Over the previous 5 weeks, we appeared again at Sega’s groundbreaking Phantasy Star Online with a collection of retrospective interviews. We began with producer Yuji Naka, then went in-depth with director Takao Miyoshi, composer Hideaki Kobayashi, script author Akinori Nishiyama/results designer Takanori Fukazawa, and a trio of programmers.
Now, to complete off our collection, we flip our consideration to Phantasy Star Online 2, which not too long ago arrived within the West 20 years after the discharge of the Dreamcast authentic — and eight lengthy years after PSO 2’s launch in Japan. Western audiences usually puzzled whether or not the sport would come to North America in any respect, but Phantasy Star Online 2 is now out there within the West on Xbox One and Windows PC.
Additionally, Sega has introduced a brand new, open-world PSO 2 replace referred to as New Genesis, due out in 2021. This replace is being launched in lieu of a brand new episode to deliver the 8-year-old graphics engine updated, worldwide. Details on New Genesis are gentle in the mean time, however Sega says it should reveal extra within the Tokyo Game Show timeframe later this yr.
Meanwhile, we not too long ago spoke to Yuji Nakazawa, PSO 2’s North America producer, concerning the sport’s long-awaited arrival within the West.
Polygon: Please introduce your self and in your individual phrases describe your function on the PSO 2 staff.
Yuji Nakazawa: My identify is Yuji Nakazawa, and I’m a part of Sega’s No. 3 improvement staff and I’m the producer of the North American launch of PSO 2 — and I labored because the liaison with varied groups for the event of the North American model.
How lengthy have you ever been engaged on PSO 2, or with the staff basically?
I’ve been on and off of the staff. I began with Phantasy Star Universe in Japan after which additionally [worked on] the discharge of the North American Xbox model of PSU.
What different initiatives have you ever labored on at Sega?
I’ve labored on some smaller titles however in any other case labored totally on cell video games.
Why have been you assigned to deal with the Western launch of PSO 2?
I’m the director for the U.S. launch of the Xbox model in addition to the Asian launch of PSO 2, which was launched previous to the U.S. model. So I’m kind of the localization specialist.
Is it a reduction now that PSO 2 is lastly out within the West, for all of the English-speaking PSO followers who’ve been asking for it for years?
There is a way of reduction [because] there was a whole lot of planning that went into the event; for instance, Sega U.S. and Sega Japan took surveys from the followers about what they wished within the sport. But as a web based sport, I really feel the actual problem will likely be in sustaining the service going ahead.
What is your impression of how the beta went within the U.S.?
So in February, we had the closed beta, and there was an unexpectedly excessive variety of individuals. We heard a whole lot of gamers say they’ve been ready eight lengthy years for this launch. [laughs] So we have been actually glad about that.
Is this one of many causes that the Western servers are separate from the Japanese servers? So that you would roll out the later episodes on the applicable tempo, reasonably than dump all of the Western gamers onto the identical servers as gamers in Asia, who’ve skilled all of that content material already? Or did it should do with the consideration of information speeds?
It’s just a little little bit of each. The purpose why we put it on a special server for the U.S. launch was to manage the rolling out of the tales and likewise on account of server capability. The ease of play is among the promoting factors of the sport, and the space of the servers to the gamers impacts latency, so we knew we wished to have the servers bodily nearer to our gamers in North America. And though there are hardcore followers [who will play regularly and explore all the content] within the North American area, there are nonetheless many who aren’t conversant in the franchise, and we didn’t really feel it will be truthful to launch eight years’ value of content material directly. So it’s just a little little bit of each.
As you say, PSO 2 did come out eight years in the past, and individuals are questioning why it took so lengthy between the Japanese launch and the Western launch. Did it should do with the microtransaction system and in-game purchases being very completely different for Japan?
The in-game transactions weren’t the rationale. We wished to launch PSO 2 in North America shortly after the discharge in Japan, however our purpose for the delay of the U.S. model was the construction of the operation staff essential to function a web based sport. We couldn’t danger releasing the sport in a brand new territory with out the appropriate infrastructure in place, so it took a while to arrange operations for North America. […] Things like a method to talk service updates, insurance policies for in-game promotions, communication instruments for upkeep notifications, having a staff in place for monitoring each the servers and customers, in addition to a customer support staff. These operational instruments weren’t in place or have been under the requirements of what was supplied for PSO 2 Japan.
