As Nintendo Evolved, So Did Animal Crossing

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Posted by patrickklepek (4533 posts) -

When Aya Kyogoku started as a designer at Nintendo, she was the first woman employed in Nintendo’s Entertainment Analysis & Development department. Most recently, Kyogku was the project lead on Animal Crossing: New Leaf, where women made up nearly half of the development team.

Kyogoku has been with Nintendo since 2003.

Entertainment Software Analysis & Development is better known as Nintendo EAD, an internal division responsible for some of the company’s most groundbreaking games, including Mario, F-Zero, and others. It also includes Animal Crossing, a series that started development on Nintendo 64, though most of the world never played that version.

I spoke with Kyogoku at the Game Developers Conference this year, an event where she joined the producer of New Leaf, Katsuya Eguchi, on stage to talk about how diversity helped their team develop a better game. Eguchi and Kyogoku argued the wide range of experiences from team members helped make New Leaf the most successful Animal Crossing yet.

When Kyogoku joined EAD in 2003, she was the lone woman. But she didn’t give that much thought when she joined.

“I didn’t really think of myself as a female game designer, just that I’m a game designer,” said Kyogoku. “So when I entered Nintendo, I saw it as a new job with things to learn. So there was pressure I felt from that, but I never felt pressure as a female game designer.”

Given Kyogoku gave a talk heavily emphasizing how game development benefits from people of varying backgrounds, she appreciates how the culture has changed, even within Nintendo.

“When I first got involved in the industry, compared to now, there’s a lot more women,” she said. “Simply looking at the teams, I feel like ‘Wow, there’s a lot more women!’ Having people of all backgrounds and life experiences is great to have on a development team. Just looking at it makes me very happy.”

That Kyogoku ended up working on the Animal Crossing series makes sense, considering her background. Kyogoku confessed to having spent many hours exploring Ultima Online when she was a student.

“Rather than doing into dungeons and fighting monsters,” she said. “I would go into the neighboring field and go harvest some cotton or mine some ore. I would spend a lot of time doing that.”

Sounds a little bit like playing Animal Crossing, no?

Rather than fighting monsters, Kyogoku spent her time mining and selling cotton in Ultima Online, a game that's still online.

Kyogoku found herself spending more and more time in Ultima Online, eventually having to give up the game.

“It was starting to affect my personal life, as well. [laughs]” she said. “As I got into game development, I realized that I can’t spend all this time playing games if I’m going to try and make games, as well. That was my graduation out of Ultima Online.”

Working at a game developer, she admitted it was pretty easy to sneak in some gaming sessions during the day, since it’s not weird to have a game console at your desk.

When Kyogoku joined Nintendo, she didn’t start on Animal Crossing. She did script design on The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess before becoming a sequence director on Animal Crossing: City Folk. She eventually graduated to director with New Leaf.

City Folk, however, was an interesting time for Kyogoku and the Animal Crossing team. City Folk was the most popular Animal Crossing yet, and it would have made sense to make another that followed in the footsteps of City Folk. But after reflecting on the game, the team realized the series was becoming less interesting, and wanted to tweak the formula. The team apparently received little pushback on this idea.

“As a company, I don’t think if a team wants to move in a certain direction, I don’t think the company tries to get in the way of that,” said producer Katsuya Eguchi. “This happens not only with Animal Crossing, but with any game. We always do a postmortem after a game has been released, and there’s things [where we say] 'we should do this, we should do that, we shouldn’t do this, we shouldn’t do that.' Things we need to go through as a development team. The company, as a whole, does that, as well. If the development team feels like this is the direction they would like to take it for the next installment of any game, the company really supports us in that way.”

Eguchi was a designer on Super Mario Bros 3!

Eguchi has been involved with Animal Crossing since the beginning, and the influences he brought to the series proved surprising. Eguchi used to love playing Diablo. (But not Diablo II, since it became too complicated.)

