Like a double album or a back to back movie, Tales of the Con brings you the A-side and B-side on the Stardew Valley. Two different players, two different perspectives.
Stardew Valley Has Harvested My Fucking Soul
By: Grim Glamfire
When I was doing my regular round-tour of places I read the other week, one of the articles that stood out the most to me was one of the writers I read often’s thoughts about Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, and how some games are impossible to duplicate.
Their reason was that Superbrothers is more about conveying a particular mood than any genre contrivances. While being inspired by dozens of other games and works, it’s only superficially like them because the developers had specific things they wanted to represent with their creation.
Lofty claims like that are generally frequently used by journalists, especially when considering any titles that critics and the gaming public deemed noteworthy. Yes that writer might have thought it was specifically attributable to Superbrothers than any other game, but I can only say for myself that I don’t think it’s the specific example.
Stardew Valley epitomizes the kind of game that manages to still adhere to other formats of genre contrivance within one of its key inspirations, Harvest Moon while still being something completely distinct.
Where the appeal is in this game has a lot to do with the mood it cultivates. Stardew Valley is the kind of the thing that can grip the deepest, most manic parts of our brains that are addicted to improvement and forward momentum. Every day in Stardew Valley is another day where a goal is ticked off of your list.
Really, there’s a startling lack of vocabulary for the people that enjoy these sorts of games. Most of them really are just about creating a compulsion in the player to maximize the output of whatever plot of land or space station or company they’ve been given. Even Harvest Moon itself with its marriage and age aspects never really, really takes the ideas it presents anywhere further.
Out of all of the harvesting that goes on in Stardew Valley, I come away from each session feeling like the only thing really getting harvested is my fucking soul. Yeah it never takes its core ideas to some super smart place like I want it to – but it also gives me the freedom to farm for eight hours, or to never even break earth with a plow if I don’t want to.
Sure, Stardew Valley hits some kind of deep primal itch for creating and managing something that is uniquely ours that all of these farming and crafting games do, but what really sets apart Stardew Valley is I don’t have to do any work if I don’t want to.
Want to go spelunking through a cave and ignore all of your responsibilities like some kind of gross dirt covered, well, spelunker? Yeah sure, you’re enabled to not work on your farm and there are more than enough outlets for you otherwise.
We bill games like this as simulations, but is there any place for storytelling in a simulation – or does that directly contradict the nature of real life? I can cut down trees or raise the money to build a barn – but doing any of this is just a way to veil that no matter how impressive my farm gets all I’m really working towards is giving more people gifts so I can finish their storyarcs.
Does this make Stardew Valley any less playable? Not at all – because even though that is reducing the game to its simplest terms, it still presents a compelling argument in favor of if. What is the purpose of producing anything, if not for the benefit of the community, anyway?
Maybe I’m getting ahead a little bit, and that seems to describe something that not a lot of people would play. Considering contemporaries, or even the games that inspired it; most of them involved building a farm with the end goal of the player getting married and passing it along.
If you turn the examination of Stardew Valley being about giving back to the community more inward – you can see that it’s built into the fabric of the way the game tells its story. The best possible situation involves repairing what parts of the community have fallen apart and driving off any forces capable of hemorrhaging the work you’ve done.
The story being built while you play is of course more important than the one the game hands you, and by letting you decide what to do with your time Stardew Valley shows you that it prioritizes how you want to live. Maybe I want to live running through a forest and managing my stamina, hoping to have just enough energy by the end of the day to tie up the last of my chores. Maybe I want to live my life pretending to be a pansexual robot farmer, attempting to fuck their way through a small town while fighting the evils of corporate capitalism.
Stardew Valley hands you a story about the ever encroaching realities of big business being able to loom over the small community you find yourself in. Just a few weeks spent in the Valley and your efforts go towards staving off the fingers of capitalism working their way beneath the fertile soil and poisoning it.
There’s certainly no scene in any of the Harvest Moon games that deal with the struggle of rural homelessness and poverty (which actually seem to be, at least rural poverty, one of the dominant themes of the game)
Whimsy is a word I would still use to describe not only the world, but the players role in it. As the aforementioned farming sex robot I’ve crawled dungeons and romanced people, but I’ve also investigated magical sprites and hunted dense forests in the middle of the night for the right plants to unlock rewards given out by them.
You can step away from the farm for a day or forever, but you will never stop exploring every nook and cranny of the game that presents itself. Sometimes I don’t water my plants just to see if they die, and the game enables that too. Maybe you do make life better for someone, or everyone, in town. Maybe you fuck up your farm catastrophically and forage in the wilderness after pillaging the lowest levels of the sewers struggling to fight hazardous waste monsters. Stardew Valley presents a world and expects you to try and live in it, even though it will never truly be simulating anything real.
