For Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the goal right from the start of development was to try a new direction, according to the game’s co-directors, Aya Kyogoku and Isao Moro. In an Iwata Asks interview, the two explain that previous Animal Crossing games started out with the player buying a house, and then spending a large portion of the game paying off their loan to the landlord, Tom Nook.
When development of Animal Crossing: New Leaf began, the two decided that the focus would be on allowing players to customize their whole in-game town, instead of just their residence, as was the norm in previous games. The player now has the ability to install fountains and street lamps, plant trees, build bridges, and other public facilities. The problem was summing this feature up in a single key word or concept that players would understand at a glance, and identify as the game’s key feature.
Ultimately, they settled on the idea of the player being the mayor. This would convey the concept of having control over the town. Additionally, the mayor theme fit neatly in with another aspect of the game that Kyogoku had been wanting to address as well—the in-game clock.
In Animal Crossing, time in the game passes in sync with the real world. While this is one of the series’ many appeals, it’s also a double-edged sword for those that only get to play games at night after coming home from work. Like in the real world, shops and other facilities in Animal Crossing are closed at night time, meaning you miss out on a significant portion of the game’s features if you can’t make time to play during the day.
Players sometimes work around this by manually adjusting the in-game clock, but Kyogoku wanted for the game to adjust itself to the player instead. As a result, New Leaf lets you tailor the game to suit your own needs. Since you’re the mayor, you now have control over the laws and regulations of your town, including being able to decide business hours and allow shops to remain open until late at night, meaning you won’t have to miss out because of your regular life.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is slated for release on June 9th in North America and June 14th in Europe. You can watch Kyogoku and the rest of the development team discuss the game in this English-subtitled Nintendo Direct.