“I love the fact that you can collect all these things, whether it’s rings or equipment, and wear it on yourself,” he said. “Then, you go deep into a dungeon, and when you lose, you drop it! I just had so much fun asking people ‘please, can you help me go collect all my gear that I left?’ [laughs] Just the fact that you go into the game, you lose that, and then you have to ask your friends in real-life and then go back into the game with them, it kind of mirrors the concept of communication that we really wanted to emphasize in Animal Crossing. Perhaps something like that, the roots can be found in a game like Diablo.”

Communication is a key element to Animal Crossing. One can play the game alone, but it’s only part of the story. Traveling to other towns, sharing fashion creations--it's is a huge design element. To that end, it’s hardly a surprise to learn Eguchi and Kyogoku find often play multiplayer games together.

“Of the recent games I’ve played, I know it’s a different company, but I enjoyed Monster Hunter,” said Eguchi. “ With movies like Lord of the Rings, I feel like the archer is the coolest. [laughs] Me, personally, I’m more like a dwarf...”

“When I play, I’m not very good at the controls,” said Kyogoku. “I don’t use weapons like the katana or bigger broadswords, so I use a smaller sword. Once I read in a magazine that there was going to be a collaboration and you could get Link’s bow and arrow! That’s when I converted to an archer. [laughs]

“I really think playing together with friends is a big element,” said Eguchi. “In order to play with friends, you have to be at a similar level. Because of that, you tend to play a little bit more by yourself to reach that level, so you’re not left behind by your friends. At the same time, just getting together, whether it’s local or wireless or over the Internet, really drives me to play a lot more. It’s a similar way in Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

"In 20 [or] 30 years, when the users in that time are playing, I would like to say 'when mom and dad were young, we were playing Animal Crossing, too!'"

If a Nintendo game is successful, chances are there will be another entry. Though Nintendo has not announced another Animal Crossing, I’ll shave my head if there’s not another one in a few years on another Nintendo platform. It’s not hard to imagine Animal Crossing will continue for many, many years to come, and Kyogoku and Eguchi have given thought to such a legacy.

“It’s hard to say what Animal Crossing is going to look like in 10 years,” said Kyogoku, “but I do hope it’s still around and it’s reached out to an even wider range of audience. At the same time, I really hope it stays as franchise that’s both enjoyable to newcomers and people who’ve enjoyed the franchise for all this time.”

“In 20 [or] 30 years, when the users in that time are playing, I would like to say “when mom and dad were young, we were playing Animal Crossing, too!”” said Eguchi. “It would be great if we could say something like that. It might actually turn out that I’m more of a grandpa or grandma, but even then, it’d be great to say 'back in my day, we used to play like this!'"

Staff
#1 Posted by Morningstar (2157 posts) -

Spent hundreds of hours on the gamecube version back in the day.

#2 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

Kyogoku confessed to having spent many hours exploring Ultima Online when she was a student.

“Rather than doing into dungeons and fighting monsters,” she said. “I would go into the neighboring field and go harvest some cotton or mine some ore. I would spend a lot of time doing that.”

Sounds a little bit like playing Animal Crossing, no?

Sounds an awful lot like the general inspiration for The Legend of Zelda and Harvest Moon. What other stories lay beneath the surface? (Only less pretentious than how I put it.)

#3 Posted by vladk86 (16 posts) -

Is there an online archive of the GDC talk that they did?

#4 Edited by Accolade (324 posts) -

A fine series, but they are in desperate need of new ideas. Like placing home furniture in town, different quests/narrative, and auto-stack fruit.

#5 Edited by Nightriff (5074 posts) -

I hate that my interest in Animal Crossing runs high for about 24 hours of total play time (no matter how quickly I get there) and then I just stop. Spent a ton of time on the DS version in 2012 and stopped within a week and last year within a two months had stopped playing the 3DS version.

Online
#6 Posted by EricSmith (325 posts) -

I played a ton of the one on Gamecube, and less and less of them moving forward. New Leak I played for about four hours before I put it down. It wasn't much fun, and I felt like I was doing the same things I was a decade before. Where did the evolution come through in the final product? The series as it stands now isn't very different from where it began.