Stardew Valley: Harvest Moon beyond
I grew up playing Harvest Moon. Played it from the GameBoy, up through the N64 (arguably the best) on through Magical Melody. I would get done with work or school, come home and instantly start playing. For some reason the simplicity of it drew me in, while giving you goals and things to achieve that made it worthwhile. It probably didn’t hurt that I grew up on a farm. I’ve tried Terraria and Minecraft. Both games scratched an “itch” to play Harvest Moon. And both are good, but nothing like Harvest Moon. The most common story line of the series involves the player taking over a farm that no longer has an owner tending to it, growing crops, raising livestock, making friends with the town’s people, and creating a family while running a successful farm. Each game provides objects to collect or goals to complete, whether it is befriending villagers, collecting musical notes, finding sprites, making rainbows, or ringing bells. Money is obtained by growing crops, raising livestock, fishing, mining, and foraging. With a limited time and limited energy, the player has to find a balance between the two in order to accomplish their work for the day.
I was always personally drawn to Harvest Moon games not only for the simplicity of the play, but how deceptively deep it could be in the different parts. Anyone can just grow crops, but figuring the best growing pattern, the best crops to sell, which were best for recipes, or making other products took time. And that was just the basic. Other aspects include: fishing, with its patience and mini-games; mining, which was sometimes seasonal; different animals, with different needs and wants. Adding to that was the variety of towns, towns people, events, and possible travel areas. It all added up to make it something that keeps me coming back. But then I saw a few teasers about StarDew Valley, and I honestly couldn’t wait to try it ….
Now I will give Eric Barone (aka ConcernedApe) credit: for one man building this massive game from the ground up, he did it well and in a relatively short amount of time. And there was a LOT of anticipation for this game from the community. It was given a Greenlight status on Steam. Though apparently that doesn’t mean as much as it first did. It’s sadly a broken system, but the thought behind it was that the game idea was well received by Valve employees and the Steam community members.
Right off the bat, my first impression of the game; “Holy Shit, the options!”. It’s not just “Are you male or female? What do you call the farm?” No no. It’s hair, skin, eyes, accessories, style of clothes, and even choosing your favorite activity. Once you have settled on an avatar, you’re then treated to a cinematic very reminiscent of Harvest Moon games of the past where you see that you hate your city life, and have been given a rundown family farm that you have to now fix up. You also find out that much of the nearby town broken down and need fixing also. Most of that fixing will come from helping the “elves” of this realm. They have goals set up in an old abandoned building, that you can look at by way of plaques on the floor in different rooms. Once you start these collections, you can work on them as quickly or as slowly as you’d like.
The inspiration for ConcernedApe’s elements is obvious. The farm and town setup from Harvest Moon, the mining from Terraria, the customization and crafting of MineCraft. So far the only thing I’ve come against that I haven’t liked is the fishing aspect. The mini-game for collecting fish isn’t explained well, nor is it easy to accomplish once you figure it out. You have a window pop up that shows a fishing pole, a fish with a bar behind it and a completion meter to show how close you are to actually catching the fish. The fish will start moving up and down in it’s section and it’s your job to keep the bar behind it. You click the mouse button to raise the bar and you let go of the mouse to drop the bar. But the second you left go of the button, the bar drops immediately. It’s the same for raising the bar. It’s almost counter-intuitive the way the bar moves. As you lose contact of the bar and fish, the completion meter drops. Once it is gone, you lose the fish. I’ve rarely succeeded in catching fish because the “catch” bar is either full fledge flying up or dropping senselessly to the bottom. But I have recently found out there are sanctioned mods and a mod manager; one of the mods can ease the fishing or get rid of the mini-game entirely.
Learning the ins and outs of the game has been the best part. Figuring out the crafting, the combat, and the overall farming aspect has made me very happy. The combat is actually fun. It is a very basic PvE. You swing a weapon and smack them. It does give you an arc as you swing so there can be a broad hit area, but hits are directional. So you must face and click on the side of your body you want the swing. Each weapon has a set of damage range points per swing, each mob has a set amount of health, simple math to defeat them. And they start easy with simple hopping blobs, then grow in difficulty as you get further into the mines. You’ll just have to discover those for yourself. My favorite part of any mining area is getting far down into the mine, as there is usually better items and a greater amount. ConcernedApe also added a reward system of sorts. There is a treasure chest every 10 levels. I have yet to hit the bottom, but I can’t wait to see what I can find there. There is a much larger scale of plants to grow and I can’t wait to see how the greenhouse will change the amounts of crops I grow. I have yet to get into the animal husbandry. I did figure out that you do need a silo to hold the feed, and already have mine full. While there has been a learning curve as far as foraging and general gameplay, the steam community forums have an infinite source of knowledge that has been handy.
I was excited to see this game announced, more excited to continue playing it, and can’t wait to see what stories are to come. And there’s no end to it either, at least not an official ending. And this game will have multiplayer possibilities in the future, which makes it even better. It’s everything I have been wanting in a Harvest Moon style game, and even addressed things I hadn’t thought of. I think Eric Barone has done a wonderful job and look forward to all that he has in store for a game that he has so thoughtfully created.