Building a Village, 02/18/2019 – Story Time

Hello Villagers!

The date at the top of this draft says “January 4th”. Oh past Josh, you were tragically naive.

At the bottom of this post I’ve shared why this update is so late. But for now, I want to talk about something I haven’t yet: the story of Village Monsters!

In my original pitch I said Village Monsters would blend together elements of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon with the adventure and story aspects of Zelda and Earthbound. I think I can be truthful now: I wasn’t quite sure how I’d do this.

Now, to be fair I had plenty of ideas, but I wasn’t sure if they’d work in practice. But now I know, and I’m super thrilled to be able to share some specifics today!

(I’m careful to avoid spoilers, but if you want to play Village Monsters fresh then consider skipping this update.)

An Odd Introduction

Like most stories, Village Monsters begins with a mystery. You awaken suddenly in the dark with only a disembodied voice to guide you. The voice is friendly and helpful, but it seems just as surprised by your appearance as you are.

With the voice’s help you are guided out of the darkness, only to awaken in an inn surrounded by monsters.

As you already know, these aren’t the bad kind of monsters. They explain how they found you passed out at the edge of the Glitchwood, a corrupted forest that has overtaken much of the world. They brought you back to their village in part because you were in bad shape, but also because humans supposedly disappeared ages ago.

That makes you rather unique! But where exactly did you come from…?

Well, one thing is clear: you need a place to stay, and you probably want some warm food in your belly.

Thus begins your life among monsters.

Patchlings

You’re given ample opportunity to settle into the village, but before long you’ll eventually discover the corruption and glitches that cover the land. Whether it’s a glitched-out bridge that can’t be crossed or a strange fog that’s as thick as a wall, it’s pretty obvious the world isn’t in great shape.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! At some point you’ll discover your first Patchling, a sort of magic sprite that seems especially interested in you. With their help you’ll be able to do something rather special: mend the damage done to the world.

Patchlings are drawn to positive events, so you’ll earn new ones by doing things you’re probably already doing: making friends, completing challenges, exploring the world, and so on. The more Patchlings you have the more of the world you can heal and explore – and the more of the main story you uncover.

You can think of this as the main loop of the game:

Villager Stories

The main story in Village Monsters is there to provide structure and long-term goals to help guide you through the game. I’m really happy with how it’s turning out, but I also want to be candid that the real meat-and-potatoes of the game comes in the form of personal stories.

This is a true village life simulator. You’ll be making friends, overhearing gossip, and piecing together narratives from objects you inspect in the world. There are no minor NPCs – every single villager has a unique backstory, relationships, secrets and passions and problems to solve.

You might make friends with Birdie, a harpy that wants to pursue a lifelong dream of carpentry. Or Mock, a depressed goblin that just reluctantly needs help charting the world. There’s even Tarn, a duergar noble who wants an editor to help him finish his (soon to be) bestselling book – which is obviously an autobiography.

End Game

Of course I won’t be spoiling the end of the game, but I do want to address a couple things you might be wondering about.

First, there is a conclusion to the main story! Like with most games of this style, the end of the main story doesn’t mean the game is done. However, there is a satisfying conclusion to everything you’ve done leading up to that point.

I also want to stress that there’s no ticking clock and you’ll never be punished for doing other things outside the main story. Everything can be done at your own pace – including ignoring the story outright.

Personal Stuff

Alright, so let’s chat about why I’ve been quiet these past few weeks.

I started out the year by getting demolished by the flu. I’ve had influenza before, but nothing like this; even just sitting quietly on the couch took effort.

I started feeling better, which was in retrospect a mistake as at that exact moment a giant windstorm hit our area. It caused major roof damage and was, of course, another big distraction.

By the time February started things were finally slowing down. In fact, it felt like spring was just around the corner! …you’ve probably already guessed the punchline, right?

We got absolutely stomped by 30 inches of snow. The Seattle area never gets snow, but in a two week period we got hit by 4 separate debilitating storms.

