Building a Village – 05/06/2018

Hello villagers!

This Building a Village ​will be a little different than usual. Instead of recapping the past week’s work, I want to do a deep dive on the single most important feature of Village Monsters – its dialogue system!

Each kind of game values dialogue a little differently, but it’s the real bread-and-butter for a life sims like Village Monsters. Yet despite its importance, it’s often a double-edged sword that can end up doing more harm than good.

When dialogue start falling apart – getting too repetitious, too predictable, or maybe even too generic – it is often a death sentence for life sims. After all, these are games that value building immersive relationships with NPCs, and there’s no quicker way to ruin that then to feel like you’re talking with a boring robot.

There are certainly many ways to deal with this problem: some designers prefer having strict control over the script. Others may prefer using “adlib” style conversations to give the illusion of infinite content.

For Village Monsters I wanted to try something new – and this post will talk about what I’ve done.

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Release: Beta 1 Demo is now Available

Welcome to Beta, Village Monsters! Three months of tremendous work has lead to this being one of the biggest and most interesting updates so far.

Toward the start I maintained a detailed list of patch notes, but as it grew and grew I realized that it was simply becoming too much – no one would want to read it!

As such, here are some abridged notes on some of the most important features.

Please note that some features were truncated or made “dark” (eg., they exist but cannot be accessed) due to some scheduling problems (and by that, I mean my son was born). They will be addressed in future patches to this demo.

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Building a Village, 03/25/2018

Welcome to another edition of Building a Village, the weekly dev log for Village Monsters.

It’s wrap up time here at Village Monsters HQ. There’s an astronomically large demo coming down the pipeline this month, so I’ve been hard at work putting the finishing touches on it.

Let’s take a look!

Journal Improvements

The journal is a very important tool in the game. It tracks everything – from your collection progress, to areas you’ve explored, quests you’ve done, and so on.

Until now it’s languished as just a secondary feature, but this week I began to give some much needed love to the journal.

Improving UI isn’t the sexiest of work – especially when I do it – but it’s an important one. There’s certainly a ways to go before it becomes your trusty sidekick, but it’s getting closer every day.

Improving Villager Interactions

There are a lot of villagers for you to meet and befriend in the game, so if it seems like I’m constantly working on personalities, dialogue and interactions, it’s because I am!

This week I worked on improving interactions with some of the merchants of the village. Let’s met a couple.

Koma is the innkeeper at Overflow, the town’s one and only tavern and inn. He’s a grandfatherly figure in the village, and you’ll find it easy to make friends with him and receive all sorts of sagely advice.

Piroshky is a merchant cat who once traveled the world peddling his wares – until the Glitchwood took over his home in Yonder Yellowgrass, that is. He was forced to flee, and eventually found the village where he’s set up a permanent shop.

Bug Fixes & Stability

The last demo I released earlier this year had a number of embarrassing bugs in it. There were a few reasons for this – most notably making major changes just days before the release – but there’s really no excuse for such shoddy work.

Well, the lesson was learned, and while I can’t in good faith promise that the Beta demo will be bug-free, it should at least avoid crashing on you at the most inopportune time. Much of this week will continue to be spent on simply testing and polishing the demo.

This will likely be the final dev log for Beta 1. My son is due to be born any day now, and the original plan was to compile a release whenever that was so I wouldn’t need to worry about it after his birth.

However, I plan to get a release out by the 31st no matter what, so one way or another the demo will be in your hands this week.

Building a Village, 03/18/2018

It’s been too long, villagers, and that’s entirely my fault.

I mentioned last month that I was being unusually productive, and that has continued into March. This is, of course, a good thing!

However, the downside with being a one man operation is that when you’re productive in one area you tend to the let the others stagnate.

I’ve tried (and failed) at many different approaches to balance dev and social since the Kickstarter completed, and it’s time to admit it’s just never worked. So! I’m going back to the old style that I know worked for me and for you: weekly updates that focus on the three most interesting things I worked on that week.

