Virtual Villagers – A Developer’s Diary: Chapter 2

One of the nicest things about running a tiny independent game studio these days is that, more and more, people work remotely. My wife, Carla, and I, who make up the core of the team, are no exception. While we are based in San Francisco, Carla is originally from Italy, and so we migrate over to the ‘old country’ every year for a couple of months in the fall. Working from here is not much different in terms of communication, since almost everyone we work with is part of our ‘virtual office’ anyway, and we all keep in touch using instant messenger, email and phone. One thing, however, changes a lot–our environment.

A Change in Landscape

Just as our little villagers from Virtual Villagers: A New Home need a change in environment, so do we. And one can certainly inspire the other. We find that our changed surroundings here in Italy give us inspiration and ideas that we would never have thought of. Even the name of the island, Isola, is taken from the Italian word for–guess what?–"Island."

In the past we had taken inspiration from the flowers and plants of these regions, and brought them into our games. This time we have been getting ideas from historic buildings and ruins here, and we will bring some new surprises in VV2 that we are having way too much fun with. We won’t give too much away just yet, but while we are here in the land of fashion, here’s a sneak peek at some of the hottest new ‘looks’ on the island:

We are leaving many of everyone’s favorite original villagers in the next chapter, but we are introducing even more skins and villager combinations. We plan to increase the total number of possible unique villagers from almost 800 to 1800, so it will be less likely to see identical villagers in your tribe (unless someone had twins or triplets, of course!).

Making a Sequel

The original design of Virtual Villagers was done largely in Italy. Now as we are here again and working on Chapter 2, we are pondering the epic age-old question: What makes a sequel good? In my opinion, and judging from the abundance of failed movie sequels, it is a slippery question. It always comes back to this: What was fun about the original, and can you recreate that without just repeating the same thing you did before? We are not really trying to understand what was fun about the original Virtual Villagers. Instead, what we are trying to do is this: we are continuing to develop the story of Isola, which we are excited about and cannot wait to share with everyone. Secondly, we are adding new mechanics and enhancements to the gameplay rather than changing or removing existing ones. First a quick review of the story…

The Story So Far…

Virtual Villagers: A New Home began with a small group of villagers who fled their island home when it was destroyed by a volcano. They landed on this new island, which was almost a perfect paradise and a great chance for them to start a new life. As they established themselves, however, they found many signs of a past village there, as well as hints at a magical presence on the island. The game concludes with them finding additional evidence that they were not the first culture to establish itself on this stretch of beach. Chapter Two of Virtual Villagers will pick up where this one left off, with even more conclusive evidence of this other civilization, and some hints of a troubling history on the island. Where is this other tribe? Why did they disappear or flee? Is Isola not the sanctuary that it appears to be for the small lost tribe? What is the source of the magic of the island?

Back to the Sandbox

I always enjoy adding new features and mechanics to the game, and the next chapter of Virtual Villagers will go beyond just continuing the story. First, we are adding some features that have been widely requested by players. Unofficially, the top 5 requested features have probably been:

1) A more satisfying ending

2) Ancestry info (who begot who)

3) Some mechanism to change the villagers’ clothes

4) More things to do during the slow moments

5) Dynamic/moving water, and other graphics improvements

We have already implemented changes that address each of those issues, and by all means if you are inspired, feel free to tell us what else you would like to see changed/added in the next Virtual Villagers. Just post here because we read everything (and we take notes!).

Apart from these improvements we are adding ‘more toys to the sandbox,’ yet again. We do not want to drastically change the way the game can be played, so we are being careful to make theses new toys available, fun, hopefully engaging, but never mandatory! In VV1 if you liked to micro-manage your villagers, or if you like to hunt for mushrooms, you were free to do so, but never required…you could just check in from time to time. In VV2 we are extending this philosophy in the same way… adding things to do, but never forcing the player to do anything that they do not want to. Incidentally, the mushroom-gathering was also inspired by our surroundings here in Italy… on the weekends you will find the forests full of locals and farmers searching for the expensive and coveted porcini mushrooms, running through the hills like so many little villagers…

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 [email protected].

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