It’s been awhile since I’ve done a proper devlog, so I want to start with something small. So small, in fact, that it’s only 48×48 pixels: today I’m talking dialogue portraits!
Portraits are an important part of any game with a lot of dialogue text, but for a solo project like Village Monsters it’s absolutely essential.
I have neither the skill nor money to create fancy animations or sexy cutscenes. Instead, I have to rely on writing and dialogue portraits to convey the personality of a villager and the tone of a conversation.
Until recently, the portraits in game were just a villager’s overworld sprite scaled and touched up. It was a cheap solution, though a surprising number of people enjoyed the low fidelity look.
But I knew I had to completely redo them for version 1.0, so for the last month or so I’ve been chipping away at my giant to-do list and improving portraits one by one.
With over 32 villagers (and nearly that many minor NPCs), this has been no easy task! So let’s take a look at a few examples of what I have so far.
Before // After
As you can see, I opted to give each monster a full makeover as I went through them. I’m trying to minimize how many “rework” type tasks I’m doing this close to release, but I’m really happy with how these updated portraits are looking.
I limited myself to a 48×48 base, but villagers are allowed to exceed these boundaries if they have particularly large distinguishing features. I mean, these are monsters – you can’t force them to fit into a box.
Before I end today’s post, I want to share one last thing I’ve been experimenting with: lip sync during dialogue!
Here’s an example:
The new portraits make it easy to add (basic) movement like this, and I think it makes conversations feel much more dynamic. However, I worry it may be a bit too distracting, so I may tweak or get rid of it altogether.
What do you think?
In any case, Village Monsters v1.0 can be seen on the horizon, so I’ll have much more to talk about very soon. Later tater!
Building a Village: The upcoming Living Lands Update
The next major update coming to Village Monsters is already well underway, so I wanted to share a dev diary outlining some the cool stuff I’m working on.
I’m calling this release the Living Lands update, and its focus is on making the world of Village Monsters feel immersive and alive. After all, it may be a virtual world, but that’s no reason it has to feel artificial!
The Living Lands update will come out at the end of October. Let’s take a look at the new things it’ll bring with it.
Holidays & Events
While the calendar itself has ostensibly been full of events since launch, you may have noticed that they never seem to actually… happen?
That’ll soon change as holidays, tournaments, festivals and feasts come out of hibernation. For this particular release I’m aiming for at least 4 major holidays and a handful of tournaments and minor events sprinkled throughout the year.
In addition, you may even see some interesting changes during real world holidays as well. I wonder if there are any of those coming soon…
Villager Interactions & Hobbies
Villagers will no longer stand around twiddling their thumbs (or claws) while they wait for you to talk to them.
Your monster palls will now pursue activities and hobbies just like you. They’ll go fishing, catch up on books at the library, head to the general store and bakery, and much more. They’ll even change up their routines depending on the season or weather.
For the first time, villagers will now have conversations with each other instead of just with you! Feel free to eavesdrop on them to learn the learn, or just keep walking.
Bigger & More Interesting Seasonal Changes
Currently, the changing of the season is largely a difference in aesthetics: you get a new tileset, new music, slightly different colored UI elements, and so on.
We can do better! New and more dramatic changes are coming to give each season an unmistakable feel and identity. From seasonal items at the general store to season-appropriate hobbies and activities, you can actually look forward to the changing of the calendar.
A new type of seasonal weather called extreme weather will challenge your common sense – will you brave the obviously dangerous blizzards and hurricanes in search for extremely rare items?
Travelers & Visitors
Travelling bards, merchants, and even the occasional ne’er-do-well will now frequent the village more often. And they’ll finally start leaving their rooms at the inn!
Better yet, you’ll even start encountering NPCs out in the wilds. Perhaps if your village is attractive enough they’ll consider sticking around for an extended stay.
In addition to the above, I’m also planning on fleshing out the lore and history of the world. I don’t have a ton to share quite yet, but you can expect many new secrets to discover when the Living Lands update drops at the end of the month.
Phew, it’s been a while, huh? Seems like summer is already over.
In today’s dev diary, I’m going to talk about the most substantial update I’ve worked on so far: Village Monsters v80.0, aka the update that finally implements the long-awaited Village Restoration Project. And it’s releasing soon: September 8th!
But before I get into that, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Kept you waiting, huh?
Back in June I posted a roadmap for the updates I planned to do this summer. At the time, this particular update was scheduled for July. Well, it’s now the end of August… so… what happened?
The problem was twofold. First, I had far less work time this summer than anticipated. All the uncertainties with COVID (and my wife being a teacher) meant that we tried to cram as many chores and appointments as we could into the summer. It left little time for steady work.
But more importantly than that, the features I’ve been working on for this update are by far the most crucial aspects of the game. Seriously, I can’t afford to mess this one up. As such, I’ve been much more careful in both my design and testing. All this extra pressure has, predictably, resulted in a much slower work schedule.
(Re)building a Village
As mentioned up top, Village Monsters v80.0 is all about the Village Restoration Project. In the story, this refers to the community effort to revitalize a struggling town. However, it’s really just a catch-all term to describe all the features and systems that let you improve or upgrade different parts of the game.
