Simulation may seem like an odd genre of gaming. Many may wonder why a person would spend time playing a game about a real-life activity rather than pursue it. Well, depending on your circumstances or surroundings, playing a simulation game can be the best way to experience something not accessible to you. Since a lot of players live in cities, farming and wilderness simulators have grown quite popular among them. One of the most recognized series is Animal Crossing, and it may soon be joined by Hokko Life by indie dev Robert Tatnell. We had a chance to sit down with Tatnell to ask about the development process and how Hokko Life came to be.
Inspiring A Simple Life
Hokko Life is a farming simulator that is available right now on PC via Steam Early Access. It follows the player avatar as they suddenly (and perhaps mistakenly) arrive in a small, somewhat desolate town. After meeting some of the locals, the player is introduced to the lay of the land and is tasked with building a life here while also restoring the town.
“Hokko Life came about quite organically,” Tatnell said. “I didn’t really go into the process with anything particular in mind outside of wanting to make something warm, cozy, and without killing.”
It appears that Tatnell hit the nail on the head. Despite the poor state of the town, the stylized graphics and overall tone are friendly and inviting. You’re encouraged to do as many activities as you can, but there’s no pressure to rush. You can enjoy Hokko Life however you want to really make it your own.
When you arrive in Hokko Life, characters fill you in on the situation: The town has fallen into disarray, and someone needs to improve. This objective falls to the players as they receive requests and tasks from the locals. Even so, Tatnell “wanted to make a game that was relaxing, something with no real pressure or strict goals.” It's plain to see that he wanted to build something creative. It seems that one of the major themes of the game is building up the town which Tatnell described as, “a game that had a powerful feeling of building something from nothing.”
The Journey To This Life
The majority of Hokko Life is due to Tatnell's solo effort. Though he had full and complete creative control throughout the process, he encountered some bumps along the road.
“The game has been in development for over four years now,” he said, “and at the beginning, it was something very different.” He described that the original Hokko Life was more akin to games like Transport Tycoon.
However, throughout development, those plans changed. “I realized I was more into the small villagers I had in the world than placing train lines,” Tatnell said. “I did a small test where you could build furniture and item in the game, and as soon as I did, I felt it was something really powerful, and over time it ended up being the most interesting feature in the game.”
It’s true that one of the prime aspects of Hokko Life is building. Even at the beginning, the number of items you’re given is limited. This encourages you to explore the area and talk to locals in order to get resources and recipes so you can build tools, furniture, and other items.
It’s clear that Hokko Life contains a fair amount of content, but that doesn’t stop us from wondering what else might be included. "There’s almost no limit to the sort of thing you can add to the game really ... The tricky thing is making sure what you add fits with the rest of the game.” He continues, “there’s a ton of stuff that I’d like to do with the game,” and while the game remains in Early Access, we may see some of those things appear later.
In its current state, Tatnell expresses pride and satisfaction with Hokko Life. “My favorite has to be the Design Tool,” he said. “It was incredible seeing all the fun things players were building with it during our small, closed beta." It feels like the intent was to give players the tools and freedom necessary to express their creativity across the Hokko Life world.
Obstacles And The Future
Considering Hokko Life’s long development time, we were curious if Tatnell encountered any particularly big hurdles.
“It’s a bit of a boring answer, but I’d say time-management has been the most challenging," he said. “Also, just generally making sure that I don’t overwork myself and keep a good amount of distance from the project in my spare time.” The game’s development was at the mercy of Tatnell's scheduling, but he remained focused and persevered.
With all this time spent working on Hokko Life, Tatnell said he's learned a lot about how he wants to approach future projects. “I have a lot of little systems and features that I’d like to expand upon and use in the future too,” he revealed. From what he’s learned, he’s also hoping to cut down his development time.
While Hokko Life is still in the works, there must be one part of it that Tatnell is truly proud of, right? “To be honest (and it feels a bit odd saying it)... all of it really?!” Which isn’t surprising considering how far he’s come and how the game turned out. “It’s so very hard to get perspective sometimes, when your head is down and you’re stuck into fixing bugs and working on systems ... but I’ve recently been able to lift my head up, take a look around at what’s been achieved, prod myself and go ‘Hey, you built this from nothing.’”
He shared his feelings and gratitude with all those who supported him throughout this journey. “I want to say a great big thank you to everyone who’s supported me through the development," he said. "The community members… my Patrons, all my fantastic beta testers, my friends and family, and the Stockholm indie community.”
It may have taken a while for Tatnell to get here, and while he created Hokko Life by himself, he was never alone. The game succeeded in building a community long before its release.
Be sure to check out the rest of our E3 2021 Coverage here.