I talked to BTB. He made “Brave New World” a FF6 mod. This is our interview.

FF6 Brave New World is a mod of one of the most wildly successful games on the Super Nintendo Entertainment system, and, probably my personal favourite Final Fantasy game. Because of that, I am very critical of anything being changed, but, here I am to tell you, Brave New World does a lot of right for very little wrong.

Before we get started, if you’ve never played FF3, I suggest playing the original game first, because this mod is hard enough you should enjoy the game before taking on this juggernaut. I’m not saying it’s impossible to beat the game without prerequisite knowledge, I’m just saying that the common tropes of the RPG genre, especially the SNES era RPGs, is wholly flipped on it’s head. Damage over time is actually effective, the game is balanced around each character being useful, status effects actually matter, and items are completely different. (Heck, it makes dried meat useful.) From the website…

FF6 – Brave New World is a fairly complete overhaul of Final Fantasy VI, featuring…

  • Character-based esper restrictions & new stat boosts that promote greater diversity and allow for customized development.
  • Esper leveling system that disassociates esper bonuses from traditional levels.
  • New and reworked formulas which rescue everything that isn’t magic or magic evasion from the dump-stat heap.
  • Rebalanced equipment, items, spells, and skills that aim to remove dead weight and give players more (and better) choices.
  • A complete overhaul of enemies from their stats to their behavior to better challenge veteran players and newcomers alike.
  • Tons of bugfixes, as well as remedies to many of the game’s more annoying aspects (such as rage hunting taking a lifetime).
  • A new script that restores much of what was lost in translation and builds on existing plotlines and characterization.
  • And much, much more.

I had the opportunity to talk to BTB, one of the two men who worked on Brave New World, and he was willing to let me ask him some questions. If you want to know how I feel about it… I like it. It’s still FF6, and the changes actually improve the game, even if I disagree with some of them. Soo… off to the interview.

Q: Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about Brave New World. How long have you been working on the game?

A: Synchysi and I started work on Brave New World in August of 2011 and the first official public release came in May of 2013. It’s been updated off and on ever since.

Q: This mod is super ambitious, changing literally EVERYTHING. Characters are inherently different from each other, limited in their magic choices, stats besides magic power are important, evasion works… how did you decide to get into something like this, and, did you know it was going to be such a large project when you started?

A: I’m a pretty firm believer that most good art isn’t something one makes an active decision to make, rather it’s just something that happens through circumstance. The origin story of Brave New World is just Synchysi showing up to work one night and telling me that he’d found an editor for Final Fantasy VI, after which we got talking to how neat it’d be if espers could be restricted by character. A few days later, when I saw him trying to map out which characters would get which spells, I stepped in and offered creative direction, thus leaving him free to work on the code and Brave New World was born.

Q: I understand you guys don’t consider this a difficulty mod. Why do so many people complain about how difficult it is?

A: I’ve written on this subject before, and it comes down to how we choose to define “difficulty” mod. Brave New World is more difficult than the original game because it actually does aim to provide a challenge rather than being an interactive story. If we use the commercially-defined labels of “easytype” versus “hardtype”, then Brave New World definitely qualifies as the latter. However, the general prevalence of “kaizo” hacks has largely shaped public opinion of ROMhacks as a whole, and the term “difficulty hack” has since become synonymous with mods that are unfairly/comically difficult rather than ones that merely seek to offer a more appropriate challenge.

Q: When you start something like this, do you plan out every modification you’re going to make at the beginning, or, do you just see things that need changing and start working on them piece by piece?

A: I’m just going to continue my response to the last question here. A common pitfall I see a lot of hacks fall into is that their primary – and often only – focus is on making the game more difficult, meaning that most of the developers’ time and energy goes into the enemies you fight. By contrast, enemies were the LAST thing that I worked on in Brave New World, and while it was by far the longest part of the process, it’s not where I would say the mod’s focus lies.
Obviously, no plan ever goes exactly how you expect it to, and especially with a long-term development cycle you’re constantly going back and tweaking everything based on changes you made somewhere else. But I believe that the fun of a game like Final Fantasy VI is building up your characters, making the decisions that turn them from blank slates into who you want to be, and so that was our first and foremost focus. Every other change that we made was then balanced around that core, which again is something that I feel like many modders do backwards. A good challenge is necessary to provide that incentive to develop your characters – something the original game didn’t have – but it’s a means to an end and *not* the end itself.

