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Virtually Recovered

This week, I sought the holy grail of missing virtual world game satisfaction by playing some of the closest pretenders to the empty throne!  Namely, Animal Crossing: New Leaf and some city-building mods for Minecraft.

I am spoiled by great big sandbox games, but they universally have retarded long-term goals.

Don't believe me?  Lets compare genre with long-term goal:
  • PvP MMORPG sandbox - Grinding endlessly to earn useless loot in order to gank people who have less time.
  • Theme Park MMORPG sandbox - Grinding endlessly to earn useless loot in order to earn more useless loot than people who have less time.
  • City-builder sandbox - Completing scenarios so you can just do it again.
  • Minecraft-like mining and crafting sandbox - Why the Hell am I mining and crafting?
  • Dwarf Fortress-like managerial sandbox - Losing.
  • The Sims-like life sandbox - Dying.
Why do I like these games again?  I probably just have terrible taste.  But the sad fact of the matter is that I like them so much that I don't want to play anything else.  I got Mass Effect: Andromeda and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild sitting right here.  Don't wanna touch em', got a virtual world sandbox itch bigger than both games can provide.
Oh, you wanted a bucket too?  Tragedy of the commons, biatch.
Alright, so here's the primary motivation I have to be a game developer.   I want to add that missing satisfactory long-term goal.  Of course, since such a goal does not exist yet, I have to invent it.  To these ends, I explored two good examples of games that I think got really close.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

You better believe this cutesy little 3DS game is a virtual world sandbox!  You have your own house to decorate, you have your own village to expand, and you even have procedural distributed villagers.  That's many layers of sandbox features compared to most alternatives!

The first thing I noticed on my revisit is that Animal Crossing: New Leaf has more positive reinforcement than the hull of the RMS Titanic.  Catch a bug, harvest fruit, dig up a fossil, talk to a villager, get a free piece of furniture, go shopping - heck, you milk money from the very rocks!  Virtually everything you do dings the ol' endorphin reward mechanisms.  How did I ever escape this game?!
But if you play too long, Stockholm syndrome sets in.
I probably escaped because the gameplay is simpler than even casual fare, and consequently less satisfying to play as far as the inside mechanics are concerned.  But that outside is pretty rockin'; I did not see anything that disagreed with my earlier assessment about its virtual world credentials.  The biggest contributor to its end game longevity is how much furniture there is.  There are hundreds of pieces.  Enough to make a whole spinoff game about decorating rooms.  But how does it stack up to the best significance-adding mods Minecraft?

Minecraft (modded with city-building elements)

So I decided to give modded Minecraft another spin.  
I mostly ended up playing the Minecolonies mod.
For a long time, I have been trying to get that missing end-game goal in the game by adding a city-builder element on top.  Here are the mods I found that might accomplish that goal:
  • Minecolonies - Allows you to place useful NPCs via their related huts.  A builder builds, a farmer farms, a miner mines, a delivery man delivers, a guard guards, a cow moos, ect.  Even the unemployed will roam around picking up loose stuff like a medieval can recycling hobo.  In the big picture, you make a town with genuinely productive citizens.
  • Harvest Festival - Tries to turn Minecraft into Harvest Moon, including making it all about selling crops for money, wooing a mate, and rebuilding the town.  In practice, it seems to me like Minecraft was already a better game than Harvest Moon so turning yourself into a clock-limited cabbage slinger is kind of pointlessly self-limiting.
  • Minecraft Comes Alive basically just overhauls the vanilla Minecraft villagers into ones with a bit more character, even making them spouses to produce virtual kids with!  It also adds guards who protect the village and, like the other vocations in this mod, are utterly terrible at their jobs.  These villagers are lovable morons compared to the ones in Minecolonies or Millenaire.
  • Millenaire - The most ambitious city-builder mod out for Minecraft.  Similar to Minecolonies, but the cities build themselves and it has several distinct cultures, culturally-unique items and crafting, and a currency-based economy.  Too bad it has not been updated since 2014!
What bothers me the most about the stock villagers in Minecraft is that these little buggers don't need to eat.  I got factorization going over here, even without mods !  If can make a ton of resources, I need a purpose for them.  A village in need could provide that purpose!  But because default Minecraft villagers do not really eat (except as an aphrodisiac) and have no other significant needs, they are not that resource sink.  Come on, you wimps, eat me out of house and home!
A city builder like Towns puts logistics first, as it should.
Because of the lack of true needs in the villagers, Minecraft is a lousy city builder.  So it is up to these city building mods to try to fix this.  What needs am I seeing here?
  • Construction materials - Homes take stuff to build, but whether I am feeding a hungry Millenaire builder, a thriving Millenaire civilization, or doing it all myself by hand in vanilla Minecraft, it basically works out to the same impact on my stockpiled blocks.  Yet, it's sort of satisfying to meet requests for specific things, it's a bit like questing.
  • Food - Just like in normal Minecraft, nobody here really requires food.  In Millenaire, food is  still just an aphrodisiac, and in earlier versions of Minecolonies it just improved morale.  How come nobody starves?  
  • Tools - There is one form of useful consumable in Minecolonies because the craftsmen NPCs will use up tools... very slowly.  But there's a really tiny cycle here: tools become materials which become tools/construction materials?  When I tried the Ancient Warfare mod, I could at least pretend it was to raise an army!
Speaking of Ancient Warfare, I liked how the NPC workers in the mod refused to work unless they were fed!  But that same mod ended up turning fed workers into something that just power machine blocks.  If we follow that logic, I no longer need villagers to provide needs, just resources to power engines!  I might as well go play Factorio!
Factorio somewhat fudges needs by routing most resources to research.
So why don't I?  Well, maybe because I don't just want to acquire goods and get things done, I could do that in any factorization mod!  I am trying to balance out the goods I get with some genuine needs.  Otherwise, we end up with more garbage than we know what to do with!  Even core Minecraft has this problem: chests and chests full of junk!

But the villagers enter the picture too.  I like having them around.  Why is that? I did a bit of thinking about this, and came up with some interesting ideas.  But that is going to be pushed into the next entry.
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