Road to the IGF: ConcernedApe's Stardew Valley
This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here
The farming and country life RPG Stardew Valley came out early last year and quickly became a breakout success in a genre that has been more-or-less dominated by the same few franchises for decades. The game was a passion project for Eric Barone who, under the moniker ConcernedApe, channeled his love of the early Harvest Moon games into his own take on the niche genre.
Barone first started working on Stardew Valley as a solo development effort over four years ago and spent an average of ten hours a day acting as a designer, programmer, artist, writer, and composer to bring the game to life.
Stardew Valley clearly resonated with players who shared Barone’s fondness for the classic farming RPG experience; the game rapidly became a hit and had sold over a million copies within just a couple short months. And for good reason; Stardew Valley captures the best parts of earlier Harvest Moon games and infuses that with a charming world and new crafting systems to make the exact game many fans of the genre had been dreaming of.
Following his nomination for an award at the upcoming Independent Games Festival, Gamasutra caught up with Barone to find out how he brought his childhood gaming experiences and computer science degree together to create the unforgettable farming game, Stardew Valley.
What's your background in making games?
While I was at school (for computer science), I started teaching myself how to make games. I started with really small, simple games and worked my way up. I would also sometimes fiddle around with things like Flash or Adventure Game Studio, and I made a few games with those. At some point I decided to make something bigger -- and that ended up becoming Stardew Valley.
How did you come up with the concept?
Harvest Moon was one my favorite games as a kid, and it left a lasting impression on me. I wanted to recapture the special feeling that game gave me. To do that, I decided to start with the basic Harvest Moon “formula” and then expand on it in my own way.
What development tools were used to build your game?
I used Visual Studio 2010 to program, Propellerhead Reason to do the sound/music, and Paint.NET to do the art. I also used an XNA tile map library called xTile.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
I’m not exactly sure how many hours I put in, but I did work on the game for at least 4.5 years. I worked at least 8 hours a day on it and only took a day off if it was unavoidable.
One of the unique things about Stardew Valley is that you were the sole developer on the project. What led you to take on such a huge undertaking independently? Did you ever think about bringing in outside help during development?
I like to work alone. I like having complete control, and not having to justify myself to anyone else. I’m a perfectionist and I think it would be difficult for me to work with someone else. I also enjoy doing the music, the art, writing… I wouldn’t want to give any of those things up. They make my job more varied and interesting.
Harvest Moon and Rune Factory have more or less dominated the fantasy farming genre for ages; what was the driving factor behind disrupting this and developing your own take on the genre?
There were a few things. For one, I think the early Harvest Moon games were the best, and the series had gotten worse over time. I figured there were people out there who felt the same way, and would be eager to play a new game in the style of those first few. Second, there was nothing like Harvest Moon available for PC, so I felt there was a void there that needed to be filled.
It’s already coming up on a year from when Stardew Valley first released; how has feedback from fans helped to change or shape your future plans for the game?
I try to listen to people in the community and respond to them. For example, I’ve had a lot of requests for a PS Vita port, so that’s something I am seriously looking into. The major success of the game has certainly caused me to spend more post-release time with it than I would have otherwise.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
I haven't played any of the other ones yet.
What do you think are the biggest hurdles (and opportunities) for indie devs today?
I think the biggest hurdle is to find a way to make [your] game stick out from the crowd. There’s a lot of competition out there, and it’s not easy to come up with compelling original ideas. My advice for other devs is to be yourself, not follow trends, and not be afraid to do something unusual. But it needs to be genuine.