Virtual Villagers & Game Design

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 3, 2006

Filed under: Game Design 8 comments

One of these days I hope to get the chance to make my own videogame. I don’t know if I would sell it, or ask for donations, or just give it away, I just know I want to write one if I get the chance. My Terrain Project was a result of me trying to scratch this particular itch.

I know I’ve got too much going on to make the attempt right now. This might end up being a “Mister Holland’s Opus” thing, but if it does happen it will probably deal with some sort of Sim or stats-building game. I like constructing simulations and inventing tech trees. The idea in Virtual Villagers has already been done, but I still enjoy toying with the concept in my head and thinking about how I might have done it differently. I just need to stay focused and resist the urge to go write some code. Or write a design document. I’m not kidding – it is taking real effort to not write down the technologies and gameplay dynamics that would drive a game like this. I have several files floating around on my hard drive along these lines, from when some game tickled the game-designer parts of my brain and I ended up mapping out a game just to get it out of my system.

After playing Virtual Villager for a couple of days, I can see there is a lot more this idea has to offer. You could take this same idea (guide a group of villagers to prosperity) and make it as a “Sim” sort thing, and end up with a very different game altogether. I keep looking at the tech ladder and picturing ways to make it into a tech tree, with the ability to pursue hunting / gathering / farming at different levels and with different tools.

I would also like to see a game along these lines where the player arranges marriages instead of arranging matings, which would give the thing a more tribal feel. There would also be a strategy element to it: As long as the player isn’t shy about a little low-tech eugenics, they could try to breed better hunters or better engineers…

Ah! I’m doing it. Okay, enough of this.

Virtual Villagers is amusing. A demo is available.


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8 thoughts on “Virtual Villagers & Game Design

  1. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Don’t worry Shamus as soon as I’ve got enough programming under my belt and you are no longer busy we shall creat the most awesomest game no money can buy! Plus I am scared of this ad for the movie Geekin’ that I see here.

  2. Brad says:

    Hi there!

    I’ve been reading your blog for about 2 weeks and this is my first time commenting. Anyway, this kind of thing is very interesting to me… I’m a master’s student in Global Health, and my wife and I are going into the Peace Corps next summer with the goal of “guide a group of villagers to prosperity.” My unsolicited advice for your game is to include some type of health aspect to it. Maybe if you build your village too close to the swamp/river/lake/etc. your people get malaria and can’t work the fields as well… or if they’re too overcrowded they get tuberculosis… or irresponsible “mating” and they get AIDS… you get the idea :) Of course, you wouldn’t want to go overboard with it, but something like that could help add to the realism of the game.

    Anyway, I’ll definately be checking out Virtual Villager when I get a chance. Thanks!


  3. Will says:

    I’ve had an idea for a game floating around in the back of my head for a couple of years. Basically it plays out like your typical Japaneses style RPG but in reverse.

    You start the game as the world’s foremost butt-kicker fighting a climactic battle with the toughest villian the world has ever seen. You beat him handly, but in the process he curses you. Your stats begin to regress and boiled down to it’s most basic form it’s a race to finish the game before the common sewer rat could mop the floor with you. It sounds like a boring, frustrating, and ultimately depressing concept, but I’ve been thinking through ways to counter those aspects. Given how plot heavy RPGs have been getting, I think there’s a lot of potential for drama in it.

  4. Hi,

    Someone directed me to your site. I am the lead designer on Virtual Villagers.

    I just wanted to say, great analysis. You see, there were numerous trade-offs between game balance and realism that we had to make and you put your finger right on some of them.

    Minimum age for breeding, obviously _had_ to be 18. (I’ll skip the part about who they are breeding with). We were also concerned about implementing menopause and the effect that would have on game balance.

    Another interesting design note is that a lot of the strategies were emergent. That is, they were not planned, but once recognized we embraced and encouraged them. Example: researchers sustain injuries. If you have enthusiastic female researchers who are weak or near death, getting them pregnant will force them to stop researching and could save their life. Another emergent strategy is the one you pointed out…the loss of productivity for female’s who are ‘nursing’.

    Anyway, nice analysis. How bout some Shameless Plugs:
    Vote for Virtual Villagers for ‘Best Casual Sim’ at Gamezebo (url is Gamezebo dot com) until Jan 30 2007. We want to win an award.

    Also, Virtual Villagers 2: The Lost Children comes out very soon, in mid-February 2007.

    Keep up the good work.

    Arthur Humphrey
    Lead Designer
    Last Day of Work

  5. Mark says:

    Virtual Villagers 2 The Lost Children is available for download at The Diamond Games! Download it now before it comes out publicly on Saturday.

  6. jojo says:

    I’m looking for some help! Im on virtual villagers the secret city. I’ve gotten so far but i can’t get the lift to pick up the fruit, I can’t find the plans for the baths and there are still 2 keys to get one in the clam and 1 by the hanging fruit i can’t get them. Everything is fully researched. all huts are built…Is there anyone that can help me take it to the next level?

  7. Kaliam says:

    Every since I was a very, very little boy I dreamed for a revolutionary game where we buried the health bar and quests. Your comments about the “More life-like swordplay” have been in my thoughts for years. Over the years, I’ve created two role-playing games. I feel like this isn’t enough. A few ideas for this game (if it isn’t already finished or buried):

    1) You should be able to choose between being “God” and one of the players.

    2) Here’s an idea of combat…
    a) No turns. Things happen in real time.
    b) I don’t want to see another “Warrior 1 attacks Warrior 2. Warrior 2 takes 5 damage. Warrior 1 takes 3 damage. etc.” Why not a different system? Say, each player can be built with “stats” which you can build by yourself. And combat, is just like the “realistic swordplay” blog that you posted. Ofcourse, you would also have to add ranged units…
    c) Instead of another “Sid Mejer, Civilization”, have each character advance by gaining new weapons. Such as the tribal stage in “Spore”. When you get a new weapon or a new tool, the person can then pick up the weapon/tool, and use it in the future to make things easier.
    d) The “tribe” should get attacked by 3 things: Other tribes, natural disasters, and giant ancient monsters of uber-magic. Just a thought.

    Please look over these and see if they could help you.

    P.S. I am 14 years old.

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