Although it's younger than many of Nintendo's other tentpole properties, the Animal Crossing series is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, making it one of the longest-running franchises in gaming today. Western fans were first introduced to the quirky life sim on the GameCube, but the series actually debuted on that system's predecessor, the Nintendo 64--and in its earliest stages of development, it was a very different kind of game than the one Nintendo would eventually release.
Like so many of the company's other titles, Animal Crossing was born not from a setting or story concept, but rather a gameplay idea--namely, the ability for multiple people to play in and influence one shared space. This idea was sparked by the 64DD, a short-lived disc drive attachment that Nintendo released for the N64 toward the end of the system's lifetime. Many of the features that the 64DD afforded over the base N64 hardware--particularly its real-time clock and ability to store comparatively large amounts of data--would serve as the foundation for what would ultimately become Animal Crossing.
"The idea for Animal Crossing began with the idea that we could use the 64DD to write a massive amount of save data to make a kind of game that hadn't ever been made yet," game director Katsuya Eguchi said during the 2008 Nintendo Game Seminar (as translated by Nintendo World Report). "At that point, the theme that I considered was 'playing with others.' The beginning of that design was that you'd have this RPG-like world in this massive field, and multiple people would enter, and your play would affect the other players."
Although the Nintendo 64, with its four built-in controller ports, readily lent itself to multiplayer gaming, what Eguchi and his co-director, Hisashi Nogami, envisioned was a sort of shared experience that people could play asynchronously--something considerably different than what other multiplayer-centric N64 games like Mario Kart 64 offered. This desire to create an asynchronous experience stemmed from Eguchi's busy schedule, which prevented him from enjoying games with his children.
"At the time, I was very busy with work, and there was no way for me to play games together with my family," Eguchi said. "I was sad that I couldn't play games with my kids, even though I knew it would be fun. From the beginning, my idea was that, if this is the way it's going to be, maybe there's something we could do where someone in a similar environment to me could come home late and play, which would somehow overlap with what the kids had done."
This basic conceit led Eguchi and Nogami to experiment with a "relay-type" RPG, in which one player could come in and continue the progress that another had made earlier. "For instance, say the kids were adventuring in a dungeon during the day and made it partway through, but then something happens where they can't move any further. Then, some trace of that status can be left, and then when dad came home at night, he could use the information the kids left as a hint and clear the dungeon, and proceed further. I wondered how that kind of relay-type-play would be," Eguchi explained.
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