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Creating Compelling and Continuous Gameplay in a Cozy Farming/Life Sim Adventure

'In the sea of games offering very similar types of experiences, creating emotionally meaningful connections go a long way in crafting a memorable experience.'

Deborah Chantson, Blogger

June 26, 2024

5 Min Read

I’m addicted to Coral Island. There, I said it. To date, I’ve logged over 300 hours (while listening to countless podcasts and audiobooks, sorry audio team), having only started the game several months ago on Xbox Game Pass.

As a Writer and Narrative Designer at Sticky Brain Studios, I was testing out some games as research for our next unannounced title. I only delved into Coral Island after rage quitting Stardew Valley (I know, my team’s Animation Director/next game’s Concept Creator E. Joan Lee finds this hilarious). Sometimes, it really boils down to aesthetics and explaining how to get started.

From what my colleagues tell me, Coral Island is remarkably similar to Stardew Valley. Coral Island’s main story quest is clearing the ocean of garbage and uncovering beacons that pierce through and dissolve an oil spill-like root that is poisoning the island and surrounding ocean waters. It gets a bit monotonous (hence me with the audiobooks), so it makes sense to also have the farming sim part, plus peppering the gameplay with NPC interaction and collection.

I love a game with crafting quests and resource management. I also spent ages playing Mineko’s Night Market … twice. I love that Coral Island also has a racially diverse range of NPCs, and with its Indonesian studio/development team, it skews East Asian, so things like the Harvest Moon festival, mooncakes, the Cherry Blossom Festival, and Indonesian foods are featured. It’s a visually stunning experience, with such attention to detail that I never thought running through a field of digital cauliflower on a windy day could be so freaking satisfying.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to work on a game with such an extensive play time, but as game developers, I feel like we’re always searching for the things that make for compelling gameplay. And while I don’t share the same love of Minecraft with my children, in which they’ve logged far longer than my measly 300+ hours of Coral Island, I feel like an articulated list of key considerations might be helpful, and could have been alternately titled as, “Maximizing the Feeling for Getting Fantastically Lost in a Game World: A Narrative Designer’s Wish List”.

Customizing your character’s aesthetic look and player name goes a long way in making the player feel like they’re part of the story world. Every time an NPC says, “Thank you, Deb!”, I’m like, “You’re welcome, NPC, whose name I wouldn’t remember if it wasn’t in the character name label.” Player agency over how they appear can often deepen their connection to the game.

Ensure that there’s a purpose for all dialogue. For all the effort that goes into planning, writing, crafting choices, asset creation, animation, coding, and localization – don’t give players a reason to skip any of it! Use dialogue interactions and cut scenes to:

- Provide hints;

- Add depth to the story; and

- Direct players to find or build up to crafting items for a longer quest -- which should then be an actionable item that adds to a quest list, and not just a suggestion.

Highlighting key words in the text would be helpful in identifying their importance. Mineko’s Night Market does a really great job of this. I found myself taking paper notes, but my Certified Accessible® Player Experiences Practitioner self would recommend working this into a quest journal of sorts.

Meaningful interactions with NPCs deepen the game’s feeling of immersion. I haven’t played the Steam version of Coral Island where you can form romantic relationships with NPCs, so I can’t speak to that. But having heard thirdhand that dialogue can run out with your spouse, I would venture setting the default dialogue to something like, “I love you! My days are so much happier with you in my life.”

Give options to delve into deeper subjects for run-of-the-mill platonic conversations that can then be attached to something like a collector quest.


NPC: Hello [player name input]! How are you?

You: Great! How are you, [nonplayable character’s name]?

NPC: I could be better.


Option 1: I don’t have time to talk right now, but let’s talk later.

NPC: Sure thing.



Option 2: Why? What’s going on?

NPC: My mom and I fought this morning. It’s my fault. I know a simple apology won’t work. I was thinking about trying to make her this special cake from her childhood she loves so much. But I don’t know where to find any pumpernickelodeonspongebobpantsie flowers.

It’s an opportunity to unfold more of the story and develop characters, especially when players feel more invested while contributing to the story.

Item/craft quests should offer more significance than a mere errand.


Accept pumpernickelodeonspongebobpantsie quest: Yes / No

Coral Island has beautiful set dec, such that players can enter almost every NPC’s delightfully furnished home. Other than for the currency reward, which at this point in the game, I don’t need, it feels like a lot of effort to find or harvest the requested item, track down the NPC, give them the item, have them acknowledge it, and then there’s no other interaction or mention of it.

Previous interactions are reflected in future interactions.


After completing the pumpernickelodeonspongebobpantsie flower quest, dialogue alludes to the NPC’s healed relationship with their mother, thanks to your efforts.

Anything new really hypes that reward instinct.

I don’t think I really need to elaborate on this, but getting a magical greenhouse or discovering merpeople was worth the lack of sleep and staying up a little, nay … a lot longer.

Understanding that the revenue model varies for such games, I do realize that my playing a premium download sim game carries a finite amount of gameplay and there is no obligation on the developers’ part to extend that past a main storyline. The thing is that many games are scoped with collector quests that offer the kind of extensive gameplay whether the Player feels like it’s grinding or just a fun place to chill and go fishing. But in the sea of games offering very similar types of experiences (like the upcoming Hello Kitty Island Adventure with its beach, mines, recipes, room decoration, etc.), creating emotionally meaningful connections go a long way in crafting a memorable experience. And that’s something every studio wants … at least until it’s time to release a sequel.

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