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At GDC, producer Katsuya Eguchi and co-director Aya Kyogoku gave a talk about the development of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. What made it interesting -- beyond the usual "peek inside Nintendo" or excitement of getting insights into one of the best games of last year -- was how the game's development affected the team, and how the team affected the game.
The core of the Animal Crossing franchise is communication, Kyogoku said. And that had an affect on the team: communication was smoother, and the team was more social, more collaborative, more creative, and less stressed out.
These free-flowing ideas from a diverse team resulted in a better game, said Eguchi, with a wider range of content -- which allowed a bigger audience to appreciate the game in turn.
To get a further insight into how this all played out, Gamasutra sat down with Kyogoku and Eguchi the day after their presentation to ask more questions about just how Animal Crossing: New Leaf came to be, amidst this unusually creative and relaxed team atmosphere.
I was particularly interested at the end of your talk, at the idea that having a diverse team can help to create a game that appeals to a lot of people. I was wondering if you could talk about how you saw that play out with Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Katsuya Eguchi: I think one reason that it's necessary to have diversity in the development team is -- not just for Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but Animal Crossing as a series -- we started off with the approach that this is a different kind of living space that people can move into and spend time in. So in that sense, we needed to make sure that there was something in there that anybody could find interesting or relevant to them. I think it was very important to have diverse teams so we can provide a diversity of content that people can relate to.
As it's been several years since we started creating Animal Crossing games, as the years go by, there are developers that have been there for awhile, and they're obviously a little bit older, and we get new developers that join us and they're a little bit younger. On top of that, there are more female developers that have joined the team. At this point, I think the work environment is set up so that it's gotten a lot easier to create a diverse development team.
As there are a lot of features involved in Animal Crossing games, and even in the real world there's been a change in society, in that there are a lot of smart devices available. For the younger crowd, that's kind of their default device. For someone like me, it's difficult to understand that. To have new members join the team who can show us, teach us, and make us realize how we can shape and style the game so it's easier for people are used to using smart devices, that's certainly been a real benefit for our development team.
Likewise, there are people who are very adept and experienced in using game devices, and there are others who are not. For a gamer to make a game and have it make sense for them, that explanation may not make a lot of sense for people who aren't used to it. In that sense, again, it's great to have a diverse team comprising people who play games and people who don't.
I played a lot of New Leaf -- I played it solidly for probably about two months. What I noticed while playing it is that my goals would often change, and I'd begin to play with a new goal in mind.
Aya Kyogoku: Communication is really at the core of Animal Crossing, as we've mentioned. There's not really a finite end to what we call "communication." Likewise, there's not an end goal where once you reach this goal, you finish it. Like communication, it doesn't end.
But at the same time, naturally, if there are no goals, it's very difficult to keep playing -- just like anything else that we do in life. So we did make sure to add features that really allow users to come up with their own goals and find something that interests them, and for them to be able to focus on that.
I've seen entire blogs devoted to sharing fabric patterns, and people whose Dream Addresses get very famous. We're used to seeing this kind of community on the PC side. Were you surprised to see so much activity?
[Ed. note: Dream Addresses let you visit other players' towns even if you aren't friends; player-designed fabric patterns can be shared via QR codes that the 3DS can recognize.]
AK: The initial reasoning behind creating something like the Dream Address, or the ability to turn your patterns into a QR code was that, initially, Animal Crossing was a way to communicate with other people. Usually it started off with people you were living with -- your family. Or maybe your friends, you were playing with them, and Animal Crossing became a topic of conversation in real life.
But we tried to really reach out to those who might not have friends nearby who were playing Animal Crossing. And they could tap into the internet to really share this idea of Animal Crossing. With that in mind to know there's so much activity online with the Dream Address or the QR codes, it makes us really happy, and it makes me feel very happy that we included features like this.
One of the things I find interesting about Nintendo is that, in the West, people assume that features have to be in every game. For example, every game has to have an online multiplayer mode. But it seems to me that the features are more determined when they fit with the theme of the game. You're speaking about communication, or, for example, Super Mario 3D World doesn't have online, it only has local multiplayer. Do I have it right? Is that how you decide on what features to include?
KE: You are absolutely right. Basically, when we create games, we really think about, "What would be the best way for the players to play this game to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of this?" So with Super Mario 3D World, we really felt that it's a game where the maximum amount of joy can be had when you are in the same room as your friends, getting rowdy, and enjoying the game together.
But with Animal Crossing, there are two different components -- there is one component where you dedicate your time to the game alone. And then there's time where you want to show others what you've created, or you want to see what others have created. So, in that sense, I think there's time spent alone and time spent together. For Animal Crossing, the ability that after you create something you could connect with someone immediately to share that was really an important feature to have.
Depending on what the game is, we really think through what the best way to play that game is, and then add the features that best support and allow that to happen.
In the presentation, you mentioned getting all kinds of ideas for items and characters from the team and then incorporating them into the game. Is that a typical or atypical way for Nintendo to work?
AK: It depends on the game, but I think that basically, we are always shooting to provide the consumer with the best product possible. And for that, if it's an idea or concept that might improve it, we'd definitely want to hear about it and we'd want to take all of those ideas.
But at the same time, for a game like Animal Crossing, because the volume of characters and items is so big, and there's a necessity for it to be really diverse, that really catered towards getting ideas from many different people, and it just provided us with a lot of opportunities for people to provide ideas to us.
You also discussed how the overall theme of communication helped foster communication within the team.
AK: Communication in the workplace is important. If you have good communication it leads to your work being better, and the product you put out being better. In that sense, it's true regardless of whether you're creating games or not, in any kind of place.
I think that when we were developing Animal Crossing, to have that kind of communication made me realize the importance of having good communication in the workplace, and it really fostered good communication.