Destroying a Village: 4/1/2019

For the past several months I have been pouring over data that I’ve been secretly gathering via a network of spies. Years worth of gamer feedback, complaints, and demands – all neatly packed and collated for my consumption

What have I concluded from the data? You don’t want a fun and relaxing game. You hate exploring a world filled with oddities and secrets. You loath the idea of making friends – with monsters or otherwise.

What you really want… is bone-crushing difficulty and hyper-realistic survival features.

Introducing: Hard Mode

By default, new games will now start out at Hard Mode– this is the way Village Monsters is intended to be played.

I have one goal with Hard Mode: to create a world where nobody feels welcome or loved. Here are some of the changes:

  • Hunger, Thirst, Fatigue, Stress, and Bathroom meters have been added to the game. You must prevent these from bottoming out or risk game over
  • Villagers start out with a new disposition called Spiteful. Each villager requires several increases in friendship before they stop attacking you on sight
  • Purchasing a home in the village now requires at least 3-5 years of steady employment, good credit, $500,000 worth of homeowners insurance, and a 30% down payment
  • You must now control each limb of your character separately in order to walk or run
  • Failing the fishing minigame will result in losing your rod. Villagers will mock your lack of a fishing rod with a sing-song chant
  • Several items in the store now result in instant death upon purchase
The radius of your torch has been adjusted for immersion

Veteran gamers who no longer wear diapers or use pacifiers may even wish to bump up the difficulty to Nightmare. The hardest difficulty, The Name You Must Never Say, starts out locked for your safety. But it cannot stay contained forever. Even now I can hear it gnawing at its cage, hungry for freedom.

Easier difficulties can be unlocked via the upcoming $99.99 Season Pass. You may also unlock these difficulties by providing proof of purchase of Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Nintendo Wii.

THE 3DS REMAKE DOES NOT COUNT.

Building a Village, 03/10/2019 – Song of Time

Hello Villagers!

I really love the passage of time in video games. Day / Night cycles, seasonal changes, NPC schedules, and so on – I eat that stuff up.

There was a time in the late 90s and early 00s where it seems every game – regardless of genre – included the passage of time as a big bullet point. It was fantastic time to be alive!

I’ve no doubt already spoken at length about the time system in Village Monsters as I’ve been tweaking and perfecting it since the very start, but I’ve yet to put it all in one place in an easily digestible post.

Until now.

Structure

Let’s start with how time is structured!

The calendar of Village Monsters is kept purposefully familiar: there are four months in a year which correspond to each of the four seasons. Each month has its own distinct vibe and flavor that makes them dramatically different from each other.

A month has 4 weeks which in turn consist of 8 days. Here we deviate a bit from reality to include an ‘extra’ 8th day called Baldursday. This new day is sandwiched in between Saturday and Sunday and is meant for relaxing and catching up on projects. It’s often the day of the week that village holidays and festivals fall on.

A day in Village Monsters is split up into four main slices – Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night. While it’s far more granular behind the scenes, I purposefully kept it simple so it’s easier to keep track of things like villager schedules, critter spawning, and other time-sensitive tasks.

The exact length of the day is incredibly important and is something I’m constantly tweaking. It currently sits at 12-15 minutes. This’ll be constantly adjusted right up to release, but my goal is a length that isn’t too rushed.

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE GET THE MAIL ALREADY

Impacts

As in real life, a ticking clock and changing calendar means big aesthetic changes. The sun rises and sets which changes the lighting. The tiles change with the season, as do the look of vegetation and buildings and decorations. Even the music changes to fit the mood.

sleep safe, ghost dog

It’s not an exaggeration to say that every single piece of the game is dependent on the time and season. Here’s some of them:

  • Which types of of critters and fish you can catch change with the days and seasons
  • Villager routines and shop schedules depend not only the time of day but things like the weather, whether its their day off, and so on
  • Some tasks – like growing mushrooms, training critters, and building / upgrading your home – require time to pass
  • Each season has unique weather systems and frequencies
  • Visitors come and go throughout the year, and some may even show up during festivals
  • Speaking of festivals, each season has multiple events ranging from town-wide celebrations, feasts, villager birthdays, and so on!
  • Certain areas transform dramatically depending the time of day or season

Villager schedules have been a big priority these past couple weeks as it’s one of the last technical hurdles I have. It’s a humongous task and unfortunately I’m not yet ready to share what it looks like, but even the incomplete (and wonky) system has breathed so much life into the game.

The final system is going to be pretty rad.

Control

The biggest draw to time cycles is creating a strong sense of immersion. But this is still a video game – and in the case of Village Monsters, a video game that’s canonically coming apart at the seams. That means it’s ok to break some 4th dimensional rules every now and again.

