Gamin, Amen.

Mark Harris
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I was not a fan of the game, but it was not all bad. Some things I did like a lot were the sense of urgency and challenge in normal battles and the fact that you could encounter monsters that were way out of your league at certain points. That made the game a little more challenging and it felt a bit more organic. I liked that I had to keep an eye out to make sure I wasn't getting too close to a King Behemoth because I knew that thing would stomp me.

I'm glad they are at least willing to admit their mistakes. Hopefully they actually have learned the lessons identified in the article and it leads to a better product the next time around.

Daniel Sopel
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I didn't get much hands-on with it, but watched a friend play through most of it. I decided my time was up when he was fighting the last boss, and was looking at me while we were conversing, repeatedly pressing X without even looking at the screen to win it.

I was kind of disappointed that in this article they didn't address the huge gameplay changes they made to the franchise, and what their thoughts on them were after all was said and done.

Andre Gagne
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There's only so much space in this article, but I fully understand where you're coming from.

I find it interesting how they are acknowledging the positives of the western development cycle. I find it rather interesting how they had international play testing late. It shows a level of hubris of game designers/producers that even though its existent, is rarely discussed.

Alan Saud
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The huge gameplay changes ? like what ? FFXIII use an ATB system like most of FF games (FFIV~FFXII) and the actual turn-based only seen in FFI~FFIII and FF10.

Geoffrey Mackey
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Well one aspect I couldn't stand was not fully controlling my AI. In 12, they would automatically do stuff, but you could do special commands. The game just did not empower the player. I found myself mashing buttons and in general being annoyed that it was a beautiful dungeon crawler made only of canyons that I could not explore. It really should have just been re branded, but as long as positive changes are made I'll live. =)

Daniel Sopel
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I don't hate the linearity, that's prominent in the series and genre in general. I just hated how much story was so constant. The first 3 hours of the game had, what, 45 minutes of gameplay? JRPG's tend to have slow starts, but this one was extreme.

Mostly I meant the idea that you no longer control your characters. The draw to JRPG's for me was always micro-managing every spell or attack through the tougher battles. I get that the new system was just an abstract version of that, but you can't argue that that wasn't a huge change. I just wanted to hear their thoughts on how it came out.

Christopher Landry
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"Linearity and command-based battles were two of the features being perceived negatively. This was something that the team was very conscious about..."

And ffXIII was an *answer* to this?

Diego Leao
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He meant that they knew about it, but it was too late to change the game. Read again :)

Fox English
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I don't get why JRPGs have to be bashed for linearity or command-based battles when many people clearly enjoy that kind of game. 5 million people don't anticipate and buy the thirteenth main Final Fantasy, the series that almost all criticisms of JRPGs are based on, for non-linearity. The only thing going wrong with Japanese development from my point of view as an RPG consumer is that the games are trying too hard nowadays, and end up cutting out what the genre is best known for as far as gameplay and challenge (FF13 is again a perfect example). The Tales series is one of the few that has consistently maintained its feel and still evolved with each game, but I'd guess due to the oversaturation of the anime art style in the West that many don't give it a chance (it doesn't help that half of the games never get localized to strengthen the brand).

That said FF13 wasn't really much of an RPG in any capacity. The paradigm system was poorly done and could be broken down into "offense mode" and "defense mode" and no battle would ever be a challenge. Also, having the player-controlled character die and cause a game over when two perfectly healthy healer types were alive in the party was kind of cheap. I feel they were trying to imitate Western RPGs with that system, but Western RPGs typically only let you control one character (usually one of your own creation), where FF13 let you choose your main character between battles. This lead to another major design flaw, the Eidolons were made almost useless except for their full party-restoring exploitability because you could only control one character in battle and never ask your partners to summon theirs, and since most people wouldn't constantly change their lead character all the time in the field menus at least half of the Eidolons would go unused, unless all you as a player care about is graphics then I'd guess you would just try them once or twice just to see the animation (no I feel there's nothing wrong with caring about graphics, just stating one incentive).

In my humble opinion, Japanese developers should take pride and look to where they came from that made them so popular at one time and avoid this pressure to homogenize the genre. I am a fan of both J and WRPGs equally and I'd hate it if all I could play was just one of them, the differences are what make the entire genre special and keeps everything fresh. And as far as JRPGs not evolving with the industry as quipped ad nauseum, Bioware hasn't really changed their basic game design since Baldur's Gate, just the graphics and more media attention on romantic relationships because of said graphics (which were present as far back as BG2), so there's got to be something more to all this.

Tomiko Gun
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Zaid Crouch
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I honestly didn't realise there were such huge differences between Japanese and Western dev practices. It's also interesting, because most of the talk I've seen from Japanese companies about their falling behind is really general and vague and only along the lines of "we're not doing well". I can't think of another time I've seen discussion of the actual differences in how things work, and tangible things that can be done differently. It's interesting stuff.

Alan Saud
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I still don't understand why people are so obsessed with an open environment, Spacing and distance aren't really that important factor in game like FFXIII or FF series for matter because combat are either a turn-based or Active time battle.

Benjamin Quintero
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Linear games should be like a string of pearls. They should have choke points that force you into the next bubble. The bubble should give you a small sense of freedom and scale before choking down to the next pearl in the string. This game forgot the pearls. If i wanted to walk forward, kill, watch cut scene, repeat, I would just play Geometry Wars and listen to a book on tape.