I love town building in games, and when designing Village Monsters I was heavily inspired by the likes of Suikoden, Animal Crossing, Dark Cloud, and Xenoblade Chronicles. I’m a big believer in progression systems that constantly add new features or options to a game as you advance through them.
In fact, you could argue that the entire game loop of Village Monsters is designed around the core concept of improving your friendly monster village. Just take a look at this helpful octopus chart for proof:
Every aspect of the game – whether it’s improving your friendships, donating items to the library, or even just upgrading your home – feeds back into your village rating. This means you’ll rarely need to go out of your way to contribute to the village – these are things you’d be doing anyways!
You’ll notice that several of the features in the above graph are actually already in the game. What Village Monsters v80.0 really focuses on is tying it all together and making your progress much more tangible. It’s no fun improving a village if it still looks and feels the same after you’re done, right?
Save our Library!
Let’s look at a more concrete example to help explain how progression works: the village library!
The library, like every other part of the village, is at its lowest point when you first start the game. It begins as nothing more than a dusty ol’ collection of books in a rarely visited part of town
However, the library plays a very important role in the Village Restoration Project.The library’s main goal is to prove out the historical and ecological value of the town and surrounding area. In gameplay terms, it serves as the place to donate and display everything that you can collect (via hobbies or discovery) in the game.
There are spots and exhibits for fish, critters, plants, history, treasure, and of course books.
As you donate new items, the library will expand with additional wings and exhibits. While it’s always fun to just admire your collection, you’ll also enjoy some real tangible benefits as the library ‘levels up’.
For instance, any item you donate will sell for more silver in the general store (think of it like your items being properly appraised). At a certain level you’ll even start receiving weekly deposits of silver automatically – your share of the revenue that your contributions pull in.
The core ‘loop’ of the Village Restoration Project is as follows: level up a building, relationship, or other aspect of the game -> Receive rewards and new features that make leveling things up even faster -> Repeat!
Each area of town requires a slightly different method to level up. For example, some stores – like Pisky’s general store – simply require you to buy and sell items like you normally would. Over time, as the village becomes more prosperous, Pishky can expand his store with new items, new services, and much more.
Grading on a Curve
Your village is graded on a scale ranging from D to SSS. Each grade has a + version resulting in ten distinct levels you can be ranked at.
You can check your current grade any time by visiting the town hall. You can also learn a bit more about how to improve the village in case you want some clearer direction.
Everything you do in the game contributes to the overall village grade, but not everything is graded equally. For example, improving your friendship with one villager will have a smaller impact than purchasing and completing an expensive community project.
This is where the village suggestion box (also called the Vox Monstrum, or “voice of the people”) can come in handy. The suggestion box provides you with more specific hints directly from the villagers on areas that lacking.
Your village grade serves one last major role: it dictates which of the 4 different endings you get. It’s way too early to talk about them in any sort of detail, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out more about them.
Of course, I should put quotations around the word “ending” – this wouldn’t be much of an open world sandbox game if it ended after the credits roll! You’ll be able to continue playing the game for as long as you’d like, and that’ll include increasing your village rating to hit the max level.
That’s all for today! Village Monsters v80.0 releases on September 8th. I’m really looking forward to having you all play it!
But we’re not here to talk about the past! Let’s look to the future.
The next major update to Village Monsters will be coming in July. This update will focus on four very related features.
First up are library exhibits – aka a place to finally record and display your marvelous finds & creations! Next are projects for restoring the village and improving your home. These features already exist, but they need to be added to, expanded, and connected with the story.
I’ll then wrap the month up by finally adding in player customization which is by far the most frequently requested feature (and rightfully so!)
August will be spent on wrapping up the two biggest remaining features: villager schedules (including movement and activities), and special events and holidays. Both of these things should go a long way to making the village feel less static and more alive.
New activities, part-time jobs and minigames will also be added in August – including villager hangouts. The common theme here is that I want there to be much more to do and see in a given day.
This will also be the month I finish implementing all the contributions from the very generous community of Kickstarter backers. This means new visitors, interactive furniture / items, holidays, and more.
It’s hard to forecast this far out accurately, but I anticipate September being entirely focused on release prep. This will be the month for any last minute additions, changes, and testing.
September will also be when I decide if I can hit a fall release. The last time I made a release prediction I was overly confident and stupidly naive. This time I want to be completely transparent – which is why I wanted to share my roadmap!
I am optimistic about releasing version 1.0 this fall, and I hope this roadmap shows you that this is a realistic goal. But many things are still up in the air, and I won’t know for sure until September.
October is the big boy month. There are two possible outcomes: me losing my mind with excitement and nervous energy as I prepare for my first-ever game launch, or me drowning my sorrows in a bucket of fun-sized Kit Kats while I attempt to figure out a new release date.
THERE WILL BE NO IN BETWEEN.
Future Release Freeze
I’ve been averaging a new major update every three weeks (with minor patch releases in between) and it’s been working really well.
