Building a Village, 11/05/2019 – Talkin’ Specifics

Hello Villagers!

Let’s talk Early Access.

One of the biggest flaws with Early Access is how broad of a classification it is. Some games in EA can barely be called tech demos, while others are practically all finished and just need a bit more polish. It can be tricky as a consumer to know which variety you’re going to get.

While I can’t speak for other games, I can speak for Village Monsters. This dev log will dive into what’s available in EA so you can make an informed decision come November 12th!

Did I mention November 12th is when Village Monsters releases? That’s right. 11/12. Has a nice ring to it.

November 12th.

More Finished Features

These are features and systems that have seen the most work.

Core Game Loop

Village Monsters is a game about goals. You have small goals, like “I want to catch a bigmouth bass”, and big goals, like “I want to mend this broken world so my monster pals can be happy.”

It’s up to you how you want to play the game, but everything you do contributes in some way to accomplishing a goal and improving yourself; talking with villagers makes you better friends, fishing makes you a better fisherman, and so on.

Achieving goals earns you rewards that in turn let you progress in the game or accomplish other goals faster.

I’m calling this the core game loop and it is (as you might expect – or hope!) one of the more finished aspects of the game.

Hobbies

All four main hobbies (Critter Collecting, Fishing, Treasure Hunting, and Mushroom Gardening) are implemented in the game, though some features are more finished than others.

Seasonal & Time Changes

The simulation parts of Village Monsters were the first things I worked on and are some of the most complete.

Spooky / Scary

There are 128 days in a Village Monsters year split across four seasons. Each season brings about new tile sets, weather, decorations, dialogue, flavor, and much more.

The days themselves are split into four chunks (morning, afternoon, evening, and night) with many things also changing depending on the time of day.

Villagers & Dialogue

There are 30+ villagers to befriend and all of them are available at launch. Each one has their own unique personalities, relationships, likes & dislikes, and secrets to hide.

They also have a lot to say – there will be over 2,000 lines of dialogue at release! Dialogue is highly contextual and is designed to rarely repeat even on subsequent playthroughs.

Exploration

The village itself is quite large, but that’s only the start of your little adventure.

Of course, the world in Village Monsters is in rough shape. You’ll need to find a way to fix things before you can go too far.

There are currently 10 areas outside the village for you to explore. Each area has their own look and feel, things to discover, and lots of unique critters, fish, and treasure.

Music

Each season has four tracks (one for each time of day) and many areas have their own unique tracks as well. They’re all very good, and I can say this because I didn’t make any of it – Josh Woodward did!

Flavor

There are many ways to make a game world feel alive. I’m just one guy, so I can’t rely on things like visual fidelity or complicated physics. Instead I’ve focused my efforts on injecting flavor into the world of Village Monsters.

For example, let’s take something as simple as a rainstorm.

  • You can hear muted rain sounds while inside
  • You track mud when coming in from the outside
  • Puddles form on the ground
  • You can catch a cold if you stay out there too long
  • The fish bite a little bit faster in the rain
  • Certain flowers don’t wake up without sun – and certain villagers don’t even leave their house.

The game is full of these kind of details, and because I’m an absolute madman I’ll be adding even more.

Less Finished

These are features that need more work and will benefit the most from Early Access.

Pacing & Balance

I mentioned above that the core game loop is mostly finished, but what I left out is that it still needs a great deal of balance.

How many Patchlings should be required to fix a bridge? Is the economy working right? Is this item too rare or not rare enough? What about this fish? How long should it take to tame a Pocket Horse?

These are questions that are very difficult to answer as a solo developer. Much of this balancing work will be accomplished through Early Access.

“Level” Design

Each area outside the village looks and feels pretty different, but they still need a great deal of work to be considered complete. Some areas may go through radical changes, and a few areas don’t even exist yet.

The same can be said for villager homes. I want each house to have multiple rooms bursting full of personality, but I’m a ways off from accomplishing that.

Specific Hobby Features

Hobbies are some of the biggest activities you can do in the game. While all four of them exist in general terms, there’s quite a bit that still needs work.

For example, you can grow mushrooms but you can’t mutate or hybrid them yet. You can unlock fishing abilities, but there’s only 3 abilities to start.

Player homes (and customization in general)

While you can purchase a home, it’s missing many of the upgrades I’ve planned for the future. You’ll also be able to customize much more than just your home in the future, but none of those features will be available at the start of Early Access.

