Over the past four years, Stardew Valley is one of the prominent names in the indie game industry, but success did not come easily.
Stardew Valley is one of the last few years’ indie game phenomenon, with impressive achievements such as the game reached 10 million copies sold just a few days ago. Stardew Valley won gamers’ hearts by the attractive gameplay and the enthusiasm that the developer himself devoted to it, as he kept releasing new content for free years after the game was released.
This is a precious thing in the context that the game industry is engulfed in blood-sucking DLCs, controversial loot boxes, vulgar microtransaction, “remake” lies. So I decided to dedicate this article to introduce this game’s origin, one of the names that deserve to be called “Labor of Love” than GTA V.
Stardew Valley’s achievement is something that even AAA studios need to crave, so it’s made even more noticeable by a single person. The person who created this achievement was an American gamer and programmer named Eric Barone – often known by fans as Concerned Ape.
Eric’s career in games began in 2011, when he graduated from the University of Washington – Tacoma with a computer science degree. He started out looking for a job that suited his degree but was utterly uninterested. The difficulty of finding a job plus not being excited about the prospect of working “from 9 to 5” in a small room made Eric decide to try making games.
As a fan of the Harvest Moon brand, the familiar farm game series from Japan, Eric used to feel very disappointed when the Harvest Moon games increasingly lost his soul. So when he decided to try making games, he wanted to make a copy of Harvest Moon and planned to release the game on Xbox Live Indie Games, Microsoft’s indie game developer support program. At this time, Eric’s goal was simple: he wanted to prove his game design skills and hoped to lure Harvest Moon fans “to hook.”
That narrow vision didn’t last long because in developing his game, Eric’s skills increased, and he decided to “play big.” Eric went back to designing and developing the game’s fundamentals and making them better. According to Eric, he did all this to recreate what was lost in the latest Harvest Moon versions.
What I just summarized in the short passage above actually consumed Eric for four years. He shared that he spent 10 hours a day for four years, seven days a week, for Stardew Valley. Fortunately, he has the full support both physically and mentally from his girlfriend, a botany graduate student. Eric himself also found a part-time job at the Paramount Theater in Seattle to continue nurturing the Stardew Valley project.
A passionate gamer
“They (the developer Harvest Moon) have lost the miracle of making the first special games,” Eric said. “They have created special and rich worlds where you can get lost there for hours. Their gameplay is simple, but something is appealing about it: you wake up every morning, check your farm, and be excited to see the plants grow from seed to harvest. There is something exceptional in the simple gameplay of that beautiful world. ”
When trying to explain what made me love the Harvest Moon, Eric mentioned little things that we rarely pay attention to. Details such as small animals roaming or frogs jumping out of the grass when you cut the grass are the things that create “depth” for the world of the game, making gamers immersed in it.
Of course, he believes that the game characters are equally important and have shown that through the characters in Stardew Valley: the game has a whole village full of memorable characters, from the powerful mayor to The beggar who lives in the corner of the town. Many of them have touching stories that you can only discover when you take the time and effort to get to know, learn, and listen to them. Not to mention that all the villagers have their own lives, completely independent of what gamers do in the game.
At the beginning of Stardew Valley, our protagonist quit his tedious job in a narrow closet of Joja Corporation, perhaps a way Eric expressed his dissatisfaction with the lifestyle “9 to 5 o’clock. “Which I almost got. However, when he quit his job to go to his grandfather’s farm, he saw the presence of Joja Corporation with a supermarket nearby. That’s part of the message Eric wants to put into his game: “I want Stardew Valley to be an interesting game, but I also want it to have real-life messages,” Eric said.
Unlike the Harvest Moon titles, when the game usually ends after two years (in-game time), Eric designed his game so gamers could play for as long as they like. This makes Eric able to create many options, storylines, and gamers’ goals and help them discover all in one game. “I want the game to be filled with things you can do, but not make you feel stressed (for fear of missing out),” Eric said.
Of course, this does not mean that Stardew Valley forces you to do everything in the game or play the game for pure entertainment. The game’s freedom allows gamers to enjoy it in any way they want: from gamers who play with figures and spreadsheets to those who “work arbitrarily.” Eric said he didn’t want gamers to turn his farm into a cash register, but he compared it to a father seeing his child grow up.
“I imagine that was the feeling when you raised a child. In childhood, you are their whole world, but then they suddenly leave home and become independent. You realize that maybe they are not the people in your imagination, ” Eric shared. . “I still think that the best way to play a game is to find out for yourself. There’s no need to optimize the money you make, but I can understand that you will want to do so as a way to challenge yourself in the game. . “
During the game’s development, Eric did many things to create the “Harvest Moon feeling” he wanted in the game, even if those things reduced the game’s freedom. Many of these decisions revolve around cooking, and sometimes it forces Eric to erase part of the game’s content.
One such decision is not to include the ability to slaughter pet meat into the game: although you can raise chickens for eggs, raise cows. The game does not allow you to kill them for meat, although it once existed, and many testers and gamers have expressed an interest in seeing this feature. “I don’t want that feature. You name the animal, cuddle it, a small heart rises above their heads, then you kill them? I do not feel right. That feature doesn’t suit the feeling I want to create for the game, so I cut it off and didn’t regret it. ”
Likewise, in-game cooking is deliberately calibrated so that the final product does not yield more profit than selling ingredients, such as fried eggs that do not yield more profit than eggs. “The value of fried eggs is that it gives you more energy, not to make a lot of money. Because if I make (food sells for more), you will feel like you have to cook all the ingredients, and that will only make you have to click more. ”
In other words, the cooking feature exists in the game to give gamers Health and Energy, to encourage them to participate in fishing, farming, and mining, rather than letting gamers gamble by giving up mountains of time on non-stop clicking in his kitchen. He doesn’t want Stardew Valley to be a performance-focused game, but a slow-to-play game you can enjoy on your own.
Not for profit, but for-profit
After four years of hardship, Stardew Valley was released on February 26, 2016, and Barone was shocked to see his game sales. Thanks to the help of publisher Chucklefish and celebrities on Twitch and YouTube. Stardew Valley has received the attention of many gamers around the world. With 10 million copies sold, Eric has received a “salary” worth his four years of work, and I’m looking forward to the games that he will release in the future.