Animal Crossing / Happy Game Designer

All I want to do is make my house bigger, get cute furniture, wear a fun outfit, chat with my villagers, and make my mark. The pieces are in place. I can feel the pull of achieving my goal. Except, there’s a massive roadblock in my way: Real life is starting to bleed into my role as mayor of a town filled with animal villagers, who want to play hide and seek, and have bug catching tournaments – fun distractions that are bogged down by the tedium of money. I find myself closing my 3DS and trying to discover better use of my time.

To put it bluntly, the economy of Animal Crossing is broken. It always has been. While it might not bother some, the tedium of actually earning bells in these games, for me, overshadows the actual fun. There’s a lot of fun to be had by simply living in this small town, being mayor to my villagers, and decorating my house. Many money making guides exist for Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which all center around the idea of the island as a money making venture. The island is a tropical resort style place, newly expanded for New Leaf, that allows the player to fish for sharks, or catch exotic bugs to bring back to your town’s museum or sell for many bells. The issue with these guides being that the main method of earning money is threefold.

First, the method is tedious as hell, requiring the player to move slowly – as to not scare the bugs – thereby filling your inventory slowly, and going through three or more loading screens back to your town’s main store to get the bells, and repeating ad nauseum. Second, it isn’t a “fast” method as the guide’s claim. It can take any where from 30 minutes to a couple hours, and when you get to later large-scale investments in the game, it’s almost cruel. Third, it’s the antithesis of the game’s main themes. The game really wants to push the idea of community, your relationship with your town, and those who live in it. By investing in your villagers and the town’s infrastructure, like the museum, or the public works, you grow your town, and further your relationship towards those you share the space with. Sending you to a far off island, and demanding your time in such an obtuse way, goes against these ideas. In terms of investing your time, the game wants you to play every day, and only check in with your town from time to time. You’re often just stopping by to chat and shop, and then move on. Sometimes, maybe you’ll do some pattern designing, or a special event, or rearrange your house.  Having to play only at night (the best time to catch bugs), with your town’s time tied to your real world time, and participate in this long boring event, goes against what most of the game is trying to get you to do.

There are also two other methods to reliably earn bells quickly: to engage in the Stalk Market, or the black market. The Stalk Market is a weekly gamble where you invest in turnips that you can sell for higher than you bought them, but it requires going to the island to have that starting capital, and this method can be too unpredictable, due to the random nature of the turnip prices. Plus, waiting for a return is hard, especially as the turnips will expire and be worthless after a week. As for the “black market”, there are ways to sell or trade your villagers to other players, as certain villagers can be highly desirable. This weirdly dark method isn’t reliable though, and if tedious work is the antithesis of the game’s themes, black market villager trading is probably very far removed from the original design document. Animal Crossing’s sunny exterior isn’t supposed to hide a dark underbelly, despite some great fan fiction arguing otherwise.

Many people (including myself) are hoping for a new Animal Crossing soon (hopefully on the Switch) that will provide a new ways to interact with your town, your villagers, and your own character. While there’s an iOS game in the works, I posit that we have already seen the future of the main line franchise, and it’s found in my actual favorite Animal Crossing game, Happy Home Designer.

Art by Ellie Horie

"Animal Crossing’s sunny exterior isn’t supposed to hide a dark underbelly, despite some great fan fiction arguing otherwise."

A side release that got less than stellar reviews, this version is looked down upon as a hollow copy of the mainline Animal Crossing games. It keeps the same great aesthetic, but removes most of the depth of creating your own house, interacting your villagers, and allowing you to explore and collect your town’s landscape and resources.  Instead it focuses exclusively on the home designing element, and tasks you with a Happy Home Academy (Nook’s Homes) job, giving you the role of designer for villager’s houses and the town’s actual structures, such as the school, or the cafe. The former is boring, and shallow, and while the new control methods make the room customization easy, the houses ended up feeling sort of flat. On the flip side though, creating the town’s buildings is one of the best things the series has to offer. They end up being large structures that allow for a great deal of creativity and, after you’re done, offer a montage of Happy Home employees interacting with the space, making what you’ve created feel real. It’s this aspect that so highly elevates Happy Home Designer for me, while the broken economy of New Leaf made me turn it off, and never go back.

My own little villager from New Leaf.

My own little villager from New Leaf.

The future Animal Crossing game needs to blend these two games, and with the new features from Happy Home Designer, give Nintendo a perfect “job” for the player. Have the player take over the academy from Tom Nook and rename it the “Happy Town Academy”. The player then  would be tasked with creating town buildings and townspeople’s houses/apartments, but be paid bells for it. The player could also still have their own house, go shopping, change outfits, create patterns, donate to the museum, and all that side stuff  – given the bonus of a reliable and fun revenue stream. The big public works projects could be gated by how many villager’s houses you do, as well as by time, to not have the player speed through the content. The town could now be a city thanks to the Switch’s processing power, allowing for an apartment building and bigger structures. You could even keep the town small and familiar by having you travel to “other” towns and design for those villagers, while maintaining your own small roster.

Allow the player to run a business, and even allow the player to invest in the businesses they build to allow for a passive earning of bells. To stop player’s from time travelling and earning millions, make the bells fill up a “container” of sorts that has to be emptied every couple of days to allow the bells to continue to increase. Also, on that note, give the players an option to “go on vacation”, and set a sleep mode for the town, so that villagers don’t leave while the player is away, and the town won’t degrade. It’s an idea already seen in many “freemium” games, but would help to alleviate many of the game’s economical problems.

I’m no game designer, and there are probably a variety of problems with my various suggestions from many perspectives, such as programming and game balance. However, I have to think that Happy Home Designer was a half-step, allowing the team to experiment with new features that will make their way into the next full Animal Crossing release. It’s been almost two full years since Happy Home Designer’s release, and I think the next game is very close on the horizon. The Switch is a perfect new home for the series, allowing for more graphical power and memory, giving the option for towns to be even bigger and better this time around while maintaining the portability. They can even include the option to keep using the collectible NFC cards they made for Happy Home Designer, and give those a new life in this new entry.

I have a strong affinity for the Animal Crossing series and will no doubt dive deep into a new entry. I just hope that the game respects the player’s time, and doesn’t ask them to take on a tedious job just to pay that crook of a Tanuki.

Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.

Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.

When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.

Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4