However, once September hits I plan to put a freeze on new releases. This would mean no new (public) updates until I hit version 1.0.
There are a bunch of practical reasons for doing this. Getting together a new release takes a lot of time and energy, and it’s an enormous interruption to working on the game itself. I’m going to need all the focus I can get in September and October.
There’s also the issue of spoilers (both story and mechanics) that I really want to avoid. A freeze will let me to add the biggest, juiciest secrets to the game without having to worry about them leaking out before release.
Finally, I would very much like all players – existing and new – to experience the full game with fresh legs and enthusiasm. Village Monsters 1.0 should be an exciting and anticipated release, not just another patch.
It’s going to be a busy summer, but I am absolutely ready for it. Until next time!
There are 32 monster pals in Village Monsters that you can befriend, but until now there hasn’t been much of a benefit beyond watching their little heart icons fill up.
That’s about to change.
Today’s dev diary is going to feature one of the biggest and most exciting new additions coming in Village Monsters v0.75: Heart-to-Hearts events!
As you deepen your friendship with a villager you may sometimes trigger special events called Heart-to-Heartconversations. These are unique cutscenes with each villager where they open up to you about a problem they have or a goal they’re working on.
Most Heart-to-Hearts take the form of a short story arc for that character, and no two events are ever the same – they depend heavily on the villager themselves.
Bugs needs your help in hunting down a rare (and very deadly) critter. Mayor Sudo wants you to “volunteer” as campaign manager for his reelection. Golbrick is trying to find ways to deal with his pessimism. Oponna has a lead on where to find the lost treasure of Pine Tar Percy.
Heart-to-Heart conversations can also result in the personal growth of the villager which can change many things: their personality, their daily schedules, even their involvement in story events. This feature didn’t make it into v0.75, but it’s something that I should be able to finish in the next big update.
I don’t want to get too into ~spoiler territory~, but you can expect multiple Heart-to-Heartevents with every single villager. Yep, all 32 of them! It’s quite the undertaking, and the initial release will only include a small handful. New events will be added throughout Early Access (including retroactively).
I expect that for many players, unlocking and enjoying Heart-to-Heart conversations will comprise the bulk of their playtime.
While talking with a villager you may notice that they have some sort of “lock” placed on their heart icons.
These are called Lockhearts, and they represent a blocker that stops villagers from further opening up their hearts to you. You’ll be unable to progress your friendship any further until it’s cleared.
Don’t fret! It’s not a bad thing, it just means the villager is busy processing their own personal situation. In fact, Lockhearts almost always indicate that a new Heart-to-Heart event is ready to be viewed. These events let villagers address their problems and deepen their friendships with you
However, there are other situations where a Lockheart must be cleared via another method. Some villagers may just need a little extra time to pass, others may require you to first reach a specific friendship level with another villager, while some may even require a special item, village upgrade, or something else entirely.
From a game design perspective, Lockhearts allow me to make villager relationships more natural and meaningful. More Lockheart features will be added in later updates.
I’ve promised you monster romance. You’re going to get monster romance.
But not yet.
Dating villagers will use a very similar system as normal Heart-to-Hearts, but I’m not quite ready to reveal this in a public release. You’ll have to wait just a little longer.
But you won’t need to wait very long for everything else I’ve described. Village Monsters v0.75 is releasing this Thursday, June 25th.
How’re your gardens doing this year? My physical garden has been shamefully neglected (per the usual), but as for my virtual garden…?
It’s literally never been better!
Since my last update I’ve working super-duper hard on the next version of Village Monsters – which, incidentally, will feature a brand new Gardening hobby for you to enjoy.
It should be ready in a couple weeks, but before then I have a bit of bad news to share.
What’s the issue?
Save files created in the current version of Village Monsters (v0.65) will no longer be compatible with this upcoming version, v0.70.
This means you will need to start a new game once the update is released.
Are there any workarounds?
Yes. I will continue to make v0.65 available for those that don’t want to start a new game:
Steam players will be able to opt into a beta channel running v0.65
Itch.io / GameJolt players can simply download the older version
In addition, I’m working on a Save Import feature where certain items from your old save are carried over into a new game. I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll be able to bring over, but you won’t need to start fully from scratch if you don’t want to.
But why break saves?
Your save file is a snapshot of what’s going on at a given time, and in a game like Village Monsters there’s a lot to keep track of. This becomes a big risk for a game in active development – large changes to the game can cause older saves to become incompatible.
It’s something I’ve been able to avoid so far, but the changes I’m making to the game are only getting bigger and grander.
For example, I’ve completely revamped the Gardening hobby so much that any mushroom gardens in your current saves are no longer compatible. There are mushrooms you planted that don’t even EXIST anymore, man!
So the question for me was this: do I continue to break things feature by feature from now until release, or do I rip it off like a band aid and get it over with? Well…
Will save files break again?
Save files should not break again while in Early Access. The point of breaking them all at once now is so that we don’t need to go through this again later.
There is the question of what to do about transitioning from EA to 1.0, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Until next time. Stay safe, keep cozy, and have fun!