Am I cursed? I don’t think so. But I can’t rule it out.

I’m sharing all this not for pity but for context to my recent silence. It’s been a trying year, but not an impossible one, and even during the lowest points I’ve continued to chip away on the game and make progress.

I look forward to sharing things more frequently as the release gets closer. I also look forward to not having any more disasters in 2019. Please? Please….?

A farewell to demos

You may have noticed that I’ve removed links to the demo from here and elsewhere. And if you hadn’t noticed before then you surely have now after reading that sentence.

It felt weird doing this – like I was trying to get away with something bad – so I started making this post as an announcement. You know, transparency and honesty and all that.

But the more I wrote the more it morphed into a postmortem of pre-release demos in general. If that’s not interesting to you then here’s the important bit: Kickstarter backers will always have access to pre-release demos, but I will no longer be making them public.

If you’re interested in how I came to this decision then read on.

Agile

At my old job we practiced Agile development. In short, this meant frequent (and smaller) iterations that would constantly get released to users. These releases were often incomplete or unpolished, but the point was that you were getting something in users’ hands and they in turn could tell you what worked and what didn’t before it was too late to change things.

There’s a lot of info about Agile elsewhere, so here’s a quick image-based summary of its advantages:

When I quit my job to work on Village Monsters I decided to apply these principals as a solo game developer. I had quick iterations and released frequent demos – longtime followers may remember the poorly-named Were Release, a monthly demo that I did for about a year.

To be clear, I don’t regret any of this. It worked really well for me and was tremendously motivating.

But as the game became bigger the effort to create demos increased significantly. Worse, their usefulness to me as a developer started to drop. Making a new demo public – though still exciting – was quickly becoming a burden.

Master of none

So what changed?

Well, at some point Village Monsters reached a confusing middle ground somewhere between Clearly New and Almost Finished. It was now a Work In Progress… and what does that mean? I couldn’t expect players to know if I didn’t.

I was adding more features with each iteration, but this also meant there were more unfinished features. Old bugs were fixed while new bugs were introduced. The game changed in drastic ways on a near constant basis as I refined my design.

The thing about iteration is that it doesn’t imply linear progression; sometimes features (or parts of features) would actually go backward when something wasn’t working right. Each release was objectively more complete than the one before it, but it was a few steps forward and a couple steps back. It was becoming much harder to cleanly demarcate between what was done and what was not.

This confusion was reflected in the kind of feedback I was getting. I still received feedback and suggestions, but more often than not the messages were closer to support tickets. In some cases I even received pretty hostile emails over the perceived quality of the game as if I charged money or tricked them into thinking it was a finished game.

Perception

There are an enormous amount of games out there. People’s time is limited, their wallets are limited, and there’s no incentive for them to be risky with either.

This means perception of a game has never been more important. And to be frank, pre-release demos are a quick way to kill your reputation.

Consider what beta means for a game like Village Monsters vs. what it means for games like Anthem or The Division 2 or even Gwent. The comparison is, in a word, unfavorable.

For me it means a game that’s anywhere from 25-75% complete. For them it’s a game that’s 95% complete.

It’s completely reasonable for most gamers to assume that a beta game will only change in small or subtle ways before release. If you play a demo that’s janky and has bugs and feels incomplete then it’s equally reasonable to assume it won’t be a very good game come release.

And that really sucks for me. The closer the game gets to release the greater the chance that these perceptions are ‘locked in’ and impossible to win back.

So…

If a demo isn’t truly representative of the final product, and they’re increasingly difficult to create, and players aren’t really sure what to do with them… is it worth making them?

That’s the question I asked myself, and that’s why I’ve made the decision to remove them.

Hopefully this most is transparent and you can understand where I’m coming from. If you’re another indie dev then I also hope it helps inform some of your own decisions with how to handle pre-release demos.

Building a Village, 02/03/2019 – Shroomin’

Hello Villagers!

