Building a Village – My Cozy Valentine

Man, it’s been some time since I’ve written a dev log! Of course, this is because dev logs have evolved into patch notes (so many patch notes) since Village Monsters released into Early Access, so I haven’t really had need of them.

But for whatever reason I was feeling especially motivated to write something up for the next update – which, by the by, is coming out on the scariest day of the year, Valentine’s Day.

Let’s take a look at what’s coming up!

Be My Valentine

One of the biggest new additions is the ability to send mail and gifts to villagers.

Just mosey on over to the post office (located in the town hall) and send a nice letter to whoever you’d like. This is also how you send gifts!

Villagers have only minor preferences in terms of the letters and gifts they receive, but this will be expanded upon later. For now, it’s a great way to increase your friendship.

Just don’t be a jerk, ok? Villagers can “read” letters and may even store them as keepsakes, so you wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself.

Steamy Skeletal Smooches

Village Monsters has been in development for three years and every single day I receive the same questions over and over again:

  • “Can I smooch a skeleton?”
  • “When will I be able to embrace an eldritch?”
  • “Why can’t I hug a harpy or romance a rotter?!”
  • “LET ME WED A WEREWOLF!!!”

On and on and on. I’ve given you the ability to pet your tamed critters, is this not enough?!

Ok, in all seriousness I’ve been analyzing how love and romance will play out in Village Monsters.

When I first designed the village I did so without thinking of player romances – instead I wanted a well-established villager with tons of preexisting relationships for you to discover.

I’m not against player relationships, but I don’t want to break up existing relationships just to make room for the almighty player.

So: a compromise! Players will be able to romance the few single villagers as well as visitors and other special NPCs! If you do romance a visitor you’ll even be able to invite them to live in the village after a certain point.

This next update won’t contain the final romance system, but I am laying the groundwork and I may be able to include some things to get your hearts thumpin’

Love Thy World

They say that if you love the world then the world will love you back. Actually, they don’t say that because I just made it up, but feel free to put it on a poster.

I’ve added a new kind of daily change called World Modifiers. These are (temporary) special bonuses and other changes to the rules of the world.

For example, the “Restless Critters” modifier means you’ll encounter many more critters out in the field, while “Hen’s Teeth” has fewer critters but they’re guaranteed to be rare. “Good Vibes” makes it so you earn friendship points faster.

The ultimate goal for World Modifiers is to encourage players to branch out and try something new each day. We’ll see how it works!

I <3 U(I)

I’ve targetted the following UI elements as “desperately needing love, attention, and care” for this update:

  • Village profiles
  • Player page
  • Dialogue boxes & choices
  • Collection pages

The Village Profiles page of your journal will get some extra special attention. I’d like these pages to get gradually filled out organically the more you learn about a villager – we’ll see how much I can get done before release.

Heart-to-Hearts

Finally, I would absolutely love to get a working version of the cutscenes system in the game. This will allow for story moments, friendship skits, future romance scenes, and so on.

However, it’s by far the most complicated system I have left to do. I have a few working prototypes already, so I may just include one of them and see how it goes, or I may hold back until I get something done that I’ve proud of. We’ll see!!


That’s about the shape of it! Of course, as with all my releases I tend to work on a bunch of other random stuff that suits my mood, so who knows what else will be included? A whole lot of bugfixes, I can tell you that much!

Look forward to its release on February 14th!

Games of the Year 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Games of the Year, but with Village Monsters released and no travel for the holidays I finally had time to tackle it again.

Here are some selected games of this year that I enjoyed.


Best Game that Should Have Been Bad But Wasn’t

Days Gone

Runners Up: Death Stranding

It’s impossible to overstate how bad Days Gone should have been. A zombie game… that’s an open world… with survival elements… and cover-based shooting. Uh huh. Was this game designed via a Markov chain?

But it works. It all works. Much of it is held together by Deacon St. John – an utterly fantastic protagonist that realistically depicts a shattered man in a depressing situation.

The lore is incredibly cool, the story is way longer and more interesting than you’d expect, and the gameplay holds up for the entire length. I really couldn’t have asked for anything else.


Worst Game that Should Have Been Good But Wasn’t

Outer Worlds

Runners Up: Staxel

What a stinker.

In many ways The Outer Worlds is the bizarro version of Days Gone: on paper this should have been an absolute hit. I mean, the makers of the “good” Fallouts getting together to make their own universe free of the constraints of publishers? That seems mathematically impossible to screw up.

And yet screw up they did. They told a story about evil capitalists yet settled on a message of “eh, could be worse”. They created a world with lore that was at best overwrought and at worst nonsensical.

