Building a Village, February 2018

Hello villagers!

Development of Village Monsters has really hit its stride in these early days of 2018.

January was perhaps the most productive month of my entire life; it’s no exaggeration to say the game has changed more in last month than the previous 3 months before it combined.

In today’s update we’re going to take a look at many of these changes.

Look Who’s Talking

Toward the start of the month I created a new dialogue tool to assist me with writing all the text in the game – and boy howdy, there sure is a lot of text to write!

There are many monsters to meet and befriend in this village, and I want to ensure each of them has something to new and relevant to say every time you talk to them. It’s a big effort, but it’s also a rewarding one.

it really does

Part of this process has included making “character sheets” for each villager in order to better break down their personality traits, goals, and relationships with each other. This has already become one of my favorite parts of creating this game, and I plan on making some of this info available in your in-game journal.

saley only rolls natural 20s

Beyond new text I’ve also made major improvements to the dialog box itself. Some elements have been rearranged or expanded on, and the box now appears at the bottom after a little slide animation.

But perhaps the biggest change is the inclusion of “villager flair” – each villager will now have their own slightly modified dialog box. This is yet another way of allowing their personalities to shine through.

seriously, don't mention the shirt

Progressing in Progression

A sense of progression is a major appeal of playing life sim games like Village Monsters: think of how rewarding it is to expand your home in Animal Crossing, or how vital day-to-day progress and improvement is to the flow of Stardew Valley.

Thankfully, this past month has allowed to make big changes to the progression elements of Village Monsters.

For example, the relationship system for befriending your monster pals is now up and running. It’s still in its most basic form, but you’ll be able to track your friendship with a monster based on the number of filled arts below their portraits.

Each villager has 3 hearts, but each heart has multiple "levels"

For more tangible progress, you no longer start the game with a house of your own. Instead, you enter the town as an outsider, and you’ll spend your first few days renting a room at the local inn.

A few villagers also live at the inn, but you'll probably want a house ASAP

Save up enough money and you can move out into your own place with your own furniture, but, well…it’s still a bit of a fixer-upper.

it meets none of your requirements other than that you can afford it

Fixing, improving, and upgrading your homestead will be a major part of your daily life in Village Monsters, but this loop goes beyond your own small slice of the world.

The village is facing some hard times when you first arrive, and many villagers have suddenly gone missing while exploring the world outside the village walls. It’s up to you to help fund repairs, place decorations, and find lost villagers out in the world.

This may be a village of monsters, but it’s your home too, and I hope you’ll find the time and effort to make it a better place.

Village Tour

In the last update I mentioned that big changes were coming to the village and surrounding outskirts. Like with progression I definitely want you all to experience these changes yourself when you explore the village in the Beta release in March or the final version at the end of this year.

Still, I can’t leave this post without giving you something! Here are a few shots of some of the new and improved areas around the village.

he's a real business shark
the night is dark and full of gerbils
of course the dark dwarven bros live in a dark dwarven fortress!
reflecting on the day

That’ll do it for this update. Until next time!

A productive and rainy January

Hello villagers!

What an insanely productive month January was!

Toward the start of the week I took the time to sit down and analyze the primary game loops. I came away from this exercise with a much clearer picture of what I wanted (and what I didn’t want!) from the game.

Here are the 4 primary game loops you can expect on release:

  • Making friends (or rivals!) with the cast of monster villagers
  • Completing your collections (critters, fish, treasures, plants, etc.)
  • Repairing & building up the village
  • Expanding & upgrading your home

This past week I focused on that last point, and lemme tell you…I mean business with this whole ‘sense of progress’ thing

You no longer start the game in a house! Instead, you start out by renting a room at the local inn. There’s story justification, but it’s also to introduce the player into the upgrade loop.

I really like what it’s done to the start of the game. With almost no additional prodding the player is immediately incentivized to start engaging with the various systems available to save up money.

I’ve also been giving more love to areas outside the village which I’ve come to collectively call the “outskirts”. Some areas – like the above farm – will be related to the village and you’ll find villagers and activities there on occasion

Other areas will just be for exploring. I’m definitely going to lean into some video game tropes here; you can expect to find deserts, snow-covered mountains, and haunted forests all suspiciously close to one another.

My original intent was for areas outside of town to be a bigger part of the game, but after refocusing the primary game loops I’ve decided to scale a lot of it back (maybe DLC?).

Instead, I’ve taken way more time to focus on…

…the villagers!

In a previous life I was a Business Analyst, and part of my job was coming up with ‘personas’ for all the various users that used our software.

I’ve long wanted to create profiles for the villagers of Village Monsters, but I kept dragging my feet – until now!