It’s that time again, y’all – that’s right, I’m talkin’ dev diary time.

As the release date inches ever closer it’s becoming increasingly harder to write these. I’m working on so much right now that a true weekly recap would be… well, too long and too hard to write.

So I’m changing things up a bit. Instead of writing about the top things I worked on I’m instead going to focus on one particularly feature for each post. Today? It’s Mushroom Gardening.

A Fungi to Talk To

Each hobby has a series of skills and upgrades that you gradually unlock over time. Mushroom gardening is no different.

The first skill you unlock as a novice gardener is called Mush Mouth: this lets you chat with your fledgling mushrooms in order to make them grow faster.

Upgrades are generally buildings or workshops that you can add to the village and homestead to make your life easier. The Spore Extractor is one such upgrade.

This handy device converts mushrooms into spores that you can then grow in your own garden. It’s super useful for new species you forage out in the wild or for unique mutations that you want to cultivate

Zen and the Art of Mushroom Maintenance

One of my top design goals in general has been to remove annoyances and other things that waste your time. However, the more finished it gets the more I’ve come to appreciate the positive impact that maintenance has on a game.

This is especially true of gardening. I don’t think gardeners necessarily love weeding, but they definitely appreciate the hard work and zen-like upkeep that comes with growing plants.

Neglected mushroom plots can now become overtaken by weeds and must be cleared out before they can be used. The longer you wait to clear it out the more overgrown it becomes.

Weeds won’t destroy a mushroom but they do prevent it from growing, so you’ll want to check in on your little buddies often. In general you’ll be encouraged to check in on your garden and perform upkeep as needed, but it shouldn’t ever feel like a burden. Hopefully.

Can’t spell fungi without GUI

Unfortunately for me designing and programming cool features is only half of my job. I also have to… you know… make a UI so players can actually use them.

I’m not great at UI (clearly), but the above is a prototype of what I’m working on.

When interacting with a mushroom plot you can pick the spores and soil (and see the effects) while also previewing any mutations or hybrids that might crop up. This is hopefully the only UI element related to gardening.

What’s Next for Gardening?

I’m definitely working on mutations next. This is a very important part of growing mushrooms but currently only exists in the background.

Beyond that I need to work on fungi breeding, more mushroom species / effects, and whole bunch of new skills and upgrades for you to purchase.

Building a Village, 01/22/2019 – Welcome Back

Picture unrelated. I just like it a lot.

Hello Villagers!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a vanilla dev log! Since the start of December I’ve been hard at work on releasing demos (have you checked out the latest one yet?) and patch notes and Kickstarter updates and ahhhh!!!

Phew. Ok. Well, most of that is over with and I’ve settled into a longer cycle of work. Let’s get back to dev logs!

New Villagers!

“New” is not quite the right word – most of these have existed in my brain, design docs, and Aseprite for awhile. But I’ve held them back from the game itself as I didn’t want to show you everyone quite yet.

These sprites are still pretty WiP, so don’t judge too harshly!

But it’s time for more villagers to get released. There are a lot of villagers, including many more to come, but here are a few more right now!

  • Jaclyn, daughter of the mayor and the town’s administrator. She’s rather tightly wound.
  • Morris, a kindly undead priest who tends to his flock and his mushroom garden in equal measures
  • Alistair, a phantom soldier that believes he’s a human
  • Birdie, a harpy carpenter (or “harpenter” if you will. and I will.)
  • Oponna, the fishy pirate that believes luck and chance rule all things. Daughter of Edmund and Contessa

Glitch Blockers

I still haven’t settled on the final ‘lore friendly’ name for these, but the world is now peppered with glitches and bugs that block your progress.

Thankfully for you the Patchlings have coincidentally come out of hiding! These little sprites have the ability to heal the glitches and broken lands you come across in your journey.

Finding Patchlings isn’t easy, but it’s said they are attracted to strong positive emotions – like as acts of kindness, feelings of accomplishment, and so forth.

