“Our lives are so short. We only get to live in this one existence, but what if we could have more than one?”
Kyle Bosman, Easy Allies
We all play games for different reasons.
For me, it’s always been an escape. My life isn’t so bad, but I love running away to some fantastical world where I can do and be anything. Even as an adult, (especially as an adult?) where my freedom is high, I still find myself fantasizing about game worlds.
It should come as no surprise that the ‘life simulator’ genre is my absolute favorite. After all, what better way to escape life than to simulate a new one altogether? Such is my love of this style that I find myself latching onto games where only a small portion or mode can be considered a LifeSim – games like Dwarf Fortress, Little King’s Story, Majora’s Mask, and a huge number of other Nintendo titles
Yet no matter what other games I play, the king of kings of this genre is undoubtedly, without debate or question:
Not The Sims. Not Harvest Moon. Not Second Life (is this still even a thing?)
In fact, I’d go so far to say that I don’t even particularly care for games like Harvest Moon. Strong words, but stay with me here.
As a certified LifeSim lover, I recognize that I should be more enamored with the Harvest Moons of the world. After all, Natsume has cranked out about a billion of them, Stardew Valley was a fantastic success, and people clearly like them.
And yet they’ve always eluded me. In this post, I’m going to dig into why this is – as well as what it means for my game.
Harvest Moon: A Weekday Simulator
Nothing is wrong with Harvest Moon or the Sims, and I can recognize them as fun games that scratch that escapism itch in many people.
But to better deconstruct my dissatisfaction with this style of game, consider this example of an average day in Harvest Moon:
You wake up and immediately perform your daily chores related to your farm. It’s all rote stuff and is meant to be relaxing in its own way, but you’re always made aware of time passing and your energy meter depleting. Together, these promote – and in some cases, demand – efficiency over relaxation.
You then make the rounds to talk to each NPC at least once. Maybe you try to level up relationships by giving them their daily gift. Maybe you grind materials for your new building. Whatever you do, it’s always another cycle of managing meters, checking boxes, and grinding for progress.
In short, it’s simulating your average weekday. There’s time for relaxation and socializing, but your day is still dominated by work, chores, and the need to earn and progress
I’d actually argue that there’s a surprising amount of pressure to the whole thing. Have you ever had a ‘bad’ day in Harvest Moon games? It can feel terrible! Some players go so far as to restart saves in the name of efficiency or ‘re-rolling’ bad RNGs.
I’m painting this in a negative light, but it’s not all bad. In many ways, the bread and butter of a Harvest Moon or Sims game is to take the habitual, routine parts of life and bottle it in a way that’s bite-sized and entertaining. To a many, it’s perfect – you get a sense of accomplishment with a fraction of the effort.
Animal Crossing: A Weekend Simulator
(or, more succinctly, a Saturday Simulator)
…I still vastly prefer the Animal Crossing model. Let’s compare the above with your average day in Animal Crossing:
You wake up and check your mail. You spend some time looking for fossils and seeing what’s new at the store. Maybe you talk to the villagers, run some errands, or spend all day creating pixel art. Maybe you do nothing at all.
There are no meters, no pressure to do anything. You have goals, sure, but they’re always minor and there’s few, if any consequences. Your days can be as productive or lazy as you’d like.
I’m not sure if all of this makes Animal Crossing the least game-y game or the most game-y game, but it works. It simulates a perfect Saturday: your free to spend it being as productive or efficient as you please, but there’s no rush or pressure. It’s carefree, relaxing, and completely at your speed.
So what does this mean for WARP DOGS’ first game?
In case it wasn’t clear before, let me be explicit: my game will fall into that Saturday Simulator model.
There’s no deadlines. There are no energy or health or hunger meters. There will never be tasks or chores that must be done.
Each day will be similar the one before it in a very key way: every day is Saturday. You can choose to be productive, you can choose to be lazy. Above all, I want you to feel relaxed. Carefree.
One thing that will differ slightly is that I’m going to impose far fewer artificial restrictions to players’ progress than AC chooses to do. I understand the value in saving the player from themselves by drip-feeding them content, but it can also be a really transparent design restriction .
I don’t want players to think I’m shaking my head disapprovingly if they want to grind their way through something. It’s a valid choice for some.
I want a game that 29-year-old me would want to play after a bad day at work. I want a game that a kid wants to play after a bad day at school.
I want a game that makes every day feel like Saturday.