Posts by Tag / GAME: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (27)


Nintendo Switch Year in Review

So, Nintendo has sent out these emails about your “Nintendo Switch year in review”. For the past couple of years, the Switch has been my main place to game, so while this isn’t a complete look at my play history (plus it doesn’t have the final week of 2021 because that hasn’t happened yet) it’s the majority of it. And it casts into pretty sharp relief how much my gaming has dropped off this year.

On Switch in 2020, I played 84 games for a total of 637 hours.

In 2021, I played 46 games for 257 hours.

My most-played game in 2020 was Animal Crossing: New Horizons with a total of 270 hours. That’s more than I played all Switch games this year. But the difference isn’t just because it’s Animal Crossing - subtract those hours and 2020 still has 110 more hours than my overall total for 2021.

In 2021, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was still my second most-played Switch game, but with only 22 hours (most of which were right after the big final update). Third place was Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S with 21 hours - almost as many as Animal Crossing. Even my most-played game didn’t break triple digits - it was DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power with 54 hours.

(Y’all are sleeping on DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power, by the way. It was surreal seeing how little coverage this game got in any channels I see and it was a good reminder that gaming culture is not a monolith.)

I’ve mostly accepted and embraced that I game less these days, so I’ve started to cancel the various subscription services I have in that domain. I dropped PlayStation Plus months ago and now I’ve dropped Gamefly (which I’d had continuously for thirteen and a half years). Apple Arcade will probably be next to go and Nintendo Switch Online may not be far behind.


Nintendo Switch Online + Experiment Pack?

So I feel like by far the most interesting thing about the recent Nintendo Switch Online announcements has gone completely unremarked.

As a quick refresher - Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) is the paid subscription service for Nintendo Switch, roughly analogous to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold. Some of what NSO provides is standard for this space - the ability to play multiplayer games online, cloud-based backups of save files (well, mostly), occasional game trials and discounts and other little bonuses. The unusual thing is that it also grants access to a library of NES and SNES games.

Recently it was revealed that a higher subscription tier dubbed the Expansion Pack is coming. By paying extra on top of the normal NSO cost, you can additionally get access to a library of N64 and Sega Genesis games.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about the merits of these offerings and whether they are worth the cost and how they compare to previous-generation’s Virtual Console offerings and the approaches taken by Microsoft and Sony (not to mention how things work on PC) and so on and so on. I’m not here to talk about any of that.

What’s much more interesting to me is that the NSO Expansion Pack will apparently also include access to the upcoming paid DLC expansion for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. That’s fascinating.



Actually Learning to Play: Why There Should Be Easy and Hard Modes for Game UI

Why don’t games have hard and easy modes for the UI? Different players have different needs, and one-size-fits-all solutions shrink a game’s audience.

In a blog post titled The Importance of the New Player’s Experience, Josh Bycer catalogs several types of “new” players for a given game:

  1. Players who are new to this specific game, but familiar with other similar games or the conventions of the genre.
  2. Players who are new to this game’s genre and conventions, but familiar with gaming in general.
  3. Players who are completely new to gaming.
  4. Players who have played this specific game, but have put it down for an extended period and are returning - especially if it is a live-service game which may have changed considerably in the meantime.

All of these players need some amount of guidance (or at least reminders) to understand how to play the game, but the amount and nature of guidance needed varies considerably between them. One might expect games to thus present a few different levels of optional guidance to cater to each group, but it’s typical for games to design their tutorials and onboarding for only the first group, providing little help for the “new” players of other kinds.



Animal Crossing Isn’t For Everybody

Here’s the thing that really frustrates me about Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the reason I’m writing all these posts about how it effectively trolls certain types of players. The way the game is marketed and the way it gets talked about, it’s easy to think that if you don’t enjoy playing Animal Crossing the way it clearly wants to be played, you are playing the game wrong, when in fact it’s completely possible that the game’s highly-deliberate and opinionated design just doesn’t work for you. It looks like a game anybody ought to be able to pick up and enjoy, but it’s actually designed for a very specific type of play experience and thus a very specific type of player.

This is especially insidious given the game’s positioning as chill and casual. If you’re an anxious person and you try to unwind with Animal Crossing but find it impossible to relax with, you might conclude that you are bad at relaxing which will just make everything worse.

