Thursday Katsuya Eguchi discussed the development and evolution of Animal Crossing from the 64DD to the DS. A summary and an audio recording of his presentation are both inside!
Katsuya Eguchi, director of the Animal Crossing games, spoke Thursday at GDC in a session entitled "Is That a Franchise in Your Pocket? An Animal Crossing: Wild World Case Study." His casual presentation included a history of the series, an overview of the gameplay, and what makes it a daily experience. I have summarized his presentation in this article, but you may listen to Tim O'Leary's translation for further details.
He began by explaining the first game's very different origins. Animal Forest was originally slated for the 64DD attachment for the N64. Although the game was always focused on communication, the team was initially uncomfortable about straying from the familiar goal-based structure. The mostly-powerless main character would communicate and enlist the help of animals in an adventure-style game against a great evil. The game was a true adventure game—complete with dungeons—but the team secretly hoped communicating with the animals would side-track players from the main quest.
The 64DD project made heavy use of the system's large rewritable storage capacity. When Nintendo decided to move the game to the N64, which had far less RAM and non-volatile storage space, Eguchi's team had to reassess their objectives. They stripped out the adventure and story aspects and brought communication to the forefront, shaping the design gamers now know and love.
Eguchi admitted some within Nintendo were unsure of why people would find Animal Crossing fun, but it was launched and subsequently adored. Eguchi provided many reasons for why players continue to play Animal Crossing in its various forms. Players share and discuss common experiences (such as K.K. Slider performances) as well as unique events. Visiting others' towns, houses and clothing designs often incites inspiration and healthy competition among friends. The freedom to choose one's daily activities and customize their town also provides players with satisfaction and pride. Giving players the chance to express their personalities through their town was very important.
He conceded that inconvenience produces much of Animal Crossing's addictive nature. If players were fully satisfied at any time, they would stop playing. Therefore, Tom Nook's store sells a poor selection, the real-time clock, complete with seasons, makes events and items very elusive. Of course, Eguchi and his team did not want to test players' patience, so they included time-independent and immediately rewarding activities, too.
He then discussed some of the changes made for Wild World due to storage constraints, such as a reduced animal cast and playing field, before continuing onto his larger point: developers should pay careful attention to a platform's abilities and limitations. He pointed out that portables have limited battery life and can be played anywhere, so saving a game must be quick and convenient. He discussed recent Nintendo-published DS titles and how the system and WiFi features were used appropriately. He also remarked at how communicating via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (as opposed to letters) altered the style of communication, introducing more chit-chat.
He concluded by encouraging developers to consider the Revolution (and not just Nintendo DS) when drafting new projects. To show his own enthusiasm for the system, he disclosed that his next big challenge is to determine how Animal Crossing should be brought to the Revolution.