Building a Village, 6/29/2019 – Making of Monsters

Hello Villagers!

This dev log is sure to be my most game design-y one yet! Today I want to talk about monster design – ah, but of course with the obvious “twist” that in Village Monsters the monsters are the NPCs of the game!

Like the animals in Animal Crossing, there is only one human (you!) in this village, so just step aside, homo sapiens – this one ain’t about you.

Making Monsters

There’s a fine line to walk when designing monsters. You have tremendous creative freedom compared to designing humans, but this means it’s a lot easier to go off the rails. 

This isn’t a new problem. Many games designers – especially in the 80s and 90s – based their enemy creations off of monsters that already existed in our own folklore. Why reinvent the wheel, right? I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I learned of many mythological creatures and gods thanks to games like Final Fantasy and Castlevania.

Are we the monsters?

To keep myself grounded I came up with a few rules for designing the monster villagers of my game:

  • Keep to familiar monsters like designers of old
  • Monsters of a similar theme should be grouped together as friends or family
  • Our shared understanding of a given monster should inform their personality and role in the village

Grouping together monsters by theme has meant that in many cases a family (classification) of monsters becomes a literal family of monsters. ​Take for example the above family: Morris the zombie, his daughter, Ruby the vampire, her husband, Lindwyrm the dragon, and their kid, Victor the werewolf. Their theme is of standard or classic monsters that you can find in many video games, books or movies.

This family I lovingly call the “Maritime Family” – there’s Edmund the shark, Calista the siren, Oponna the pirate, and Cthylla the eldritch sweetheart. Their theme is pretty obvious: the ocean! You’ve probably realized that sharks and pirates aren’t exactly “monsters” in the traditional sense, but in video games they often are!

There are 32 villagers to befriend in Village Monsters. Most keep to the rules I outlined above, but not all. I mean, come on, these are monsters! They’re all about breaking rules.

​ Here’s Vara the succubus alongside her two kids – Zigi the ghost and Bugs the, uh… something. There’s no common thread connecting this family, and while a couple are based on existing monsters they are very different than what their origin might suggest. This actually plays into their personal story and will make sense as you get to know them.

Monstrous Personalities

Of course, a monster’s type doesn’t just effect how they look. By choosing familiar monsters it made sense to allow common expectations and “stereotypes” to inform their personalities, relationships, and roles in their community.

​​Take our good pal Golbrick here. He’s a mimic which means he’s hidden away from most social interactions. This becomes obvious when talking with him, and you’ll find he wants nothing more than to end a conversation and go back to hiding as an object.

The aforementioned vampire, Ruby, is both immortal and frequently stuck indoors due to the sun. Her immortality makes her passionate about history while being a hermit​ makes her a natural lover of the escapism found in books and other stories.  As such, it was natural to make her the village librarian – and yes, she covers the night shift.

The monsters of Village Monsters are purposefully viewed through the lens of a video game. Take Stapes, a skeleton and one of the town guards. Skeletons are a common monster in many cultures, but Stapes more represents the weak and wimpy skellies you might find lurking the first dungeon of an RPG. This makes his personality very cowardly and he begins absolutely terrified of you.

​ However, playing up to people’s expectations of monsters is never quite as fun as subverting them. Valentine is a robot, but he’s convinced he’s actually a cowboy. He’s the most rough and tumble of the village and is most at home living among nature – despite being the most sci -fi element in the game.

I can only hope you’ll have as much fun befriending monsters as I did designing them when Village Monster releases later this year.

Building a Village, 6/18/2019 – Timeline(s)

Hello Villagers!

Ah, summer – the season in which unexplained squares pour down from the skies

For this update we’re going for all killer no filler: it’s a short one focusing on the timeline leading up to launch. 

Road to Release

As I’ve mentioned before, for the past year I’ve been juggling dual responsibilities as both an indie game developer and a new stay-at-home dad. It’s been pretty great, but my day-to-day work schedule has been… well, chaotic.

Thankfully order is to be restored – at least temporarily. My wife – who is a teacher – will soon have the summer off. This is good news for a number of reasons, but for you all it means I can focus entirely on finishing development of Village Monsters

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the timeline for the next several months.

Summer Schedule

I’m planning to have quite a productive summer. June and July will be spent on wrapping up the remaining features & systems with the goal of being feature complete by the end of July. This same month I plan on releasing a new demo out into the wild, though there’s a chance it slips as the main priority will be on the aforementioned completeness.