User Interface

UI work is always difficult and annoying, though I’m hardly the first person to share that sentiment. I won’t make any excuses for the UI, but I can promise to continuously work on improving it while in Early Access.

Graphics

The way I do art seems to be different than most others. I like to implement art early and then iterate over it constantly until I’m satisfied. These aren’t quite placeholders, but they also aren’t finished.

It works for me, but the end result is that the game still has a bunch of rough art assets that will be improved with time.

Story

There are plenty of story elements and lore to find (especially among villagers), but the “main story” and the ability to roll credits will have to wait until the final release.

Hopefully this dev log will help you understand what is and isn’t finished in Village Monsters for its upcoming Early Access release. If you ask me it’s a very fun game already and will only get better, but I’m perhaps not the most objective reviewer.

See you on November 12th!

Village Monsters Launch: Why Early Access?

Village Monsters is releasing November 12th, 2019, and when it does it will launch in Early Access.

Hello Villagers!

Village Monsters is releasing November 12th (!!!) and when it does it will launch in Early Access. In this update I will explain more about this decision as well as what the next few months will look like.

oh no

Why Early Access?

Village Monsters has always been a large and ambitious game – especially for a solo developer’s debut project. Even still, this is my absolute dream game and I have a tremendous amount of passion and energy that’s been sustaining me for years.

But passion isn’t the same thing as skill, nor does it automatically grant you good sense.

One of my biggest weaknesses has been with planning. As a gamer myself I get annoyed when a Kickstarted game is indefinitely delayed or the creator gives the “it’s done when it’s done” speech. I think backers are owed more than that.

I sought to avoid this by giving short, aggressive timelines and… well, joke’s on me. Setting aggressive timelines meant I was always working aggressively. This has its benefits sometimes, but it’s not a sustainable way to work on a big project.

Each week I was getting a ton of work done, but I was rarely finishing things all the way through – I kept feeling tremendous time pressure to move onto the next task. This came to a head at the end of August when I sat down and evaluated the state of the game. Village Monsters was fun to play and had so many cool features, but things weren’t flowing well together. Everything felt so fragile and clumsy, like a Jenga tower missing many of its pieces. It was clearly not ready for release.

I needed to drastically change my strategy. I didn’t want to crunch for 16 hours a day to finish the game, and I didn’t want to have yet another delay – to be frank I’m not sure my bank account could handle it. 

Early Access emerged as the best choice with the fewest downsides.

  • It lets me avoid another delay which means you can play the game earlier and I can start supporting myself
  • The community can act as a sounding board and become heavily involved to shape the finished game
  • I can do quicker, smaller updates which let me constantly improve things
  • It’s far easier to find bugs and experiment with new ideas
  • It keeps me highly motivated and – more importantly – accountable to my supporters

I’m certainly biased, but I think Village Monsters is a pretty good game already, and with your help Early Access will make it even better. I went from stressed and anxious about Early Access to being genuinely very excited for it – I hope you’ll feel the same!

How finished will Village Monsters be at launch?

All major systems and features planned for the game exist in some capacity. What remains is a massive amount of iteration: expanding and adjusting features, adding new areas, improving graphics, fixing bugs, and lots of polishing.

If I had to assign a percentage I’d estimate Village Monsters is 70% finished. There’s actually a lot of game to play already – you have a big, cozy world to explore and relax in with a bunch of things to collect, secrets to find, and *tons* of villager dialogue and lore.

I’d compare it to something like a fixer-upper; it makes some strange noises, the faucet leaks, the appliances need replacing and the wallpaper is just dreadful. But the foundation is solid and with some tender loving care it could be something real special.

Your in-game home is something of a fixer upper, too

How will updates to Early Access work?

The overall structure of Village Monsters lends itself very well to frequent, incremental updates. As such, I am aiming for weekly updates while in Early Access. To keep this sustainable – which has been the key word in all my planning – I will be alternating between major (Sunrise) and minor (Sunset) updates.

Sunrise updates will bring big changes changes like new features and story content.

Sunset updates will focus on smaller changes, improvements and bug fixes – especially those related to new additions from the past week.

Longtime followers of the game may recognize this pattern from how I’ve released demos (each major demo was followed by a feedback release) so I know this is a model that works well for me.

Just in case you forgot how a calendar works from before

How long will Village Monsters remain in Early Access?

It’s important for me to not stay in Early Access for a long time. It’s an easy trap to fall into which results in stagnation.

