Holiday Village Brings Socially-Created Dioramas to Facebook

Whether called a diorama, crèche, or Christmas Village, people the world over have been creating holiday scenes on the lawn and dining room table since there was a holiday to celebrate. YouTube is rife with videos of elaborate scenes, tended with care by family and friends. When Samantha LeCraft began work on Holiday Village this October, it was with the intention of recreating this space for people to share the feeling of the holidays together over vast distances.

Each player begins with a basic inventory of buildings and 12 coins. These buildings can be placed in a newly created village or in a shared village — a previously created village which the player has been given access to. Villages support parallel gameplay, with changes made by any user appearing in real time, creating a truly social experience. Anyone with access can move and arrange existing items in the village as well as contribute from his own personal inventory. Ownership of contributed items remains with the contributor; if the item is removed from the scene it returns to the player’s inventory.

Players can also set different permission levels for villages that they create. “The game allows for those overlapping circles that Facebook doesn’t support natively. I want my sisters in this village or my friends from college in that village,” says LeCraft.

Villages are comprised of a number of buildings, trees, streetlamps, and décor appropriate to a fictional 1930s New England village. Players can create a Main Street replete with toy store, grocer, clothing store, or brick townhouse, and neighborhoods with stone cottages, hilltop farmhouses (with optional barn and doghouse), or a Cape Code home. Gazebos, Queen Anne-style hotels, churches, and street lamps are all available. And then there are trees – evergreen pines, decorated Christmas trees, and denuded oak and maple. Future plans included a synagogue, frozen pond, and carolers.

Since you need to build an entire village, items for purchase tend to come in lots,like three pine trees,two stone or three country chapels. Why would anyone need three country chapels for a small village? Perhaps multiple chapels add to the New England charm, but they could also be used as gifts to friends.

Themes including day and night, snowfall, white and colored lights are also supported. The music is particularly reminiscent of winter with “Wistful” played during daylight and a rediscovered turn of the century carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” for the evening. “We chose the evening music both for its beauty and because it is a little melancholy,” says LeCraft.”I was shopping and heard the Charlie Brown music and it made me sad… I missed my childhood. That’s what we wanted to evoke.”

In its current form, Holiday Village feels more like an application than a game. With a 7-week production schedule, the goal was to release the minimum viable product then add daily. The first gameplay to enter, which will start to appear today, will focus on balancing the needs of the village’s virtual community. Every 24 hours, each building will produce a combination of happiness, prosperity and/or unity. Tokens represent each property with a fourth wildcard token earned as a bonus for increasing members of your village as well as décor (such as trees).

Token bars on the top of the screen show a random series of needed tokens. Filling a number of these will earn the player coins. A shortage in any of the three token types indicates a community out of balance, and a need to build appropriately. One solution to this for players will be a post office to leave “mail” for village members — including notes mentioning which buildings are needed.

“The gameplay is designed so that it focuses on how to keep your village growing,” says LeCraft. “The game continues with other holidays — Fourth of July for example. The grass will turn green, the frozen pond that children skate on now becomes a swimming hole. But we’ve trained players on Facebook to expect to be told what the gameplay is; there is no expectation of discovery.”

On many levels Holiday Village is not a typical Facebook game. It is slow — relaxing, even — and has no time-management elements, no urgency. What is more, it is truly a social game with players choosing who to play with in a private space that all can affect. As gameplay is added, the seasons change, and new holidays pass, the question will be: are Facebook users ready for a completely new game experience?