The companions were hot garbage, world reactivity was nonexistent, and the gameplay was somehow even worse than all of that. And the end of the game… holy crap. How did this game even get approved for release?

At least the title screen had cool music.


The “Confirmed By Hideo” Award

Death Stranding

Runners Up: N/A

Death Stranding is not the best game I’ve ever played, but it certainly is the most compelling.

Part of me hated this game before it even released. Kojima isn’t the easiest guy to root for at times, and it was hard to tell how much of the game was genuine and how much was a “let’s see how much money we can blow on actors and weird shit.”

But it was in fact completely genuine from top to bottom. The story, the gameplay, all the social aspects – ugh, I loved every moment and cried like a baby when it was done.

It’s impossible to be cynical about Death Stranding.


The “It’s new to me!” Award

My Time at Portia

Runners Up: Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana, The Messenger, Yakuza 0

It’s not easy to blend genres together, particularly when said genres are tricky to do on their own. Yet Portia somehow manages to do so repeatedly.

This one game is part Harvest Moon, part Minecraft, part Factorio, and part free-to-play MMORPG from the early 2000s.

I can’t say Portia handles all these blends masterfully, but it’s still an extremely good effort and a very addicting game. It was constantly surprising me until the very end.


Game I Most Regret Not Playing

The Outer Wilds

Runners Up: Disco Elysium, Katana ZERO

Every time I remember The Outer Wilds is an Epic exclusive I get sad all over again.

One day I shall play what seems like an absolute banger of a game, but it’ll be whenever that dumb exclusivity period ends.


Game of the Year

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Runners Up: Death Stranding, Judgment

I have played 315 hours of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. That’s a lot.

I have killed hundreds upon hundreds of bandits, beasts, and a dragon or two. I have watched something like 100+ relationship cutscenes – often multiple times due to multiple playthroughs – and I’ve never once skipped one.

Three Houses is a top 10 game of all time for me. The gameplay loop is expertly crafted, the voice acting is maybe the best I’ve ever heard (respective to its size), and it’s just so much god damn fun. Is it too much to hope that every Fire Emblem from here on out mimics this Persona-esque formula?

All I know is that I wish it never had to end. btw Edelgard did nothing wrong.

New Major Patch: Early Access 0.50.0!

Hello villagers!

Today marks the release of the first major update to Village Monsters. You’ll notice the version number is now set to 0.5 – is this officially the halfway mark?!

This update was guided by players like you! Last week I asked what I should work on next and you weren’t shy in giving me an answer: bug fixes, quality of life improvements, and improvements to Odd Jobs.

Part of these changes were already released last week, so this week’s patch is meant to cap that one off!

The next planned major update is for Friday, December 6th. I’ve yet to send out a poll on what that should include, but I should have that out later this week.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow US villagers!

NEW

  • Something is causing villagers to suddenly misplace items. If you find a lost item you should return it to its owner for a nice relationship boost.
  • A large number of new villager conversations have been added to the game
  • Fish and Critter ratings now alter their price – the higher the rating, the higher the sell price
  • Tutorial Odd Jobs have been added to the game.
  • A new option has been added to make dialogue text instant

IMPROVED

  • Made the first attempt at re-balancing the economy. In general: individual items are worth a great deal more money, but you’ll see fewer of them per day. For example, critters spawn less, it’s harder to fish, and so on.
  • System Options (Music levels, sprint toggle preference, etc.) are now properly saved
  • Caught critters are now given a rating like fish
  • Doubled the rate in which you gain relationship points with villagers
  • The day and season of your save is now displayed under the Continue option
  • The dialogue box now fades away a bit slower when you walk away from the speaker, and fades up a bit faster when you walk back toward them
  • Notifications now trigger for additional actions (like giving away an item from your inventory) to make it clear something triggered
  • Stamina only decreases during the Attack phase of fishing. Bad attacks expend more stamina, while critical attacks are free
  • It now requires more stamina to clear weeds from overgrown garden plots
  • All available Odd Jobs are now listed at the Job Board. You can still only take one one job a day (for now)
  • Odd Jobs that have a timer will now give out partial rewards when the timer runs out
  • Certain Odd Jobs will stick around for a bit instead of changing out each day to give you a chance to take them