I predict staying in Early Access for one year. Unlike my previous estimates this one includes a great deal of buffer and accounts for both planned and unplanned work. My priority will be as follows:

  • Finish remaining tasks to bring the game to 1.0
  • Incorporate community feedback and fix reported bugs
  • Balance the game and polish to a mirror sheen
  • Work on additional extra features that aren’t necessary for 1.0

Future updates (2021 onward – wow, we are living in the future) are still planned and will always be free.

That’s all for now. Thank you all again for your support and love. There’s now just a month to go until release… so I gotta get back to it! Happy Spooktober!

Why Early Access?

Village Monsters has always been a large and ambitious game – especially for a solo developer’s first game. Even still, this is my dream game and I have a tremendous amount of passion working

Since starting work on Village Monsters in 2017 I’ve released 14 demos.

Games like Littlewood, Kynseed, My Time in Portia, Graveyard Keeper, and others. These weren’t just releasing in Early Access – they’re thriving, with fantastic communities that have helped shape the games in development.

Early Access is the right place to finish creating Village Monsters.

How will updates to Early Access work?

The overall structure of Village Monsters lends itself very well to frequent, incremental updates. After all, each in-game day brings new opportunities – some days more literal than others!

I am aiming for weekly updates while in Early Access. To keep this sustainable I plan on alternating between major and minor updates – I am dubbing them Sunrise and Sunset.

Sunrise updates will bring major changes – new features, story content, and so on.

Sunset updates will focus on smaller changes, improvements and bug fixes – especially those related to new additions from the Sunrise update.

As soon as I finished this I realized that you already know what a calendar looks like. Sorry.

Longtime followers of the game may recognize this pattern from how I’ve released demos (each major demo was followed by a feedback release) so I know this is a model that works well.

How long will Village Monsters remain in Early Access?

It’s important to me not to stay in Early Access for a long time. It’s an easy trap to fall into that can result in stagnation and loss of focus.

I predict staying in Early Access for one year. This includes the time necessary to finish remaining features while ensuring there’s plenty of opportunities for the community to shape the game in their image.

Future updates (2021 onward – wow, we are living in the future) are still planned and will always be free.

Building a Village, 9/28/2019 – WE HAVE A RELEASE DATE

Yes, all the rumors are true and the wait is very nearly over.

Village Monsters will be hitting digital store shelves on November 12th, 2019!

It’s been three years nearly to the day since I decided to upend my entire life and make a major career change into indie development. In September 2017 I ran a successful Kickstarter for Village Monsters and now I’m preparing for its release into the wild.

It’s an overplayed expression but yeah, life really does come at your fast.

Early Access

When Village Monsters launches on November 12th it will do so in Early Access.

This decision wasn’t made easily. I first began considering Early Access after the delay earlier this year; delaying the game again was out of the question – both for you and for me – so it was important to explore all other options.

Despite crunching hard since May it became clear that Village Monsters would not be fully finished by the fall. At this point Early Access emerged as the best possible option for me, for you, and for the game.

To be completely candid, what helped push me over the edge was seeing similar games finding their groove with Early Access: games like LittlewoodKynseed, and My Time at Portia. These are games with thriving communities (most of which I’m part of!) and their success has given me tremendous hope of achieving the same thing.

Early Access isn’t the right solution for all games, but it’s the right one for Village Monsters:

  • I now have the breathing room to finish the game without resorting to unsustainable crunch or cut features
  • It allows me to test and iterate over new features and content much more quickly
  • Supporters can start playing the game way sooner than if I delayed it again
  • The community can influence and shape the game throughout the entire process

As a side bonus, EA will let me take advantage of the meta elements in Village Monsters – after all, the overall narrative is about an unfinished game that takes on a life of its own. Who knows what the future holds?

New Graphics

This month I’ve also been incorporating many new art assets I’ve been working on. I was going to share them in this update, but… I got cold feet at the last minute. So instead of sharing everything I’ll just give you a sneak peek at the new male player sprite (and yes, there are hats now too!)

I won’t give the “art is not my strength” speech because a) I’ve done it already and b) it’s pretty obvious. However! My goal at this point is to establish a consistent identity – I want everything in the game to look unmistakably Village Monsters-y. I’d describe my style as “simple and flat like Earthbound crossed with the whimsical designs of Animal Crossing”, and I think these new character models fit that nicely.

Final Housekeeping

Let’s end this update with a few quick-fire links!

