Interview with the producer and director of Granblue Fantasy part 1 – Anime Expo 7/4/2019

At Anime Expo 2019, granblue_en was granted a special opportunity to sit down with Kimura Yuito (KMR) and Fukuhara Tetsuya (FKHR), the producer and director of Granblue Fantasy.

We came armed with questions pulled from our followers on Twitter, as well as a few things we’ve always been curious about as players.

Writing and Planning Granblue Fantasy

KMR and FKHR enjoying themselves at Cygames’ booth on the Anime Expo floor

Granblue_en: Fukuhara-san, you’ve talked about the inner workings of the Granblue Fantasy writer’s room before, with pitch competitions for “What Makes the Sky Blue” and other events. How does the writer’s room normally divide work, from fate episodes to events?

FKHR: The plots and the concepts are mine, but we have multiple writers to keep up with the game’s monthly release schedule. We do have chief writers for certain events that are part of a series, but most of the time, we work in a rotation. I write the plot outline, assign it to a writer, and most story events are done by that single writer.

Granblue_en: How big is your lore bible? How do you track the connections between several hundred characters, their variations, and even their summon versions?

FKHR: We keep a master file, which anyone can open and use to grasp the characters and their relationships. Every time anything changes, we update it.

Granblue_en: How far in advance is the content schedule for the game planned? Has fan feedback ever affected that schedule?

FKHR: We plan the game’s event schedule out roughly six months ahead. At the bare minimum, we have to have things planned three months out or we won’t be able to develop everything in time. I don’t think there have been many cases where fan feedback changed that. 

The event that broke the schedule

The best example would be the fourth anniversary event, “Paradise Lost”. The fan response was so overwhelmingly positive that we extended the run for the event, which then meant that it was running at the same time as Xeno Corow Clash and Rise of the Beasts. We had to change how the raid backup request system worked on short notice, straining our development resources to support simultaneous events. That’s the kind of strain it puts on our team to change the schedule on short notice, so we try to avoid working on anything without at least 3-4 months of lead time.

Granblue_en: We have to know: why did you decide on sharks as the theme for this year’s summer event?

FKHR: Every summer, we run a seasonal story event, but the stories started falling into a predictable pattern. The main difference from year to year was an increasing number of characters. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but this year, we wanted to shake things up and challenge ourselves. When we were thinking of beach-themed enemies to fight, my love of shark movies came up, and so we decided on the shark story.

The cast of The Maydays trilogy (tetralogy?)

Granblue_en: How many older collab events, such as Slayers and Cinderella Girls, are you planning to add to Side Stories? Do they require the approval of the rights holder to be in Side Stories?

Kimura Yuito (KMR): We do require approval from the rights holder, so we have to go to each rights holder individually and make the request. We’ll put in all the collabs we get approval for.

Granblue_en: How do you choose which brands and franchises to run crossover events with?

KMR: The whole team has input on collab events. Some come from suggestions, like a member of the team saying “this would be a good fit”, or the producer’s and director’s suggestions. Sometimes they come about because the other party wants to time the event to promote a big release, or sometimes it just comes from the thought “you know what, this character would be really cool to have in Granblue Fantasy.”

Looking cool, Joker!

Granblue_en: Is it customary for Cygames to approach the other party, or vice versa?

KMR: It goes both ways, but I feel like Cygames approaches the other party more often than not.

Updating and improving the game

Granblue_en: You spent the early part of 2019 adding endgame content, from Akasha and the Four Primarchs to the Dark Rapture raid. Are there plans for more content for advanced players in 2019?

KMR: If you had to give it a label, I would say the things we have planned are high level, but not endgame-level. 

Granblue_en: Do you have any examples?

New weapons

FKHR: Hmm… I wonder how much I can say. Our current raids have definite tiers or categories that you can place them into, and we plan on making more tools for players to get past their content blocks and progress to the next level. For example, we’re going to be adding more weapons to the game [like the new Rise of the Beasts Omega weapons this July]. While we are planning on adding new raids, I don’t know if we’ll be able to implement them before the end of the year.

Granblue_en: Kimura-san, you’ve said before that you play the game in order to understand the needs and bottlenecks of the player in events like Unite and Fight. What’s your process for understanding the needs of the new player, in terms of tutorials, onboarding, and other functions?

KMR: Every once in a while, I start a new account and go through the beginning of the game again to get a feel for the process. We talk to new users and take their feedback into consideration when trying to improve the experience, and we also collect in-game data to find out where large numbers of users have become stuck or stopped playing.

Granblue_en: Going back to Unite and Fight, it keeps changing each time it runs. What’s your vision for the ideal Unite and Fight?

KMR: I don’t think it will end up being too different from how it is now. I want it to be an event that rewards you appropriately for the effort you put into it, and gives everyone from new players to top players a concrete goal to work toward. I don’t think there’s an ideal vision for it, either. I think the definition of what makes the best event in an online game like ours is a constantly moving target. As a team, we have to keep making adjustments so that the largest cluster of players can enjoy themselves, rather than trying to measure how much time it takes for a player to achieve a certain goal.

Granblue_en: Are there any plans for crew-only content, like old interviews suggested Defense Order could have become?

KMR: Not in particular. In Defense Order’s case specifically, we’re still trying out ideas that would make it different from what we can do in Arcarum.