#7 Edited by Giantstalker (1645 posts) -

... an internal division responsible for some of the company’s most groundbreaking games, including... F-Zero, and others.

I wonder if they'll ever make one of those again. Just reading this made me kinda sad.

#9 Edited by FreedomTown (273 posts) -

@nightriff said:

I hate that my interest in Animal Crossing runs high for about 24 hours of total play time (no matter how quickly I get there) and then I just stop. Spent a ton of time on the DS version in 2012 and stopped within a week and last year within a two months had stopped playing the 3DS version.

Same. That's because, in theory and in the retrospect Animal Crossing rocks. You get really pumped up for a new one. But then a day after playing it, you realize that this is just Animal Crossing, and you can't spend another minute collecting a butterfly, or picking up a rock. The game also is starting to feel, really, really, confined and small.

I think the design needs to change. I was hoping that was what this article was about. Actual gaming content regarding how Animal Crossing needs to expand outward to still be interesting in the future, instead of a "feels" piece about changes in workforce personnel over the years.

But I digress...yes, Animal Crossing rocks, and it needs to do something to prevent quick onset boredom in it's next iteration.

#10 Posted by ZironZ (73 posts) -
@vladk86 said:

Is there an online archive of the GDC talk that they did?

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020808/How-to-Turn-a-New

#11 Posted by Vexxan (4620 posts) -

Interesting article, thanks Patrick!

#12 Posted by vladk86 (16 posts) -

@zironz said:
@vladk86 said:

Is there an online archive of the GDC talk that they did?

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020808/How-to-Turn-a-New

Thank You!

#13 Posted by InsidiousTuna (383 posts) -

This is interesting stuff, and I love Animal Crossing. I'd also say this piece, by Austin Walker, touches on a lot of the same topics, but from a very different perspective, and is well worth your time.

#14 Edited by Jasoncourt (61 posts) -

I appreciate the story, but the story title\premise is one of the most baffling I've heard. Two things in gaming that are near the bottom of the 'evolved' ladder are Nintendo and certainly Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing has changed so little over the years. There are so many features and upgrades that could/should have occurred that haven't in the series. Animal Crossing's reputation is that it is still played and loved IN SPITE of its lack of evolution from game to game.

#15 Posted by patrickklepek (4533 posts) -

This is interesting stuff, and I love Animal Crossing. I'd also say this piece, by Austin Walker, touches on a lot of the same topics, but from a very different perspective, and is well worth your time.

Thanks for linking!

Staff
#16 Posted by Shaanyboi (1290 posts) -

... an internal division responsible for some of the company’s most groundbreaking games, including... F-Zero, and others.

I wonder if they'll ever make one of those again. Just reading this made me kinda sad.

As much as people ask for Metroid or F-Zero, those games don't sell nearly as well as people think they do.

#17 Posted by heatDrive88 (2333 posts) -

@giantstalker said:

... an internal division responsible for some of the company’s most groundbreaking games, including... F-Zero, and others.

I wonder if they'll ever make one of those again. Just reading this made me kinda sad.

As much as people ask for Metroid or F-Zero, those games don't sell nearly as well as people think they do.

I sorta miss being able to throw F-Zero into the faces of people who thought Blast Processing was a real thing.

#18 Edited by GrantHeaslip (1591 posts) -

This is by no means always the case, but I do find that female friends of mine tend to play games quite differently (and for different reasons) than male friends. A male game designer may also have been influenced by Ultima Online, but probably for more traditionally "hardcore" reasons. To be clear, I think that's a good thing, not just for diversity's sake, but because games will be more accessible to people without "hardcore" backgrounds.

That said though, I'm not convinced Animal Crossing has evolved very meaningfully. It's changed, but the core gameplay of New Leaf is very similar to the original. There's an implied narrative to this piece that seems at odds with (at least based on my month of playing New Leaf and months spent on the original) the reality of the series' evolution. For better or worse, New Leaf is still the product of Takashi Tezuka and Shigeuru Miyamoto's original vision. What's come after it has seemed to me to be more like caretaking than rethinking.