So please, keep this in mind: If you find Animal Crossing’s resistance to optimization, untrackable objectives with frequent interruptions, and artificial delays frustrating, it’s not your fault. You haven’t failed the game - the game has failed you.


Animal Crossing’s Endgame Trolls Focusers Even More

With Animal Crossing: New Horizons’s increased tools for town customization - the ability to actually shape the land and water, place furniture and decorations outdoors, and decide where almost every building goes - many people have done crazily impressive things with their islands that are wonderful to behold. These island-scale projects seem to be what you are intended to do once you reach the “endgame” and unlock the terraforming tools. But I found that when I reached that point, I had very little interest in undertaking such projects and was largely done with the game. And I think I’ve figured out why.

Animal Crossing does a lot to deliberately slow the player down, but once you start working on projects as large-scale as terraforming the delays and interruptions both skyrocket. Not only will each project take a long time, but you’ll frequently have to put it down unfinished and remember what work remains to be done.

The first factor is that the terraforming tools themselves are slow and clunky to work with. You don’t get some kind of Sim City-style god mode; you have to physically walk to each grid square (traversing any cliffs or water along the way), carefully position and point yourself, and use the correct terraforming tool. This process is at least free - infrastructure changes (moving houses or shops, building slopes or bridges, or demolishing slopes and bridges) all have costs in the tens or hundreds of thousands of bells, which slows down how much of that you can do, although that’s at least in an organic way that allows you to set and work toward goals.

More interruptive is the fact that these infrastructure changes also have arbitrary delays and limitations attached. You can only be building or demolishing one bridge or slope at a time and it will take at least one day each. You can only move one house or shop per day and it will also take one day each. Perhaps worst of all, you can only plan to place a house or shop in a place that is currently clear.

Want to move a house one square to the right? That will require two moves over two days and a separate house-sized clear area to temporarily hold the house. It will cost a total of 100,000 bells.

Want to swap two houses? Three moves, three days, a house-sized holding area, and 150,000 bells.

Want to raise or lower the ground where some buildings currently are? That will require two moves, two days, a house-sized holding area, and 100,000 bells per building, with terraforming in between.

On top of this is the largely random distribution of furniture and decoration items making it difficult to plan to use specific ones, especially in large numbers. If there’s something you can buy but it’s not currently at the store (or if it’s in limited supply) you can mail-order it - but you can only order five items per day and they won’t arrive until the next day.

Add it all up and a large-scale project like renovating your island can easily take weeks and this seems to be by design. Having a long-term goal and poking at it a bit further every day can be pleasant and satisfying - but to focusers like me, the fact that it’s broken into multiple days by arbitrary interruptions and it’s not possible to track your progress makes it far less pleasant than it could be.

The kicker is that it’s extremely difficult and expensive to experiment with changes (which is especially important for people like me with poor spatial visualization ability). If I think I want ten streetlights in an area, I mail-order them over two days and have them all on the third day. If I try them out and then decide I want garden lamps instead, I’ve just wasted the bells but more importantly two full days of mail orders. And when I did do a medium-scale project to create a little suburb area for four villager houses, after a few days of moves I realized the houses were each one square to the left of where I wanted them - and I just left them there rather than spend 400,000 bells and eight days fixing it.

When I played Dragon Quest Builders (and this also applies to Minecraft, Terraria, etc. etc.) and I wanted to redesign my town, even if it took a lot of time and resources I could do it in a single continuous effort, keeping the goals in my active memory. And at one point I redid a town in Dragon Quest Builders, decided I didn’t like it, and simply reloaded my save.

But if I want to redesign my island in Animal Crossing, I have to make a long-term plan, commit to it without a chance to test it out, and keep track of it over at least several days as it gets interrupted over and over. And since Animal Crossing auto-saves and has no capability to back up a save, any design I end up disliking will take just as much time, effort, and bells to undo.

I like the idea of terraforming and renovating my entire island. I can see why for some players it’s a source of additional enjoyment that extends the game’s lifespan by dozens of hours. But for players like me, it’s a giant chore that doesn’t seem worth it.


Animal Crossing Trolls Focusers

I wrote recently that players can be divided into “multitaskers” who don’t mind interruptive context-switching and “focusers” who find it disruptive and unpleasant. And now, just as I argued that Animal Crossing effectively trolls completionists, I’m going to argue that it also effectively trolls focusers.

