Our team also had the chance to interview Wan Hazmer, Lead Game Designer, from Square Enix Japan, one of the few Malaysians who worked on Final Fantasy X. He is the man responsible for the integration of Malaysian culture into this internationally renowned game series and fans rejoice at the sight of mouthwatering sate, roti and teh tarik in the game.
Q: What is the process of determining which food items will be included into the game, and are there any interesting stories regarding the addition of Malaysian cuisine?
W: First we take into account about the areas in the game and then we determine what type of food they will cook. For example, in Lestallum, it’s a hot country that has Malaysian food culture but at the same time, it has Middle Eastern markets, which is why you can easily get spices to cook spicy food and sate there. Whereas Altissia is based on Venice, so you will have carpaccio, pasta and all that stuff. Then, we have Galdin Quay which is an Asian resort, where you will have seafood.
Once that is done, we look at what’s interesting to cook in camp, because the game ultimately is a road trip adventure, and you can choose to stay in hotels or campsites. At first, we thought of the interesting things to cook at a camp, but then we decided to verge away from that idea. Instead, we decided to go with the stupid things you can cook in a camp, which is totally impossible, that you will just laugh about. For example, you are in a campsite and a cake comes out. You will be thinking “how does he bake a cake?”, but you don’t ask too many questions.
Another factor is related to the story. For example in the anime, Brotherhood, Ignis tried to cook a cupcake for Noctis, but always fails to satisfy Noctis. We actually included the cupcake into the game, so that it has a continuity from the anime.
As for interesting stories on Malaysian cuisine, in order for the team to experience Malaysian cuisine, I actually brought the team to a Malaysian restaurant in Tokyo called Malay-chan. It is a little corner lot restaurant in Ikebukero. I am in good terms with the owner of the place, and I actually asked her to bring out the teh tarik cups for the team to practice, so you can imagine how much teh Tarik was wasted on that day. It was fun and they were able to eat sate and other stuffs. In fact, during one of the celebratory camps, where we achieved a certain milestone, we celebrated by renting a campsite for the entire team, and I cooked sate for them.
Q: This game has a long development cycle that lasted 10 years, what were your fondest memories while working on the game?
W: There were a lot, but I think some of my fondest memories include the fact that I’m sitting next to people that actually worked on my favourite Final Fantasy games. For example, in the culture team, we have the art director for FF X, FF XIII, and the game developers for FF VII, FF VIII and FF IX. It really blows my mind, to think that I’m sitting in the same room with these people. Furthermore, being the lead for this team of people is amazing. Another one of my fondest memories includes talking to them to brainstorm ideas for the towns. One of the most amazing things that you can do as a leader in Business Division 2 is that you just tell them the basic goal, and whatever they do will exceed your expectations. If I were to fix a goal and an art direction, then the outcome will be exactly the same as what’s in my head, so I just set something basic and they will come out with really, really great stuff. I think it’s amazing, because this is a team of very talented people.
Q: World building in the game excellent, one of the best that I’ve seen. What other recent games do you draw your inspirations upon?
W: The monsters in the game are based on Amano’s design of old FF games. The master team did a very good job in making modernized designs based on Amano’s original artwork, because Amano’s works are hard to imagine as 3D models. We look into too many things to inspire us in what we do. We are also inspired by The Witcher 3.
Q: The world building is incredible and I’ve spent 60 hours in the game. When I run around in the open, it feels breathtaking and I am so deep in this fantasy. The game has the right balance between realism and fantasy. One thing that strikes out the most is how the soundtrack plays into it, occasionally music will play as you run around the fields. My question is, which one comes first, the music or the world design? How much do you work with the music team?
W: We work very closely with the music department. It depends on what kind of music we are talking about. If we are talking about music in the over world, then the music will come later. But there are some parts where the music comes together with the world, such as the story, or from FFXIII. For example, for towns, we show the music team how the town looks. From a gameplay perspective, when we enter the diner we want the same song playing but of a different tempo. Based on this, the music department will try to imagine and create the music. The audio mixer for this game is Malaysian and he helped with the dynamic music. We actually have a music planner in our team too.
Q: When you joined Square Enix in 2010, you had about 6 years to work on the game and at that time, the game has already been in development for 3-4 years. We have seen the Versus XIII trailers and the world doesn’t look the same. The world in Versus XIII and XV is very different. So how much of effort did you guys put in to revamp the world? What concepts did you retain and what is the reasoning behind it?
W: Insomnia, a city that looks like Shinjuku, and, Altissia, a fantasy world as we all have seen from earlier trailers for Versus XIII, retain in Final Fantasy XV. Some aspects had to change because of the overall experience. It’s a road trip experience that we decided later on, and we had to make adjustments to it including the graphics. Initially it was for the PS3, but when the PS4 came out, we knew the global market wanted a game that is more free (open world) and when you create an open world game, something else comes into the picture. But that doesn’t mean we changed all the stuff.
Q: On the world building, what is the thought process behind basing Insomnia on Shinjuku?
W: Well, the first thing that came to mind was, the characters. For example, we have Noctis, who is a prince who doesn’t want to be king, he lived his whole life isolated, and the whole team thought that it is a very familiar setting. Like in Tokyo, we have that kind of culture, where everyone feels cold and isolated. I feel that the idea is very good, because the whole point behind Final Fantasy XV is to base fantasy on reality, and the best way to base reality is to use somewhere close, and that was Shinjuku, which is where Square Enix’s HQ is. So, picking up stuffs from your daily life makes it much easier to make it realistic.
We had a lot of fun and gained a lot of insight that went into the making of Final Fantasy XV from this interview. We hope to see Wan Hazmer again soon but this time, for Final Fantasy XVI instead!
To find out more about Wan Hazmer, check out his fb page here.