P.S. There's a handful of typos and some awkward phrasing in here. I don't want to go back and find them all again, but maybe run it by someone else on staff?

#19 Posted by InsidiousTuna (383 posts) -

@patrickklepek: No problem! Austin's a friend, and I throw that link around whenever anyone mentions Animal Crossing, ever, since it's such a good goddamn piece of personal writing. This is, again, a super-interesting interview. I hadn't imagined that Nintendo would look at Diablo or UO as inspiration for Animal Crossing.

#20 Edited by KillDeer (73 posts) -

What is the evolution of Animal Crossing? I haven't seen it. The series seems to have developed like a cess pool that lays stagnant. Sometimes new features are born from some mutation but for the most part old features are broken down by bacteria. Either being destroyed or converted into some lesser version.

One of my favorite features in every previous Animal Crossing was on Saturday night going to the bar to listen to K.K. Slider jam out and play some beautiful music. This Saturday evening only show kept me coming back to the game after I was bored of the grinding mechanics. It made me jump back in every week or two and go listen to him play. Because of this I did other things in the game too. I would gather fruit or just go for a late night fish. Guess where this feature is in the latest Aya Kyogoku designed version? Locked behind a in-game currency paywall with a bunch of conditions that are never surfaced to the player. Until you complete these tasks that you are never shown you will not have access to the club where K.K. performs. After somewhere around 60 hours split between my wife and myself playing New Leaf she somehow unlocked the Club. But it was too late I had already lost interest. The game world so devoid of anything interesting or new. Just recycled content and new features and some old locked away. I haven't played in several months.

This rant was mostly about K.K. but there are a lot of things in New Leaf that were dumbed down or removed. The only positive thing I encountered was the fruit stacking.

Edit: I also love that Katsuya Eguchi thinks Animal Crossing is about multiplayer when Nintendo's friends codes and online systems are so terrible and prevent people from playing together easily.

#21 Edited by Seroth (718 posts) -

Awesome! I was wondering if we'd get anything from Patrick's talk with the designers at GDC.

I think Animal Crossing is one of the greatest games of all time, and I love how the series has evolved. The step from Wild World to City Folk was very minor, but the step from City Folk to New Leaf was incredible.

New Leaf feels like such an "un-Nintendo" game in regards to online. I mean, I just now finished a turnip deal with a random Reddit person for a 3.4 million Bell profit. Yeah, Friend Codes are limiting, but New Leaf does what it can with it. You can actually communicate with other people, even if you're not in each others towns, using the Best Friend system. It's funny that Animal Crossing has an effective real-time chat system, but the 3DS itself still lacks anything even close. New Leaf even lets you group with random strangers through Club Tortimer, to the point that it even has greifers. That's something I wouldn't expect in a Nintendo online experience.

As for the core Animal Crossing experience, I love how creative you can be with it. Some people just see the game as paying off your debt or filling out your catalog. I don't even bother with that, for the most part. I'm all about creating a strange narrative with my town and sharing it with others through the Dream Address functionality. I'm still hard at work building a serial killer's hideout in the northwest, an arcade with a shady drug-fueled side business in the southeast, which is right next to the restaurant that may or may not be serving the meat of animal villagers gone missing... all while the corrupt mayor keeps 24/7 tabs on the town through his Harry Stewart-esque surveillance room, which also happens to be a floor above his sex dungeon and to the left of his sacrificial chamber.

And there's the fact that people often engage in animal trafficking online, making deals with other people to trade villagers for money or desirable furniture pieces. I just love that the game totally lets you subvert the cutesy, innocent nature of it all through online interaction and customization features. It's freakin' great.

I hope Animal Crossing gets even bigger in the future. Someday, I wanna make my own furniture so I can create my own torture racks instead of making do with cleverly placed dentist chairs and lab tables.

