Well, I have been invited to share some of the experiences and dramas of a tiny independent game developer here on Gamezebo. I’ve often found that our wonderful community and fans find it very interesting to hear about some of the behind-the-scenes decisions and craziness that can be involved in creating a game from beginning to end, and I’m all too happy to share the experience.
For those of you who are not familiar with us, we are Last Day of Work and our most recent release was Virtual Villagers, and just before that Fish Tycoon. I am the lead designer and captain of this fine ship. Well I think I’ll jump right in and…
Begin with the Ending
Right now we are working on a 2nd chapter in the Virtual Villagers story. As Virtual Villagers continued to gain popularity in these last months, we knew that was all the excuse we needed to keep working on the follow-up. Listening to the feedback, people are loving it! Just one thing seemed to be upsetting some players: The Ending. This puzzled me for some time, as I thought the ending answered some questions, while leaving other mysteries unrevealed, but apparently it might have been too much of a cliff-hanger. Of course, part of me hopes that they got very caught up in the story, and everyone just wants more of a good thing.
We have always hoped to be able to continue the story of the lost little villagers, and now it is starting to look like we are downright obligated to continue it. What was behind the boulder? Who was in the cave? Who was here before, and what’s up with this crazy island? Well, those of you who have solved the game know what was answered and what was not (sorry, no spoilers here). In any case, the sequel (the new subtitle of the game will be revealed soon; for now let’s call it VV2) will continue right where Virtual Villagers: A New Home leaves off, without missing a beat. Check out these exclusive, rough illustrations from VV2 that we are leaking here on Gamezebo. With permission from our lead artist Michael Grills, these are two very early iterations of one of the game’s intro screens.
Aside from continuing the story exactly from where it leaves off, we have addressed several design challenges that we hope will satisfy some of the requests we are hearing from our fans (yes, we are listening!):
More replayability. We are implementing additional story elements and "Island Events," especially for that late-game experience…you know, when you have 80 villagers running around and they seem to be doing fine without you.
A smoother plot climax. Rather than the abrupt ending in Virtual Villagers, which seems to broadside players out of nowhere, we are designing the puzzles and story elements to come together into a more satisfying climax.
Some significant new game mechanics. We are adding new elements to the game which should continue to be interesting and engaging, even after the ‘story’ part of the game is finished. "More toys in the sandbox," as I like to say.
A Software Toy
Including all the research and earlier versions of Virtual Villagers, it took us about 1 year to get the AI, behaviors, and foundation of the game right. Now we really look at it as a software toy, which is the kind of game that you play however you want to play, rather than a game that has to be played in a linear path (like a classic adventure game.). With this philosophy in mind, we find it irresistible to add new toys to VV2; new things to do, new mechanics, just more stuff without changing the core of the game (which is breeding villagers, helping them survive, and discovering puzzles). This is what we are starting to do with VV2, and the idea is that if these toys make it more fun, great! If we are adding something that is not your ‘cup of tea,’ the player will be able to largely ignore these new elements. I think that there are not a lot of casual games out there right now that are doing this kind of design, and while our games have always been seen as a little risky, we are having way too much fun making them to change our methods now.
Way Too Much Fun
The way we have the production of the game organized, after so many months of working in messy code and struggling with PC and Mac issues, we now have a really fun framework for the Virtual Villagers games. Some of our players write narratives describing the story of their tribe and how things went (we will be very happy to share some of these very soon!). In those narratives, the player is a god-like entity, caring for the villagers. But above the player is the person who designs the very island itself, the laws of physics, and the universe…yes, you guessed it–that’s me. And that is how the development of VV feels now…it is literally almost as fun to make it as it, hopefully, is for others to play it. We are listening to our fans and community, bringing as many suggestions as we can into the sequel, and in the upcoming weeks, as development continues, I will not be able to restrain myself from leaking more teasers and insights here at Gamezebo.
Arthur Humphrey is the founder and lead designer of Last Day of Work. He has developed numerous best-selling games on several platforms, including Fish Tycoon, Plant Tycoon and Virtual Villagers. Arthur, together with his wife and partner Carla, lovingly craft games that try to be innovative, engaging, and broadly accessible. Arthur can be contacted by commenting here, or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.