You also said that there wasn't the same level of stress toward the end of the project that you would expect to see.
AK: Even with the Animal Crossing team, there are definitely situations where I personally was stressed out, or tired, and I could also tell when someone else was tired or stressed out. In terms of that, it's like any other development team.
Because of the core of what we were building is communication, it really makes you realize and keeps the idea of the importance of having good communication in your mind. It gave me more of an opportunity to reflect on that. Instead of acting a certain way, it gives me a chance to realize I could act a different way to keep the idea of communication in front of my mind.
KE: Just to add onto that a little bit, I think there are several reasons that development teams tend to be stressed toward the end of the development cycle. One is exhaustion, or being tired. Another one is that you have ideas or concepts that you want to share, but you can't, because you know that even if you share them, nobody is going to listen; that kind of stress.
Because Animal Crossing is about communication, we were constantly communicating with each other. So you start to build a relationship with your development team and you start to be able to share things you wouldn't feel as comfortable sharing before.
For example, if a designer had a certain feature planned out, and maybe a graphic designer took that implemented feature and started playing it and thought, "This isn't as enjoyable as I would like," normally it would be very difficult to share that with someone who's in charge of creating it. But with the constant communication, the relationship that we built, they can openly share their feelings. The person receiving the feedback can openly accept that.
If someone's idea is taken an implemented, it only adds to the sense of joy. So I feel like being able to have communication as the core has really smoothed out our relationships in the development team.
Did the team, during development, play the game together a lot?
AK: Yes, we definitely did play a lot together. But of course, in the beginning phases of development, there is not much of a game to play, so some of it was very piecemeal, what we had to play. Once testing began, it wasn't only the team involved in testing that was playing; even the development team was playing. And it wasn't just for the purpose of discovering and finding bugs, but really to able to play the game from a player's perspective, and to really think about what would make playing the game even more enjoyable.
Did that phase go on for a long time? Because one thing that impresses me about the game is how much is in it, and also how one player might see some things and another might see other things, and some players might never see them at all.
AK: In Animal Crossing, because there's a lot of content, and almost everything is related, we can't just take a piece of the game and hand it off to testing and say, "Hey, have a look at it." We pretty much have to be at a state where everything is in before we can hand it off to testing, so that they can really get a complete experience, and look out both for bugs and user experience-related things. So in that sense, we had to take a lot of time looking at it before testing started. And we also had to make sure that, even after testing started, that we were able to add in ideas as they became viable and necessary.
I got a sense from what you said in your GDC lecture that you are creating a small, private world for people where they can express themselves.
KE: That's correct. The concept of the game is that you've got your real world, but there's another world where you can go in and express yourself freely -- whether that's through custom designs, or arranging your room, or arranging your village. That's the core concept of Animal Crossing.
I played a lot of it, and a lot of people I know played a lot of it, too. I visited their towns, and I feel like I did learn things about people that I didn't know before I visited their towns.
KE: Beyond their taste or sense of design, you can learn, "Oh, this person's organized," or "this person's messy." Things like that really come to light.
I feel like I learned more about them than I expected to be able to learn from a game like this. Were you able to see that as well?
AK: Do you mean that as individuals, going to another town and being surprised we were able to find out more about that person?
Just that they were able to express themselves, and also that people felt very comfortable about doing what they wanted about their towns, as well -- that they were able to make it a personal space.
AK: Me, personally, I play the game, and I express myself. But instead of recreating what my life is in real life, I usually do something that I wish I could do. For example, my house is bigger and cleaner than my real-life house. In that sense, it's really a way to express ourselves, and that's how I play the game, so I wouldn't say that I'm surprised. But I have been surprised at some of the things people have created in their level and intricacy, and how creative they were.
Of course the games we play together bring us closer together, but the way the game brought couples or friends closer together was a bit different than what we usually see in games. Can you talk about how your hopes for the game played out in terms of that?
AK: As I mentioned in the presentation yesterday, communication is really the axis that Animal Crossing revolves around -- and it's not just communication, but also improving communication. In that sense, it's improving the communication with your family and friends, between couples, or even between coworkers. We really wanted to have Animal Crossing be like a catalyst: through Animal Crossing, people can really establish and build relationships and communication. This is the goal we created Animal Crossing with, so to hear that this has been the case makes me really happy.
KE: As I mentioned earlier, you get to see parts of the other person that you don't sometimes get to see. Like I mentioned, you get to see "this person's organized" or "this person's a mess," but I think you get to find out how welcoming or service-oriented a person is -- like, what things are there to welcome a visitor when they come to town? Or in a couples situation, what kind of surprise they've prepared for their significant other.
I feel that there are many things in this game that have the potential to express those kinds of feelings, and it provides a lot of opportunity to get to know that other person, to foster communication. In that sense, I think it provides a different way than bringing people closer together than other games, perhaps.
Obviously designing a game like Mario isn't easy, because there is a lot of attention to detail required. But the interaction between Mario and an enemy is a very concrete interaction. Designing for communication seems a lot more abstract. Can you talk about how you approached that?
KE: I think that with a game like Mario or even Zelda, the communication is really between the creators and the game and the players of the game. A designer might create a course for Mario and the player will play that course and say, "Oh, I was successfully able to beat it," or in a dungeon, "I was able to successfully solve a puzzle." But in Animal Crossing, there's communication between a player and a player, and the developer is just providing space for that communication to happen. I think that's the big difference in perspective.