  • Village Monsters has a Discord server. Join it now! It’s about to get real lively.
  • I posted a new trailer back in August. Did you see it?

Building a Village, 6/29/2019 – Making of Monsters

Hello Villagers!

This dev log is sure to be my most game design-y one yet! Today I want to talk about monster design – ah, but of course with the obvious “twist” that in Village Monsters the monsters are the NPCs of the game!

Like the animals in Animal Crossing, there is only one human (you!) in this village, so just step aside, homo sapiens – this one ain’t about you.

Making Monsters

There’s a fine line to walk when designing monsters. You have tremendous creative freedom compared to designing humans, but this means it’s a lot easier to go off the rails. 

This isn’t a new problem. Many games designers – especially in the 80s and 90s – based their enemy creations off of monsters that already existed in our own folklore. Why reinvent the wheel, right? I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I learned of many mythological creatures and gods thanks to games like Final Fantasy and Castlevania.

Are we the monsters?

To keep myself grounded I came up with a few rules for designing the monster villagers of my game:

  • Keep to familiar monsters like designers of old
  • Monsters of a similar theme should be grouped together as friends or family
  • Our shared understanding of a given monster should inform their personality and role in the village

Grouping together monsters by theme has meant that in many cases a family (classification) of monsters becomes a literal family of monsters. ​Take for example the above family: Morris the zombie, his daughter, Ruby the vampire, her husband, Lindwyrm the dragon, and their kid, Victor the werewolf. Their theme is of standard or classic monsters that you can find in many video games, books or movies.

This family I lovingly call the “Maritime Family” – there’s Edmund the shark, Calista the siren, Oponna the pirate, and Cthylla the eldritch sweetheart. Their theme is pretty obvious: the ocean! You’ve probably realized that sharks and pirates aren’t exactly “monsters” in the traditional sense, but in video games they often are!

There are 32 villagers to befriend in Village Monsters. Most keep to the rules I outlined above, but not all. I mean, come on, these are monsters! They’re all about breaking rules.

​ Here’s Vara the succubus alongside her two kids – Zigi the ghost and Bugs the, uh… something. There’s no common thread connecting this family, and while a couple are based on existing monsters they are very different than what their origin might suggest. This actually plays into their personal story and will make sense as you get to know them.

Monstrous Personalities

Of course, a monster’s type doesn’t just effect how they look. By choosing familiar monsters it made sense to allow common expectations and “stereotypes” to inform their personalities, relationships, and roles in their community.

​​Take our good pal Golbrick here. He’s a mimic which means he’s hidden away from most social interactions. This becomes obvious when talking with him, and you’ll find he wants nothing more than to end a conversation and go back to hiding as an object.

The aforementioned vampire, Ruby, is both immortal and frequently stuck indoors due to the sun. Her immortality makes her passionate about history while being a hermit​ makes her a natural lover of the escapism found in books and other stories.  As such, it was natural to make her the village librarian – and yes, she covers the night shift.

The monsters of Village Monsters are purposefully viewed through the lens of a video game. Take Stapes, a skeleton and one of the town guards. Skeletons are a common monster in many cultures, but Stapes more represents the weak and wimpy skellies you might find lurking the first dungeon of an RPG. This makes his personality very cowardly and he begins absolutely terrified of you.

​ However, playing up to people’s expectations of monsters is never quite as fun as subverting them. Valentine is a robot, but he’s convinced he’s actually a cowboy. He’s the most rough and tumble of the village and is most at home living among nature – despite being the most sci -fi element in the game.

I can only hope you’ll have as much fun befriending monsters as I did designing them when Village Monster releases later this year.

Building a Village, 6/18/2019 – Timeline(s)

Hello Villagers!

Ah, summer – the season in which unexplained squares pour down from the skies

For this update we’re going for all killer no filler: it’s a short one focusing on the timeline leading up to launch. 

Road to Release

As I’ve mentioned before, for the past year I’ve been juggling dual responsibilities as both an indie game developer and a new stay-at-home dad. It’s been pretty great, but my day-to-day work schedule has been… well, chaotic.

Thankfully order is to be restored – at least temporarily. My wife – who is a teacher – will soon have the summer off. This is good news for a number of reasons, but for you all it means I can focus entirely on finishing development of Village Monsters

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the timeline for the next several months.

Summer Schedule

I’m planning to have quite a productive summer. June and July will be spent on wrapping up the remaining features & systems with the goal of being feature complete by the end of July. This same month I plan on releasing a new demo out into the wild, though there’s a chance it slips as the main priority will be on the aforementioned completeness.

