Although it’s younger than many of Nintendo’s other tentpole properties, the Animal Crossing series is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, making it one of the longest-running franchises in gaming today. Western fans were first introduced to the quirky life sim on the GameCube, but the series actually debuted on that system’s predecessor, the Nintendo 64–and in its earliest stages of development, it was a very different kind of game than the one Nintendo would eventually release.
Like so many of the company’s other titles, Animal Crossing was born not from a setting or story concept, but rather a gameplay idea–namely, the ability for multiple people to play in and influence one shared space. This idea was sparked by the 64DD, a short-lived disc drive attachment that Nintendo released for the N64 toward the end of the system’s lifetime. Many of the features that the 64DD afforded over the base N64 hardware–particularly its real-time clock and ability to store comparatively large amounts of data–would serve as the foundation for what would ultimately become Animal Crossing.
“The idea for Animal Crossing began with the idea that we could use the 64DD to write a massive amount of save data to make a kind of game that hadn’t ever been made yet,” game director Katsuya Eguchi said during the 2008 Nintendo Game Seminar (as translated by Nintendo World Report). “At that point, the theme that I considered was ‘playing with others.’ The beginning of that design was that you’d have this RPG-like world in this massive field, and multiple people would enter, and your play would affect the other players.”