Facts are facts, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been the only really good thing to come out of this year. Since it released in March, we here at Syrup HQ have dedicated our lives to naming our islands, QR scanning our favourite memes and album covers, befriending and socialising (1.5 metres apart, ofc) with our adorable animal neighbours (one of which, my mum thinks is a beach bum), and creating some absolute fire fits (thanks to the advice of some actual Animal Crossing fashion experts).
Anywayyy, we’d like to say Animal Crossing has been the thing to get us through this cursed year, except, well… we’re struggling to create our perfect island getaway (and we know you are, too). Whether you’ve been playing for ten hours or ten weeks straight, designing your own hand-crafted virtual town is hard work, especially when everyone on the internet is so good at it.
So, we spoke with RMIT University’s Associate Professor in International Planning and irl town planner Marco Amati to find out just exactly how to make your dream Animal Crossing town.
Spoiler alert: it involves a conversation about toilets.
First, look at your irl surroundings
“Look around you and your urban environment,” Amati told Syrup. “And, ask yourself, ‘what would I do better?’ [In Animal Crossing,] it’s completely cheap to build stuff. And it’s completely cheap and free to make mistakes in a way that it wouldn’t be in the real world. So, you’ve got this opportunity to actually think completely differently about an urban environment.”
“Look to the real world surroundings and don’t just try to copy those, but try to pick out the best bits of that and enhance them.”
Make a plan before you start actually doing anything in Animal Crossing
“It would be very helpful to actually make a plan of what it is that you think you need,” Amati said. “So, you know, [that may include a] list of different stuff that you want, maybe another column which says what you actually want to achieve with those things, and then maybe how you’re going to get it in terms of the number of bells that you might need or other activities you’ll have to do to attain those things.”
“And then, once you’ve kind of got that set out, then you probably want to just turn the paper over and map out broadly where you’re going to put those things, and where you’re going to put the roads and how that’s gonna connect.”
Consider the space in between your buildings
“In general, as human beings, we see something very upsetting about very sharp corners and edges, which is a bit hard to avoid really in a computer gaming environment,” explained Amati.
“It’s all kind of very blocky. So, you need to soften those edges as much as possible to create a sense of enclosure and coziness. I think it’s a really significant challenge in between buildings, because they, you know, it’s very easy to ignore those bits.”
Add some greenery to your Animal Crossing home
“A lot of what people are seeing in Animal Crossing are basically visual cues to certain biophysical reactions,” mentioned Amati. “We know that, in general, lots of greenery around is good because it will clean the air and shade you, make it cooler.”
“Those are all physical characteristics, but obviously, you’re not going to get any of that benefit through the screen. But, we do know that just looking at a picture of greenery is almost as good as looking at the real thing.”
“So, actually, from a mental perspective, those kinds of visual cues, lots of lush greenery, shading, you know, cleaning the air, knowing even that it’s cleaning the air is actually a really good mental benefit. So, if you want to create a space which is good for your mental well being, then you want to probably design an urban living room that has plenty of greenery in it.”
I’ve posted Black Cherry Garden before. It’s received some worthy additions since! from r/AnimalCrossingTours
Key point here: add some greenery, like pot plants, trees and flower gardens, because even though they’re not physical, they still improve your mental wellbeing.
Parks should be seen as an outside extension of your living room
“Parks should be looked at as basically an extension of your interior living rooms outside,” our irl town planning expert explained. “And in the same way that they bring people together just like the living room does, they’re a space for entertainment, basically hanging out and relaxing.”
“That’s really what I think a garden space should be. So, given people are already locked down and they’re probably very familiar with their living room, they should be looking at how they use and design their own living room space.”
Ask yourself: in my Animal Crossing island, do villagers poop?
“In Second Life, many people we’re doing something similar to what they’re doing in Animal Crossing. They were busy building this beautiful island and amazing house, and consistently it’s—because avatars don’t need to go to the toilet—you’ve got all these houses being designed that don’t have a toilet. Which is a kind of an ancient interesting reflection on what we think of as being important or not… is a toilet necessary? It’s an interesting philosophical question for a computer gaming environment.”
Key takeaway here: while you can theoretically poop in Animal Crossing, you don’t need to to continue living, unlike real life. So, given the game is built around escapism, something we really kinda need right now, we think this is a question only you can answer yourselves.
why they let us poop in animal crossing but we still cant get in the baths/spas???— 🌱 𝒦𝒾𝒶 ☆🌱 (@kia_lynee) April 19, 2020
I WANNA TAKE A BATH
Make sure your Animal Crossing neighbourhood is accessible for everyone
“What you want actually is spaces that are as accessible as possible. It’s basically just like real world and you probably want to design your space for the most immobile member of the Animal Crossing community, just in the same way that you’d want to design your town for people who are the most mobility impaired, so people in wheelchairs, the aged on a Zimmer frame, etc.”
“So, the crucial thing then is to identify who is the most mobility impaired member of Animal Crossing. Make sure that you have as kind of a barrier free environment as you can, that it’s really accessible, and it has a well located public toilet to poop just in case you should feel so, that’s important.”
Think about whether your plan for your Animal Crossing town encourages villagers to come together and mingle
“If you’ve got a town square already set up and a museum, and what you want to try to do is to create a street layout that enables as much exchange and as much circulation as you can, along with different people. I would just encourage you to use your instinct for what you think will enable people to cross each other as much as possible in the town square, because that kind of fulfils the point of coming together.”
“They need to have somewhere to go. How about putting a cafe? That’s what every town needs.”
And, when it comes to terraforming, here are some things to ask yourself
“What you’re looking to try to do is to critique or think about and analyse what does a valley do? What does a mountain do in terms of the scenic environment? You know, what is it? Actually?”
“If you’re building a beautiful building, what elements do you actually want to have hidden from it? What do you want to emphasise when someone approaches that building? How are they going to feel as they approach it? What’s actually steadily revealed to them?”
“Secret” spring inspired by the great fairy fountains from Breath of the Wild from r/AnimalCrossingTours
“There’s a whole art and a science and a psychology behind placing buildings in the landscape and being aware of the human experience…. You can get inspiration for that kind of terraforming activity by recreating famous houses or town plans that have actually done a lot of terraforming.”
Look to irl famous examples for advice like… uh… Canberra?
“Canberra is actually the most amazing example really, because they had a competition in 1911, for Canberra’s international competition, and all of the plans are public. You’ve got the same terraform there, but you know, it’s like 32 entrants with all these different wacky weird ideas, and a lot of them have not just maps, but actually also, you know, very detailed diagrams of how people are going to live, what the future is going to look like and things like that.”
“A wonderful house to recreate in a computer environment would be something like Frank Lloyd Wright’s falling water. It’s a house which has a waterfall that flows underneath it. His plans are very much like a sort of rural utopia where everybody lives on a bigger than a quarter acre block more like a two acre block. And all the transport is taken care of, because it’s all cars, there’s no need to build trains everywhere.”
“I would kind of aim for looking at a house that’s very naturalistic, and think about how to terraform around that to create a waterfall or something along those lines.”