Crafting fun out of the everyday is the charm of the Animal Crossing series - its towns entice players to eagerly return on a daily basis, despite already having to juggle reality's laundry list of obligations. Chatting with neighbors, paying off mortgages, tending the garden - these are the mundane activities that form the endearing heart of Animal Crossing, charmingly reflecting our real-life concerns.
The concept of players making themselves at home aligns with series creator Katsuya Eguchi's vision for the original Nintendo 64 game - his team was less concerned with making a game and more focused on making a second place to live. We spoke with Eguchi and Animal Crossing: New Leaf Director Aya Kyogoku at GDC, through a translator, about their vision for the franchise and how they hope to offer a secondary home for its player base.
With so many different perspectives of life existing in the world, it's difficult to build a universally welcoming foundation for everyone to find their second home. This challenge was kept in mind when work began on New Leaf, resulting in the game's development team encompassing members from different age groups and walks of life. Regardless of their role in the team, staff members were also able to submit clothing and furniture ideas to asset designers, allowing for a greater variety in New Leaf's inventory.
Most of life's highlights stem from interacting with other people, and Animal Crossing is built with that in mind - in order to quickly amass every fruit type or snag the best possible sale, players need to interact with one another. There's direct involvement, where visiting another village allows players to directly reap that region's benefits, but it can also involve sending gifts with letters, or exchanging replicas of customized homes through the 3DS' StreetPass feature.
Kyogoku finds joy in viewing the community's creations through StreetPass, and she explained that the promotional items offered at real-world physical locations are meant to encourage that sense of sharing from other players. If many people head to a store in search of an item, Kyogoku hopes that they'll StreetPass with one another during their visit. Eguchi also views StreetPass as an incentive for players to take Animal Crossing with them in their daily lives, in case they cross paths with other StreetPass-savvy players outside of their primary homes.
Time is maybe the greatest constant of life, and Animal Crossing's calendar-driven gameplay reflects that. If players want to see everything the game has to offer, they need to check in during particular events, like holidays or village-wide tournaments. Tying the availability of items and events to particular moments in a year helps reinforce the idea that life in Animal Crossing moves on, with or without you. Eguchi said that maintaining the calendar's influence is part of why the series has stayed away from implementing microtransactions. In this way, special items are more about rewarding event attendance and less about filling out a checklist. You can buy real-life fireworks year round, for example, but sending up bottle rockets alone in your back yard isn't the same as joining in when the rest of your community is sending up mortars.
Animal Crossing has an established fanbase, but not everyone has found a space in the series to call home. Concerning future goals for the series, Eguchi hopes to reach regions he feels are untapped - Australia, for example - in addition to utilizing the quirks supplied in Nintendo's hardware to show off new elements of life in Animal Crossing's busy world.