Enough preamble! Let’s get back to it.

Areas of Exploration

The area outside the village has been receiving several design passes in an attempt to make it more diverse and interesting to explore. Let’s take a mini world tour to look at some of the areas you’ll be able to visit.

Here we have the Memorial Meadows, a somber area that houses grave stones, memorials, and other monuments to death. Parts of it are carpeted in flowers and overgrowth, and it’s overall a very peaceful place… albeit a disquieting one.

These are the Agrarian Acres, a large plot of arable land just outside the village. The farm provides food for everyone, and as you establish your reputation in the village they’ll allow you to use some of these fertile fields to your own benefit.

The Acres will also be an key area for folks that are interested in critter catching, collecting, and training. More on that later!

The forest outside of the village has been expanded. It is now known as Firetree Forest, and it stretches far to the north and south. Northern Firetree is currently inaccessible due to a bridge that burned down, but perhaps there’s another way…?

Personality & Flavor

A great many things have been locked down in the last month: the areas you can explore, villagers you can meet, activities to do, and so on.

Now that the world is a bit more concrete it’s allowed me greater flexibility in adding flavor and personality.

Many villager homes are now properly furnished and decorated. This’ll still change continuously as I add more furniture and decor to the game, but it’s already a large improvement over the mostly empty homes they’ve had to endure in the past.

The effort to write villager dialog has been going splendidly, especially as it relates to contextual dialog. You can expect villagers to comment on the weather, time of day, holidays, recent events and exploits, and much more.

The village has enjoyed addition levels of polish and detail to each of its districts. Here we can see the civics district, home to the town hall, event plaza, traveling merchants & visitors, and much more.

A Novella of Dialog

Sometime toward the end of February the Village Monsters script reached 18,000 words. I’ve since stopped counting because at some point the answer is the same: there’s a lot of words here.

Not all of it is implemented into the game, and most of it won’t be encountered by folks just playing the demo.

Still, this is a major part of the work left to do on the game, and I’m thrilled with the amount of progress I’ve made on it.

At the risk of promising too much, I think you’ll be extremely happy with how dialogue is handled in Village Monsters compared to other life sim games. I’m going to great lengths to ensure dialog comes across as natural, immersive, and avoids common pitfalls such as coming across as repetitive or generic.

I’m very happy to go back to these weekly updates, so I’ll see you all next time <3

Building a Village, February 2018

Hello villagers!

Development of Village Monsters has really hit its stride in these early days of 2018.

January was perhaps the most productive month of my entire life; it’s no exaggeration to say the game has changed more in last month than the previous 3 months before it combined.

In today’s update we’re going to take a look at many of these changes.

Look Who’s Talking

Toward the start of the month I created a new dialogue tool to assist me with writing all the text in the game – and boy howdy, there sure is a lot of text to write!

There are many monsters to meet and befriend in this village, and I want to ensure each of them has something to new and relevant to say every time you talk to them. It’s a big effort, but it’s also a rewarding one.

it really does

Part of this process has included making “character sheets” for each villager in order to better break down their personality traits, goals, and relationships with each other. This has already become one of my favorite parts of creating this game, and I plan on making some of this info available in your in-game journal.

saley only rolls natural 20s

Beyond new text I’ve also made major improvements to the dialog box itself. Some elements have been rearranged or expanded on, and the box now appears at the bottom after a little slide animation.

But perhaps the biggest change is the inclusion of “villager flair” – each villager will now have their own slightly modified dialog box. This is yet another way of allowing their personalities to shine through.

seriously, don't mention the shirt

Progressing in Progression

A sense of progression is a major appeal of playing life sim games like Village Monsters: think of how rewarding it is to expand your home in Animal Crossing, or how vital day-to-day progress and improvement is to the flow of Stardew Valley.

Thankfully, this past month has allowed to make big changes to the progression elements of Village Monsters.

For example, the relationship system for befriending your monster pals is now up and running. It’s still in its most basic form, but you’ll be able to track your friendship with a monster based on the number of filled arts below their portraits.

