Building a Village, 5/12/2019 – Flight Delay

Hello Villagers!

A couple weeks ago I announced that Village Monsters would be missing its spring release. It’s a major bummer, but it was the right thing to do for the game.

In this post I’ll expand a bit on why it was delayed as well as outline the new schedule. If nothing else I want to be transparent and accountable.

Why the delay?

I usually love the start of a new year – a clean slate is so motivating! But this year… this year was rough.

January began by gifting me a severe case of influenza that knocked me out for two straight weeks. What followed was a train of misery – my wife got sick, my kid got sick, the house was majorly damaged in a storm (twice), and everything else that could go wrong did so all at once.

By the time things slowed down it was the middle of March and I was no closer to release.

I’ve also discovered a fact most other devs know already: there is undeniably some kind of temporal paradox surrounding indie game development.

It’s like the more I work on the game the more there is left to do. This isn’t even a joke – I’ve completed nearly 1,000 tasks this year, yet my backlog of “To Dos” has actually grown in size. I’m far from a perfectionist and I’ve been vigilant in preventing feature creep… so how can this be?

I don’t have the answer to that yet, so for now I’m just keeping my head down and grinding away at this hydra.

What’s the new schedule?

Release

Village Monsters will be releasing in 2019.

I’d like to release in Autumn (perhaps during the spookiest month of the year), but I’m refraining from making promises I can’t keep.

Post-Release Updates

Village Monsters will have substantial support after launch. You can expect new features, plenty of improvements, and as much community involvement as I can get.

I’m planning on a year’s worth of free updates, but it’s too hard to predict that far out. Instead, here are the first 3 months:

  • Month 1: Bugfixes, quality of life improvements, and any last minute features that missed the release
  • Month 2: “Town Hall” meetings to come up with ideas for new features + a vote on the next update
  • Month 3: Release of first major content update

Thanks for sticking with me so far! The end is in sight, so I’m going to make these next few months count.

Building a Village, 4/19/2019 – Music Box

Hello Villagers!

Like most humans I enjoy listening to music. And like most humans I couldn’t create music even if my life depended on it.

Enter Josh Woodward. I ran into Josh’s site while trying to find a free track for my first trailer. Josh has made a ton of excellent music, and it’s all free under Creative Commons. He even goes the extra step to offer high quality instrumental versions for a reasonable asking price. It was an easy decision to support the guy!

It’s a good thing he’s written so much because Village Monsters has no shortage of song needs – there’s music for specific times and seasons, specific areas, specific weather…

Bah, but this is a musical update! You don’t want to read my dumb words, so let’s instead take a listen to a few tracks. I’ve split it up by season which is generally how it works in game as well.

Spring

Spring music is meant to evoke feelings of renewal and hope. It’s like waking up refreshed after a really long sleep with the sun shining through your window.

Spring – Morning
(Morning After, Josh Woodward)
Spring – Day
(Afterglow, Josh Woodward)

Summer

Summer has a similar feel to spring but is a lot more whimsical and carefree. Days are longer and the good times stretch well into the evening.

Summer – Evening
(Chainsaw, Josh Woodward)
Summer – Night
(Cardinal Brigade, Josh Woodward)

Autumn

Autumn has such a distinct feel that it’s difficult to capture in words. It’s equal parts melancholy and joy. It’s the beginning of the end, but it’s an end you’re looking forward to.

Autumn – Morning
(Bloom, Josh Woodward)

Winter

I feel winter is a bit more free form than the other holidays. It’s a somber and depressive season, yet there’s still something undeniably magical about it.

Winter – Night
(A Thousand Skins, Josh Woodward)
Winter – Day
(Shower Scene, Josh Woodward)

Area Specific

The music I’ve shared so far is for when you’re hanging out in the village. But you explore a lot in Village Monsters, so other areas of the world will often have their own music.

Here’s a track for Firetree Forest. This is one of the first areas you’ll be able to explore, so the music starts out a bit mysterious and maybe foreboding before turning into a fun little adventure tune.

Firetree Forest
(Stars Collide, Josh Woodward)

Bonfire Beach gets a lazy track that’s like falling asleep at the beach. Hope you put on enough sun screen.

Bonfire Beach
(Midnight Sun, Josh Woodward)

A Note on Frequency

Repeating music can be a powerful way to associate it with a theme or emotion. When done right it becomes almost a part of your routine.

But with 28 days a season I don’t want people to get bored or irritated at the music. To combat this I’ve done a couple things.

First, I’ve made it my goal to come up with two daily playlists for each season to alternate between. 2 playlists of 4 tracks a day for 4 seasons equals a whopping 32 songs of in-town tunes alone.

I’ve also spaced out songs with periods of ambiance or even silence, and the music gets lowered in certain situations – like when you’re inside a home or fishing.

You can also expect unique music for special occasions, and some villagers and events will also have their own tunes.

Building a Village, 04/03/2019 – Spring Cleaning

Hello Villagers!

I’m trying something a little different with today’s dev diary. Instead of featuring things I’ve added or improved I’ll be talking about things I’ve removed.

I think it’s fun to talk about the process of trimming the fat; examining how and why things were cut can be pretty revealing to the overall design of a game. There’s a whole wiki dedicated to this subject, so I guess I’m not alone!

Let’s take a look at a handful of some of the bigger removals in Village Monsters so far.