Inventory limits and equipment durability are the most common way. Running out of pocket space while you’re in the middle of something (catching bugs, fishing, harvesting fruit, shaking trees, hitting rocks, etc.) is obnoxious in all the usual ways, interrupting your fun with a chore you now have to deal with before you can go back to doing what you wanted to do. But if you’re a focuser, you’ve also got the interrupted goal unpleasantly on pause in the back of your mind the whole time.

Equipment breaking is similar. If you lose your axe in the middle of chopping wood, or break your pole while fishing, or break your shovel while there are still rocks to hit, or whatever, now you have to run back to a crafting station (and possibly home to your storage if you aren’t keeping materials elsewhere) and craft a replacement before you can continue (and man is it frustrating to see a rare bug while you have no net or a balloon gift while you have no slingshot). Though in some ways it’s even worse than the inventory problem, because there are no visible durability meters and unless you’re keeping careful track of your tool use it’s hard to predict when one will break. You can craft and carry extras, but tools don’t stack so doing this means you’ll run out of inventory space more often, and you’re just trading off one interruption against another.

On top of this are the mid-scale daily activities - digging up four fossils, hitting six rocks, talking to ten villagers, shaking every tree, etc. It’s very easy to get interrupted while doing this - maybe you’re shaking trees when you see a balloon gift, or you’re running from rock to rock when you see a fast-flying bug and need to chase it around. Making sure you talk to each villager every day is perhaps the hardest one since they wander around unpredictably and it can be hard to keep track of who you’ve found so far.

Again, if you’re a multitasker this probably won’t bother you, but if you’re a focuser it’ll be frustrating to keep in your head who you’ve talked to and which rocks you’ve hit and how many fossils you’ve found. For the first weeks of my time in New Horizons, I found that this led me to do things like a “rock pass” and a “tree pass” over my island during which I focused fully on that goal, not letting myself get distracted and sometimes literally writing down which villagers I’d seen and which I still needed to find. It turned the game from one I could relax with into one I had to pursue with dogged focus until I finished the once-a-day tasks.

Eventually I realized that there are mobile apps that allow you to create daily checklists prepopulated with the common tasks so you can just keep the app open on your phone and tap the villagers as you talk to them and so forth. This lets you offload the mental overhead of keeping track of those things and just relax and enjoy.

It would have been fairly easy to include this sort of functionality directly in the game itself, where it could auto-update and be even easier and not require separate hardware. It’s not uncommon for games to have that sort of tracker. It seems likely to me that Animal Crossing’s designers deliberately chose not to include it (and continue making that choice with each sequel). For multitaskers, such a feature would probably feel like it was pushing the player into completionism and away from just relaxing and enjoying the game - while the very presence of that feature is required for focusers to relax and enjoy the game.


Animal Crossing: Losing Interest

In the version 1.2.0 update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the interest earned on banked bells was drastically reduced - per Kotaku, “[t]he previous rate was estimated at around 0.5%. Now it appears to be closer to 0.05%, with interest payouts capped at 9,999 bells.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nintendo isn’t being especially transparent about this. The in-game notification doesn’t even say what the interest rate used to be or what it is now, and there has been no public statement about why the change was made. In the absence of any other explanation and with Nintendo’s established patterns, the natural assumption is that the change is intended to handicap “time traveling.” Players who mess with their Switch’s internal calendar in order to earn a bunch of bells quickly through accumulated interest will now only earn about a tenth as much.

Like most cases of forcing a playstyle, this strikes me as misguided. Making this method earn money more slowly isn’t going to make playing without time travel more appealing. Players who time travel are already opting out of the way Nintendo wants them to play - now they just have to go through more tedious steps to play the way they actually want to play. Meanwhile, the players who aren’t time traveling are also punished by this change, with one of the game’s approved methods for earning bells being reduced in effectiveness by ninety percent! If anything, this change punishes the people playing the “right” way worse than it punishes the time travelers!

It’s a small thing in the grand scheme - from money rocks and money trees alone, you can easily earn tens of thousands of bells per day of actual play. But it bothers me that Nintendo would - apparently - hobble one of the game’s many fun details in an attempt to punish people for enjoying it “incorrectly” and as a result make things a little bit worse for everyone.