Staying up to date, while at the same time pleasing fans, is quite possibly one of the biggest issues for developers of games in franchises such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. The games have been around for many years and have amassed a huge fan-base that arguably expects Nintendo's popular franchises to "blow their minds" with each sequel released.
The task is especially difficult for series that have been around for 10 or even 30 years. "To be honest, yes, I always feel [frustrated about that],' said Animal Crossing's Katsuya Eguchi to USgamer recently at the Game Developer Conference (GDC) 2014.
He went on to say:
With [Nintendo's] products, it's only when people play them and enjoy them that the product actually has value. We constantly have to create something new and provide something new. When we put out a product, at that time, it’s the best thing we can offer. But as time passes, we look back and realize that it’s not going to work now. We’re in a different environment. The world outside is a different place. We have to constantly think about what we can create that’s new and refreshing for people who play. That’s the constant sense of pressure that I feel.
According to a discussion during his GDC panel, Eguchi and Animal Crossing: New Leaf director Aya Kyogoku said one of the struggles they've faced with the Animal Crossing series is keeping the newest title feeling fresh without completely abandoning its "fundamental essence." This is a problem many Nintendo veterans are unfortunately familiar with. They want to stay true to what the audience loves while at the same time changing it up enough to keep people interested. The main question is, how do you freshen up a game like Animal Crossing enough without betraying it's roots?
Eguchi and the team made subtle changes with Animal Crossing: New Leaf which gave the impression that almost nothing had changed. The game was adapted for 3D graphics, added new objectives, objects and an option to make the town self-sustain even when you aren't playing. The additions to New Leaf gave new life to the AC series as well as increase long term playability which, according to Kyogoku, "reflect the team's awareness that play habits and expectations have changed" since the game's predecessors.
As the series grows, time passes outside. Technology changes. The way players feel and think, their perspective about gaming changes. As a franchise, to stay relevant, we have to evolve along with that change. For example, that beautiful town ordinance may reduce some of the stress the game could cause. Things like that, we have to take them into consideration and constantly think about them and adjust to how the world has changed around us.
Games like New Leaf perfectly demonstrate how Nintendo is able to keep up to date with the world on their own terms. Both Eguchi and Kyogoku stress that the most important factor is to "never lose sight of its fundamentals"
Starting with the Nintendo 64, the communication aspect of Animal Crossing back then was about communicating with your family, or your friends that come over, and you would play after you go home. It would be communication with people you actually share a physical space with. As technology becomes more advanced, it expands the scope of what we can do. With the introduction of memory cards on the GameCube or the wireless Internet connection now, the scope of who you can reach out to and who you can communicate with has expanded. In real life, back in the day, people would gather physically to talk about their lives – here’s what’s been going on, here’s what’s happening around the world. Now, with the introduction of the internet, that’s done on a global scale, and very quickly. I feel like, as Nintendo’s hardware takes in those new technologies like the wireless internet connection, we’re able to be in sync and move in parallel with how the world is moving forward. I feel like the introduction of technology into our games is a reflection of how we’re moving in parallel with the rest of the world
The Animal Crossing team seems to have embraced the future, and most importantly, kept the interest of the fans. The title scored a spot on the 10 best selling games list of 2013 with a grand total of seven and a half million copies sold. It will definitely be interesting to see where the series goes in the future. When asked about the future of the game, Eguchi admitted that the way the series is set up now "caters to portable systems" but that it wouldn't be impossible or improbable to bring it to a console once again. If that were to happen, he said that the focus would be "how to fully utilize the features of that console, and how to integrate that into the concept and the world of Animal Crossing, to create a new way of playing Animal Crossing." Are you excited to see what's next for the series?