FIXED

  • Fixed issue where music levels would reset themselves when changing areas
  • Fixed crash related to checking Critter / Fish traps after loading your save
  • Fixed crash when placing a Critter trap
  • Fixed crash with the Weeding job
  • Fixed issue where mushroom plots would appear to “switch” on area transition
  • Fixed issue with trap visibility
  • Fixed issue with music sometimes changing to the wrong track on area transition
  • Fixed potential performance issue in Town Hall
  • Prevented occasional issue where you can act (and cause errors) as an Odd Job finished
  • Adjusted controller deadzone to prevent certain movement errors
  • Fixed notifications from spawning in strange spots
  • Stopped casting your fishing rod when fishing traps are equipped
  • Stopped controller rumble while fishing when a keyboard is being used
  • Fixed issue preventing a few fish types from spawning
  • Tweaked collision of a number of items to make them easier to pick up
  • Fixed a few issues related to foraged items spawning incorrectly
  • Cleaned up collision on Three Wall Island
  • Cleaned up collision on a number of external objects
  • Stopped fish from incorrectly stating you could eat them for stamina
  • Stopped Seaweed from appearing in freshwater
  • Fixed Komatoa collision in Overflow
  • Fixed collision issue in Baba’s Bakery
  • Fixed issue with Odd Jobs not sending you back to the right place
  • Fixed flavor text issue for tamed critters
  • Fixed issue with “flavor critters” spawning in incorrect locations
  • Fixed occasional issue with teleporting home at end of day
  • Stopped critters from spawning when time is paused
  • Improved Odd Jobs in general to be less error prone
  • Usual misc. fixes, performance and stability improvements
  • Usual misc. typo corrections

Village Monsters is OUT NOW on all platforms and storefronts!

Hello Villagers!

You’d have to be pretty incompetent to forget to update your own website about your game launch…

*ahem* Well! Better late than never.

Village Monsters officially released on November 12th, but depending on your platform or storefront it may have taken a bit longer than that. I ended up staggering each release to make it easier for me to support and manage. You know the phrase “not my first rodeo”? Well, this is my first rodeo, and I didn’t want to get bucked off the bull.

I’m happy to report that Village Monsters is out for everything now. Windows, Mac, and Linux? Yep, all supported. Steam, Itch.io, and GameJolt? Them too!

Early Access means that launch day is the just start of a new and even more exciting journey. As I’ve mentioned previously I’m planning to remain in Early Access for about a year – and I plan for it to be a very busy and productive year at that. In the 2 weeks since launch I’ve already released five patches with a big update on the way on Wednesday, November 27th.

I’m really happy with where things are at right now. Hopefully going forward I’ll be a bit better at keeping this site updated…

Thank you to everyone – Kickstarter supporters, Twitter followers, friends, family, all of you – for your love and support. Village Monsters would be nothing without you, and I’ll never forget that.

Building a Village, 11/05/2019 – Talkin’ Specifics

Hello Villagers!

Let’s talk Early Access.

One of the biggest flaws with Early Access is how broad of a classification it is. Some games in EA can barely be called tech demos, while others are practically all finished and just need a bit more polish. It can be tricky as a consumer to know which variety you’re going to get.

While I can’t speak for other games, I can speak for Village Monsters. This dev log will dive into what’s available in EA so you can make an informed decision come November 12th!

Did I mention November 12th is when Village Monsters releases? That’s right. 11/12. Has a nice ring to it.

November 12th.

More Finished Features

These are features and systems that have seen the most work.

Core Game Loop

Village Monsters is a game about goals. You have small goals, like “I want to catch a bigmouth bass”, and big goals, like “I want to mend this broken world so my monster pals can be happy.”

It’s up to you how you want to play the game, but everything you do contributes in some way to accomplishing a goal and improving yourself; talking with villagers makes you better friends, fishing makes you a better fisherman, and so on.

Achieving goals earns you rewards that in turn let you progress in the game or accomplish other goals faster.

I’m calling this the core game loop and it is (as you might expect – or hope!) one of the more finished aspects of the game.

Hobbies

All four main hobbies (Critter Collecting, Fishing, Treasure Hunting, and Mushroom Gardening) are implemented in the game, though some features are more finished than others.

Seasonal & Time Changes

The simulation parts of Village Monsters were the first things I worked on and are some of the most complete.

Spooky / Scary

There are 128 days in a Village Monsters year split across four seasons. Each season brings about new tile sets, weather, decorations, dialogue, flavor, and much more.

The days themselves are split into four chunks (morning, afternoon, evening, and night) with many things also changing depending on the time of day.

Villagers & Dialogue

There are 30+ villagers to befriend and all of them are available at launch. Each one has their own unique personalities, relationships, likes & dislikes, and secrets to hide.

