Animal Crossing – Developer Interviews
These two Dōbutsu no Mori (Animal Crossing) interviews from 2003 and 2001 were both sourced form the old Nintendo Online Monthly website. The first interview explore the origins of the series and the guiding theme of “communication”, while the second focuses on Animal Crossing's innovative use of music and sound; from their comments, it certainly wouldn't be a stretch to call Animal Crossing a music game.
Katsuya Eguchi - Director
Hisashi Nogami - Director
—What aspects of Animal Crossing have the fans been telling you they like?
Nogami: What people find interesting in Animal Crossing seems to differ from person to person–and that in itself is interesting. (laughs) There really is so much diversity in the way people like to have fun.
Eguchi: There’s people who just like to collect the furniture, and some people who only want to do fishing. There’s also players who just enjoy designing something to share with others. The fact that we can’t point to just one thing and say “that’s the appeal” testifies to the novelty of Animal Crossing; I don’t think there’s been a game like it before.
—How did Animal Crossing first come to be?
Eguchi: It begin life as an N64DD project. Then we came up with the concept of “a game where you hang out and do stuff with a bunch of people in a single field.” Then one-by-one, we started coming up with more ideas, and Animal Crossing is really just the collection of all those different strands.
Nogami: In short—we just wanted to do make something for the 64DD. (laughs)
—What was your overall concept for the series itself?
Eguchi: Well, this is connected to the idea above about having people gathered together in a single field, but… a key concept for us was people communicating with each other. How to effectuate that in game-form was our main concept throughout the development.
—It's pretty bold to make a game with no ending and no story! Why make that kind of game?
Nogami: From the start, we weren't interested in genres. (laughs) RPG, action… we made no effort to classify what we were doing like that.
Eguchi: One of our early propositions was to make "a game unlike any that has come before." We were consciously trying to create something in a new genre that you couldn't easily reduce to a single label. But in reality, you have to write the genre for the retail package labeling. But we hadn't thought about that at all… it was like, "what should we write? I have no idea!" (laughs)
Nogami: Yeah, and I remember someone saying, "well, how about we just say 'communication'?" (laughs)
—And a "communication game" goes back to what you were saying about people connecting with each other.
Nogami: Right. Ultimately our gameplay ideas derive from that theme. Let's swap furniture from our houses! …that was another way of connecting people.
—Yeah, but there's some people who just like to fish by themselves, and others who just want to collect a bunch of furniture. (laughs)
Nogami: This is true. (laughs) That's why we made fish that can only be found by people who obsessively fish, though. And for those furniture collectors, there's some pieces that can only be found by dedicated collectors. I like to think of the conversations that two collectors will have when they encounter each other and see unique pieces in their collections. That's another opportunity for communication.
—The way the animals talk in Animal Crossing sounds very human.
Eguchi: Part of what we wanted to do there, I admit, was show something like "practice" for conversing with other actual human beings, like "this is how you have fun communicating!" (laughs)
Nogami: We also wanted players to talk to each other about things the animals had said. (laughs)
Eguchi: Yeah, I hope players talk with each other about what the animals said, what they were thinking that day, what they did… and hey, we can't help it if these cute animals just say cute things! (laughs)
Nogami: But there are also some that say scary things. (laughs)
Eguchi: Yeah, it's like, if a small child is playing and an animal says something a little difficult to him that he doesn't understand, I hope he'll then go ask his Mom about it.
Nogami: That's also part of the "communication" we were after. All the surprising or interesting dialogue we added was done towards that end, so people would actually talk with each other in real life.
—Games as a medium for connecting people, you could say.
Eguchi: That's right. For instance, the seagull Johnny (Gulliver in US) makes all these dark jokes. I'm sure a kid won't understand them. I imagined he would have to go to his Mom and ask her what the seagull was talking about, and the Mom would then have a hard time answering. (laughs)
Nogami: That's actually why we mixed in difficult sections like that. (laughs) Communication is what we ultimately want people to take away from Animal Crossing—and there's no better example of it than that.
Animal Crossing – Sound and Music 2001 Interview
—What kind of game is Animal Crossing?
Totaka: It’s a communication game. The player lives in a village with animals and can enjoy village life. There’s a real-time clock, so depending on the season and time of day, various events occur in the village. I worked on the sound direction, and Bando worked on the sound effects.
—I understand that you really spent a lot of time on the music.
