What flying mounts mean for FFXIV: ARR's Heavensward expansion

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This is a sponsored post presented by Square Enix.

Final Fantasy XIV’s Heavensward expansion introduces flying mounts to Square Enix’s MMO for the first time, which offers an exciting opportunity for players to see the new worlds of Heavensward in totally different ways. This challenged the developers to think carefully about how they built the sprawling environments for the game’s first expansion.

Heavensward introduces a number of new environments to FFXIV, including Coerthas, Dravania and The Floating Continent, with many bigger than the worlds of FFXIV. You can use a flying mount in all of these new locales except Ishgard, one of the two warring sides at the centre of the story in Heavensward. Being able to use a flying mount, like a black chocobo, dragon or even a personal airship, allows players to take to the skies in these larger locales, which conceptually and structurally look quite unlike anything seen in XIV to date.

“So until now in A Realm Reborn, all travel was primarily on land and we were thinking in like a flat space,” says Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn director and producer Naoki Yoshida. “But now in Heavensward, now we're taking to the sky, we have the element of height—we have this space that was never utilised, so that is something that we had to take in consideration in the level design.”

You can’t take to the skies right away, though—after players obtain a flying mount, they’ll need to explore each environment before they can take to the skies. Then, they’re free to control their mounts in a 3D space, and they will move around twice as fast as they can walk on land, so there’s a significant difference in speed by controlling them, like you're actually taking to the skies.

“So, before you can obtain a flying mount, of course, you have to travel further on land, so we had to make sure that the players understand there is going to be content once you obtain a flying mount you can reach a certain point,” Yoshida explains. “So you have areas floating in the sky, or you'd be able to see that maybe there's an extreme cliff you have to use your flying mount to go over, and we made sure that we visually represented that it's not only a flat surface—that there is something beyond there, so that's one of the considerations that was made.”

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“And from a technology aspect, we were going from a two-dimensional environment—when you're on the ground and you look at a building, you're only seeing it from below and you're looking up at something. So while we're in a 2D environment, we can compensate the performance rate by not rendering all of the aspects, like behind a building, or on top of the building at the time. But because the flying mount is introduced, we had to figure out a way to be able to render everything, depict everything so it makes sense when you're looking down at it from a flying mount, but still not take away from the performance. So we had to break it out into separate layers so we're displaying one segment at a time while players are adjusting the height, and making sure the performance is not lost while they're rendering the different pieces of a 3D object.”

You can tell the difference in environmental design just from looking at the screenshots—the way locations are layered, the different ways moving in that 3D space can encourage exploration. Flying is part of Final Fantasy's DNA. That kind of player empowerment and difference in environmental interaction will be an incentive for existing players to pick up A Realm Reborn this June.