After Floating Point is finished (and I’m cracking on 3.6, believe you me) I’ve been pondering what I want to do with my website. I’m going to be taking a vacation from actively cranking on a major creative project, but I’d hate to leave this thing still and silent. So, I’m thinking I’ll revive my blog as… wait for it… a blog. Like I used to do back in the LiveJournal days. Egads.
This may mean I’ll occasionally post something you disagree with, because I got opinions about stuff. But if you’re this deep I’m guessing you already know the sorts of biases and leanings I have, so none of it will be a shock to you.
Still, let’s start out with a softball pitch as I review, compare, and contrast two fairly old games at this point… Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley.
I love the idea of managing a small town, of customizing and personalizing your home, of interacting with a village of quirky characters and running simple quests to make their lives better. In these Dark Days of Terror it’s quite pleasant to be able to make an impact on a small world in small ways, doing small things. Even the simplicity of chores like watering your plants or making suspicious motions behind a cow are pleasant.
Each game has their own strengths…
Animal Crossing gradually unfolds, more and more facilities and things to do coming online as you go… and ohh, the customization! I was actually able to make my town a terrifying dictatorship complete with immigration processing center, mad scientist lair, propaganda broadcast tower, and a gameshow TV studio where contestants were put to death in electric chairs by the spin of a wheel! …yes, I’m still talking about Animal Crossing. Subverting that game was FUN, especially since the game carried on as if nothing was out of the ordinary, everybody was happy and carefree and having a grand ‘ol colorful and adorable time of it. Even if I hadn’t gone that route with my theming the range of ways you can personalize were quite impressive.
Stardew Valley is a bit more set in tone and theme without as much personalization, but has an amazing nostalgic feel thanks to the retro 16-bit inspired aesthetic of it and amazing music. It trades complexity of customization for complexity of tasks, with a wide variety of things you can do from farming to fishing to animal husbandry to foraging in trash cans like a raccoon. Building up relationships with townsfolk rewards you with short cutscenes and interaction moments of far more sophistication than AC, as they use a set cast of characters rather than a constantly rotating array of generic NPCs.
But… eventually I fell out with both games. While I liked a lot of what they delivered, some small annoyances just crept right under my skin and made me realize I had way too much else to do with my life to keep on with them.
Animal Crossing’s breakpoint was its decay factor and chore slog. Unlike SV’s chores which can be done in a few quick minutes, AC requires you to scour your entire town looking for randomly placed things that spawn once a day… but doing so can actually ruin your town, as running around on the grass kills grass, and it barely ever comes back. And speaking of ruin, all those carefully placed streets and avenues to villager’s houses? Ruined if you don’t find the ONE randomly selected person in town each day who’s thinking of leaving, and talk to them, pronto. Assuming you can find them, as they have varying schedules which key off a realtime clock. If that person leaves a new one moves in to a random location, wrecking your layout. And God help you if you take a few realtime days off from playing — the amount of decay you’ll face will be crazy. I’d resorted to resetting the system clock to only advance time one day each time I played to avoid that. The game’s constant demand of your time and attention lest everything fall into chaos and disrepair meant once my town was exactly as I wanted it to be, I had to STOP playing, cold. Couldn’t boot it up on a whim months later or it’d be a wreck.
As for Stardew Valley, I fell out of that one pretty rapidly. Having a set cast of characters, a set town, and little customization meant a richer experience… but only so far. Outside of triggered relationship events not much actually happened worth note. The only thing to keep you playing was to unlock various town upgrade bundles by providing one of nearly every item in the game to the Community Center… which required massive time optimization to ensure you grew one of every plant, cared for one of every animal, etc. on a season-by-season basis. Did you miss a Spring crop? You’ll have to wait a whole in-game year to take another crack at that. And if you aren’t playing for those completionist-oriented quests, well, there’s not much else to work towards.
All of this lead me to think, well… what do I WANT out of a game like this? The answer seems to be a hybrid of the two, without the annoyances.
My ideal game would allow heavy customization and self-expression (AC), but coupled with a strong and stable cast of characters (SV). Allow me to restyle my home and my town, but provide better NPCs than AC’s generic templates. While I like the quest systems in both I wouldn’t make them as wildly demanding as SV’s quests, or as random and time-consuming as AC’s. And above all… NO DECAY (AC) and no rapidly advancing doom clock (SV). Don’t punish me for not being addicted to your game and putting in an hour or more a day, allow me to set my own schedule. Don’t punish me for having fun doing something past my virtual bedtime.
“Okay, so if you know what you’re looking for… why not just make that game?”
Oh, I’m not planning on making that game, in particular. It’d be nice, but I’ve got other plans.
And that’s your hint at what I’m thinking of accomplishing later on in 2017.