Each villager has 3 hearts, but each heart has multiple "levels"

For more tangible progress, you no longer start the game with a house of your own. Instead, you enter the town as an outsider, and you’ll spend your first few days renting a room at the local inn.

A few villagers also live at the inn, but you'll probably want a house ASAP

Save up enough money and you can move out into your own place with your own furniture, but, well…it’s still a bit of a fixer-upper.

it meets none of your requirements other than that you can afford it

Fixing, improving, and upgrading your homestead will be a major part of your daily life in Village Monsters, but this loop goes beyond your own small slice of the world.

The village is facing some hard times when you first arrive, and many villagers have suddenly gone missing while exploring the world outside the village walls. It’s up to you to help fund repairs, place decorations, and find lost villagers out in the world.

This may be a village of monsters, but it’s your home too, and I hope you’ll find the time and effort to make it a better place.

Village Tour

In the last update I mentioned that big changes were coming to the village and surrounding outskirts. Like with progression I definitely want you all to experience these changes yourself when you explore the village in the Beta release in March or the final version at the end of this year.

Still, I can’t leave this post without giving you something! Here are a few shots of some of the new and improved areas around the village.

he's a real business shark
the night is dark and full of gerbils
of course the dark dwarven bros live in a dark dwarven fortress!
reflecting on the day

That’ll do it for this update. Until next time!

A productive and rainy January

Hello villagers!

What an insanely productive month January was!

Toward the start of the week I took the time to sit down and analyze the primary game loops. I came away from this exercise with a much clearer picture of what I wanted (and what I didn’t want!) from the game.

Here are the 4 primary game loops you can expect on release:

  • Making friends (or rivals!) with the cast of monster villagers
  • Completing your collections (critters, fish, treasures, plants, etc.)
  • Repairing & building up the village
  • Expanding & upgrading your home

This past week I focused on that last point, and lemme tell you…I mean business with this whole ‘sense of progress’ thing

You no longer start the game in a house! Instead, you start out by renting a room at the local inn. There’s story justification, but it’s also to introduce the player into the upgrade loop.

I really like what it’s done to the start of the game. With almost no additional prodding the player is immediately incentivized to start engaging with the various systems available to save up money.

I’ve also been giving more love to areas outside the village which I’ve come to collectively call the “outskirts”. Some areas – like the above farm – will be related to the village and you’ll find villagers and activities there on occasion

Other areas will just be for exploring. I’m definitely going to lean into some video game tropes here; you can expect to find deserts, snow-covered mountains, and haunted forests all suspiciously close to one another.

My original intent was for areas outside of town to be a bigger part of the game, but after refocusing the primary game loops I’ve decided to scale a lot of it back (maybe DLC?).

Instead, I’ve taken way more time to focus on…

…the villagers!

In a previous life I was a Business Analyst, and part of my job was coming up with ‘personas’ for all the various users that used our software.

I’ve long wanted to create profiles for the villagers of Village Monsters, but I kept dragging my feet – until now!

It’s been immensely valuable for writing dialogue and stories. Until now most of these guys have lived only in my head, and it’s been getting crowded in there.

Getting everything down in this format has helped me identify natural points of conflict or interest, and it’s let me ensure everyone feels unique and fleshed out.

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For example, Saley was one of the first villagers I conceived of, and since the beginning he was always going to be “a kind of jerk skeleton that was powerful enough to guard the village”.

As I made the profile of him other characteristics suddenly popped into my head – that he would love exercise and fitness, that he aspires to rule the village, that he’s insecure about the fact he may actually be powerless to protect anyone.

All this work in turn let me to completely revamping the dialog system to make it both easier to write dialog and more interesting to read it. You can expect a lot more dialog over many more varied topics in the next Beta demo…

It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope it pays dividends later in the year when I’m just writing line after line of dialogue.

I’ll end this update with a whole bunch of screenshots from the latest build – enjoy!

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