Beyond the Mundane

You know what the most my common reason for getting rid of something is? It’s just too… mundane.

Critter Catching was the very first hobby I added to the game and it worked exactly as described – you could catch flies, frogs, butterflies, beetles, etc. I also created a variety of weirder critters like the Candy Horn Beetle and the Fairy Doof, but it was a 50/50 split between real and imagined.

Things changed with the Pocket Horse.

Believe it or not I was trying to make a squirrel, but I had messed up so royally that I accidentally warped time and space and created a small, pocket-sized… horse.

I absolutely fell in love with it, and all of it a sudden it hit me – why was I putting so much effort into squirrels and butterflies when unique critters like this are far more interesting?

I loved the pocket horse so much I had him featured in the game’s art

Most of the mundane critters were cut in favor of their more interesting cousins. But they didn’t quite leave the game – in some cases they now spawn as non-catchable critters that just add flavor to an area.

A similar situation happened with Mushroom Gardening which was originally just called Gardening. I think I can admit this now… at first I was just shamefully cribbing from likes Stardew Valley and Havest Moon. “People like farming, right? Then I gotta include farming!!”

But it never felt right. It was just so bland! Did it really make sense for snarky goblins and robotic cowboys to be growing bell peppers and turnips?

The only kind of monster rancher I want to see

Mushrooms felt far more thematically appropriate in every way imaginable. They were weird and underground – like monsters – and they allowed for really fun features like mutations, hybrids, and special effects. They’re also really low maintenance which helped fill the niche of a relaxing and hands-off hobby.

Keep it Simple, Stupid

It’s easy to cut something that’s generic to make room for something more interesting. It’s a lot harder to cut something that could be cool but adds a lot of unnecessary complexity.

(From August 2017)

Such was the case with home customization. The original idea here was to give you complete freedom in how your house looked – any piece of furniture in the entire game could be bought and placed in any space you owned.

But it was messy. From a technical perspective I was constantly running into issues with collision and layering and saving your layout, and for the player it actually felt harder – not easier – to make a cohesive looking house.

So I made the decision to axe the feature entirely. It’s been replaced by a series of structured (or “pre-fab”) upgrades – like buying a completely furnished kitchen or attic, expanding your garden, and so on.


This focus on a more handcrafted home bled over to the villagers as well. I no longer had to worry about making simple homes with furniture and upgrades that the player could get. Instead I had the freedom to cut loose and give them all sorts of unique furnishings and layouts.

Another (though far earlier) complexity casualty was that of a more advanced time system. Oh man, you should have seen my early design notes – I envisioned a full 12 month calendar with each day having 8 distinct times ranging from “early morning” to “deep night”.

I wish I could tell you what exactly I was thinking. I guess I assumed more granularity meant for a stronger and more rewarding simulation? I don’t know. In the end I boiled it down to the most important features. I talk a bit more about the time system in this post.

Too Much Work

So there are things that are cut because they’re too boring and there are things that are cut because they’re too complicated. Then there are things cut because they’re simply too much work – and boy, do these hurt the most.

You won’t find me saying too many nice things about Dragon Age 2, but one thing it experimented with wonderfully was the notion that butting heads with a party member was just as valid a relationship as pandering to them.

Dragon Age 2. Picture from http://biowarefans.com

There was already a deep relationship system in Village Monsters, but this idea of a so-called “Rival” really appealed to me and fit really nicely with the theme of “a lone human in a world of monsters”.

After all, this is a village of over 30 quirky monsters; it’s entirely reasonable that you’ll find a handful of personalities you simply don’t jive with. I wanted to give you another option to talk with these villagers without feeling the need to be friends. You’d even get unique cutscenes and dialogue if you became rivals.

I even went so far as to redesign the relationship heart UI

But it was simply too much. It’s already a nearly insurmountable task to write dialogue and cutscenes for 30+ villagers as they become friends with you. The idea of writing even more dialogue as they become rivals… ugh, I just don’t have that many fingers.


So, tragically, I had to move on from the system. My solution was to instead make the initial disposition of villagers a little bit colder – for some villagers this means being more neutral or detached, for others they’re grumpy or even antagonistic. They’ll change as you become friends, but if you choose not to befriend them then they’ll remain cold.

It’s not the same as creating a charming rivalry, but the general idea – that you don’t need to make friends with everyone – is at least partially maintained.

Like with all cut content, it is gone but not quite forgotten. The rivalry system in particular very well may make a return in a future free update. How’s that for a pitch? “In this new update some villagers will be mean to you!”

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.

New look, same vibes

I like being an indie dev, but I’ll be the first to admit there is plenty – p l e n t y – that I know nothing about. You could even say I know nothing about video game development, but that’d really hurt my feelings.

I usually try to power through the things I’m ignorant in – either through learning or just getting by with my meager skills – but I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t art.

I can hire someone else to do those things, though, and that’s where breakfastbat comes in.

His beautiful art combined with new lettering has resulted in a lovely new logo, and clearly I’m thrilled with it given I’m parading this thing around all over town.

Here are some of the images I sent breakfastbat when we were hashing out what the piece would look like. I think you’ll agree the good vibes match pretty closely.

Is this the last time I hire out work? Almost certainly not. It was a relief to delegate skilled work to a skilled person. Besides… this art certainly has a summer-like quality to it, don’t you agree? What about spring… or autumn… or winter? Hmm…

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.