The game developer-oriented conference CEDEC 2020 was held over this weekend, and one of the games touched upon in the conference’s many sessions was Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Several of the game’s key developers from Nintendo came to introduce how the team managed to create the game’s beloved, colorful cast of villagers. (Thanks, 4Gamer!)
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has around 400 unique villagers, and the reason behind having so many is so that each player will have their own unique set of villagers to show off to others. However, to make the villagers beloved by players, the team needed to design the animal villagers so that players would “want to interact with them,” and “want to watch what they are doing.” This all starts with diversifying their appearance.
It all starts with the silhouette. The animal villagers all have distinctive silhouettes by species in order to make it easy for players to tell which villager they are, even from a distance.
Although you are able to find out the villager’s personality and what they like by talking to and getting to know them, in order to make this work, the character designers began with a silhouette so that they would only be able to tell superficial information like “the villager is a cat.” By limiting the amount of information at the start, it excites the imagination for people to find out just what sort of cat they are.
The silhouettes themselves are very simple, as even adding a more specific feature like “fluffy fur” does nothing but limit the sort of cats that the developers can think up.
Just like this, the developers start with the simple silhouette, and create the characters from different textures. However, as they are normal villagers who live life normally on the island, they need to be designed visually so that they don’t stand out too much. On the other hand, in order to give them each an individual presence, they add more details to the designs to give more visual information.
While limiting the silhouette of the characters might seem to limit the expression of creativity in character design, it actually enhances creativity, because the developers can create some villagers with very out-there designs, while still having them be recognized as cats.
When deciding each of the villagers’ personalities, the developers looked towards real-life, and how each of the five personalities are perceived in terms of appearance. It helps create a sense of connection towards the villagers, as players can imagine them being similar to someone they might know.
Although all 35 Animal Crossing: New Horizon different villager species are designed to draw out the distinctive traits of their species, one thing you might not have noticed is that how feelings are expressed are the same no matter the species. This is also in order to help further the connection between the players and animal villagers.
Here’s a look at some of the different styles that the developers experimented with before settling on the signature character design style.
While character designs and personalities are key, another factor to making the villagers beloved are the actions they take in gameplay. The players must not feel like they are robotic or too formulaic in their actions. As part of this, villagers have two general categories of actions, ones that they enact themselves and ones that are derived from their current situation.
These include eating, doing yoga, sweeping the floor, fishing, and more, to show that the villagers are living their lives. Villagers with an interest in music will be seen more frequently singing, while villagers who like to read will be seen reading more. By adjusting the frequency of actions and patterns, the developers are able to make the villagers seem as if they have their own will in what they do.
Additionally, the villagers will also change their clothes to fit what they are doing, further giving this impression.
Actions where the villagers find something and do something depend on what the villagers happen to see at the time. For example, if they see a bug, they might chase after it to catch it, or they might sit down on furniture that the player has put down. The change from “doing their own thing” to “doing something with what they found” happens automatically when they find something. However, if they changed what they were doing immediately, it would seem too robotic.
As such, in New Horizons, the developers made it so that the villagers will look at the object and ponder about it before switching to interacting with whatever object they found, giving players room to imagine what they might be thinking.
By differentiating the villagers’ appearances, personalities, and actions, as well as leaving just enough room for the players’ imaginations, the developers were able to make each villager unique and beloved by the players. As players interact more and more with the villagers and see how they act, each player will get to make their own special memories with the villagers. As time goes on, the villagers become special to the players without them realizing it.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available for the Nintendo Switch. Recently, Mario furniture series was announced for the game.