They also have a lot to say – there will be over 2,000 lines of dialogue at release! Dialogue is highly contextual and is designed to rarely repeat even on subsequent playthroughs.

Exploration

The village itself is quite large, but that’s only the start of your little adventure.

Of course, the world in Village Monsters is in rough shape. You’ll need to find a way to fix things before you can go too far.

There are currently 10 areas outside the village for you to explore. Each area has their own look and feel, things to discover, and lots of unique critters, fish, and treasure.

Music

Each season has four tracks (one for each time of day) and many areas have their own unique tracks as well. They’re all very good, and I can say this because I didn’t make any of it – Josh Woodward did!

Flavor

There are many ways to make a game world feel alive. I’m just one guy, so I can’t rely on things like visual fidelity or complicated physics. Instead I’ve focused my efforts on injecting flavor into the world of Village Monsters.

For example, let’s take something as simple as a rainstorm.

  • You can hear muted rain sounds while inside
  • You track mud when coming in from the outside
  • Puddles form on the ground
  • You can catch a cold if you stay out there too long
  • The fish bite a little bit faster in the rain
  • Certain flowers don’t wake up without sun – and certain villagers don’t even leave their house.

The game is full of these kind of details, and because I’m an absolute madman I’ll be adding even more.

Less Finished

These are features that need more work and will benefit the most from Early Access.

Pacing & Balance

I mentioned above that the core game loop is mostly finished, but what I left out is that it still needs a great deal of balance.

How many Patchlings should be required to fix a bridge? Is the economy working right? Is this item too rare or not rare enough? What about this fish? How long should it take to tame a Pocket Horse?

These are questions that are very difficult to answer as a solo developer. Much of this balancing work will be accomplished through Early Access.

“Level” Design

Each area outside the village looks and feels pretty different, but they still need a great deal of work to be considered complete. Some areas may go through radical changes, and a few areas don’t even exist yet.

The same can be said for villager homes. I want each house to have multiple rooms bursting full of personality, but I’m a ways off from accomplishing that.

Specific Hobby Features

Hobbies are some of the biggest activities you can do in the game. While all four of them exist in general terms, there’s quite a bit that still needs work.

For example, you can grow mushrooms but you can’t mutate or hybrid them yet. You can unlock fishing abilities, but there’s only 3 abilities to start.

Player homes (and customization in general)

While you can purchase a home, it’s missing many of the upgrades I’ve planned for the future. You’ll also be able to customize much more than just your home in the future, but none of those features will be available at the start of Early Access.

User Interface

UI work is always difficult and annoying, though I’m hardly the first person to share that sentiment. I won’t make any excuses for the UI, but I can promise to continuously work on improving it while in Early Access.

Graphics

The way I do art seems to be different than most others. I like to implement art early and then iterate over it constantly until I’m satisfied. These aren’t quite placeholders, but they also aren’t finished.

It works for me, but the end result is that the game still has a bunch of rough art assets that will be improved with time.

Story

There are plenty of story elements and lore to find (especially among villagers), but the “main story” and the ability to roll credits will have to wait until the final release.

Hopefully this dev log will help you understand what is and isn’t finished in Village Monsters for its upcoming Early Access release. If you ask me it’s a very fun game already and will only get better, but I’m perhaps not the most objective reviewer.

See you on November 12th!

Village Monsters Launch: Why Early Access?

Village Monsters is releasing November 12th, 2019, and when it does it will launch in Early Access.

Hello Villagers!

Village Monsters is releasing November 12th (!!!) and when it does it will launch in Early Access. In this update I will explain more about this decision as well as what the next few months will look like.

oh no

Why Early Access?

Village Monsters has always been a large and ambitious game – especially for a solo developer’s debut project. Even still, this is my absolute dream game and I have a tremendous amount of passion and energy that’s been sustaining me for years.

But passion isn’t the same thing as skill, nor does it automatically grant you good sense.

One of my biggest weaknesses has been with planning. As a gamer myself I get annoyed when a Kickstarted game is indefinitely delayed or the creator gives the “it’s done when it’s done” speech. I think backers are owed more than that.

I sought to avoid this by giving short, aggressive timelines and… well, joke’s on me. Setting aggressive timelines meant I was always working aggressively. This has its benefits sometimes, but it’s not a sustainable way to work on a big project.

Each week I was getting a ton of work done, but I was rarely finishing things all the way through – I kept feeling tremendous time pressure to move onto the next task. This came to a head at the end of August when I sat down and evaluated the state of the game. Village Monsters was fun to play and had so many cool features, but things weren’t flowing well together. Everything felt so fragile and clumsy, like a Jenga tower missing many of its pieces. It was clearly not ready for release.

