In this month's issue, there was a small section on Final Fantasy XIV, which I will go over briefly. However, if you are expecting anything new, let me just disavow you of that notion right now. That's right, brush that twinkle of hope out of your eye and move on.
The main course for Final Fantasy fans is an interview with Final Fantasy XI developers Mizuki Ito and Daisuke Sase. They are the pair behind the Zeni Notorious Monster system in Treasures of Aht Urghan, and were kind enough to sit down with Famitsu staff and talk about their greatest creation: Pandemonium Warden.
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- The world of FFXIV is called ハイデリン (Hai-deh-rin) while Eorzea is the region that is tied to the main story. (By the way, can we get an official English spelling on this?)
- Characters very similar to races in FFXI will appear, but there are no other significant connections between the games.
- The keyword is "growth." There are no experience points or levels. Instead, weapons will be the key element is determining said growth.
- The battle system will have a lot of variety, with both 1-on-1 and party-vs-party elements. There will also be focus on solo play.
- FFXIV will emphasize story to an even greater extent than FFXI.
- Nobuo Uematsu will be composing the entire soundtrack.
"I was waiting for this moment!"
The magazine editor also takes the opportunity to throw in his own reaction to the announcement at E3. He states that the second he heard the news he was completely blown away, comparing it to the time FFIX, FFX and FFXI were announced simultaneously years ago. Although many FFXI players may worry about the fate of their game, the editor is certain service will continue and those fears will soon subside. Not to mention, the emphasis on light gameplay should allow those who cannot bear to leave Vana'diel to balance their time between the two worlds.
Aht Urghan's Strongest Notorious Monster
Now, let us get back to the good stuff. It is nice to see an article that gets me pumped up about FFXI again. Pandemonium Warden has caused no small amount of grief for hardcore end-game FFXI players. His eventual defeat was even enough of an event to be featured on the official PlayOnline site. In this month's interview, Mizuki Ito (left) and Daisuke Sase (right), the bad boys of Vana'diel, take us behind the scenes to explain the development of this beast. Just look at those two. You know they're thinking, "Yea, you got your ass kicked by our mob, didn't you?"
Actually, they are probably really nice guys. I hope they don't read this...
Anyway, just how strong is Pandemonium Warden? Luckily, Famitsu has written up a little background on the monster for the uninitiated. Pandemonium Warden is the final boss within the Zeni Notorious Monster system. It is said to be on par with Absolute Virtue, which is similarly the final boss of its domain over in Al'Taieu. In addition, it can take groups of players months to simply collect the trigger items required to challenge the monster in the first place. It is perhaps because of the few chances people actually get to fight Pandemonium Warden that adds to its insane difficulty.
>However, what the article does not seem to touch on is that Pandemonium Warden has been defeated successfully in the past, and several times since by foreign linkshells, namely Apathy. Instead, Suteki, an editor for Famitsu who also writes articles analyzing Absolute Virtue strategies, runs the interview based off of his experiences fighting and defeating Pandemonium Warden. Also, we have to assume some of their original intentions may differ from the current state of the monster, which was limited to a 2-hour fight and had elements of its battle patterns removed. Regardless, it still remains one of the absolute toughest challenges in the game, and it is definitely worth exploring further.
Pandemonium Warden... ... Secrets!
As most would guess, the original concept behind Pandemonium Warden was for Treasures of Aht Urghan to have its own "Kirin" or "Absolute Virtue." The reason for its continual shape-shifting was due to the fact that it was intended to be quite a long battle, and it would spice things up compared to fighting one monster continuously. However, the battle has since been shortened to two hours, and Suteki notes that there used to be more than the current 10 forms it cycles through. Sase responds that at first there were 19 different forms, which included the Serpent Generals and Vampyr models. This shape-shifting idea was born from their original intention to have the final boss be Asura. Asura would have three facets matching the three beastman races in Aht Urghan: Mamool Ja, Trolls and Lamia. Eventually, they settled on the Pandemonium Warden idea and included a wider variety of monsters.
Suteki explains that with 32 members, he was able to take down PW, although it took his team four tries to accomplish this. Surprised, Sase reveals that he originally anticipated players would need between 36-54 people. The spawn point of Pandemonium Warden was also intentionally placed close to town, so while one team fends off the monster, another team can return to Whitegate and change jobs or get supplies as the battle dictates. Now, I know what you are thinking. "Hey! There was an interview in April and he said 18 people could beat it! Look!" *copy, paste, rage* I went back and checked that interview, and the best I can say is that 18 people was probably meant as a bare minimum for a single team fighting Pandemonium Warden, since now we know it was their intention to have people cycling in and out and going back to town.
Even with Suteki's success, he still admits that Astral Flow can easily wipe an entire alliance with ease. To combat this, Ito reveals that there is somewhat of a delay between when Pandemonium Warden uses Astral Flow and when the ability goes off. "If you can do something about those avatars that appear," Ito says, "you just might be able to save yourselves." He also adds, with a chuckle, that this does not mean you will come out unscathed.
Adjusting Monster Difficulty in MMOs
When designing a new monster like this, Ito states the most difficult obstacles to overcome are 1) making sure it cannot be monopolized by a single alliance, and 2) avoiding the need for players to resort to things like /logout in order to win. Juggling these needs while maintaining game balance is the toughest challenge. Sase adds that it is easy to simply create an unreasonably strong monster, but harder to really balance the difficulty in relation to the game itself. Also, he admits it is tough to design the monster in a way where players have to really engage it head on.
When testing new monsters, such as Absolute Virtue and Pandemonium Warden, Ito says they use the equipment appropriate for the task. Since AV and PW are the strongest class of monsters in the game, they test it out with the strongest equipment possible. Paladins will wear Aegis, for example. The development team does not test the monsters themselves, but rather there are special test players for the specific purpose of battle-related content. They estimate the required amount of time and players beforehand, and run a test battle against the monster.
Suteki brings up a good point that if there are test players for these purposes, they might get used to battling these monsters, which would make it much easier for them. However, Ito explains that they have a method to combat this. In addition to simply testing if a monster works properly, they also check how effectively players can handle other aspects of the battle. In some cases, they tell a number of testers about relevant tactics or weaknesses, and get them used to the flow of battle. Then, they mix in another group of testers who will be fighting the monster for the first time. This way, they can see how effectively such a group would fare, and also see if all the necessary information and strategy can be conveyed in the heat of battle through text chat within the game.
Pandy's Dead -- What's Next?
Now that Pandemonium Warden is officially "defeat-able," does that diminish the work put into his design? According to the developers, much more than the shame of seeing their creation taken out, they are thrilled to witness what the players have achieved. The fact that everyone worked so hard and finally came through with great success is said to really validate all the work the developers put in as well. However, Ito also laments the fact that Absolute Virtue is still considered unbeatable, recalling how he often hears complaints of it being impossible despite the adjustments made.
As for the future of ridiculously hard adventurer-obliterating super mobs, there are, in fact, plans to include a comparable boss within the Wings of the Goddess expansion. Unfortunately, the developers are unable to give out any more details at this time.