I thought I was quite familiar with Final Fantasy 14, and yet I have repeatedly found myself surprised by some of the amazing sites in Eorzea. Things Square Enix probably never even considered when creating the game, like virtual theater.
Stellazzio Virtual Theater is a very talented theater troupe on the Diabolos server founded by Zaynava Stellazzio in 2018. They present full theater productions, with the team dedicating months of hard work and rehearsals each time. Everything is as you would expect from any real world theater performance – right up to amazingly done programs.
I recently watched the one act play by the troupe, The worker – their first project to include voiceovers. It was clear that the production was of a stunning standard, and even small details like timely changes between furnishing accessories and servants were executed perfectly. While seemingly effortless on the surface, the cast explains that even small aspects of the show like this take more effort than expected.
“Like a traditional play, we use calls to make sure we’re timing things correctly,” director Sasanasu Lalanasu tells me. “So before everything – the lighting, the music, the props – was done, I would make sure that Xitra or I were ready, and then I would call when it was supposed to happen. Throughout the room, Xitra wandered under the stage and near the seats to be in the right place to click, or place the things that needed to be placed.
Using macros ensures the perfect time to summon the actor’s servant Calcabringer, while stagehands place or remove doll furniture to replace it. However, minions and their moves are client side, so they appear in different places for each player looking at them. This caused a new problem for the team to overcome.
“We had to have a system where Sas would take screenshots of Calca’s location for me so that I could adjust my movements and emotions so that it looked okay for someone sitting in the audience, although she either halfway through the stage for me or Soso. ”Stellazzio explains. “All in real time, with a very narrow window to view the screenshot and adjust.”
The Worker’s 1950s theme is so precise that it’s easy to forget that the game is not suited for that specific era. Levi Talstag, the set designer, explains that setting up the set can take anywhere from a week to a full month, with changes until the show starts.
“The perfect set takes time,” Talstag tells me. “I would say creating a period themed ensemble can be a bit difficult with the restrictions we have with the furniture, but it’s not impossible! With a little ingenuity and furniture knowledge, you can mix items up to look like the shapes and sizes you need.
Stellazzo gave me a peek behind the curtain and showed me all of the clickable elements hidden under or behind the stage that they use in the production. Although members of the public will not see the arrows pictured below – only members of the Free Company house can do so – the troop can use these points to allow them to turn the heads and bodies of their characters without it does not appear abnormal. An effective solution to spinning your character, as doing it manually can awkwardly rotate it in place.
Stellazzio was a high profile raider in Final Fantasy 14, but the founding of the drama group changed her playstyle considerably. She explains that she entered the theater in her first year of acting and that acting has left her behind. since allowed to do things that she could not do otherwise.
“I don’t mind saying I have an anxiety disorder, PTSD, and ASD,” she tells me. “There is absolutely no way I can do all of this in real life. But now I have a scene, and I’m able to give that scene to dozens of people within SVT, and thousands of people participating in the game or on Twitch. This is one of the best parts of virtual theater, for me, and the biggest advantage of it over brick and mortar theater. People who are physically disabled, hard of hearing or visually impaired, or with mental disorders that would make this kind of thing difficult, will have an easier time coming to or participating in our shows.
The change in playstyle also applies to its dedicated team, who rehearse five times a week in 60-90 minute sessions each time. While creating virtual theater seems a far cry from the usual gameplay, Creative Team member Amilee Duskwind explained that there are parallels between the two.
“We don’t do a raid scene on Extremes, but in our own way, we always do,” she said. “Learning a raid boss is very similar to playing here. During repetitions, you do the same movements and expressions through the macro over and over again until it becomes muscle memory, much like learning a boss fight.
Stellazzio Virtual Theater’s largest production to date has been The Phantom of the Opera, which lasted over an hour and featured live music from The Moogle Troupe. Of course, with more production, the amount of labor required was also greater.
“The Phantom of the Opera was really a business,” Stellazio tells me. “We had times where we synchronized a team of dancers with special effects and a live bard group. One of the weird little quirks of this game is that only one change can happen at a time. So every lighting effect, song change, set-piece change, all need to be carefully practiced and called out so that no one overlaps anything. Otherwise, it causes an error and a person’s action is canceled.
Considering the passion and hard work of each production, it’s no surprise that Stellazzio’s Virtual Theater has grown in popularity. The worker saw queues of over 240 players at a time, with some players waiting more than eight hours or even all night to make sure they landed a seat – these are the wait times of Hamilton.
Each show can contain about 100 characters in the FC house, otherwise model flicker may occur. Unfortunately, that number also includes staff, reducing the number of seats available to viewers per show.
“The number of people who came to see Phantom was expected, but The Worker is just a small act in one act [play] which doesn’t have as much star power attached to its name, ”says Ashura Amariyo, the voice of the Messenger in The Worker. “And we filled eight shows and had to turn people away!” The number of people showing up on Twitch and other streamers’ streams was also amazing.
The virtual theater Stellazzio faces problems of restrictions and legality. For example, obtaining licenses for most parts requires a physical address of where production will take place. It’s something they can’t pin down when the actors come from all over the world but come together in the realm of Eorzea.
“This is a complicated issue that requires not only greater public awareness, but also an overhaul of legal systems,” Stellazzio tells me. “Copyright law was written decades ago and has hardly been updated for an increasingly online and connected world. Different countries have very different copyright laws, and this game is accessible worldwide. In order to use voice actors, we have to technically broadcast some of the music, which is a totally different license than playing it live. Usually performance licenses do not include broadcast rights [or] rebroadcasting, and using voice actors or showing on Twitch, would both violate that.
“I hope that one day virtual theater will be recognized enough that the licensing companies take note and take us seriously enough to work with us or with one of the other incredibly talented groups. At the end of the day, we don’t play video games. We run a troop, which is very parallel to the way things work in real life. We just happen to be sitting in front of computers instead of being physically together on a stage made of bricks, mortar and wood.
Next: Final Fantasy 14 Community Spotlight: Kaiyoko Star
It took a while, but Square Enix eventually removed the DRM software.
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