Q: Is this your first mod? If not, what was your first mod? Do you have links to your other mods? 

A: My first “mod” would technically be when I realized that the rules of Civilization 2 were just text files that I could edit at will. The first I ever released in any kind of official capacity was when I did the same for its sequelCivilization 3 (<– Link) – which I recently polished up and re-released late last year. Something like the Civilization series is a good springboard into modding not only because the ease of doing so, but also because it’s easy to look at a strategy game and think about how certain rule changes might impact it because the key to playing those games well, moreso than with other genres, is to be in that analytical mindset in the first place.

Q: Who is your favourite FF6 character, and why? Has it changed since when you started this mod?

A: Sabin was my favorite to work with, though that’s mainly because I modeled him wholesale after a character from another game who(m?) I actually do like. That aside, I’ve never really been too fond of any of the characters in this game, particularly Kefka and Leo due largely to the vast amount of fanwank surrounding them. Squaresoft takes a “quantity over quality” approach to pretty much everything they do, and so you’ve got this massive cast with very little amongst it to set anyone apart or make them particularly interesting, either mechanically or story-wise.

Q: I understand some might consider modding inherently different than game design, but, I would argue that the principals of good game design are important in modifying someone else’s original creation, especially when changing so much about the game, in this light, what would you say your game design philosophy is, and, what have you learned over the course of this project?

A: Well, yeah. Good game design is good game design, and you’re either trying to make a good original game or take an existing game and make it into a better one. It’s why I can get away with calling myself a game developer even though I’m just a modder.
There’s a lot I’ve learned as a modder, most of it stated much more eloquently by Mark Rosenwater of MtG fame in this speech (<– Link) that I recommend ANYONE who has any interest in game design watch in its entirety. I can’t really point to any one lesson as the overall philosophy that I approach game design with, and the best I could claim would paraphrase my outlook on artistic expression as a whole: make the game that YOU want to play. If you make something to please anyone other than yourself, you will eventually fail. Stay true to your own vision, and others will follow.

Q: What clever techniques did the original devs use when putting together the game? Anything that seems odd or out of place?

A: Most of what you’re going to find rooting around through FF6’s code is half-finished ideas slapped together by various programmers who clearly were not in communication with one another about what they were doing. As I said earlier, Squaresoft takes a “quantity over quality” approach to game design, and the end result is a game full of barely-utilized gimmicks. One of the more obvious examples would be stat boosts on espers, which was clearly a last-minute addition due to their haphazard implementation (many espers did not even have a bonus, bonuses would not be retained on “soft” game overs even though levels would be, HP/MP gains were laughably insignificant due to the percentages being so low, etc.) while a more obscure one would be a special effect that allows an attack a chance of setting a status effect (or effects) in addition to dealing damage. Like most other of the special effect routines, it’s used exactly once and on an attack that most players will never use: Cyan’s “Stunner” Bushido.

Q: After working on this mod of FF6, and working within those confines, do you have any aspirations or ambitions to create your own game? What’s your next project?

A: Not really. Modding is a reactive endeavor, not a proactive one. I’ve never woke up and thought, “hey, I’m gonna mod something”. It’s more that I play something and think “shit, this would be so much better if X problem was fixed”. As for what I’m doing next, I’m going back to the game where I first really made a name for myself in modding: Morrowind. I could talk a lot more about it, but that’s a whole new interview 😛

Q: Why call it “Brave New World”?

A: It’s named after an Iron Maiden album.
Synchysi and I are HUGE Iron Maiden fans.

So, yeah, that’s my interview with BTB. The other guy, Synchysi, is known for being super quiet, so, I got the talkative one.

To get Brave New World click here!

Brave New World’s Facebook Page

For more about BTB’s theories on game design click here!

…and for more FF6 hacks, there’s FF6 Hacking.

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