Crafting Quality of Life Improvements for Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Introduction

Animal Crossing is a laid back simulation game where you develop a deserted island into a bustling vacation destination. It is currently available for the Nintendo Switch and frankly seems to have taken over many people’s lives.

Nintendo does a fantastic job designing progressive disclosure for the game. As the player progresses through Animal Crossing: New Horizons(AC:NH), they unlock more features to use. Some of these features have jarring interactions that can frustrate players and break their flow. I designed and created solutions that would improve the quality of life for players.

Project Details

Role  Visual Designer, Experience Designer

Date  April 2020 – May 2020

Type Game Design, UX Design

Role

Date

Type

Visual Designer, Experience Designer

April 2020 – May 2020

Game Design, UX Design

Problem

AC: NH contains multiple areas of unjustified pain points, which leads to player frustration.

While playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I noticed that my flow breaks in multiple instances. Often, I spent more time watching animation clips, loading clips, and fighting with minor things with the game than playing. The biggest offenders are the inventory, the crafting and customizing systems, and the multiplayer mode. The way these features are implemented creates discord with the players.

Solution

Series of features that will help improve the player’s experience while upholding the fundamental game design.

I designed a few features that I think will help ease the amount of discord the game creates. These features support the flow like experience players receive while playing the game. These features are:

  • Inventory Sorting

    Keeping a clean inventory helps players find the things they need without too much friction.

  • Bulking Buying in Shops

    It's important to give the player freedom to decide how many items they wish to buy.

  • Crafting Multiple Items

    Being efficient allows the player to return to their original task.

  • Select Customization Options for Crafting Items

    Optimize the players' workflow so that they are not constantly context switching.

  • Better Airport Online Play Interactions

    Minimizing the punishment for players who make mistakes in menus.

  • Select All Feature

    Reducing the number of button presses a player has to make when selling items.

1.

Inventory Sorting

As the player progresses through Animal Crossing: New Horizons, they begin to unlock a larger inventory. Although fantastic for the player, it comes with a few downsides. The inventory system gets disorganized very quickly. 

It is common for players to lose items in their inventory because of how messy it becomes. In many cases, the players end up manually stacking items from balloon drops. It would be great to have a sort feature for the inventory. 

Current Inventory System

New Inventory System - Sorting

The y-button would be used for the sort function. 

2.

Bulk Buying in Shops

Most of the interactions between the NPCs and the players are done in a very fluid conversational way. At Nook’s Cranny, Timmy and Tommy mention that you can buy items in bulk from them. However, bulk means five.


While I understand that having a specific amount denoted for the bulk buy option helps further the conversational experience, it also punishes the player for wanting to buy larger quantities. The conversational flow no longer becomes engaging, but instead is tedious and creates a lull. Being able to specify the number of items you want to buy in bulk would be nice. 

Current Buying Interaction

New Buying Interaction

By changing the text to say “Bulk, please!”, the player is free to state their desired item amount. I used the same screen the player sees when buying turnips from Daisy. Reusing a screen creates more familiarity.

Challenges I Faced While Designing

One of the challenging things about this design was coming up with the appropriate screen to specify items. I solved this problem by mindfully scanning in-game screens and scenarios for potential examples that would inspire my screen design. 

 

The screen I based this solution off of was from Daisy’s turnip buying interaction, which is a similar experience to buying items from Nook’s Cranny. Instead of a specific amount of turnips the player can buy, the game allows the player to state their desired quantity.

3.

Crafting Multiple Items

The crafting system in AC:NH is a fantastic addition to the long-running games series. However, there’s been a lot of complaints in the Animal Crossing community about its inefficiency.

 

Players are forced to watch a 5-second animation scene every time each item is crafted. This ultimately breaks the flow for players. For example, crafting massive amounts of fish bait causes players to smash the A button for lengthy periods of time. 

 

Bulk crafting would solve this problem. A player will be able to craft the desired amount of items while being able to experience the crafting animation. One smaller detail in my solution is that if the player is crafting within their home, items from their storage would be taken into account while crafting. 

Current Crafting System

New Crafting System - Bulk Crafting

Challenges I Faced While Designing

One of the challenges I had with designing the bulk crafting screens was keeping the interaction simple and easy to understand while having the screens visually balanced.

 

When designing completely new interactions, I had to consider whether or not the solution would fit Nintendo’s methodology. Understanding Nintendo’s intended game design goals stem from my numerous years of playing their games. 