#22 Posted by Boiglenoight (536 posts) -

Now I want to see Nintendo's take on Diablo...

#23 Posted by CorruptedEvil (3167 posts) -
#24 Posted by GuardianKnux (253 posts) -

I really love the AX series, but I do wish it would have evolved a bit more than it has, at least mechanically. Just like the pokemon series, they have far too many mechanics and menus that they haven't changed in years. When making sequels it is easy to think "well it worked last games so let's just make it work exactly the same" Most of the menus is AX are extremely tedious to go through. Like, try picking up mail when you're already holding a full amount of letters and you'll know what I mean. And while I understand why they took out all the NES games (they can make more money selling them online), it felt like a real step backward when they were removed.

The online is getting closer and closer to being great each game, but personally, it still feels crippled compared to other games. As with a lot of Nintendo games, Animal Crossing get's so much right, all the little things, the hidden secrets, the thousands of items (and way more if you include changing the colors of items), but they always feel just out of reach. Connecting to a friend online in the last 3DS AX takes three separate connecting and loading screens. I still have hope that the series will continue to grow even more than it has.

#25 Posted by ottoman673 (513 posts) -

This game has barely evolved at all from the GameCube version, which I played the shit out of.

Maybe a new dev team at Nintendo should take a shot at the inevitable Wii U version

#26 Posted by Mysterysheep (357 posts) -

Animal Crossing was an incredibly weird and innovative game when it first came out but, like others have said, I don't think it has really drastically evolved in any major ways.

While sequels keep adding additional features onto the fringes of the game, it's the core gameplay loop that needs innovating and changing.

I'd love it if the animal villagers side stories that you occasionally get glimpses at were expanded out a bit more in interesting ways. That's the side of animal crossing that has always interested me most.

There's a whole damn personality system that affects animals' relationships with each other that I'm sure most players don't even notice! Imagine the potential of that thing!

With all that said, it's still cool to know that Nintendo is balancing out their employee gender ratio. I'm sure diversifying staff is bound to bring about new ideas and perspectives.

#27 Edited by Mr_Creeper (883 posts) -

Fantastic read and look into Nintendo. Almost gave up on it at the start, but glad I decided to finish it. Keep more stuff like this coming, @patrickklepek!

#28 Edited by PolyesterKyle (137 posts) -

@insidioustuna: Thanks for sharing. That was actually very moving and I appreciate that he would share such a personal story. And I agree that it does suck that Animal Crossing, a game largely about taking a virtual vacation and inhabiting another world (as yourself) doesn't really offer any options for more basic customization. I understand that they don't really want it to feel game-y by asking questions and stuff instead of letting you slide meters and pick colors or faces, but it's obviously a pretty central part of the enjoyment to feel like you're actually in the game interacting and building a life. When New Leaf came out I was a bit disappointed when I saw the limitations of those options. I had friends who didn't want to play a game like that when they couldn't strongly identify with the character on screen and I couldn't blame them. When Pokemon X/Y came out, those feelings were amplified when I found that you COULD choose skin color in that. A game that's never really been about life simulation was being more progressive with their character creation than a game with a pretty lengthy legacy of those kinds of intentions. It's a bummer but one thing we can be happy about is that video games are evolving when it comes to these sorts of things which I think is overwhelmingly positive. Even if the sensitivity of certain issues isn't really being totally respected in some of our current solutions, I'm grateful for the effort more often than not.

#29 Edited by HeyGuys (381 posts) -

Three minor typos that you might want to correct:

"It’s not hard to imagine Animal Crossing will continue for many, many years to come, and Kyogoku and Eguchi have given though to such a legacy." Should read "thought".

"At the same time, I really hope it stays as franchise that’s both enjoyable to newcomers and people who’ve enjoyed the franchise for all this time." Should just read "a", I assume.

"That said, given Kyogoku gave a talk heavily emphasizing how game development benefits from people of varying backgrounds, she appreciates how the culture has changed, even within Nintendo." I think the "given" was meant to be deleted but slipped by.

