Thursday, July 30, 2015

Animal Crossing integrates features into its landscape

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is coming out at the end of September and I've been getting excited about it, so I went back to my New Leaf town. I decided to make things how I want them! I admit that when I first started playing I was really into collecting furniture, bugs, fish, and bells. But now that I've done that I'm much more interested in the personalization aspect of the game. You can design cute little shirts and dresses! What's not to like? And I think Happy Home Designer will make it easier to make things "just so." 

The in-game integration of many play aspects is one of AC:NL's strongest design features. Instead of having a pop-up or extra window, there's a place or person you can go to in order to explore other game features. It makes it so the UI can be simpler; instead of having a special menu that you have to go to to enable a feature, there's a place within the game you go to instead. Here's some examples from the game:
  • Achievements: When you earn a medal, a special walrus shows up in your town. When you talk to him, he presents you with the medal you earned. It's much less invasive than a corner pop-up! 
  • To visit another player's town, you go to a train station (how cute is that?). You can also "open" your town for visitors.
  • To play multiplayer games you go to a special island. 
  • To visit another player's "dream town" (a snapshot of the town that anyone can visit/mess up at any time without any consequences), you go to a dream spa-like place. 
  • Making "pro" designs and their QR codes can only be done at the clothing shop. 
  • Moving furniture, adding patterns to the ground, digging holes, and other "editing" aspects are done with your avatar (like Minecraft), not an "editing" menu. Sometimes this is really frustrating. I suspect it makes it easier for children and people who don't play lots of other games to figure out how to manipulate things quickly.
  • Ordering furniture and managing your money are done through special kiosks. 
Nintendo games are really good at using in-game locations for game features; I know Fantasy Life and Pokemon Black/White have similar places you go to do multiplayer stuff. It only works with games that have persistent locations or towns where it makes sense for some building or feature to be standardized. Sometimes I think AC:NL goes a little too far with it, especially with the inventory management (you can only access your large inventory from lockers/shelves in your house, and there's no way to auto sort, and there aren't very many inventory slots). But it's an extreme example I think we can all learn from. 

Now I have some other thoughts and a bunch of screenshots from the game... view them here after the break!