Author’s note: In the time since this article was first published, Village Monsters was released as an Early Access title. It is available on Steam and itch.io for $14.99 and was part of itch.io’s Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality.
Village Monsters is an upcoming life sim set in an abandoned digital world. Inspired by games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, the game tasks players with helping to build up a village in which the world’s monsters have gathered. Developer Josh Bossie recently took to Kickstarter seeking $16,000 to fund the game’s development.
I recently had a chance to sit down and speak with Bossie about the game. We discussed what inspired him to develop the game, some of the differences between it and its inspirations, some of the intricacies of the game’s abandoned world, and more.
Me: What inspired you to create Village Monsters?
Bossie: I don’t want to overwhelm with my life story or anything, but I would say that the biggest inspiration was that, last year, I was suffering with depression and anxiety and I had been working at this office job since I graduated college—for the last seven years—and I was just really unhappy. I was really unhappy with where my life was going. I was really unhappy with what I doing.
I’d always wanted to create video games, ever since I was a kid, and, as I got older and older, it felt like that dream was slipping. I sort of reached a breaking point. I said “you know what, I want to do this. It’s in my power to do it.”
Village Monsters was always a game that was sort of in my back pocket as one of the games that I would create if I ever did go out and create games of my own. I’ve always really enjoyed games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley and those types of life sim games. Village Monsters represents my take on that genre, but with some twists and some improvements that I’ve always wanted to see. Especially in terms of Animal Crossing, Nintendo always sort of does the same thing over and over again. This was my chance to do something like that, but with all of the improvements and all of the features that I would want.
That’s kind of a rambling answer, but, in short, I really wanted to create video games and, after I reached that breaking point at my old job, I knew that this was my chance to do so.
What are some of the improvements that you’ve made to the formula?
A lot of them are mostly, I would say, quality of life things.
No Tom Nook.
[laughs] Yes. There’s no Tom Nook, no mortgage that you have to pay off or anything like that.
I guess it would be easier to explain if I gave an example. So, you have a house, similar to Animal Crossing, but, unlike Animal Crossing, where, when you upgrade, you basically are just adding these 8×8 rooms, then 12×12 rooms, then 16×16 rooms, the rooms that you’re adding in Village Monsters—or, rather, the upgrades that you have in Village Monsters—are much more impactful.
For example, instead of just adding a different room, you can add a kitchen. Then, that kitchen, you can add different appliances to it and actually do different actions in it. You can add a secret room. You can add a garden, so that you can actually do things outside your home. You can have a yard, so you can actually put furniture outside your home.
I saw something about buildings. Are those separate from the house upgrades?
It is, yeah. So basically, the village that you’re in, unlike Animal Crossing, it is handcrafted, so it’s a bit more like Stardew Valley or what-have-you, where the buildings and the village itself [are] created by me.
The way it works is that, when you first start out, it’s going to be pretty run-down. It’s going to be pretty basic. As you progress through the game, as you help the villagers out, you’ll have opportunities to grow the village: new buildings [and] new decorations. You can actually influence the look, as well. It’s a little bit like the ability to add a bridge or something like that, but it’s more advanced in the sense that you are actually choosing which shops go in. You’re choosing where different things get built. The idea is that it should reflect your personal playstyle by the time that the village is completed.
What do some of those buildings do? Do they unlock more activities?
Yeah, they unlock more activities. For example, you have this building called the Historical Society, which is a little bit similar to the museum because it’s a place you can go and you can donate things that you find, like fish and any critter that you find. As you upgrade the Historical Society, you actually get the ability to learn different skills that are related to those activities.
For example, when you catch critters, you need a bug net to do that. As you upgrade the Historical Society, you can take a class that lets you figure out how to do it a lot more stealthily, so you can catch them faster. Then you can learn to trap different critters, so you can actually catch critters without even needing to be around. You can set a trap and then check it later. Things like that.
So it’s almost like an RPG type of progression, but, instead of it being tied just to your character, it’s tied to the village itself.
What inspired the abandoned video game setting?