I needed to drastically change my strategy. I didn’t want to crunch for 16 hours a day to finish the game, and I didn’t want to have yet another delay – to be frank I’m not sure my bank account could handle it. 

Early Access emerged as the best choice with the fewest downsides.

  • It lets me avoid another delay which means you can play the game earlier and I can start supporting myself
  • The community can act as a sounding board and become heavily involved to shape the finished game
  • I can do quicker, smaller updates which let me constantly improve things
  • It’s far easier to find bugs and experiment with new ideas
  • It keeps me highly motivated and – more importantly – accountable to my supporters

I’m certainly biased, but I think Village Monsters is a pretty good game already, and with your help Early Access will make it even better. I went from stressed and anxious about Early Access to being genuinely very excited for it – I hope you’ll feel the same!

How finished will Village Monsters be at launch?

All major systems and features planned for the game exist in some capacity. What remains is a massive amount of iteration: expanding and adjusting features, adding new areas, improving graphics, fixing bugs, and lots of polishing.

If I had to assign a percentage I’d estimate Village Monsters is 70% finished. There’s actually a lot of game to play already – you have a big, cozy world to explore and relax in with a bunch of things to collect, secrets to find, and *tons* of villager dialogue and lore.

I’d compare it to something like a fixer-upper; it makes some strange noises, the faucet leaks, the appliances need replacing and the wallpaper is just dreadful. But the foundation is solid and with some tender loving care it could be something real special.

Your in-game home is something of a fixer upper, too

How will updates to Early Access work?

The overall structure of Village Monsters lends itself very well to frequent, incremental updates. As such, I am aiming for weekly updates while in Early Access. To keep this sustainable – which has been the key word in all my planning – I will be alternating between major (Sunrise) and minor (Sunset) updates.

Sunrise updates will bring big changes changes like new features and story content.

Sunset updates will focus on smaller changes, improvements and bug fixes – especially those related to new additions from the past week.

Longtime followers of the game may recognize this pattern from how I’ve released demos (each major demo was followed by a feedback release) so I know this is a model that works well for me.

Just in case you forgot how a calendar works from before

How long will Village Monsters remain in Early Access?

It’s important for me to not stay in Early Access for a long time. It’s an easy trap to fall into which results in stagnation.

I predict staying in Early Access for one year. Unlike my previous estimates this one includes a great deal of buffer and accounts for both planned and unplanned work. My priority will be as follows:

  • Finish remaining tasks to bring the game to 1.0
  • Incorporate community feedback and fix reported bugs
  • Balance the game and polish to a mirror sheen
  • Work on additional extra features that aren’t necessary for 1.0

Future updates (2021 onward – wow, we are living in the future) are still planned and will always be free.

That’s all for now. Thank you all again for your support and love. There’s now just a month to go until release… so I gotta get back to it! Happy Spooktober!

Why Early Access?

Village Monsters has always been a large and ambitious game – especially for a solo developer’s first game. Even still, this is my dream game and I have a tremendous amount of passion working

Since starting work on Village Monsters in 2017 I’ve released 14 demos.

Games like Littlewood, Kynseed, My Time in Portia, Graveyard Keeper, and others. These weren’t just releasing in Early Access – they’re thriving, with fantastic communities that have helped shape the games in development.

Early Access is the right place to finish creating Village Monsters.

How will updates to Early Access work?

The overall structure of Village Monsters lends itself very well to frequent, incremental updates. After all, each in-game day brings new opportunities – some days more literal than others!

I am aiming for weekly updates while in Early Access. To keep this sustainable I plan on alternating between major and minor updates – I am dubbing them Sunrise and Sunset.

Sunrise updates will bring major changes – new features, story content, and so on.

Sunset updates will focus on smaller changes, improvements and bug fixes – especially those related to new additions from the Sunrise update.

As soon as I finished this I realized that you already know what a calendar looks like. Sorry.

Longtime followers of the game may recognize this pattern from how I’ve released demos (each major demo was followed by a feedback release) so I know this is a model that works well.

How long will Village Monsters remain in Early Access?

It’s important to me not to stay in Early Access for a long time. It’s an easy trap to fall into that can result in stagnation and loss of focus.

I predict staying in Early Access for one year. This includes the time necessary to finish remaining features while ensuring there’s plenty of opportunities for the community to shape the game in their image.

Future updates (2021 onward – wow, we are living in the future) are still planned and will always be free.