 

Deciding to add the max build button was another challenge I had encountered. I didn’t have much data to confirm whether or not this addition would be used often or not. That said, there are a few existing interactions that allow players to denote max amount of items. Therefore, I felt more confident in adding a max items button to the screen. I’ll have to A/B test the solution with users to validate my assumptions.

4.

Select Customization Options for Crafting Items

It would be a significant improvement to have the ability to select customization options for the item you wish to craft. This would reduce the amount of wait time the player engages with, ultimately optimizing the user flow. 

 

My solution provides the player with the ability to see what customization option is available for the desired item. It will allow them to craft with the customization option already applied to the object. The building animation will incorporate a few frames from the customization animation so that it frames the player. 

 

 

This will eliminate scenarios where a player would craft and item, hoping that it would have customization options they would like, but realizing that it doesn’t. Situations such as this unfairly punish the player because they used precious resources on an item they ended up not liking. Creating an environment where players feel more secure in their actions aligns with the overall game design of Animal Crossing. 

Current Crafting System

In order to customize an item, the player has to build the item first, exit out of the interaction, and then re-engage with the crafting table to select customize item. 

New Crafting System - Customize Objects While Crafting

The player can select Y to open up the customization screen. Once they select the customization they desire, they will be brought back to the crafting screen and the object’s appearance will be updated.

Challenges I Faced While Designing

I had issues creating a visually balanced solution. This was similar to the challenges I encountered when designing the bulk crafting screen. I went through a few iterations with this solution because I struggled to optimize gameplay while balancing the spirit of the game.

I felt like this design iteration was perfect for efficiency and created a lovely experience for more hardcore players. However, this solution would have been too intense for the more casual and new players. Even if it was introduced later in the game, it would not fit Nintendo’s design methodology.

5.

Better Airport Online Play Interactions

While there are many flaws with AC: NH’s multiplayer experience, I’ll be focusing on connecting to online friends. The way it is currently designed severely punishes players for making a mistake.

Current Flow:

  • 1. Talk to Orville and select I want to Fly
  • 2. Select Local or Online
  • 3. Loading Screen
  • 4. Decide between Search Among Friends or Search by Dodo Code
  • 5. Loading Screen
  • 6. Travel to Friends or Cancel

Misclicking is a common behaviour people undertake. When a player misclicks an option in Step 2 or Step 4, they are made to endure a loading screen before they can cancel out of the interaction flow and start over. 

I crafted a solution to help ease the pain points of misclicking. There are now two new interaction options during Step 4. 

Current Airport Interaction

Players must cancel the interaction when a mistake is made.

New Airport Interaction

A. If the player accidentally misclicks search for friends, they have the option to provide a dodo code instead.

B. If the player has made a mistake with the dodo code, they are able to try again with a new dodo code.

6.

Select All Feature

It would be nice to have the ability to select all items in your inventory. This could potentially reduce the number of button clicks a player needs to do when selling an inventory full of bugs, fish, or turnips. 

Current Selling Interaction

The player must manually select all of the turnips in their inventory.

New Sell Interaction - Select All

The player can select all of the items in their inventory and deselect the highlighted items with a press of a button. 

Challenges I Faced While Designing

While this feature seems promising, there’s not much data on whether or not players would use the feature. Research should be conducted to determine players’ behaviours and needs when selling items to AJ, CJ, and Timmy and Tommy.

Key Takeaways and Reflections

This project was exciting to partake in because it focused on game UX, an area in which I’m still developing. Designing solutions for problems within a game was a neat challenge, especially with all of the other things I had to consider. I tackled this project similarly to how I would approach design problems. I started with my pain points. I researched the community’s reaction to the game and found they had similar pain points to mine. From there, I uncovered a problem space. 

I knew I had to be mindful to the point that games are designed to create a balance between a smooth flow-like experience and frustration. This frustration is what challenges players and motivates them to continue. This was a concept I needed to frame myself with as I dug deep into my solutions. 

When designing my features suggestions, I consistently validated them with Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s theme and existing visual design. I needed to consider the fundamental elements Nintendo games provide to its players base.

The next step for this project would be to test out my quality of life improvements with the community to gather feedback. The feedback would ultimately help validate the assumptions that I made when crafting these improvements. If you would like to chat more on what I learned throughout this process, connect with me through email at [email protected].