The Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival held at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles on the 5th & 6th of December was sold out just six hours of the tickets going on sale. A total of 550 fans shelled out $40 each for the privilege of attending this fourth Fan Festival in the US and this is the fastest that tickets had sold out. Not bad for an MMO that will celebrate it's 7th year in operation in May of 2009.
The Fan Festival kicked off with a Development Presentation. Producer Hiromichi Tanaka introduced the packed Ballroom to three new scenarios in the works; The Crystalline Prophecy (ode of life restoring), A Moogle Kupo D'etat (evil in small doses) and A Shantotto Ascension (the legend torn, her empire born). These are strictly storyline expansions expanding on the history and myth of Vana'diel. Each volume is quite a bit smaller than other expansions to date and all are being developed concurrently with the current Wings of the Goddess Expansion updates. A new Dev team was actually brought on to work on these storyline scenarios. Each volume is scaled from the solo player of about level 30 all the way to alliances of level 75 parties. Each storyline will indeed require an alliance of level 75 players to complete the final battle.
Planner Yuji Fujito and mastermind of a new piece of game content entitled Moblin Maze Mongers continued the presentation with live game-play. In a Moblin shop in Jeuno, we were introduced to Goldagrik, the CEO and President of Moblin Maze Mongers and his lovely assistant Chatnachoq in the flesh or pixel, so to speak. From Goldagrik, we obtained a Maze Tabular - a 5 by 5 square map with 2 blacked squares. Then we selected mobs to place in the dungeon via Maze Runes. Some were two square mobs while others were three square mobs ranging from stationary Plantoids to ambulatory Gargantuan Warriors who could cast various spells. Bobby our game operator, selected a few and placed them, then we were off to the Chocobo stables where the Maze Monger Shopfront awaited us.
Trading the Maze Tabular and paying a nominal processing fee of 200gil, we waited while the maze was created, and encountered a glitch. "The hands of darkness have prevented you from proceeding." we were told. "Oh, I wrote that!" said Fujito-san while we tried again. Eventually, we switched to a backup Powerpoint Presentation until someone in the crowd yelled out. "He made it! I heard the teleport sound!" Indeed. When they switched over to the game, we were in the dungeon lobby where two more Moblins awaited us. With Packapic, we could check our settings, the Mission Objective, the Tabular details, Structural stability and Sound Tracks. The ability to set the background music for the dungeon was a feature that Fujito-san had particularly wanted to show us. A single set was available for selection and they were marked "free" indicating that sets of music to follow would incur some kind of cost.
After picking our sound track, we spoke to the second Moblin, Redinoq, who would be our guide into the dungeon. She admonished us to be certain we were ready as there were no returns. No begging her because "Wah, wah, I forgot my potions." Once we confirmed we were ready, we were teleported in and encountered our first mob, a Plantoid with sharp leaves and nasty vegetable fangs. Egged on by the crowd, Bobby attacked the planetoid with his paladin which was systematically dispatched by the Plantoid. Not to worry, back to the Powerpoint presentation we went. Upon completion of the dungeon, a Treasure Casket would spawn, and rewards will range from Moblin Marbles - a currency used only for the Moblin Maze Mongers to potions and items, and maybe even skill-ups.
The presentation ended there but I was part of a developer round table next and asked for more details about the Moblin Maze Mongers which Fujito-San was pleased to provide.
This "my dungeon" concept was mooted at the last Fan Festival and exploring this concept provided a chance for the developers to create a new system which allowed players to have some input into the game, essentially, providing players a set of tools to create their own content. Creating this system also allowed the Final Fantasy XI developers to play with new technical features on the system side. We never saw more than the first part of a dungeon as the hands-on demos went quickly to allow all players to try them, but even the entrance area was impressively large and cavernous.
Fan Festival participants also had a chance to play a new event called The Swarm, a timed event for a group where mobs dropped from the sky into a small arena and it's a contest for highest points scored with kills between groups as well as between individual members of the group. Some creatures had bonus points and required the group to kill, some creatures could be one-shotted. The tip given to us was to stay in the arena where the creatures rained down instead of running off chasing after them. More kills that way.
The Mini-Expansions will be download only content and will debut in spring 2009, the Swarm available with the December version update and Moblin Maze Mongers is delayed from the December update for more testing and QC.
Fun, Games and Swag
What's a Fan Fest without the fun, games and the swag? As part of the celebrations, Square Enix held a costume contest as well as an Art and Craft contest which received well over 100 graphic art entries and some marvelous 3-D art which included sculptures of Chocobos and a Mandy Bento which was made by the artist that morning of fresh foodstuff.
Each participant received a "Moggie" Bag with the FFXI Fanfest 2008 logo, a door-prize ticket, a code for an in-game item - the Moogle shield - and a pack of Tarut cards. Based on the Major Arcana of the Tarot plus a face card, they were The Fool, Death, The Hermit and The King. Not just flimsy pasteboard, these were oversized, well made art cards. Like the quest in the game itself, each pack contained five identical cards and Fan Festival attendees traded with each other to collect four different cards, and retained an extra original card.
I also stopped by the Merchandise store and was surprised. First by the quality of the products for sale and then by the lack of variety of items. I had expected to see the various statues of NPCs and creatures, perhaps tee-shirts by the dozen and lots of pins and key-chains. Instead, they only featured silver rings, key-chains and no plushies! The silver nation rings are in one word, gorgeous. By the time I checked out the store in the afternoon, the San D'Orio ring was already sold out. Not to worry, more can be found in the Square Enix online store. (http://www.square-enix-shop.com/usa/index.cfm) The music CDs were no where to be found though... not at the Fan Fest nor in the Square Enix shop.
The evening wound down with contest awards including door prizes and random awards such as one given to the fan who had traveled the farthest (from Australia) and the fan who was the first to register for the Fan Festival. I have to mention the costume contest as the winner's costume was impressive. It was won handily by the Black Mage who had embroidered the details on his costume and created an ornate staff out of plastic forms and paint. From head to toe, it was a fantastic Cosplay costume in form, fit and finish. The judges were impressed and so were the fans who red-lined the "applause" meter (a decibel).
The finale of the show was a concert given by Star Onion member, Kumi Tanioka who took the stage and performed piano arrangements of Final Fantasy XI music on a Yamaha electric piano. Starting with some classic themes, she moved to more romantic then melancholy songs before ending with a last song, the Ragnarok boss battle music. To enthusiastic cries of "encore" and applause that would have smoked the applause meter, Kumi returned to play an encore piece, another great epic piece, the battle theme from Shadowlord. As the audience once again burst into appreciative applause, the MC for the evening took charge and the entire development came out for a final good-bye. Thus ending Final Fantasy Fan Festival, 2008.