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Crossing into the Mainstream: Katsuya Eguchi on Animal Crossing

May 8, 2006
 

Katsuya Eguchi, Animal Crossing mastermind

Katsuya Eguchi is the mastermind behind Animal Crossing, originally planned for the Nintendo 64DD, before moving to the regular Nintendo 64, with sequels on the GameCube and Nintendo DS, the latter version of which has sold millions of copies worldwide. At GDC 2006, Gamasutra had a talk with Eguchi about his design decisions, family life, and perhaps most interestingly, his plans for the Wii version of Animal Crossing.

Gamasutra: So first off, why can't my girlfriend stop playing Animal Crossing?

Katsuya Eguchi: (laughs) I don't think you should be upset, you're really lucky! Just play together!

GS: But she stole my town!

KE: Well yeah, that's a bit unfortunate.

GS: Sometimes I feel like the game punishes players for not playing – though Wild World is a little more forgiving that the original. How do you balance that?

KE: Well I didn't really want people to feel like they were being punished for not playing. That said, weeds do pop up, and cockroaches can appear in town if you haven't been there for a while. So while the game doesn't force you to play, if you want to have a clean town and a clean house, it pretty much requires that you come. But there aren't too many elements that we put in to discourage players. Nothing major anyway. We don't want people to get really annoyed. But if they're a little annoyed by the things that could happen, that probably keeps them coming back to the game.

And it's a game of setting up residence. So just as in real life, there are some things that won't be pleasant. But we consciously avoided any disaster type situations. There are no earthquakes, or storms that tear your buildings down or anything like that.

GS: Do you think the game promotes play through positive or negative reinforcement more?

KE: Talking about people playing together, if you come to visit my town, for instance, and you get there and you say 'wow, look how you designed your town, your home, your clothes, and your accessories', and then you respond to me by saying ‘wow, your stuff looks so nice!', then that's positive motivation to keep playing, of course. And I think that inspires the person who's being praised to do something else, to up the ante to entertain visitors. So hopefully mostly positive.

GS: One thing I've noticed is that it seems like at a certain point collection seems to be the main thing you can do in the game, in terms of a traditional game-style goal (as opposed to rearranging your furniture). Compulsive collection seems to be a common thread in Nintendo's games, and it seems to be assumed that players will just want to do it. Do you think there's a better way?

KE: Well, of course there are people out there who want to collect everything. But really I think that's just one play style. And again, we didn't really design with that in mind as the main goal. Plus we made it so that you could almost never collect everything. You'd have to visit other people's towns and such if you wanted to do that. So you'd have to talk to other human players in order to do it, which is sort of a vehicle for our main goal, which was communication.


Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS

GS: What inspired you to make this sort of game? I'm specifically thinking of the initial drive to make simulated social simulations.

KE: The games I made before Animal Crossing were always pretty tough to finish. And I was thinking as I got older… these games are just too hard! They were also pretty difficult to make. So I wanted to make games that were a little closer to something people my age could play – really that everyone could play. That's one reason. Another thing is that I'd always get home really late. And my family plays games, and would sometimes be playing when I got home. And I thought to myself – they're playing games, and I'm playing games, but we're not really doing it together. It'd be nice to have a play experience where even though we're not playing at the same time, we're still sharing things together. So this was something that the kids could play after school, and I could play when I got home at night, and I could kind of be part of what they were doing while I wasn't around. And at the same time they get to see things I've been doing. It was kind of a desire to create a space where my family and I could interact more, even if we weren't playing together.

GS: What do you think of other communication type games?

KE: I don't really have any opinion on any specific games, but just looking at them as games that are trying to bring people together, I think there are multiple approaches, and any one that works is fine by me. I just hope people keep trying new ways.

One thing I hope the industry moves toward is a gameplay style that's accessible to everyone. We don't want to have a situation where people who start from the beginning have a fine time, and level up and all that, but people who try to join later are surrounded by these powerhouse players that just totally dominate everything. There's a barrier limiting people from playing, then. So I'd like to see games that have no age, gender or race barriers, really.

GS: You're speaking specifically of current MMOs?

KE: Yeah – well of course there are great games within that genre, it's just that for me, even if I see a game I'm really interested in, it's hard to get started. It's too intimidating, and there's too high a barrier for entry. Some of these games make it hard to come in after the initial months that it runs.

GS: What happened with the red tulip problem?

KE: Well, I can say that it wasn't anything like our servers being hacked. But we've made sure that will never happen again. I'm really sorry to anyone who had their house messed up because of it.

GS: A friend of mine moved time forward three weeks in his town, just to see what would happen. Then he reset without saving, and changed the time back. When he got back, his town was all full of weeds. Why did you build that into the game?

KE: Well the first thing is that we knew people would be time traveling – and that's ok! That's one playstyle if people want to do it. But the thing to remember is that the game's in a natural setting, so if you move forward in time, weeds are going to come, plants are going to die, and things like that. So what happened in this case is that when you turn your game on, the game saves where you are. So it saved his progress three weeks into the future, and the game considered that nothing had gotten water for three weeks. It's not built in to punish people, it's just by way of saying that time traveling is dangerous!


Animal Crossing for the GameCube

GS: Regarding the Wii version of Animal Crossing, it seems like it might be nice to let players create their own furniture.

KE: I think it's a great idea. Of course, if you made your own furniture, you'd want to share it with others, to be able to give and receive hand-made stuff. Otherwise why would you make it? To be able to do that, you have to build in some place to keep that in the memory. The save data would be pretty huge, then. That's a challenge I'd like to face, though.

GS: How about storing furniture on Nintendo's servers, since there will be downloadable content to begin with?

KE: Yeah, that approach could work.

GS: Can you say if it will interact with the DS at all?

KE: Hmm. I'm not sure if that's even something I'd want to do. I don't know if we even could, or if we would want to. Frankly, I just don't know if we're going to.

GS: What's the possibility of releasing furniture packs or some such for the DS version?

KE: I don't think there's any room for that on a DS cart, but I think that something like that wouldn't be out of the question on the [Wii]. Using that virtual console concept, and maybe using the servers as you mentioned, we'd be able to provide added content for people. I can't discount the possibility of that.

GS: I asked Keita Takahashi about the Wii, and he said he wasn't interested in it, and that there was just too much emphasis on the controller. Are you worried that Nintendo may be scaring off some developers?

KE: Well, of course we don't want people to think that. Right now most of the information Nintendo has released about the [Wii] concerns the controller, so it may seem that way. As we get closer to launch, more information will be revealed that should help to fill out the picture a bit. There are other elements—some things I don't even know about, I'm sure! I think when it comes out, developers will say: “oh, you can do that!” They're really trying to create new ways of playing, and I hope my fellow developers will grow to feel we're doing that.

GS: You seem to have made a lot of games that star animals. Do you really like them?

KE: (laughs) yeah, I like them!

GS: Which do you like the best?

KE: Hmm…tough question, but probably cats.

GS: Me too.

KE: You too, huh? I love cats.

 

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