That’s a good question. I like a lot of abandoned things. I like apocalypse stories. I like the idea of lost place and all that. When I was thinking about a setting for Village Monsters, it kept occurring to me that “what would a lost digital world look like?” We’ve had plenty examples of what a lost planet looks like in terms of a New York City that’s been overtaken by forest and land and all that. Obviously, that’s a very organic retaking. What would that look like in a digital world?
The more I kept thinking about it, the more I started thinking about “what happens when you turn that digital world off?” It’s a little bit like, I don’t know, Wreck-It Ralph or something, where you imagine that all of those characters in the game are real. What are they doing when you turn that game off? What happens to that world when the game gets turned off?
So that was really the biggest seed in my mind that made me think that it would be cool if you explored the idea that there’s this video game that you hadn’t played for a couple decades and you turned it back on and it has completely changed. Maybe it was once this grand RPG and now, instead of you playing a human that’s going through this rather generic RPG, all those monsters that were your enemies are now kind of just living in this village and now you just live in the village with them.
The idea kind of goes beyond the backstory, as well. There is going to be a story that runs throughout the game. A lot of it will be based on exploring this idea of an abandoned digital world that’s experiencing glitches and bugs and things that are sort of messing it up. The people inside the game are really powerless to do anything about it, but you, being an outside force, might be able to help them out.
So it’s supposed to be an old RPG that’s been abandoned for a while.
Exactly. You can picture it as almost an old Final Fantasy type of game. No one’s played it for 20 years, so all of those random encounter monsters got bored of waiting around and decided to do something on their own.
I read on the Kickstarter that the story is going to be told through “unusual methods.” Is it only going to be told through unusual methods or are there going to be major story events?
A little bit of both. My biggest goal is to make the story sort of as optional as possible. I want to make sure that, if you just want to play the game as a relaxing life sim, you can do that and you’re not really pestered by the story.
A big part of the story is just going to be discovery. What I mean by “unusual methods” is, as you gather items that have stories related to them, you’ll begin to piece together a grander narrative related to those items.
But in terms of major story events, there will be a quest system. I’m calling them “Mysteries.” Those will be the big story beats. You might receive a mystery that is related to the story and, when you complete it, you’ll get some dialogue. You’ll get some bigger, meatier story than the other parts.
So you’re trying to make it as seamless as possible, so that it it doesn’t feel like you’re following a story.
Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to get in your way. The idea is that the story’s there for the people that want it and, if you don’t, that’s fine, as well. Maybe there might be people who weren’t interested in story, but then, as they discover it on their own [through] these seamless methods, like you said, they do get more interested and they can start picking away at it.
It’s very nonlinear. It is a game in which there are virtual days, right? The days go by, the season seasons go by, etc. and I needed to be able to account for somebody who wants the story from day one and somebody who wants the story a year later. That’s primarily why it works the way it does.
And then it also doesn’t influence the way that they play the game. They don’t drop everything and just go looking for the story.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. In fact, the way that I did the Mysteries is I tried to pump the brakes as much as possible. I know how I play games; I would get five, six, seven quests and do them all at once. I’m trying to avoid that happening as much as possible. For example, you can only grab one Mystery at a time. I’m hesitant to say the word “dripfeed” because it has a negative connotation to it, but I want to make sure that it has a relaxed pace to match the style of the game, as well.
Is the time system based on real time or in-game time?
It’s in-game time. That is another difference [from] Animal Crossing. There are going to be different special events and things that happen depending on what time it is in the real world, but I’m not quite ready to talk about that.
Will villagers move in and out of the village or will there be a predetermined set of villagers?
They won’t move out, but the villagers you start with won’t be the final amount either. I mentioned things about the story. Independent of the story, you’ll have the ability to explore the world outside of the village and there will be opportunities to find different monsters that are either in trouble or they’re stubborn or they don’t want to leave their situation. If you help them out, they will actually join the village and move in.
To your point, this isn’t an Animal Crossing situation where it’s dynamic. Each villager, again, is handcrafted. They have their own personalities, their own schedule, their own look, and that kind of thing. So, once they move in, they’re kind of there for the long haul.