Urban legend has it that the localization was truly executed a very long time in the past. Were there different technical causes for the delay?
The concern was not technical and when it comes to the localization, it was accomplished not too long ago in preparation for this launch. The greatest drawback is we weren’t capable of facilitate all points of the operation.
Is there any content material that you simply needed to regulate for the Western launch? Presumably, you gained’t be bringing over the Japan-specific collaborative content material, like comfort retailer branding or drinks. But do you’ve gotten any plans for Western-themed objects or collaborations?
We aren’t capable of roll it out in the identical approach we did for the Japanese launch, however we’re open to cross-collaborations within the U.S., as effectively. We in all probability gained’t be doing the cross-promotions with comfort shops and drinks, as we did in Japan, however we’re excited by doing a little cross-promotions with different anime applications or franchises. In Japan, you’ve gotten comfort shops on each nook, however within the States every thing is a lot extra unfold out — so when it comes to [those] collaborations, in all probability not. But when it comes to individuals or branding, we’d be excited by doing that form of sponsorship.
Besides the added depth of customization choices, and the extra nimble gameplay — gamers can soar, lastly — the sport nonetheless very a lot captures the spirit of the unique PSO, which different Phantasy Star video games launched since haven’t. What do you assume PSO 2 brings with it from the unique PSO, and what particularly do you are feeling is exclusive to PSO 2?
As you talked about, the leaping, and the particular combos, and the comparatively brief battles and quest instances are issues that we dropped at PSO. [Ed. notice: The authentic PSO usually subjected the participant to lengthy, drawn-out quests that would take upwards of an hour and a half in solo play.] It additionally maintains the sense of neighborhood by the icon chat. Another instance is that even if you’re enjoying solo, you possibly can learn the dialogue of different gamers within the chat field, so it doesn’t really feel so lonely. Symbol chat is one other function we’ve preserved from the unique. We felt that these options improve the social facet of the sport — these communication methods that have been all inherited from the unique sport. For the NA launch, we expanded on that much more by including voice chat, which isn’t supplied within the Japanese model.
Did it’s a must to make adjustments to any visuals within the sport, or regulate for the localization of the Western model?
For the Xbox launch we needed to make it 4K-compatible, so there have been graphical enhancements we made.
Did that create a whole lot of work for the event staff?
It wasn’t a whole lot of work, however the staff was stunned by how stunning the enhancements made the sport look.
Was it useful to have the ability to develop and optimize for a hard and fast platform like Xbox One, reasonably than the myriad permutations that gaming PCs may current?
For the Japanese model it was a multiplatform launch, on PC and PS4, so PSO 2 was already optimized to offer one of the best outcomes no matter which platform you’re enjoying on. The focus was extra on tips on how to deliver out the strengths of the platform.
Are you planning any PSO 2-related merchandise or bodily variations for the West?
Not at present, but when there’s a demand for it, that may change. And if we set up offline occasions and we need to have a merch desk, we would think about making merch for one thing like that. There isn’t actually a channel or a approach for promoting merchandise, however that may change sooner or later in order that we will promote our Japanese merchandise to our North American customers.
You’ve already executed the Xbox collaboration, the place gamers may unlock an Xbox-branded T-shirt in-game. Presumably you’ve gotten extra crossover content material deliberate like that?
Will you have the ability to transfer your character from ship to ship, in case your folks are on a special ship than you?
It’s not doable proper now, however we’ve heard this request from others, as effectively, and it’s one thing we plan on rolling out. It’s doable at present in Japan, however even in Japan, you possibly can solely transfer servers or switch information as soon as per week throughout upkeep. There’s a particular window and frequency at which you are able to do this, and that can stay the identical for the North American area as effectively.