There are a number of special items you can buy or craft that control how fast or slow time passes.

You may also find certain areas of the world that aren’t playing by the same rules of time; some areas may be locked into a certain season all year round. Others a certain weather pattern. This can be especially useful late game when you’re trying to find specific items or critters, fish, and mushrooms.

Finally, here’s a question I get a lot: is there a time limit as far as the story goes?

The answer is no! Story beats (and progression in general) are independent from the passage of time, so you won’t bump against any kind of restrictions. Take as long as you’d like.

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….?

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

Building a Village, 11/24/2018 – Clash of the Cods

Hello Villagers!

There’s no way to actually prove this, but I’m pretty sure more people have played fishing mini-games than have actually gone fishing.

You can fish in Zelda, in Nier, in Red Dead Redemption 2, in Pokemon, in Deadly Premonition, in Torchlight, in Yakuza. You can hardly walk into a Gamestop without tripping over a pile of rods and tackle boxes.

And of course fishing is especially prominent in life sim games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Stardew Valley. Village Monsters is no different – fishing was one of the first hobbies I added to the game.

There’s a lot to draw inspiration from, and if it seems the tone of this post is overly negative it isn’t because I don’t like fishing mini-games… it’s because of how intimidating they are! With so many different standards and expectations there are almost too many  options, and this left me feeling paralyzed when designing the system for my game.

The good news is I’ve finally settled on a system, and I’m super excited to talk about it.

But first let’s talk about how bad of a designer I am.

Failed Prototypes

I prototype every feature – often before I even analyze or document it – and fishing was no different. In a lot of ways prototypes are ‘meant’ to fail (seeing what doesn’t work is more valuable sometimes than seeing what does), but my fishing prototypes took the word ‘failure’ to a whole new level.

My very first prototype was similar to what you find in Breath of Fire. You’d be presented with a side view of the body of water you’re fishing in and your goal was to guide your hook to a fish and reel it back to shore.

1st Prototype, 2017

It was… fine. It was certainly unique compared to my contemporaries, but the more I played with it the more I realized this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. It was equal parts clunky and  boring, and I scrapped it shortly before the Kickstarter.

The prototypes that followed were all over the place. I experimented with “fish HP” and “rod HP”, I put in timed button challenges, I tried out things like line strength and fish stamina and generated all sorts of random numbers.

Another fishing prototype

I wanted to capture the full cycle of fishing – the relaxation of waiting, the excitement of hooking, the struggle of reeling in a big one – but nothing I tried was working. You might even say I was floundering… heh… heh… ugh.

Then one day inspiration struck. Perhaps it was Poseidon himself that whispered in my ear, or perhaps it was that 4th Monster energy I just drank. Whatever the case was, the outline of fishing should look like revealed itself before me anchored by three words…

Dash, Mash & Clash

Fishing in Village Monsters can be broken up into three distinct phases which I lovingly call Dash, Mash, and Clash.

After casting your line in a body of water the music dims and you can let your mind wander as the outside world fades into the periphery – that is, until a fish bites. That’s the Dash, referring to how you must quickly hook the fish before it gets away.

After hooking the fish it’s time to Mash, which is exactly what it sounds like. Your job is to reel in the fish as fast as possible. There’s no subtlety required, so mash that reel button as hard as you can. A little fishing meter tracks your progress.

Of course, most fish won’t be too pleased about the hook in their mouth and they’ll often try to fight back. This leads to our next stage, Clash, which finds you being challenged with a series of button prompts as the fish attempts to get away.

If you miss a prompt then you’ll start losing the progress you made reeling the fish in. Miss too many and the slippery fish will make their escape..

However! If you manage to get a “Perfect” during this stage then the fish’s defenses are shattered which makes it much easier to reel in. This gives the clash stage a high risk / high reward component and acts as a test of skill compared to the previous test of stamina.

These two stages cycle back and forth until the fish is caught or gets away. How often they cycle and for how long depends on the fish. Easier or smaller fish need less reeling in while legendary fish require several clashes before they submit.

And there you have it! Fishing is finalized in forthcoming folly, Fillage Fonsters.

What’s Next?

Finalizing any gameplay mechanic is sorta like writing the 1st draft of a story – it’s a great feeling of accomplishment, but there’s lot of editing and polish to do.

Now that I have all these levers and nobs to play with it’s time to give each fish a “personality” – heavy fish that are hard to reel in, fish with extremely quick ‘hook windows’, and so on.

There’s also an entire range of possibilities for upgrades: lures that attract fish faster or rods that make reeling in easier. Then I can start looping back into other parts of the game, like a potion that slows down the clash stage, or a mushroom that attracts rare fish when used as bait.

You’ll be able to play with the new fishing system yourself once the latest Village Monsters demo hits later this month.