Interview: Gear design team

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Aetherflow – Winter 2018

FFXIV is known for its amazing concept art and gear design. But behind every armor set is a story, a vision, and most importantly, a team of designers. Ever wonder how the beautiful gear we get to wear was created? How gear sets get decided on and what inspires the desingers? We had the chance to sit down with Ayumi Namae and Naoki Yoshida as they told us all we ever wanted to know about gear, how it’s designed, and what we can expect in the future.

What is the process of choosing a theme for new gear?

Ayumi Namae: The process for deciding on a theme varies depending on the type of equipment we are creating. For Raid rewards, Dungeon rewards, PVP rewards and equipment you exchange tokens for, we get a specified theme to work to from. The items team and the art team then create the art based on that. For equipment such as the Garlond II equipment (Scaeva equipment) and traditional adventuring gear used to level characters (Acolyte equipment, Foestriker equipment), the item team and Producer and Director Mr. Yoshida will set the theme in line with the nature of the items and where they are found etc.

For seasonal event equipment and the aesthetic equipment that crafters can make, most of the time the art team proposes several ideas (themes) with rough images and we then sit down with items team to discuss these and narrow it down to the final idea.

Because seasonal events give out reward items every year, we have already done most of the obvious ideas that are immediately recognisable as themed around the events in question, so the design team must strive to come up with ideas for what different concepts we could use that year. Our standard barometer for judging what kind of equipment to do for new seasonal events is usually “is this something that would be fun?”, but when the nature of the content itself has already been finalised, we also consider if the reward item will feel right for the event content and not stick out as odd.

Designing the AF (job specific) equipment added with each new expansion pack also involves the art staff producing several rough thematic proposals, before we discuss them with Mr. Yoshida to narrow all the ideas down to alight on the final theme. We take care to create ideas that properly capture the essence of each job in our rough proposals, and mainly consider what ideas are the catchiest (most stylised) and best fit the new locations when narrowing them down.

Where does the design team draw inspiration from?

AN: Each member of the art team has their own specialisations and strengths, and it appears to me that we each get our inspiration from the things we like as individuals. For example, some of our staff who are good with science fiction themes will take structures and designs from robot action figures, and these individuals will invariably also be collectors who own lots of those kinds of figures.

Some of the staff who work on the designs for monsters and minions will often base their designs on things from comics and animated characters, adding in their own touches and re-working them to make characters for FFXIV, while other monster designers will use reference pictures of bizarre creatures that exist in the real world or animals that they have a fondness for. Seeing what each individual designer’s interest alights on is fascinating.

In my case, I am mainly responsible for creating clothing and equipment, so every day I gather up information from fields like fashion, stage wear, film costumes and the like. I often go to galleries to see exhibitions relating to clothing and accessories. I am always stimulated by the texture of the materials and feeling of weight that you only experience when you see these things first hand, and it gets my creative juices flowing, as I want to make something similar for myself! I have always loved looking at clothing, so it feels much more like I am going to see these things because I like them anyway, rather than because I need to for my work.

Another thing is that because there are always new cities and nations being added to the world of FFXIV, it is very important to differentiate them by creating a solid setting and culture for each one. Because of this, I get the impression that all of the design staff pay particular attention to films and related cinematic resources.

Are there plans for more unisex designs in the future? Styles purely for glamour, like the crafted level 1 gear, for example Moonfire Faire gear given out at the 2018 event – the one set carried over for both genders.

AN: We are still in the early stages of discussion but the development team are making preparations to be able to meet these kinds of expectations a little at a time. We hope everyone can be patient while we work to make it a reality.

Scholar concept art
Are there any fashion designers that inspire more pieces than others?

AN: Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.

I loved the work of both of these designers ever since I was a student and looked up to them a lot. Their outfits are romantic, elegant and steeped in fantasy, but at the same time modern and powerful. They change the overall taste for every single collection, using influences from ethnic and national dress around the world, as well as from multiple different periods like Rococo, Baroque or La Belle Époque, freely re-arranging and re-building concepts like sci-fi, the circus or a toy box. There are many things to learn from how they arrange these ideas and concepts.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, the fashion shows put on by both McQueen and Galliano put a lot of effort into the performance aspect too and had the kind of impact you would expect to see in a stage show. They were shows that brought together all the beautiful things from around the world, from the models to the clothing to the locations… and the fact that each of these fleeting visual extravaganzas would be over after a few minutes made it like being in a beautiful dream. I am always touched when I think back to those shows.

What is the hardest part of gear design?

AN: With operation of the game carrying on for so long and the amount of different equipment in the game always expanding, the hardest thing for us is creating designs that gives the impression of being something new. For example, even though there are various sets with a sci-fi styling to them, such as the Allagan equipment, High Allagan equipment, Lost Allagan equipment, Ironworks equipment, Scaeva equipment and Omega equipment, we strive to differentiate the designs for each of them. Obviously we could not sit down at the beginning to plan out exactly how each one would differ from the others, and it gets harder and harder to make them stand out as more new sets are added.

