Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp devs discuss bringing the hit series to mobile

In an interview with Japanese website 4Gamer, the Pocket Camp team talks adapting series touchstones for new audiences while catering to existing fans.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was quite possibly the most anticipated mobile game from Nintendo’s 2017 lineup. When the company announced in March 2015 that it would team up with Mobage giant DeNA to produce official Nintendo apps for mobile phones, speculation swirled around what those games would entail. The game was released on November 22, 2017 worldwide to much fanfare, as well as some criticism of how the beloved Nintendo series made the transition from 3DS game to phone app.

But no change is made unintentionally, especially when it comes to a widely popular and beloved series. In an email interview published just before the end of 2017, the Japanese website 4Gamer spoke with members of the Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp development team about the process of bringing Animal Crossing to phones and their future plans for the app.

“We expected the players of Pocket Camp to mostly be people who enjoyed Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Welcome amiibo on the Nintendo 3DS, but we were overwhelmed by the number of players who were coming to Animal Crossing for the first time, or returning to the series after many years.” The key to reaching such a wide audience was retaining the charm of Animal Crossing while also adapting it for the best experience on phones. To this end, members of the Animal Crossing: New Leaf team are helming the project and supervising the DeNA staff to make sure Pocket Camp captures the Animal Crossing play style. However, the team has also taken into consideration how being on a phone gives Pocket Camp its own unique appeal. 

A central aspect of playing on a phone, the Pocket Camp team writes, comes from the fact that most people play throughout the day for short spurts of only 2 to 3 minutes at a time. Thus, Pocket Camp combines the fishing, bug catching, and furniture collecting aspects of Animal Crossing with features that make playing for short periods on a phone more enjoyable. Easily understandable goals, such as fulfilling requests of villagers and inviting villagers to your camp, along with simple touch controls, were ways the team adapted Animal Crossing for a phone environment.

"We were overwhelmed by the number of players who were coming to Animal Crossing for the first time."

But why change the traditional Animal Crossing village and house to a camper and campsite? “You might say a camper is a moveable house that you can put furniture in. When we connected this feeling of a moveable home with the image of the phone you can carry with you anywhere, it became the perfect embodiment of the theme of Pocket Camp.”

Anyone who’s played an Animal Crossing game remembers finally loading up their village after a long day at work or school, only to find that all of the stores were closed. While there was an option for extending store hours in Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Welcome amiibo, the real-time day and night cycle can still be an annoyance in the early stages of the game when it takes a day just for Tom Nook to get your house set up.

In Pocket Camp, however, stores are now open at all hours of the day, and Cyrus will build furniture whenever you have enough wood, bells, and whatever else you need to make it happen.

4Gamer: “Though would be interesting to be able to change store hours like in Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Welcome amiibo, it’s great that everyone is able to have the exact same experience whenever they’re able to find time to play. But I’m worried about Cyrus crafting furniture 24/7!”

Pocket Camp Team: “Cyrus does just keep working if you ask him, doesn’t he… I think he takes naps in between orders.”

When developing the game for phones, the team had to decide what aspects of Animal Crossing would carry over, and what would need to be left behind. In addition to fundamentals such as bug catching and fishing, the team states that being able to feel the presence of other players is key characteristic of the series. While in previous Animal Crossing games, there could be up to 4 players that lived in one town, Pocket Camp was designed to be played by a single person.

To give Pocket Camp players the same feeling of being in a world with other players, the developers made it so your friends will appear throughout the world, such as on the beach when you’re fishing. The team writes that they’re thinking of additional ways for players to feel the presence of others within the game.

Reception to Pocket Camp's level system has been mixed.

Another new feature of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is the leveling system. As a player’s level increases, more villagers and furniture are unlocked. “We really struggled over whether or not to add level numbers to the game, but it’s very straightforward for players to understand. When we see people talking about their progress or boasting about their level, we know it was implemented well.”

While some familiar Animal Crossing faces, such as Tom Nook and K.K. Slider, make appearances in Pocket Camp, many favorites, like Resetti and Kapp’n (or my personal favorite, Brewster), are decidedly absent. When asked about the possibility of adding more classic characters to Pocket Camp, the team states that they are currently trying to determine what roles they might play in the app. Resetti, for example, is depicted bowing in apology in an image for the app’s maintenance screen, but it’s not quite the same as him yelling his brains out at you for not saving the game before you quit.

The team plans to continue to add new characters and furniture monthly, as well various monthly and seasonal events throughout the year. While they’re focusing on adding villagers from previous Animal Crossing games, they’re also looking into creating entirely new villagers for Pocket Camp. In addition, they note that they are also looking into ways to introduce new bugs and fish to the world of Pocket Camp, as well as events that you’ll be able to take part in with your friends.

One aspect of Animal Crossing that was notably absent from the initial Pocket Camp release was the ability to make and share clothing designs. While they recently announced the next update will introduce outfit crafting, 4Gamer asked the Pocket Camp team if there were plans to include a function allowing users to share their designs with one another using QR codes. The team responded that they’re currently focusing on the custom clothing and hat feature, so it appears it may be a while before players can share their hottest clothing designs with their friends.

While Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp may not have hit the same high note with fans of the series that New Leaf did when it was first released for Nintendo 3DS, it’s clear the team is passionate about providing an Animal Crossing experience that is best suited to how we interact with our phones. With monthly events, new characters and furniture updates, and perhaps even some surprises planned, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will have many opportunities to entice new players to the series and tide fans over until the next home console Animal Crossing game.

You can check out the entire interview (in Japanese) on 4Gamer's website. And if you're interested in more of Anne's translations, be sure to check out her website, Chic Pixel!