Planning Out Beta 1

It’s a new year. People are coming up with (and perhaps already abandoning) new years resolutions, so what better time to talk about what Q1 of 2018 looks like for Village Monsters?

Earlier this week the last Alpha demo was released into the wild. In contrast to the Pre-Alpha demos before it, the Alpha series has been the first time the game has started to look, feel, and smell like an actual, real-life video game.

So what does Beta look like? Well, it’s a pretty big deal! There are just 2 more major releases between now and release, so it’s important to really nail both of them. By the time Beta releases, Village Monsters should undeniably be a video game that can be played for several hours.

Today I’m just going to be talking about the goals for the first 3 months of the year, all of which culminate into the first Beta release – Beta 1!

A Game Loop

There’s no beating around the bush here – Village Monsters lacks a traditional game loop. That’s a problem.

Some of this is by design. After all, my primary goal is to create a faff about simulator, and that means a game in which you have freedom to interact with the game as much or as little as you please.

But it lacks connective tissues between it’s many systems and activities. There’s really no “main thread”, and as a result things feel disjointed; the whole experience lacks cohesion.

Worse, there’s very little motivation to go and explore things on your own. You can catch critters, but why would you? You can head down to the lake, but why would you? You can talk with villagers, but why would you?

Village Monsters needs an economy. It needs routines. It needs motivations to engage with its systems. It needs to do better at explaining things to you, the player.

Economy

  • The economy should serve as the main driver for engaging with the game
  • The player should start with very little in way of currency or possessions
  • The player should start with a room in Overflow (the town’s pub / inn) and have to earn a home
  • Items – especially furniture – should have actual costs and sell rates
  • Rare items should be valuable and exciting to find
  • There should be interesting ways to spend money outside of items, furniture, and upgrades

Daily Routine / Activities

  • The natural cycle of the day should be a key part of game loop
  • There should be activities you naturally do in the morning, in the afternoon, etc.
  • Activities should change depending on the time of day you do them
  • Villagers should also have routines / do activities, and they should talk about them

Your Journal

  • The journal should do a better job at surfacing details about the the world
    • A list of critters should contain their habitats and when they spawn
    • A list of fish should contain where they can be caught and any tips to catch them
    • A proper mini-map and a proper world map would do wonders
  • The collection section should be completely overhauled and be designed to encourage its completion
  • The journal should contain hints / tips for what you can do in a given day
  • The journal should contain more help information that it currently does

Hobbies

  • Each hobby should have clearly defined ‘daily goals’ and ‘long-term goals’
  • The controls and objectives of each hobby should be better surfaced to the player
  • Hobbies should have skill levels with proper rewards / bonuses for becoming skilled with them
  • It should be easier to identify the rarity of an item you catch or create
  • You should be able to display the products of your hobbies in your home
  • You should be able to gift certain products of hobbies to villagers

Odd Jobs & Mysteries

  • Villagers should be able to assign basic, mostly procedural generated jobs
    • Fetch Item X from Villager Y
    • Find lost item
  • Odd jobs should reward the player with money, furniture, and rare items
  • The mystery system should be fleshed out and implemented

The Historical Society

  • The historical society should be nuked from orbit and rebuilt
  • A ‘flow’ of the donation process should be considered and implemented
  • The historical society must have strong in-game motivations to complete it
    • This includes ‘set bonuses’ for completing sub-sections of your collection
  • It’d be neat if the historical society played a more active role in your collection – perhaps by giving you jobs / requests for items?

A Livelier World

While the game is already chock full of things both big and small to make it feel alive, there one major issue: the big things are mostly disconnected from each other.

It’s a similar problem to the one I described above for the game loop. It lacks a basic cohesion, and when things are disconnected they run the risk of feeling tacked or meaningless.

A good example of what I’m talking about is the weather. It might be interesting to look at, but it doesn’t have any appreciable effects on the villagers, critters or fish, the village, or anything else.

That’s not good design. In order for the world to truly feel alive, the world’s systems must feel connected to one another. They must influence one another. They must be interesting to observe.

Villagers

  • Villagers should have complete schedulers
    • These should reflect their situation or personality
    • They should differ day-to-day or week-to-week
  • Villagers should react to the world around them, especially for obvious things (like weather or holidays)
  • They should try to perform the same hobbies as the player
  • They should have some autonomy in choosing what to do each day
  • Villagers should actually walk around and move between areas as they follow schedules
  • Visitors should stop by the village – and leave after a period of time
  • Villagers should become friends or rivals with the player. Their interactions should reflect this relationship

The Village

  • The village should be split into several districts
    • Each district should have its own look and feel
    • Districts should feel connected, with perhaps multiple ways to “get there from here”
    • A district should strive to have several purposes, and overall I should avoid having the player ‘pinball’ between them
  • The village’s overall feel should change throughout the day
    • Houses should be locked at night
    • Merchants shouldn’t be open every day
    • Windows should be lit orange / yellow at night
    • Smoke from chimneys
  • The village’s overall feel should also change with the weather
    • Fewer people should be outside if the weather is poor
    • Shops could put on special rainy day sales
  • Villagers should have homes that are more obviously theirs
    • Interiors – but also exteriors – should reflect their personalities
    • Homes should feel lived in, and contain furniture / decor initially unavailable to the player

Critters & Fish

  • Overall critter spawn rates should be greatly reduced
  • Each critter should have a specific window – time of day, weather, month, etc. – when it spawns
  • All critters should have proper movement behaviors and animations
  • Certain critters should have special spawning capabilities – eg., spawning in herds instead of individually
  • Creatures should interact with other entities more
    • Predator / Prey relationships would be interesting
    • Critters should interact with villagers in fun ways

Time & Weather

  • There should be different music to accompany specific weather patterns
  • Time transitions should be more gradual
  • Each season should have a specific look and feel that goes beyond a new tileset
  • Major holidays should completely change the village in terms of decor and function

Intelligent RNG

  • True randomness should be reduced and replaced by algorithms with logical, describable rules
  • The game needs to better tailor its RNG in response to the player
  • Whenever possible, the game should be able to identify ‘interesting’ results of RNG and surface those to the player

Content Milestones

The Beta release needs a lot more content. To ensure I stay on track and strike the right balance of content, I’ve created the below milestones for me to reach before release.

  • 32 villagers to meet in the village
  • 20 unique sets of dialogue for each villager
  • 50 critters to collect
  • 30 fish to catch
  • 12 crops to grow
  • 24 recipes to cook
  • 40 archaeological items to discover
  • 3 mysteries to solve
  • 80 pieces of furniture to decorate your house with
  • 60 items to buy at the general store

Anything Else?

Oh yes. There’s still a lot to do between now and October, and I haven’t even touched on entire parts of the game – house upgrades, player customization, exploration, holidays, etc.

There are also plenty of behind-the-scenes changes I plan on making – there’s technical debt to pay off, a bunch of cleaning up to do, and so on. I also will continue to iterate over the various art assets and other graphics to improve the look of the game.

Just because an item isn’t on the above list doesn’t mean it won’t be addressed in the Beta 1 release. If past releases are any indication my attention will wander, and things will no doubt changes in the 3 months between now and release.

I’m very existed for what 2018 means for Village Monsters. This’ll be the biggest year yet for me, and it all culminates in a release at the end of the year.

One Comment

  1. Just wanted to let you know that Village Monsters is the game I’m most excited for in 2018 BY FAR! I’m sorry I missed out on the Kickstarter but I’ve been following your updates ever since and can’t wait to take part. Good luck!

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