My First Obsession of 2020

My First Obsession of 2020

Within the first week of the new year, I made a comment on Facebook that I was starting things off right by becoming addicted to Stardew Valley.

It all started when my partner bought a Switch in 2019; I hadn’t really given it a second glance until I heard that Stardew Valley was available on this console. And even then, I wasn’t too certain about it, having seen some screenshots of game play. It looked a bit too pixelated, sort of like a softened, farming-themed Minecraft.

Stardew Valley screenshot

Bradley and I both received Target gift cards for the holidays and we didn’t have a specific goal in mind for how we wanted to spend them. So we ended up wandering in the electronics section and came across Switch aisle.

And there was Stardew Valley, available for the low, low price of $15, technically free with the gift card.

To further sweeten the deal, I’d heard from a good friend how much he loved the game and that it was pretty similar to Harvest Moon, which I absolutely adored. So I got it (and Okami, which I haven’t even touched yet, because I have tunnel vision and will get around to it, I promise).

Gamecube Harvest Moon and sequel
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life on the GameCube brought me hours of joy when I was growing up.

Stardew Valley was everything I dreamed it could be and more. In February, I noticed the total hours of game play while logging into my farm: 66 hours. Today, its 106 hours and 2 minutes.

True to my friend’s review, there were a lot of Harvest Moon elements involved. It was like someone took Harvest Moon and expanded on all the possible ideas and pursuits available to the player. And in fact, that’s sort of exactly what happened!

The developer, Eric Barone (also known by his username, ConcernedApe), was inspired by his love of Harvest Moon, paired with a twinge of dissatisfaction that the franchise didn’t continue to grow or develop. So this one single human, while trying to pursue a degree in the Computer Science field and work on his programming language skills, decided to make his own expansion.

It turned into a half-decade effort that culminated in this quietly charming portal into another world. From the soundtracks to the growing stages of plants, the clothing design opportunities to the cut scenes with various villagers and love interests, the leveling up in various skills to the interspersion of holidays and special events, ConcernedApe planned it all. And then he drew it all. Wrote all the programming. Animated the scenes. Wrote all the dialogue. Tested and cleared the bugs.

12 hour days, 7 days a week, for nearly five years.

By himself.

To make this even more impressive, he had never designed a game prior to this experience. And now there’s a whole official wiki page to try to describe the depths of this game and sate the fans rabid for more intel.

Design development of Leah, one of the marriage options in Stardew Valley

This indie game is the darling of indie games, the knock-out wonder that all developers hope to achieve with their own games, even for major producers working on blockbuster titles. And the game is so unpretentious and gentle, that this victory for ConcernedApe seems almost like a victory for us all, a victory for that old adage “hard work pays off”.

There is this strange level of pride and warmth I feel for ConcernedApe, who dedicated himself to the development of this game. Granted, this is a level of obsession and sacrifice that was entirely unhealthy. But it’s hard not to appreciate the fruits of his labor. He created this beautiful experience that sucks you in and makes you feel good about your choices and accomplishments.

ConcernedApe had the creative vision and then he essentially taught himself the skills necessary to bring this vision to life. He worked hard. And the end result is wholesome and fun and rewarding and unique. Everyone’s game looks different. We can all take different paths to success. But most of all, we can all enjoy this game with a simple pleasure that is exactly how ConcernedApe hoped it would be received.

GQ describes the game in their profile on Eric Barone as “a humble, intimate farming adventure about the monotony of domestic life, in which you spend dozens of hours parenting cabbages.” But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you can do in the game.

He didn’t want to create another grinding game. He didn’t want there to be a major plot arc filled with trauma through which the main character has to work. It’s just a simple game where you grow some crops. Take care of some animals if you want. Go mining for ore or catch some fish. Build some kegs or bee hives or flower gardens. Obsess over the perfect gift to give someone for their birthday.

It’s whatever you want to do, and at every step of the way, there’s some cheerful or soothing music to keep you company. The sheer variety and depth of the possible actions in this game are mind blowing. So much so that this player made this astute observation:

And if you want actual company, you can link up with other Switch owners who have the game AND THEY CAN COME VISIT YOU AND HELP OUT AT YOUR FARM!

I have not actually accomplished this yet though, due to the strange restrictions on the number of Nintendo accounts that can be linked with a console. That might be my one criticism of this game. That and how it can feel a bit difficult to build up momentum in the beginning. But that was easily overcome with patience and time.

We’re all busy with our lives, our jobs, our side gigs and hobbies, and our weekend projects. But this game helps me slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of Stardew Valley.