We also use a lot of trial and error to work out what kind of arrangements and combinations will delight the players most (e.g. be easy to use in glamours). For example, with the Republican Signifer’s Fingerless Gloves, we made the upper section like ring bracers to expose the character’s skin and allowed the torso armour to be adjusted to have halflength sleeves and synergise with the design. For the Star Velvet Hoods, we wanted to depict the shape of the hood while still showing the wearer’s hair, so we made it an unfamiliar looking shape that you don’t really find in the real world, but still managed to get it to work in a way that did not stick out. We experiment every day to try to give the players the variety they are looking for within the structure of the current dressing up system.

What catches your eye when judging or implementing gear designs from SE contests?

AN: When we judge the contests, a panel of development staff, mainly from the art, character modelling and item teams, do an initial survey of the entries and vote for the top ones. This is the first round of judging. At the staff survey stage, we focus on our emotional reactions to the entries, e.g.; whether we like something, it is interesting, intriguing or feels new. Whether or not the entry could actually be realised ingame is a secondary concern.

We then take all the entries that made it past the first round and representatives from each section of the team get together with Mr. Yoshida to discuss them and make the final decisions on the winners and runners up. One of the main criteria used when judging the final winners who will have their designs implemented in game is whether something similar has been done in FFXIV in the past. For example, the Lost Allagan equipment from the tank contest had a classic sci-fi style to it and was rooted in the culture of Eorzea, fitting in to the world perfectly, but nothing along those lines had been made before.

The Scaeva equipment from the healer contest had a retro-futuristic vibe to it that was also not something we had seen in FFXIV before. Finally, the Bonewicca Whisperer equipment from the caster contest and its design with the cloak connected behind the arms was something we had avoided doing before as it was not optimal to implement, but we decided to use the contest as an opportunity take on the challenge. The contest entries are always really nice and interesting designs and it is always great fun judging them.

I often go to galleries to see exhibitions relating to clothing and accessories, and I’m always stimulated by the texture of the materials and feeling of weight that you only experience when you see these things first hand.

Has there ever been a theme that didn’t work with all the jobs? Did you have to give up on the idea because of it?

AN: I file away lots of ideas that I would love to do one day on a daily basis, but the designer’s job is to provide proposals that fit with the orders we receive, so if I have an idea that does not work with a request, then I won’t put it forward in the first place. For every project we put forward multiple rough ideas and then pick the final direction to go for from those. We always work like that, so even if an idea is not selected at the time or is not workable, we don’t fixate on it and simply put it aside, thinking that it might be nice to do some other time if we can.

In that sense, I never really feel that I had to “give up” on an idea. As long as I keep doing this job there will always be chances to use these things at some point in the future.

Do you follow themes with gear design? It seems classes like paladin and black mage have a similar style throughout the gear sets, but astrologian seems to vary from set to set.

AN: One of the most important points when designing the job specific equipment for each new expansion is to make sure that the look captures the essence of the job in question. Things like Paladins and Black Mages have a certain uniform look across the previous FF games and in other fantasy works too, so we always try to keep those signature elements, such as Paladins looking heroic and Black Mages looking mystical.

As the Astrologian is not one of the traditional FF jobs, and we kept in mind that this is a FFXIV original job when designing its first job specific equipment, the Antiquated Welkin attire. When this set was introduced in patch 3.0, the setting for the story was Ishgard, so the design was based on a European styled dress. In contrast, the Constellation attire was added for 4.0, where the setting was now Ala Mhigo, so we based the design on middle-eastern style ethnic garb.

Bard concept art
Is there any opportunity/possibility in the future to allow customization to the glows of weapons, such as allowing someone to toggle the glow on/ off, or “Dye” the glow color itself?

Naoki Yoshida: To do that we would need to make significant changes to the core system and it would have a big influence on how the data was made. I think we would even need to make adjustments to the FFXIV graphics engine. We have no plans to do this kind of thing at the moment, but if the game continues to do well then there is certainly a chance you might see it at some point in the future.

Will more dye colors, to be used on gear and furniture items, be implemented, such as neons?

NY: Technically speaking, neon would not be treated as a regular colour, but would use a different method called “emissives” to get it to glow. Thus, customizing it would involve adjusting the “emissive” colour. Allowing this to be switched on and off with an external switch and changing the colour would need the same changes as I mentioned in the answer to question 8 above.

Are there plans to expand the glamour dresser? Two hundred slots go pretty quickly!

NY: Yes, we do have plans to expand the capacity of the Glamour Dresser. At present we are prioritizing doing what we can to expand the locations where the plates can be applied and add more locations where the Glamour Dresser can be used, but when we have got that to a certain level, we will move on to increasing the capacity. Please be patient a little longer.

Do you think you’ll ever remove restrictions on glamour and allow a black mage to glamour a warrior set, and vice versa?

NY: Strictly speaking, the answer would be “No”. We have no particular plans to unlock specific job equipment for other jobs and that is one of our design policies. However, we are working on slowly amending some of the fixed role equipment to be available to all jobs and classes, so if there are any specific items you really want unlocked, please go and say so on the forums!

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