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 Final Fantasy  Developer: 'It Used To Be That Our Creativity Could Run Free'
Final Fantasy Developer: 'It Used To Be That Our Creativity Could Run Free'
April 19, 2011 | By Staff

April 19, 2011 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Art, Design

Takashi Tokita, lead designer of 1991's Final Fantasy IV, and also lead designer of recent sequel The After Years, explains to Gamasutra in a new feature interview what's wrong with current creative process.

"Right now, we're thinking about it in a way-too complex way. It used to be that our creativity could run free because we didn't worry about the end result. We could just be original and creative, and whatever came of it was original and creative," Tokita explains.

"Now, we're becoming too concerned about marketing and all these other aspects, and that's limiting us right now. There's this saying that essentially means that 'you're crossing the bridge and checking every stone while you're crossing it' -- that's how I feel development is right now."

In Japan, as in the U.S., marketing plays a very strong role in game development. But in that country, the need to sell character goods makes it a particularly complicated process, with the makeup of the party in an RPG designed to maximize return on investment and merchandisability.

"Right now, we're so influenced by everyone's opinions, and the internet, and everything you hear, and what everyone else is making. I actually think it would be better if we would shut all of that out and just made what we want to make. That would create something that would be more original," Tokita says. "I feel like creating things without getting too hung up on little details, and paying more attention to the importance to the concept itself, is the way to move forward."

The full interview, which goes into great depth on the creative process of Final Fantasy in the past and how it might improve in the future, as well as other topics, is live now on Gamasutra.

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Christian McCrea
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Its tragic to say that we've been able to tell from the outside for over a decade. One prays the shareholders will one day see there's money in carving away the monstrosity of the franchise.

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When marketing is involved, creativity suffers because you are trying so hard to target your audiences rather than create niches that many can agree on. Character development has tried too hard to make believable real persons rather than one that is relative and symbolic. Games are suffering from the uncanny valley effect in trying to make one believe in who they are playing as and whether where they are looks real enough rather than relying on the fantasy of what they are doing. I agree that there is a lot of social media / fan-boy noise that circulate around the web and media which creates a unrealistic buzz about many products and what they can produce. Sometimes as a creator you have to shut out the noise an rely on the basic of creativity.

Sean Currie
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Under most circumstances I agree with you, but lately I find that the marketing teams for games understand what I want to play more than a lot of developers. Take the trailer for Dead Island. Absolutely incredible. It felt like it was going to be a video game version of the Walking Dead. Real human drama wrapped up in an action game.

Not to pass judgment too early, but it doesn't look like it's even attempting to go in that direction. Just looks like another zombie-action game where its "hook" is derived mostly from its mechanics. That's just one example. So often the marketing teasers and trailers are far and away more brilliant than the end product but, if that's the case, why aren't we pulling from marketing firms for insight into artistic direction?

Developers are just as responsible for the industry teetering on the precipice of creative bankruptcy as anyone. Marketing teams just make for easy marks.

Inti Einhorn
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That's not a fair comparison. Yes, video is a far more effective medium when you have less than a minute to make a pitch, but that doesn't mean a marketing team therefore inherently "gets it." A game whose "'hook' is derived mostly from its mechanics" (great phrase, by the way) is pretty much sitting in its optimal state , in my opinion.

Alan Youngblood
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To Tokita-san, thank you for your honesty. As a respectful fan of the final fantasy series (especially the older ones like FF4) I say to you, go crazy and do your own thing. That's what the Western developers are doing these days. If you don't like what you are doing and your fans don't, perhaps it's time to change?

A W - I've just recently started working at an indie developer as a marketer. I understand your animosity towards marketers and that's fair enough. I tell people the reason I landed this role is that I was part of bad business practices failing a small indie developer and figured there had to be a better way(I was asked, I did not apply). That being said I work by the mantra of I'm working under the developers. I don't manage them as an overlord. My job exists because of them, so I make sure to facilitate their work, happiness and quality of life. Ultimately the ball is still in your court. You will think what you will of my work as a business person in the industry, but I'm doing all I can to prove that marketers and business folks can be a valued part of the team where I work. Here's to your company looking out for you too. I fully agree that creativity is king in our industry though, I'm really a developer at heart ;)

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I'm sorry if I came across as anti marketing. I'm not. It is a very well needed business. I think you may carry it out really well given your background and understanding.

I would guess what Takashi Tokita is referring to it as not being allowed the gray area of creating to build the vision because you have to take into account many things in marketing the finished produce. In the past games had that gray area of creativity, they didn't have to be realistic to get the "core gamer" (I so hate this term but understand its use). Today creativity is stagnated into genre because its safer to market. "We have the most realistic FPS Army Game To Date" kind of stuff they do now a days to make multiple dollars. By the time the end product surfaces it's depreciated because the "Next realistic Army game to date" is on the way. I never feel this way about movies but always about games.

I would guess the statements made in the article to be just the ramblings of a game designer that sees that the old days are gone and may never come back. Loving the act of creating things myself I can kinda see his point of view.

Aaron Truehitt
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Ok, Square. Just don't shut the door to far where you can't have open communication with your fans again.

Arno Buruma
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Well, this is what you get when you have shareholders who know nothing of the creative process breathing down your necks, pounding on tables for content. Marketing too is a giant monster. If one tries to create something entirely new - there is far less data to predict how well it will sell. Will it be a new cult niche? Or a dismal flop? This is why the indie world is exploding at the moment. In indie there are new niches, new styles and best of all - experiments. No AAA giant would have ever made anything like Minecraft. In indie... there is very little consequence to failure. An indie dev who fails simply says "oh well" and tries again. In AAA it must be giant losses of revenue/profits, severe depression, stress, layoffs or firings, etc etc.

Honestly at the moment, I haven't seen an rpg as good as what they were during the 16 bit era. All the recent FF games I've seen or played just seemed plastic and nothing really special in them. I miss the old days when you destroy a bit of wall in a game like zelda and reveal a secret filled with gold or secret entrance or area to explore.

Today, way too much time is spent on realism. FF 13 for instance is all sparkly and shiny 3d. How long did that all take to create? There's so much imagery now that technical creation is far overtaking concept creation and imagination. I think if I worked as a modeller, I'd probably cry if someone said, "hey for the boss of this area, we should have whatshisname in a giant steampunk mech suit that shows inner clockworks when armour is blown off bit by bit."

Wylie Garvin
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"If one tries to create something entirely new - there is far less data to predict how well it will sell. Will it be a new cult niche? Or a dismal flop?"

This is a pretty important question if you're about to invest $50 million in developing a AAA product. As budgets have skyrocketed, its not surprising that publishers are increasingly risk-averse, preferring instead to cash in on a "sure thing" like sequels.

Monette Tan
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I think itís really quite unfortunate that the marketing aspects limit the creative aspects on a game. As some of you have pointed out, many are unwilling to get creative and try something new because they cannot predict how well the consumers will respond to the new the product. I donít think this can be avoided but it really is a shame.

Not to say that spending time on improving graphics and making it look pretty is bad- I love the graphics in the recent FF series and this is probably one of the main reason I got XIV in the first place but I have to admit I enjoyed playing the older final fantasys more than the recent ones. I think it really is better if they just run wild and get creative. (Besides, chances are the target market has at least heard of the FF series)

Monette Tan
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Apologies for the double post.