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gdc 2017

Director Hajime Tabata Compares Final Fantasy XV Development To Climbing Mt. Denali

by Kimberley Wallace on Mar 01, 2017 at 09:30 AM

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Today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata took the stage to discuss some of the hardships and what he's learned while developing the game.

The stakes were always high for Final Fantasy XV, as the team had to prove it could compete in this new generation of games. Tabata said from the start of the project, the famed father of Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi said, "This [is] our last chance." The series was in trouble, and if Final Fantasy XV failed, the series couldn't live on. 

Tabata said since the stakes were so high, he also raised his own bar. Original projections had the game selling under 5 million copies worldwide; Tabata set a goal for his team to reach 6 million copies. Tabata knew playing it safe wouldn't do. The team had to take risks if they wanted to make a memorable game. This meant switching away from the turn-based combat the series was known for and creating a more open world, something the team had never done before. "The greatest goals can only be reached by taking chances," Tabata said in his talk.

Tabata, a skier, compared his evolution as a developer to climbing mountains. His previous work was on handheld and mobile games. He compared his previous games to different mountain sizes, saying Crisis Core was like climbing Mt. Kitadake and Type-0 was akin to Mt. Fuji, but to really drive home the scope of ambition of Final Fantasy XV, he used Mt. Denali, which has an elevation of 20,310 feet and is the highest mountain peak in North America, to illustrate the challenges in front of him. The elevation is close to double his other games. 

Tabata brought up many times the importance of his team at Business Division 2, which was built for Final Fantasy XV. He said it was integral that they work together, but he noticed after launching Episode Duscae that his team's passion diminished. The demo was a proof of concept, but it also showed the team how much work still needed to be done. To motivate his team, Tabata decided to have a Family Day, after his six-year-old daughter one morning asked him, "How much longer do you have to go?" When Tabata told her it was still a long time, she held back tears and told him to "keep up the good work." The Family Day allowed the team to show their family what they were working so hard on. They set up stations for the kids to play the game all around the office. This gave the team a new appreciation for what they were creating and restored morale to get them to the end of the road.

Tabata ended his talk on a positive note, showing the team had surpassed the 6 million mark in sales, which was initially seen as a high goal when he set it. He said he's learned to turn challenges into opportunities, even when unpredictable problems occur, such as people leaking spoilers of the game before release.  He then fired back at those who were leaking things by integrating that into the marketing. He said when all is said and done, he considers Final Fantasy XV a success and "the series will probably live on."

He ended his talk saying the team is looking to improve even more on Final Fantasy XV, improving destruction, A.I. and procedural elements. He then discussed having more monster battles where the A.I. analyze players' patterns and adapting to it better as a new goal.