Totaka: Yeah. The music staff consisted of four composers, one sound programmer, and one person in charge of sound fx.
Bando: There’s several musical elements in Animal Crossing. First are the town melodies. This is the melody you hear when you talk to an animal. On the town melody board you can freely compose your own tunes.
Another musical element is the “animal language” that the animals speak. At first, we planned to use voice synthesis techniques to make something more realistic. But this is a game where messages are also displayed in text when you talk to someone, and we couldn’t get the timing right between the synthesized voices and the text subtitles—they would end up speaking too fast.
We thought about it for awhile and realized that since these are animals, there was no need to make them talk like normal humans. Maybe it wasn’t so important to know exactly what they were saying; maybe all the players needed was to know the feel and tone of what they were talking about. That’s how we came up with their language. We actually used a unique technology that we filed a patent for!
—Why did you put so much effort into the music?
Totaka: In Animal Crossing, each cartridge will give a slightly different terrain for your village. Also, the rooms and the animals are a little different. We wanted music that would reflect those dynamic changes. But this isn’t the first time I’ve used music like this in a game. In Yoshi’s Story, for instance, the music changes to reflect Yoshi’s mood.
—I see. It’s “interactive” music. How many songs did you make in total?
Totaka: There’s 199 in total. There were three composers working under me,1 and I divided the work between them: one person worked on field (outdoor) music, another on the indoors music, and another worked on the event music. Basically these guys were all capable veterans, so I mainly left things up to them. However, if you don’t give at least some clear direction, then it’s actually hard to create anything, so we hammered that out at a meeting. Our first idea was to match the peaceful, relaxed mood of the game with accoustic music. But then we realized that would make things too relaxed. We came up with the concept of using very electronic, synth-y sounds, but composing and arranging the music in an “accoustic” way for the listener. That was our concept for the field music.
—And you did something different for the indoors and event music?
Totaka: Yeah, that’s right. The basic idea was that the rooms would be silent until the player decides to turn something on. For that music our image was something that sounded cute, like a cheap portable keyboard.
—What direction did you give for the event scenes?
Totaka: Well, for the Halloween event, for example, I’d say something like “basically fun, but a little weird.” The songs he composed were right on the money, so I would only give that initial guidance and then safely let him do the rest. Though there were occasionally some revisions, like when a song took up too much memory. (laughs)
—How long did each song take to write?
Totaka: Everyone else took roughly a year to come up with their songs, but my situation was a little different. I re-arranged compositions I had already made. I had to make about 58 songs in the space of two weeks… I was so rushed that I was composing on the train. (laughs)
—How did you go about creating the sound effects, Bando?
Bando: As you might guess, a lot of the sounds were recorded straight from nature and inserted into the game. Each time the seasons change, new insects appear in Animal Crossing, and for those sounds I actually went to the mountains in Fushimi and recorded the local insects there. It was a real pain getting a recording of the cicadas.
Totaka: I remember seeing that sign you made posted on the door to the recording room: “Do Not Disturb: Insect Collecting”. (laughs)
Bando: In total I think I recorded over 500 different sound effects. There’s over 100 different kinds of footstep sounds alone! I got different samples for walking on marble, walking in water…
—Did you record your own footsteps, then?
Bando: I did. For the waterfront footsteps effect, for example, I recorded myself in sandals walking along the beach.
—Were there any difficulties on the programming side, for the sound?
Bando: The sounds alone took up a huge amount of memory, as we had expected! It was kind of like a puzzle, figuring out how to cram all of them in there.
—The debugging and testing must have been a bear too.
Bando: Yeah, it was a challenge. Animal Crossing has so many different sound effects. There were some problems that came up too, where two sounds would play simultaneously and it would cause memory problems. Checking all that was not fun.
—It seems this might be the first game to feature music so heavily, yet not be a music game per se. Finally, please offer a few words to all the readers about how to best enjoy Animal Crossing.
Totaka: For me, I enjoy just walking around in the game. Bando prepared so many different footstep sounds for each terrain. There’s the brisk clip-clap of walking on stone, and the soft sound of rushes as you walk through grass. I like hearing those sounds intermingle with the background of a flowing river, or the rush of a waterfall in the distance… there’s music hiding in all these spaces, and I really enjoy how it all turned out. It really feels like I’ve gone back to my hometown village, and just walking around makes me feel happy.
If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!
Kenta Nagata, Toru Minegishi, and Shinobu Tanaka.↩