In-crew score rankings

Granblue_en: “The Maydays”, July’s story event, had in-crew rankings for the mini-games. Are there plans for more mini-games like this, which let you compete with your crew?

FKHR: We do want to do more of that. The Sharkening was our first attempt at making content you played within your crew, encouraging a different kind of activity in-game and providing new reasons for crew members to talk to each other. It went pretty well, so I think we will try to build in that direction in the future.

Granblue_en: Recently, there have been several stories of players who are blind or visually impaired who are having trouble playing Granblue Fantasy – they can’t use tools like screen readers to press the image-based buttons. Is accessibility for them and other impaired players a consideration in your future development plans?

KMR: We do want them to be able to play the game, too. When issues like that happen, we want to be able to talk to them and find out more about what we can do.

Character creation

Granblue_en: Could you walk us through the process of creating and designing new characters for the game?

FKHR: It all starts with the schedule for the year. To decide whether we’re going to release a new character, make a new version of an existing character, or add a skin, we take the entire year into consideration and start concepting as early as possible. The gender ratio of characters for the year, what characters are going to appear in an event, those factors also play a part in the process.

Early on, we bounce new ideas off of each other, and sometimes we say “This has been popular recently, what do you think of trying it out?” and sketch those. Minaba Hideo, the art director, generates A, B, C, and D concepts for the costume and character design, then he and I select the most promising of those and iterate on that design.

A sample character design sheet for Vira’s idol skin, previously posted on Cygames’ Instagram.

Granblue_en: Who comes up with the initial character concept, you or Minaba?

FKHR: The character concept starts with me, usually.

Granblue_en: How do you balance between adding a new character versus making a variation of an existing character?

FKHR: Once again, it starts with the event schedule for the year. We know what events we’re going to do, so we base our decisions on those events, like with Summer Sandalphon and Summer Halluel and Malluel this month. There are a lot of little factors that go into the decision-making process, too. We look at the theme of the event, the element of the upcoming Unite and Fight, what kind of weapon we want to release, and many more considerations before we even think about the character. 

KMR: It’s like putting a puzzle together. You say “Well, here we have this, so over there we have to have this.” When you look at it that way, with all the requirements we have, a lot of the pieces fall into place on their own.

FKHR: True. As for the characters who get released outside of the event cycle, they kind of fill in the gaps. We’ll fit them in if we think players want a new version, or if we think the players would like to see the character in a new element so they can be teamed up with a different set of characters.

Granblue_en: When you make those alternate element versions of characters, is recording new in-battle chatter between related characters part of the planning process?

Light Silva, released 9/2018

FKHR: We do it on a case-by-case basis. There’s no hard rule on when we’ll do it and when we won’t. The new Light version of Silva from last year (September 2018) is a good example. That version of her specifically took place after Tweyen’s fate episodes, where the two of them were reunited after a long time apart. The Water version of Silva doesn’t have any lines with Tweyen, but after their relationship developed further, we decided to go out of our way and add lines for the two of them. 

Granblue_en: How did you decide that the game needed more duo and trio units, such as Lancelot and Vane or the Levin Sisters?

FKHR: It was an elemental consideration. There are a lot of characters who are related to each other in their stories, but because they’re different elements, they can’t be put on the same party. Fans of those characters often complain to us about that, so we started putting them together in new elements so that you could see new aspects of each character in a single unit. Last year, we released team characters like The Lowain Bros, Lancelot and Vane, and Arthur and Mordred. The fans received them favorably, and we were happy with how they worked out visually and story-wise. There were a lot of ability combinations that worked well and added unique touches to the characters that made the team concept work. I don’t think they’ll be common, but if we have a good idea for another team unit, we’ll do it.

The uncap art for SR Arthur and Mordred, which depicts all of Team Chickadee in action.

Granblue_en: As for limited characters – are there plans to add White Day limited characters? Does White Day’s proximity to the anniversary celebration cause issues?

KMR: Well… (laughs) yes. I don’t know if we’ll add White Day characters next year, but it’s hard to find room when it’s right on top of the game’s anniversary.

Granblue_en: In the Graphic Archive Extra Works artbooks, you’ve included unused designs for the Divine Generals (Zodiac characters) from the Cygames internal character design competition. Who judges the competition? Are they all blonde because you prefer blondes, Fukuhara-san?

FKHR: (laughs) No, no, that’s not it. The judges are myself, Minaba-san, and Watanabe [Koichi]-san, the president of Cygames. The three of us look at all of the designs and pick the design for the year. No single one of us has more of a say than the others. We come to a consensus on some elements of the design, and we also pick out certain parts that we like from other designs. We might like the weapon concept of one submission and like the skirt of another, and spend a lot of time trying to mix and match elements of the submitted designs.

As for the part where they’re all blonde (laughs), we based that on the first Divine General, Anila. We wanted the character series to have the same overall color scheme from year to year, so their general color schemes have stayed the same as Anila’s since.

A look at some unused Kumbhira designs from Cygames’ panel at Anime Expo 2019

Granblue_en: So should we expect a blonde rat with the same color scheme for 2020?

KMR: (laughs) I don’t know yet.

FKHR: (laughs) In last year’s Kumbhira design contest, the illustrators submitted more varied color schemes, so maybe we’ll see some changes in the coming year.

KMR: GBF’s players can be fickle, so before they get tired of it, there’s a chance we’ll change it up.

More to come in Part 2 of our interview, coming on Monday, July 15th!