#30 Edited by ColdsnapBryan (213 posts) -

My girlfriend and I have like 300+ hours int his game. We usually play together about 10 minutes a day. It's simply an amazing game, the writing of the townsfolk is incredible.

#31 Posted by JesusHammer (132 posts) -

Why does everyone and everything try to remind me that I haven't touched New Leaf since Christmas? I know I failed my town and it's going to look horrible when I go back, but I don't need @patrickklepek to remind me of that too.

#32 Posted by RenegadeMike (45 posts) -

Great Piece! it's cool Diablo inspired people working on Animal Crossing. Now I want to play it again.

#33 Edited by Zornack (194 posts) -

This is like praising Ghosts for evolving the CoD franchise. AC is one Nintendo's most grounded in the past games. I'm not saying it's bad but New Leaf is very much a retread.

#34 Posted by jred250 (108 posts) -
@zornack said:

This is like praising Ghosts for evolving the CoD franchise. AC is one Nintendo's most grounded in the past games. I'm not saying it's bad but New Leaf is very much a retread.

I kind of agree with this. I wish Nintendo was more bold and experimental with iteration sometimes.

#35 Edited by Bizzama (61 posts) -

Traveling to other towns, sharing fashion creations--it's is a huge design element.

(Found a small typo, @patrickklepek)

Great article! I love these games (I've put something like 220 hours into New Leaf) and it's great to see that the team behind it understands the need for diverse perspectives when making games.

#36 Posted by ViciousBearMauling (1094 posts) -

Ultima is the definition of my early gaming years....

#37 Posted by falling_fast (2218 posts) -

i don't even care about animal crossing, but this is a rad article. thanks, scoops

#38 Posted by Alphaknowledge (26 posts) -

Great article Patrick!

#39 Posted by LunaCantabile (74 posts) -

Good article, You did misspell instalment though.

Otherwise I just love that Nintendo's more inclusionary approach to games in stuff like AC and pokemon's NPC dialogue getting noticed on places like tumblr as well.

#40 Posted by Hailinel (24694 posts) -

That said though, I'm not convinced Animal Crossing has evolved very meaningfully. It's changed, but the core gameplay of New Leaf is very similar to the original. There's an implied narrative to this piece that seems at odds with (at least based on my month of playing New Leaf and months spent on the original) the reality of the series' evolution. For better or worse, New Leaf is still the product of Takashi Tezuka and Shigeuru Miyamoto's original vision. What's come after it has seemed to me to be more like caretaking than rethinking.

I don't really feel the same way. As much as New Leaf does stay relatively close to the structure of the original game, what the development team behind the game has done to evolve it has allowed for some very meaningful changes. The original Animal Crossing was, of course, a very local game; it didn't have any sort of online functionality and the aspect of multiplayer was limited to people swapping turns on the same console. Wild World and City Folk were able to introduce an online element, and expanded features, but I feel that New Leaf took those expanded ideas, reworked them for the 3DS's online structure, and then made several improvements and tweaks to the core concept of the game that make for some fundamental differences, even if they are hard to spot at first.

In terms of online, the idea of community is better represented in New Leaf than I think it ever had been in any previous game. There's the Happy Home Showcase and Dream Suite that let you interact with other players' homes and towns without necessarily needing a live connection to those locations. There's the way that the town is able to get a more personal touch through the projects you can erect as mayor (the very fact hat you're mayor, and not just another villager, is in itself a pretty big shift).

Make no mistake, the game is still largely about interactions with goofball villagers, collecting and selling fruit, expanding and decorating your home, and in general fostering activities that offer more for relaxation than they do challenge. But it's also a very social game; more social than it was ever in the past. And the diverse nature of the development team really shows in terms of who the players encounter and what can be found. There is a strong sense of rethinking that's gone into New Leaf, but a lot of that is in the game's under-the-hood elements that we're not supposed to really be thinking about actively as we actually play the game. It's the systems underneath the hood that have elevated New Leaf for me, and that easily make it the best entry the franchise has seen yet.

