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.

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….?

A farewell to demos

You may have noticed that I’ve removed links to the demo from here and elsewhere. And if you hadn’t noticed before then you surely have now after reading that sentence.

It felt weird doing this – like I was trying to get away with something bad – so I started making this post as an announcement. You know, transparency and honesty and all that.

But the more I wrote the more it morphed into a postmortem of pre-release demos in general. If that’s not interesting to you then here’s the important bit: Kickstarter backers will always have access to pre-release demos, but I will no longer be making them public.

If you’re interested in how I came to this decision then read on.

Agile

At my old job we practiced Agile development. In short, this meant frequent (and smaller) iterations that would constantly get released to users. These releases were often incomplete or unpolished, but the point was that you were getting something in users’ hands and they in turn could tell you what worked and what didn’t before it was too late to change things.

There’s a lot of info about Agile elsewhere, so here’s a quick image-based summary of its advantages:

When I quit my job to work on Village Monsters I decided to apply these principals as a solo game developer. I had quick iterations and released frequent demos – longtime followers may remember the poorly-named Were Release, a monthly demo that I did for about a year.

To be clear, I don’t regret any of this. It worked really well for me and was tremendously motivating.

But as the game became bigger the effort to create demos increased significantly. Worse, their usefulness to me as a developer started to drop. Making a new demo public – though still exciting – was quickly becoming a burden.

Master of none

So what changed?

Well, at some point Village Monsters reached a confusing middle ground somewhere between Clearly New and Almost Finished. It was now a Work In Progress… and what does that mean? I couldn’t expect players to know if I didn’t.

I was adding more features with each iteration, but this also meant there were more unfinished features. Old bugs were fixed while new bugs were introduced. The game changed in drastic ways on a near constant basis as I refined my design.

The thing about iteration is that it doesn’t imply linear progression; sometimes features (or parts of features) would actually go backward when something wasn’t working right. Each release was objectively more complete than the one before it, but it was a few steps forward and a couple steps back. It was becoming much harder to cleanly demarcate between what was done and what was not.

This confusion was reflected in the kind of feedback I was getting. I still received feedback and suggestions, but more often than not the messages were closer to support tickets. In some cases I even received pretty hostile emails over the perceived quality of the game as if I charged money or tricked them into thinking it was a finished game.

Perception

There are an enormous amount of games out there. People’s time is limited, their wallets are limited, and there’s no incentive for them to be risky with either.

This means perception of a game has never been more important. And to be frank, pre-release demos are a quick way to kill your reputation.

Consider what beta means for a game like Village Monsters vs. what it means for games like Anthem or The Division 2 or even Gwent. The comparison is, in a word, unfavorable.

For me it means a game that’s anywhere from 25-75% complete. For them it’s a game that’s 95% complete.

It’s completely reasonable for most gamers to assume that a beta game will only change in small or subtle ways before release. If you play a demo that’s janky and has bugs and feels incomplete then it’s equally reasonable to assume it won’t be a very good game come release.

And that really sucks for me. The closer the game gets to release the greater the chance that these perceptions are ‘locked in’ and impossible to win back.

So…

If a demo isn’t truly representative of the final product, and they’re increasingly difficult to create, and players aren’t really sure what to do with them… is it worth making them?

That’s the question I asked myself, and that’s why I’ve made the decision to remove them.

Hopefully this most is transparent and you can understand where I’m coming from. If you’re another indie dev then I also hope it helps inform some of your own decisions with how to handle pre-release demos.

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.