August will be spent on lots and lots of content – creating new content, editing existing content, and so on. Examples of this include dialogue, collectibles, flavor, and secrets. Realistically, August will also be spent fine tuning features, but the idea is to add or change as few things as possible.

Fall Schedule

This brings us into the fall. My ultimate goal is to enter September with a finished game that I can poke and prod and break and fix. At some point I will also need some volunteer play testers for both feedback and testing of the near-finished game.

This work naturally leads to a launch date sometime in October or November. My plan isn’t too complicated – I will continuously test and polish the game until it feels right and then unleash it into the world. 

This is a firm plan that is unlikely to change too much. I’m finally close enough to that fabled finish line where even a hiccup here or there isn’t likely to cause much mischief.

Beyond?

Village Monsters will release as a complete and polished game, but there is always more to do!

December and January will be focused on fixing any bugs and annoyances that I missed in testing. After that I have a laundry list of ideas for future updates – things that include some kind of multiplayer, new areas to explore, and post-story content.

I can’t wait for you all to get lost in the immersive world of Village Monsters. Until next time!

I’m dreaming of fall already…

Building a Village, 5/17/2019 – Treasure Mainland

Hello Villagers!

There are many hobbies to pursue in your time in the village, but if you like making money and learning lore there’s really only one hobby for you:

Treasure Hunting!

If you get this reference then we can be good friends

Treasure hunting is immensely rewarding, but it requires a lot more leg work than the other hobbies. You must first find where treasure is hiding, then you gotta dig it up, and finally you have figure out what the heck you just unearthed.

This dev diary will detail some of the things you can find in your hunts. Treasures are generally split between three categories: Jewels & Minerals, Artifacts, and Treasure Chests

Jewels & Minerals

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. While there’s no such thing as “filler” when it comes to treasure, there is such a thing as “destined for the merchant.”

Jewels, ores, and other minerals can generally be safely sold for a tidy sum. Still, it might be worth checking out item descriptions before you head to merchant.

Artifacts

Most artifacts must be identified first

There’s no sugarcoating it – this world has been through some rough times. Multiple wars, the Glitchwood, the disappearance of humans and gods… so much has been destroyed or forgotten.

Thankfully for historians, the world is blanketed in priceless artifacts from the all ages of the past. Each one reveals some kind of lore or history that was once thought lost.

Head over to the library for more info on artifacts. One nice thing about them? Each is a one-of-a-kind, so you’ll never find a duplicate.

Treasure Chests

Chests are a very special kind of treasure you can find in your hunts. They always contain something valuable – usually several valuable things, in fact – but there’s really no predicting what’s held inside.

The deeper something is buried the more valuable it is

Crack one open and you might find a bunch of money or a rare item for your collection. Or maybe you’ll discover sacred texts from the gods. Maybe you’ll find a very traumatized fish.

Some chests are sealed up and you’ll need help to unlock ’em. Others were deliberately hidden and require you to solve a map or riddle just to find them!

Whatever the case, uncovering a treasure chest is the most exciting moment for any hunter. Here’s a small list of what could pop out when you crack it open…

Lost Mail Keys

While it’s not a well known fact, several buildings in the village predate the arrival of its current monstrous residents. The post office is one such building and it houses an intriguing mystery – a wall of abandoned mail boxes all locked up tight.

Nobody knows what’s hidden inside them (hopefully more than just junk mail), but Glimmer says it’s finders-keepers, so bring any keys you find to the mail room to claim your prize.

Regional Drinks

There’s not much of day-to-day life that has survived the world breaking apart, but there is one relic of the old days you still can find locked away…

Regional drinks! You see, each region of the world had their own ‘signature’ drink and it was a popular hobby among monsters to try and collect all 26 of them.

Koma, owner of the village pub, was one such hobbyist. I’m sure he’d be very interested if you find any!

What better place to store drinks than the basement of a pub?

Celestial Comments

The gods may have disappeared with the humans, but their written words still remain scattered throughout the world.

The most common works are known as Comments – direct observations of our world written by divine hands. It not only proves that the gods truly existed but also that they knew of our lives and histories. As you can imagine these Comments are priceless.

Fascinating

And more?

A staff that controls the weather. A potion that enables mind reading. The aforementioned traumatized fish that can teach you how to talk to its brethren.

There’s never a dull moment for a treasure hunter.