Online
#41 Posted by JuggaloAcidman (290 posts) -

I always get to a point in Animal Crossing where I have no idea what to do next. Then I stop playing... Lol.

#42 Posted by ptys (1953 posts) -

Mmm, interesting to get a Japanese womans perpective. Always wondered how things worked at Nintendo. Hopefully a Wii U version is on the cards next.

#43 Posted by LegendaryChopChop (1208 posts) -

Animal Crossing is pretty dope. Nice article.

#46 Posted by NoobSauceG7 (1246 posts) -

Really cool piece, Patrick. I think Animal Crossing only works by having such a mixed background of developers since all the characters in the game have to have their own personality.

#47 Posted by Loomies (36 posts) -

It's so amazing how Ultima Online was an influenced in many japanese designers and how game changing it was back then. Yoshida(director for FF14:Realm Reborn) was an avid UO player too http://kotaku.com/final-fantasy-xiv-directors-tale-of-mmo-woe-has-a-beaut-1564158880

#48 Posted by Dizzyhippos (1433 posts) -

I am really glad there still making animal crossing games for the people that love them, but I feel that (much like the harvest moon series) the first one that you go down that rabbit hole with is the only one that matters to you.

#49 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1591 posts) -

@hailinel said:

@grantheaslip said:

That said though, I'm not convinced Animal Crossing has evolved very meaningfully. It's changed, but the core gameplay of New Leaf is very similar to the original. There's an implied narrative to this piece that seems at odds with (at least based on my month of playing New Leaf and months spent on the original) the reality of the series' evolution. For better or worse, New Leaf is still the product of Takashi Tezuka and Shigeuru Miyamoto's original vision. What's come after it has seemed to me to be more like caretaking than rethinking.

I don't really feel the same way. As much as New Leaf does stay relatively close to the structure of the original game, what the development team behind the game has done to evolve it has allowed for some very meaningful changes. The original Animal Crossing was, of course, a very local game; it didn't have any sort of online functionality and the aspect of multiplayer was limited to people swapping turns on the same console. Wild World and City Folk were able to introduce an online element, and expanded features, but I feel that New Leaf took those expanded ideas, reworked them for the 3DS's online structure, and then made several improvements and tweaks to the core concept of the game that make for some fundamental differences, even if they are hard to spot at first.

In terms of online, the idea of community is better represented in New Leaf than I think it ever had been in any previous game. There's the Happy Home Showcase and Dream Suite that let you interact with other players' homes and towns without necessarily needing a live connection to those locations. There's the way that the town is able to get a more personal touch through the projects you can erect as mayor (the very fact hat you're mayor, and not just another villager, is in itself a pretty big shift).

Make no mistake, the game is still largely about interactions with goofball villagers, collecting and selling fruit, expanding and decorating your home, and in general fostering activities that offer more for relaxation than they do challenge. But it's also a very social game; more social than it was ever in the past. And the diverse nature of the development team really shows in terms of who the players encounter and what can be found. There is a strong sense of rethinking that's gone into New Leaf, but a lot of that is in the game's under-the-hood elements that we're not supposed to really be thinking about actively as we actually play the game. It's the systems underneath the hood that have elevated New Leaf for me, and that easily make it the best entry the franchise has seen yet.

The online stuff feels like a natural product of the increased capabilities of the 3DS, and to some extent Nintendo's approach to online maturing. It's not that the added social aspects aren't a big deal -- it just seems like stuff that would have happened regardless of, say, the gender makeup of the development team. Given the online capabilities of the 64DD and some of the weird online stuff Nintendo was doing with it, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that online features were considered for the original.

I'm also sure you're right about some of the systems changing, but at some point, if the newest iteration in a 12-year-old series doesn't feel all that different than the original, it's probably a sign that it hasn't changed very much. I don't even think that's all that bad of a thing -- I only took issue with it because of the way this piece hand-waves its way around the elephant in the room.

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