I don’t know about you, but I’ve been stumbling across a lot searching between two matches this year. Kingdom Tears has clearly taken over a large part of my life over the past month. And recently I was in Los Angeles for the Summer Games Festival. Earlier this year, I was playing Kirby, and when I get home, I have humanity waiting for me. But all of those games were a bit too loud to get rid of all year long. Recently I needed something slower, something I could get lost in. And recently, I found myself diving over and over at a little game called Havendock.
Havendock is a city builder – one of those cozy ones that offers goals but low stakes, so you don’t have to frantically categorize a civilization as its inhabitants crumble in your arms. It does not take place on dry land, but in the middle of the ocean, starting on a small deserted island and continuing to build on a series of interconnecting wooden piers. You are building more ponds to make room for more housing, more people, and more machinery that will make your life somewhat easier. Drinking water is the primary concern, closely followed by something to eat and shelter. By the end, you’d have made your way to the dance floors and chicken coops. Materials drift lazily on waves, bringing an element of gentle randomness and surprise to your work. Recently, I created a dance floor and prayer center, so my residents have something to hope for – and it’s not me being a mess, it’s a real game mechanic.
While the castaways get hungry and tired, their needs grow very slowly and are easily met, their existence is rarely stressful, at least in the first hours you play. It pretty much makes Havendock a relaxing way to play around building civilization, punctuated by moments of humor like discovering I can grow hamburgers in the garden, or when I see the human touch of the silly names NPCs reach out to help me with. HavenDoc is full of this elegant idiocy, easily spoken of as a game eager to please a growing community through early access.
Creator Yeo Ying Zhi (who goes by YYZ) started working on Flash games as a teenager, eventually taking some lessons to help him start learning 3D engines like Unity. He has been working on some personal tower defense game projects for some time, and also released a 2D idol RPG called Enchanted Heroes which had some success. Havendock is YYZ’s first attempt at a larger 3D game, and while he’s been fascinated with 3D animation and game design for a while, it took a random, turbulent night to give him the boost he needed.
“I was lying in bed and couldn’t sleep,” he says. “It was like three in the morning. So I came up with the idea of being in this quiet place where you’re in the middle of the ocean. Then I made some concepts out of it. I wasn’t serious about turning it into a game. It was just a concept I had in my head. Then it floated around, and after a while I decided, “Okay, I guess I’ll try to turn this into a game.”
YYZ has gone above and beyond, not only in moving from 2D to 3D animation, but also in its goals to offer a decent multiplayer experience. I haven’t tried the feature yet myself, and it was described in Havendock’s early access release as “very experimental”. It’s easy to see why from its description.
“When a character deposits an item on a building, it needs to correlate that across all the players, all the buildings, the items in them, and the characters themselves on top of that. So it’s that interaction that makes it so hard for the game to be really seamless in multiplayer.” This is why there are so many issues with multiplayer that I’m trying to fix.”
While some might balk at playing something that’s clearly not finished, having open development like this is important to YYZ. He has been blogging a lot about the development process, taking into account community feedback and Being as transparent as possible about the issues involved Even in minor aspects like allowing NPCs to drink fruit juice or alcohol at the bar. He’s been so open from the start, too, telling me that he released the first version of Havendock to the public about six to eight weeks after starting the project.
“It’s very scary,” he says. “If you’re afraid to launch it, it probably feels right. If you’re ready for it, it’s probably too late already… When I tested it I thought it would be fine, but guys do all sorts of things out there.” That sandbox.So you can generally break things in the early stage because I wasn’t anticipating the way people played the game.So there was a lot of learning from that.But I’m actually glad it was released early because that gave me a lot of feedback to work on compared to With the time I spent making projects available to the public, it would take so long to build things that I didn’t know what if it was something people would want.”
Even with the difficulties, YYZ says launching Havendock in this early access environment has helped him develop it at a faster and more efficient pace than his previous projects. At the time we speak, he says he has about 2,400 Discord community members — a lot. Appreciate the help especially since he’s pretty much working on the game on his own, and still works part-time to pay the bills.
“I think this approach is very different from the way normal developers do it,” he muses. “So I think that’s also a huge learning point and it’s nicely out of my comfort zone for me… There was this one day, I remember I just went out for a day and the game seemed to have issues because I posted an update the day before, so I couldn’t get to Computer all day, so I couldn’t wait to go home, get to my computer, quickly figure out what the problem was and kind of push it in. That day was really stressful. So I guess those are some of the things I have to be more careful about” .
YYZ has clearly invested deeply in this project, but when I asked him what it would take for Havendock to be considered a success, his answer was modest.
“Maybe if enough people knew about it, I could ask my friend, ‘Hey, did you hear about my game?'” And they say, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard about that. ‘ Something like that. I think it’s common enough to be recognized. I’m not sure if that sounds like a success, but I think it’s cool.”
Rebecca Valentine is a senior reporter at IGN. You can find her on Twitter @employee.
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