And it’s also not linked to the internet, so they don’t “move to someone else’s village.
No. [laughs] Not yet. Not yet.
So it’s more organic. You find a villager, they come back, and they become a permanent staple.
Yeah, exactly. It kind of goes back to that theme of the village. You’re building it up. You’re advancing it. You’re progressing it. One of the ways is to improve your buildings. The other way is to get the villagers to move in.
So, ultimately, you’re rebuilding the world instead of just living in it.
Yeah. I would say that that’s definitely accurate. You’ll have the ability to, like you said, rebuild the world, to help fix it. I think that’s the big thing. It’s not necessarily a grand RPG where you’re the only one capable of defeating the big bad, but because you are, like I said, this external force, you have the ability to go in and help them, which is important because, in the beginning, a lot of these monsters, they’re friendly, but they might not trust you. You’re the first human they’ve seen in 10 [or] 20 years. This is one way to gain their trust as well as help this world out.
Interesting question. This is an an alternate reality where games evolve when nobody plays them. What would happen if this game just kept going without anybody playing it?
[laughs] I’m glad you thought about that. It’s going to be one of those situations where it’s a good thing you showed up. The world has always been kind of increasingly experiencing these faults, these bugs, these glitches and it’s getting a lot worse. The idea is that, if you hadn’t showed up and the world had kept progressing, the digital state of the game would have collapsed and just turned into digital mush. It would have been too buggy to play, all of the villagers would disappear into the game code, and it would collapse upon itself.
So it would still exist. It would just be beyond recognition.
It would be, yes.
I also saw in one of the GIFs that there’s a pet system of sorts. How does that work?
A great part of being a solo developer is that, sometimes, things just happen by accident and I’m able to just say “hey, that’s cool. I’ll keep it.”
So I was testing out some new critter behavior. There’s a hedgehog and I was trying to make sure that the hedgehog ran correctly. I left it in my home, the player’s home, as I was testing it out. After I was done testing it, I left the house and I did other things in the game. I kept coming back and the hedgehog was still there and I thought “this is kind of cool. I kind of like the fact that the hedgehog is in the home and it sort of feels like a pet.” So I kept it. I decided to make that a feature, in terms of being able to tame critters that you catch.
The way it works is that you are able to catch quite a few animals and bugs and weird things that you find in your travel. All of them, actually, can be brought back to your home and then tamed, so long as you have the proper furniture items to tame them.
The way that works is that, at first, they are still kind of wild and afraid of you and will try to run from you and all that, but, over time, you’ll be able to feed them and try to gain their trust.
The cool thing—and again, I didn’t plan for any of this; it just started happening—is that some of the critters are very weird. They have very strange abilities. The one I always use as an example is there is a snowflake elemental, which is kind of what it sounds like. It’s just a snowflake, but it’s very cold and it makes whatever room or area it’s in very cold. So, if you can tame that, you now have the ability to make things around you very cold because you have that snowflake with you. You’d be able to bring that snowflake to, say, a river or a lake or something and it can freeze it over and now you can cross. That’s something that you would not have been able to do if you had not tamed something like that snowflake elemental.
Or you can turn your home into a winter wonderland.
Exactly. I think the real example I used was, during hot summer months, it’s basically an air conditioner.
What happens if the Kickstarter fails?
That’s a good question. So, I mentioned earlier how I quit my day job to work on this game. Before I quit, I tried to be as smart as possible. I saved up as much money as I could. The way I’ve framed the Kickstarter is that the Kickstarter’s supplementing my own savings to make sure that I can make it, without any interruption, between now and next October—October 2018, when it releases.
If the Kickstarter does fail, I still have savings [that] I can pull from. From there, I just need to make some hard decisions. I probably won’t be able to hire a composer to make music; I’ll have to figure out something on that end.
I guess that the answer I’m dancing around is that, no matter what happens, I’m going to get the game out. It would just require greater sacrifices if the Kickstarter does fail.
Village Monsters is currently on Kickstarter with 16 days left. As of this writing, it has garnered $6151 of its $16,000 goal. A demo is available here. The full game is set to be released in October 2018.