August will be spent on lots and lots of content – creating new content, editing existing content, and so on. Examples of this include dialogue, collectibles, flavor, and secrets. Realistically, August will also be spent fine tuning features, but the idea is to add or change as few things as possible.

Fall Schedule

This brings us into the fall. My ultimate goal is to enter September with a finished game that I can poke and prod and break and fix. At some point I will also need some volunteer play testers for both feedback and testing of the near-finished game.

This work naturally leads to a launch date sometime in October or November. My plan isn’t too complicated – I will continuously test and polish the game until it feels right and then unleash it into the world. 

This is a firm plan that is unlikely to change too much. I’m finally close enough to that fabled finish line where even a hiccup here or there isn’t likely to cause much mischief.

Beyond?

Village Monsters will release as a complete and polished game, but there is always more to do!

December and January will be focused on fixing any bugs and annoyances that I missed in testing. After that I have a laundry list of ideas for future updates – things that include some kind of multiplayer, new areas to explore, and post-story content.

I can’t wait for you all to get lost in the immersive world of Village Monsters. Until next time!

I’m dreaming of fall already…

Building a Village, 5/17/2019 – Treasure Mainland

Hello Villagers!

There are many hobbies to pursue in your time in the village, but if you like making money and learning lore there’s really only one hobby for you:

Treasure Hunting!

If you get this reference then we can be good friends

Treasure hunting is immensely rewarding, but it requires a lot more leg work than the other hobbies. You must first find where treasure is hiding, then you gotta dig it up, and finally you have figure out what the heck you just unearthed.

This dev diary will detail some of the things you can find in your hunts. Treasures are generally split between three categories: Jewels & Minerals, Artifacts, and Treasure Chests

Jewels & Minerals

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. While there’s no such thing as “filler” when it comes to treasure, there is such a thing as “destined for the merchant.”

Jewels, ores, and other minerals can generally be safely sold for a tidy sum. Still, it might be worth checking out item descriptions before you head to merchant.

Artifacts

Most artifacts must be identified first

There’s no sugarcoating it – this world has been through some rough times. Multiple wars, the Glitchwood, the disappearance of humans and gods… so much has been destroyed or forgotten.

Thankfully for historians, the world is blanketed in priceless artifacts from the all ages of the past. Each one reveals some kind of lore or history that was once thought lost.

Head over to the library for more info on artifacts. One nice thing about them? Each is a one-of-a-kind, so you’ll never find a duplicate.

Treasure Chests

Chests are a very special kind of treasure you can find in your hunts. They always contain something valuable – usually several valuable things, in fact – but there’s really no predicting what’s held inside.

The deeper something is buried the more valuable it is

Crack one open and you might find a bunch of money or a rare item for your collection. Or maybe you’ll discover sacred texts from the gods. Maybe you’ll find a very traumatized fish.

Some chests are sealed up and you’ll need help to unlock ’em. Others were deliberately hidden and require you to solve a map or riddle just to find them!

Whatever the case, uncovering a treasure chest is the most exciting moment for any hunter. Here’s a small list of what could pop out when you crack it open…

Lost Mail Keys

While it’s not a well known fact, several buildings in the village predate the arrival of its current monstrous residents. The post office is one such building and it houses an intriguing mystery – a wall of abandoned mail boxes all locked up tight.

Nobody knows what’s hidden inside them (hopefully more than just junk mail), but Glimmer says it’s finders-keepers, so bring any keys you find to the mail room to claim your prize.

Regional Drinks

There’s not much of day-to-day life that has survived the world breaking apart, but there is one relic of the old days you still can find locked away…

Regional drinks! You see, each region of the world had their own ‘signature’ drink and it was a popular hobby among monsters to try and collect all 26 of them.

Koma, owner of the village pub, was one such hobbyist. I’m sure he’d be very interested if you find any!

What better place to store drinks than the basement of a pub?

Celestial Comments

The gods may have disappeared with the humans, but their written words still remain scattered throughout the world.

The most common works are known as Comments – direct observations of our world written by divine hands. It not only proves that the gods truly existed but also that they knew of our lives and histories. As you can imagine these Comments are priceless.

Fascinating

And more?

A staff that controls the weather. A potion that enables mind reading. The aforementioned traumatized fish that can teach you how to talk to its brethren.

There’s never a dull moment for a treasure hunter.

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!”