Ryosuke Aiba Part 1

WE GREW VANA’DIEL is a series of interviews with those who were involved in the development of FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI), as well as guests from other companies. Our guest for this installment is Ryosuke Aiba, the original Art Director of FFXI who designed backgrounds and monsters, as well as the infamous subligar. How did Mr. Aiba come to join the FFXI team and design the world of Vana’diel? In this first part, we asked him about his personal background and how he came to join Square (now Square Enix).

Ryosuke Aiba

After joining Square in 1997, Mr. Aiba worked as a 2D and 3D artist for Xenogears and Chrono Cross. He was the first to assume the role of Art Director for FFXI and was involved in designing backgrounds, monsters, and character textures. Mr. Aiba then departed from Square Enix to join Hideo Minaba and others to found CyDesignation, Inc. in 2012, assuming the role of Director, where he has been involved in developing Rage of Bahamut and Project Awakening for Cygames.

Beginning from pixel art

  • What was your initial experience with video games, Mr. Aiba?

  • Aiba

    I was very interested in games and computers even before the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released, and I felt like I could just stare at them all day at arcades and electronics stores, even if I wasn’t playing them myself.

    Then the face of video games was changed dramatically with the release of the NES, but my parents wouldn’t buy me one. I was so frustrated that I started programming my own games on my father’s computer at home.

  • Oh wow, I didn’t know you wrote your own programs. You ended up pursuing an art career, but did you ever consider becoming a programmer for a living?

  • Aiba

    Back then, I wasn’t all that interested in becoming an artist. That said, I did make my own pixel art when I was programming my games. Looking back now, I still feel like I was pretty decent at it. (laughs)

  • Ah, so you had an artistic sense even back then. What sort of games did you make?

  • Aiba

    I made all kinds of games, but one of them was similar to Super Mario Bros.*, which I really wanted to play. However, computers at the time didn’t have much processing power and weren’t as fast as the NES. I ended up giving up on making action-based games after working on that one and shifted my focus to RPGs instead.

    ※Super Mario Bros. is a side-scrolling platform game released by Nintendo for the NES in 1985.
  • How did you learn to program?

  • Aiba

    I grew up in a rural area with no one to teach me about programs and such, so I relied on computer magazines, which were sold every month.

  • It sounds like you were really into programming, but as far as I’m aware, you never considered it as a potential career.

  • Aiba

    It wasn’t until I was in college that I started seriously thinking about my future. After I got into college, I was just aimlessly repeating classes until one day, I saw Square was recruiting for a graphics-related position and was like, “This is it!”

  • We’ve heard similar stories from Producer Matsui and Mr. Yoshinori Kitase*, who were also dawdling around until they saw Square was recruiting. (laughs) By the way, what convinced you to apply to Square, and for a graphics-related job of all things?

    * Yoshinori Kitase, Brand Manager of the FF series.
  • Aiba

    Around that time, an acquaintance had taught me how to draw and inspired me to keep on drawing, so the job at Square seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.

  • When did you join the company?

  • Aiba

    I believe it was 1997. I started off as a part-timer, and I remembering being happy to get an employee discount for Final Fantasy Tactics. (laughs)

The graphics of Xenogears blew my mind

  • What kind of work did you do when you first joined Square?

  • Aiba

    I was assigned to background design for Xenogears. Development on the game was already underway when I joined the team, and when I went to introduce myself, they showed me the art for Lahan Village and how the village looked in the actual game, which absolutely blew my mind. Each and every pixel was manipulated so perfectly that I almost couldn’t believe that it would actually move in the game. When I saw the in-game footage, I felt that I’d never seen such beautiful graphics in a game before. I was not only impressed by the graphical quality but also their control over every single pixel in the in-game world, and the realization that I was about to work on the same world with my own hands had me thrilled.

  • So that experience became the foundation of your game development career, didn’t it?

  • Aiba

    Yes, that's right. Even now, I haven’t forgotten the awe I felt back then.

  • What did you work on after Xenogears?

  • Aiba

    That’d be Chrono Cross. I believe that was when I went from a part-timer to a full-time employee, but my work didn’t change much. I ended up being responsible for planning, designing, supervising, and creating the 3D models for monsters. Because of my initial experience with Lahan Village, I considered background designers as the superstars of Square and was proud to have been a member of the background graphics team. But I was put in charge of the monsters for Chrono Cross, and I remember dejectedly drawing them at first. (laughs wryly)

  • Did your feelings change as development went on?

  • Aiba

    It grew on me gradually. We had a small team for Chrono Cross and I was the only person working on monsters, which meant I designed them and also made the 3D models myself. In the process of doing that, I came to enjoy seeing my drawings come to life.

  • After that, you were assigned to the FFXI team, which means you’d been working in Mr. Tanaka’s* team since Xenogears. What was your impression of Mr. Tanaka?

    * Hiromichi Tanaka, original Producer for FFXI.
  • Aiba

    Mr. Tanaka was kind and also very knowledgeable. When I’m working, there are simple tasks where my mind tends to wander, and I end up thinking about things that have nothing to do with work.

    On one such occasion, I happened to wonder why the universe isn’t shrinking if everything is attracted to each other through universal gravitation. I pondered that question all day and it really bothered me, so I went to ask Mr. Tanaka, who easily replied, “That’s because gravitational force decreases with distance.”

    I also went to him to report the discoveries I had during work, like how vacuum insulation would prevent people in space from getting cold even if they were naked, or how electrons don’t flow through electric wiring.

  • That sounds just like Mr. Tanaka. (laughs)

* Part 2 will be available on November 16.

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