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The Quiet Life: How to Make a Casual Sim

 

After the beloved Stardew Valley, casual sims have seen a resurgence. The Steam Store likely has one of them in the top sellers on any given day, whether it be focused on farming, managing a workshop or even graveyard-keeping.

Rather than the immediate satisfaction you might get from a lightning-fast arcade game, casual sims are true slow-burners, often described with adjectives like “peaceful,” “relaxing,” and “laid-back.” To some consumers, these words are synonyms for “boring,” but plenty of others cherish the opportunity to sink their evenings into cozy virtual villages, working towards a new set of furniture or tending to livestock.

While they offer simple gameplay loops to keep you busy—produce, sell, expand—it’s everything else that makes or breaks a game of this genre.

Solid farming mechanics, but no interesting events? No thanks.

Great crafting, but poorly-written characters in the nearby town? Nah.

Simple RPG elements, good progression, NPCs, events, and a passionate eye for detail? You’ve got yourself a classic.

The most recent success story in casual sims might be My Time at Portia, released in January from Pathea Games and Team17 (11th top seller on Steam globally at the time of writing).

So far I’ve spent two months (half a year in the game calendar) in the small city of Portia—about 24 hours’ gameplay. In that time, I’ve risen to fame. I now own—wait for it—the second best workshop in town.

Impressive, I know.

But what keeps me going? Here are a few small lessons I’ve learned about creating a solid casual sim from MTAP.

Build a Convincing World

This applies twofold to the local community in your game.

NPCs need an interesting schedule that feels realistic. Where does the villager work and relax? Do they have any interesting habits? Who is friends with who, and does that affect the player?

In MTAP, getting to know one person better might also endear you to their close mates, thereby creating the feeling of a real network of relationships in town. Once you befriend someone, you’re able to fulfil special requests, learn more about their backstory, and even go hang out with them in the pub.

With that being said, I do think casual sims could use a little innovation in terms of making friends. I give Phyllis the same shoddy necklace every day and she somehow still enjoys my company.     

Show Tangible Effects

Witnessing Portia develop is a rewarding experience.

There are cosmetic changes and new characters wandering around, but best of all is the steadily unfolding set of new mechanics. Build a network of bus stops and you’ll find you can now fast-travel. Repair a nearby logging camp and they’ll send you resources daily.

Tie it All Together

After mining for a few hours, you might dig up a sofa, which motivates you to return home and spruce up the place a bit. There, decorating can be satisfying in and of itself, but My Time at Portia goes a step further—the items you place in your house boost your stats, too.

In other words: buy stuff, get buffs.

If you’re a fan of the dungeons and combat, make sure your room is filled with things that increase your HP. On the other hand, if your focus is hard labor, get some chairs that give you more stamina. This is a subtle touch that pulls players like me—someone who doesn’t care much for interior design—into thinking about the items I fill my abode with.

Variety is the Spice of (Virtual) Life

In order to stave away the monotony of a 9-5 job in the workshop, games like MTAP present a wide range of things to do. In my limited time with the game, I’ve started raising chickens, won a martial arts tournament, dungeon-crawled, decorated, and dated. I’ve played slots, repaired robots, posed for the best camera shots, caught fish, and cooked up my favorite dish.

There’s a lot to do, and you can more or less take it at your own pace.  

Do you have any more lessons for casual sim developers? Do you agree or disagree with the lessons here? Which are your favourite casual sims and why? Let us know.

 

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  1. Man, we need more games like this, I think this is why Minecraft kicked off as it is just peaceful to play. I think the problem is that there isn’t a lot of casual sims thing, as it isn’t something that lends to casual ha ha.

  2. I’ve always loved casual sims, having played them since Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for GBA as a kid. The biggest thing that got me into those games was the life I got to build and watching all my hard work paying off in the long run; or failing and learning from my mistakes. I would always encourage developers to design their game with this concept in mind, that it’s all right to have the player fail and learn rather than holding their hand through everything. The reward as a player is much greater when we’ve applied how much we’ve learned about the game and its many aspects and applying all those lessons to grow a successful farm/town/graveyard/anything! Plus everything the author mentioned, great article!

  3. I’ve always loved casual sims, having played them since Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for GBA as a kid. The biggest thing that got me into those games was the life I got to build and watching all my hard work paying off in the long run; or failing and learning from my mistakes. I would always encourage developers to design their game with this concept in mind, that it’s all right to have the player fail and learn rather than holding their hand through everything. The reward as a player is much greater when we’ve applied how much we’ve learned about the game and its many aspects and applying all those lessons to grow a successful farm/town/graveyard/anything! Plus everything the author mentioned, great article!

  4. I enjoyed My Time At Portia very much. At first, I got it during the early access and there wasn’t much going on, so I refunded after a couple hours of play. I liked it, but like I said, there wasn’t much going on and I didn’t feel like investing in another game which may or may not ever go anywhere.

    I recently purchased it after it came out of early access and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised about how good of a game it was. I clocked in at around 50 hours to complete the story which was about 2 and 1/2 years into the game calendar, and I don’t think I even did everything I could have done. I didn’t date, I didn’t do a whole lot of city projects, my workshop wasn’t all that impressive…there was just too much to actually do to be able to do it all in a reasonable amount of time.

    The worst aspect for me was the lack of character customization as the townsfolk are quite varied in height and build for men and women, but for my character it was incredibly generic and while I didn’t hate the lack of options, I was more disappointed in the choices that were available. The rest of the game is great, so the customization issue isn’t a crippling one.

    Graphics are great, transition from game to cinematic is smooth and load times are quick. Controls are responsive and combat, while not very involved, is fun enough to be enjoyable.

    I’d love to see a sequel for the game!

  5. I apologize if this is a dumb question but the tag for this article is Rockstar, what exactly does this article have to do with Rockstar?

  6. I really like this game, and will more then likely get it on my switch too, its a good fit with stardew valley IMO.

    My only complaint would be it needs more events with individual or groups of citizens when you get friendly enough with them.

    Also why can’t the people who started these types of games make a decent, harvest moon is near dead to me, and while i love the rune factory games alot, its not as homey feeling as MTAP and harvest moon

  7. JasonNally on May 8, 2019 at 8:03 am said

    I am having an absolute blast with My TIme at Portia. I was a backer on Kickstarter and I just love everything about the game. I am on month 3 day 15ish and there really is soo much to do. Def. pick this game up if you are into this sorta thing.

  8. TitusTheMightiest on May 8, 2019 at 4:46 pm said

    I cant wait…but i must for the physical release on my Switch.

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