Treasure Hunting!

Sure, you could donate some of this to the library. But you can also just sell it all and upgrade your basement!

Each week I pick one of the five main hobbies to focus on. This week was treasure hunting.

Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of artifacts. These special items come out of the ground as total mysteries and must be identified by someone in town. They are quite valuable on their own, but they also contains snippets of lore and hints of what you can find as you explore.

Besides artifacts you can expect to find gemstones, ores, and even long-buried treasure chests. Most of this stuff can be sold for silver, though you never quite know what you’ll end up with. That’s why it’s so exciting!

Comfy Cozy

I’m always updating and iterating on interiors. I think I’ve mentioned in older dev logs, but this is the first time I’m actually happy with what I’ve done.

The most impactful change is that rooms are now much smaller – by default, each interior fits the entire screen at once.

This fits with my main goal of coziness, but frankly it’s also a lot easier to both design and play with. This does mean that a lot of houses now have upstairs and basements to compensate for the sudden change of space, but that’s fine with me and mirrors your own home.

There’s a lot of work I’ve been putting off that I can finally work on. Something as trivial as “what size should most furniture be?” depended on how big the average room is, so it’ll be nice to get those off my to do list.

Quick Fire Changes

In the past month I’ve already completed about 300 tasks on the game which is… a lot. Trust me on that. Or don’t, it’s fine.

Either way, dev logs are tough to put together the bigger they get, so instead of grabbing shots and writing words for more features I’m instead resorting to bullet points. Like so!

  • Caught critters, fish, and other items now have ranks. The ranks effect their price
  • Many more details about an item are now stored. You’ll now be able to brag about that 40 pound fish you caught and then display the proof in your home
  • The spawning of items (like treasure, items to forage) have been greatly improved
  • Items can be marked as junk and all junk can be sold in one click at the general store
  • Many sprites are seeing updates in the form of seasonal varieties
  • This includes villager sprites which are also being iterated on (some the first time in years!)
  • Rev speed and actions have been adjusted
  • Lots and lots of bugs squahsed
  • Lots and lots of small changes

Release: Village Monsters Beta 3.2 (Pumpkin Pie) is now available!

A new feedback release is now available. As with all feedback releases, this one is based on the latest demo and contains fixes and improvements based on your feedback!

Unlike previous releases this one is a great deal bigger and includes new features, some collisions improvements I had intended to include before, and a bunch of other stuff! Several OSHA Violations were also corrected.

Here’s the download links + patch notes are below. Wowsers!

Latest Download

Beta 3.1 “Pumpkin Pie” (January 1st, 2019)