When the unique PSO got here out, on-line video games weren’t actually established but. PSO modified all that. With PSO 2, enjoying video games on-line now could be virtually the usual, so now that you simply did the laborious work in pioneering issues 20 years in the past, you would actually deal with the design of the sport. What have been the design priorities for PSO 2?
The very first thing that we expanded in PSO 2 was within the character creation system that wasn’t beforehand doable in MMOs. The subsequent focus was that we wished to make it as simply accessible to gamers as doable. As talked about earlier, since there are a whole lot of solo gamers within the sport, we wished to make the communication options as seamless as doable in order that gamers may be part of different gamers with ease and never have to spend so much of time gathering a celebration. In PSO 2, we’ve created a “party area” the place you possibly can simply be part of events in progress with out the downtime spent organizing a gaggle that you simply might need had with the unique sport.
Another space that’s new with PSO 2 is the cross-platform play. The Japanese model already has it — on PC, PS4, Vita, and Switch (and PSO 2es, which is the cell model), you possibly can play the identical character throughout these completely different platforms. Nowadays this won’t be so distinctive, however eight years in the past, it was fairly revolutionary. For the U.S. model, we’ve simply introduced the Windows 10 model in May and that you simply’ll have the ability to play throughout Xbox and PC, and we hope in future platforms, as effectively.
This actually exhibits respect for a participant’s time, because you mainly make the sport as accessible and accommodating as doable. This leads into the subsequent query, which is concerning the resolution to go free-to-play for PSO 2. It makes much more sense now, since an individual can simply obtain the consumer without cost on whichever platform they need to play on, and transfer over to a different model simply, with out having to pay $60 for every. Was this all a part of your technique — to get individuals enjoying throughout as many platforms as doable?
That was naturally a part of it. Eight years in the past, after we first started making ready PSO 2 for launch in Japan, whenever you consider RPGs, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are the predominant Japanese role-playing video games. So we needed to assume, “How do we compete with those titles?” And the important thing to that was the benefit of entry. Two issues we got here up with have been to offer it on a number of platforms, so we may supply it to individuals with any sport console, and the second thought was to make it free-to-play, which makes it simple to enter as a result of there’s no cost upfront.
Also, eight years in the past, a lot of the MMOs have been popping out of Korea and China, they usually have been pay-to-win type. By offering PSO 2 as free-to-play, we wished to maintain the standard of the sport, but additionally to make it a worthwhile enterprise. We wished to show that free-to-play was a viable enterprise format that may very well be worthwhile. As a pattern, I feel we have been proper in our goal to make it free-to-play, and also you’re seeing that much more within the trade nowadays. We have been pioneers in providing free-to-play with out compromising the standard of the sport.
Back when PSO 2 was first launched in Japan, there was a whole lot of controversy round free-to-play video games, as a result of children have been racking up big costs on their dad and mom’ bank cards in video games like Puzzle & Dragons, a lot in order that the federal government truly stepped in and cracked down on the random merchandise technology enterprise. Now, PSO 2 was probably not that form of sport, however did these added authorities rules have an effect on the monetization design of PSO 2 in any approach?
It didn’t actually have an effect on the best way we designed the sport as a result of we weren’t targeted on the gacha type of gameplay.
We’ve been ready so lengthy for PSO 2 to return out within the West — eight years now — that it’s attention-grabbing that you simply determined to launch it right here first on Xbox One. It’s attention-grabbing, as a result of the Xbox One is mainly within the final yr of its life as Microsoft transitions to the Xbox Series X. Did you launch on Xbox One since you knew that the Xbox Series X could be backward-compatible, and that folks would have the ability to carry their progress over to the subsequent console? Or did Microsoft strategy you as a result of they’re hungrier for content material than Sony is for the PlayStation 4?
Microsoft was very cooperative in releasing PSO 2, and to broaden on that, they have been excited by PSO 2 and in offering us with Agile, their programming software program. It’s probably not a technical purpose — as a result of when it comes to transferring the sport over to Xbox, it wasn’t any simpler — however they actually supported placing the sport on Xbox.
It’s not that the Xbox is particularly troublesome, however there have been some options that needed to be adjusted particularly for Xbox. It was initially developed on PC, so it’s comparatively simple to deliver over to some other system.