It’s been immensely valuable for writing dialogue and stories. Until now most of these guys have lived only in my head, and it’s been getting crowded in there.

Getting everything down in this format has helped me identify natural points of conflict or interest, and it’s let me ensure everyone feels unique and fleshed out.

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For example, Saley was one of the first villagers I conceived of, and since the beginning he was always going to be “a kind of jerk skeleton that was powerful enough to guard the village”.

As I made the profile of him other characteristics suddenly popped into my head – that he would love exercise and fitness, that he aspires to rule the village, that he’s insecure about the fact he may actually be powerless to protect anyone.

All this work in turn let me to completely revamping the dialog system to make it both easier to write dialog and more interesting to read it. You can expect a lot more dialog over many more varied topics in the next Beta demo…

It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope it pays dividends later in the year when I’m just writing line after line of dialogue.

I’ll end this update with a whole bunch of screenshots from the latest build – enjoy!

Imgur

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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.

Village Monsters – Alpha 2.2 Release

Happy New Year!

The final Alpha version of 2017 has been posted. It’s also very likely the final Alpha version period! Next up I begin work on Beta 1. Get hyped!

Your download portal should already be updated with the new hotness. Here’s the patch notes for the release:

Alpha 2.2 Additions

  • The title screen now has music, more realistic clouds, and a proper transition to the game
  • Overflow has been completely redone – new layout, new furniture, etc.
  • A basic controls page has been added to the first page of the journal
  • You can now adjust the window size (zoom level) via the system menu
    • The game window now resizes itself to your particular resolution ratio
  • You can now switch to full screen via the system menu
  • Added a new villager, Mr. Rose
  • Added several new critters to find and catch
  • Interesting secrets have been considered
  • A new calendar GUI element has been added

Alpha 2.2 Improvements

  • The camera for all interiors has been adjusted to match that of the outside cameras
  • The following control changes have been made to the gamepad option:
    • Y / Top Face Button now toggles the inventory
    • X / Left Face Button now uses the tool
    • Start now toggles the system menu
    • Select now toggles the journal
  • Reading mail no longer closes the inventory screen
    • Well, it does, but it’ll open up again on its own once you’re done reading
  • It’s now easier to toggle the inventory
  • The whoopie pie truck driver has gone on vacation
  • Shadows of most trees have been improved
  • The system menu selection now loops
  • The dialogue ‘tap’ sounds has been increses
  • The cursor is now hidden within the game window (for now)
  • Both bookcases (normal and small) have been redone

Alpha 2.2 Fixes

  • Fixed a bug preventing an open book from being closed with “Cancel” when using keyboard controls
  • A number of creatures were incorrectly switching sprites during some occasions. This has been fixed
  • Blank item cards should no longer say “Ore” or “Flavortown USA”
  • Collision for many villagers has been adjusted

 

 

Village Monsters – Alpha 2.1 Release

Oof, that’ll teach me to make a bunch of changes on a release day.

It’s obvious now that Alpha 2 needed much more thorough testing of the last-minute changes; many of you have reported crashes and other problems that are preventing you from even playing.

I was able to fix the majority of them and I’ve placed a new patched version of the game – Alpha 2.1 – in your download portal for you to grab. You’ll also get a new email if you’ve downloaded it already.

I’m such an idiot, and I’m really very sorry for releasing such a sloppy version of the game out there. I knew I was taking a risk in making changes so soon to release, and it clearly was not the right move.

I’ve learned my lesson – expect more stable releases in the future.

Alpha 2.1 Fixes

  • Fixed a crash related to a door in the player’s house
  • Fixed a crash related to the vending machine
  • Fixed a crash related to the journal’s Mystery section
  • Fixed a crash related to leaving the vacant house
  • Fixed a crash related to music on the 3rd day
  • Adjusted animations to the player character when the day ends
  • Fixed an issue with ‘freezing’ the character if you attempt to place furniture outside
  • Adjusted the draw distance to see less pop-in, especially with trees
  • Fixed a transparency issue with Bottes’ dialogue in the general store
  • The bed in Boros’ house has been fixed (again)
  • Boros’ hello box has been adjusted
  • A linebreak in the Castled Cake description has been fixed

Village Monsters – Alpha 2 Release Notes

Here it is! The first Village Monsters demo of the post-Kickstarter era.

It’s called Alpha 2, and it’s hopefully a big improvement on Alpha 1.

If you’re a Kickstarter backer that has pledged $25 or above you should be getting an email soon with instructions on how to download it.

If you don’t fall in that category but still want to grab the latest demo then keep an eye out later this week for some news there.

As always, you can send feedback via the in-game feedback system, or to my email, or to my Twitter. I read it all, so send as much as you want!

Now let’s look at the big list of changes…

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