Windows | Linux | Mac

New

  • Collision has been improved in a number of ways
    • Your player will now attempt to ‘nudge’ themselves around corners, meaning you’ll no longer get ‘stuck’ on them
    • The player’s default speed has been lowered a smidge to make navigation a bit easier (and to fit with the chill themes better!)
    • A number of minor adjustments were made to make collisions feel smoother
    • A mirroring issue with the sprite (and thus its collision box) was fixed
  • The minor placeholder has been added for mending the world. Check out the bridge in northern Firetree Forest to learn more
  • A prototype for world states has been added to the game. This allows you to create persistent changes to the world like mending the bridge or unlocking the shortcut to Memorial Meadows
  • A “Nice Catch!” menu pops up after catching a fish or critter. It displays its name, stats, and allows you to either pocket it or release it
  • Several more fish have been added to catch
  • ẉ̷̨̖̥͔͚͔̓a̶͚͍͋́̑͐͗̓͊͐̑̆y̶͓̝͖̰͉͚̅͂̏f̵̙̰̑a̸͉͖̭͉̞̟̽̓r̶̨̛̩̜͍̤̟͔̝͖̍͂̍̎̓e̵̖̫͇͙̭̩͖͌̃ͅr̷̨̹̫̙̗͉̗̤͆̇̇͋̓̎̓͒̀͌ ̸̗̭̼̬̰̭̻̫̓́̔͆̅̄̃̒̕s̷̢̫̮̀̉͌̈̈̊̽͋͒̿ḫ̵̢̫͙̼̭̩̲̭͂̓̔͆̉͊̓͜͝͝ŗ̶̢̼̰͈͚̣̹̞̃̀̒͒́͗̉̋̚͠i̶̤̲̙̫̹͎̋́͐̑̀̊̐̽̐͘͜n̸̛̛̘̳͓̲͒͛͂̃e̴̡̥̤̘̬͝ a̷̧̞͌̀͂̒̋͝n̷͇͋̅̏̓d̷̲̠͙̙̮͍͖̻̞̎̆̓̀́̿̄̄ ̶̧̧̢̝̘͕̬̰̯͎̊͂̑̂̀͒͂̇̕m̶̢̖̣̩̘̥̋̆ȅ̸͕̹̙̦̥̾̆͑͐͒̑͝ͅn̶̝̈́͝d̶̹͓̻̟͉̏̎̀͊̄̕͝͝ĭ̴̙̮͇̤̰̭̊͐̋̏̚n̴͈͖͔̼͉̦̦͉̖̲̈͑͛͊g̵̭͊͂͋͊̕ ̶̧͇̯̖̻̥͕͙͊̍͝s̷̼̖̜͛̂̏̀̓̿̓̕͝͝p̵̨̩̲̯͍͚͖̦̬̼͌̄͌͊̈̌́͝r̷̨̻͈͆̆͐̓̀̆̊̑̚i̵̡̟̝̪̳̍̾̉́̀̆t̶͇̪̩̭̘̯͐̂̾ȩ̶̺̦͚̦̭͊̿̍̀̔̊̎̀s̵̡̼͙̣͉̫̪̬̄̄̿

Improved

  • A number of tool belt changes have been implemented
    • Reduced active tools to 1
    • LB/RB (A/S on Keyboard) now quickly cycles between tools when pressed and opens up the tool menu when held
    • A little helper is displayed when switching tools
  • Made notes outside of your room a bit more obvious that they can be read
  • Helper Text (eg., “Talk”, “Interact”) no longer disappear while you are facing a relevant object
  • Slightly brightened the fall tileset
  • When picking an item from your inventory (like selecting ingredients for cooking or planting spores) invalid items are now grayed out
  • Fish now have weights and lengths
  • Fish are now much more active when it’s raining
  • The vision cone at night has been greatly reduced
    • It will be expanded again in the future

Fixed

  • Fixed crash when donating to the library
  • Fixed crash related to low energy and eating
  • Fixed issue with Overflow exit
  • A few flowers had wonky layering issues. They’ve been corrected
  • Merchant items have been slightly adjusted to prevent strange placements
  • A number of tree collision boxes have been adjusted
    • An especially bad collision box (that was actually completely detached from its tree) deserves special call out: The wide dead tree in north firetree forest is no longer a problem
  • You can no longer clip through Town Hall
  • The walls in a number of houses have been fixed
  • Collision for flying critters has been temporarily disabled to prevent strange pathing issues
  • Fixed dialogue issue with Zero
  • Fixed dialogue issue with Glimmer
  • Fixed bad exit door in Mock’s home
  • Stopped the random splishy-splashy sound while idling in fishing

Release: Village Monsters Beta 3 (Pumpkin Pie) is now available!

Latest Download

Beta 3.0 “Pumpkin Pie” (November 30th, 2018)

Windows | Linux | Mac

Known Issues

  • Collisions can be wonky. I replaced it with a new system earlier but found some potentially nasty bugs at the last minute and had to revert it
  • There are lots of placeholders (text & graphical) – perhaps even more so than last time due to all sorts of new objects.
  • In general this is still pre-release software and it’s important to go into it knowing that. As a reminder, final release is planned for Spring 2019.