Stardew Valley has quickly become one of 2016's most heart-warming success stories. Developed by a single programmer straight out of college, it has earned its spot as a top 10 most played game on Steam with over 425,000 units sold in two weeks. It's also earned a large number of fans, myself included.
Stardew Valley is a game that reminds me of some of my earliest and most substantial gaming memories playing games with sprite visuals that were simple, charming, and rich with mystery. As a result, it's one of my favorite indie games of all-time.
READ MORE: Stardew Valley Review
I recently took it upon myself to get in contact with Stardew Valley's developer, Eric Barone, to ask him about the journey to release as well as what it's been like dealing with teh game's monumental success.
GameRevolution: Stardew Valley has remained a top seller on Steam for more than a week, has one of the most positive user review averages in Steam history, and has achieved one of the top viewership spots on Twitch on several occasions. What has it been like to see your creation received so well?
Eric Barone: It's crazy. I don't think I've even fully grasped the reality of it yet… I still feel like I'm living in a dream. I'm happy about it, though!
GR: Let’s go back to the early days of development. Were your initial dreams and aspirations for the game as big as the final product ended up becoming?
EB: Not at all. Four years ago, I had just graduated from college with a Computer Science degree. I didn't really know what I wanted to do… I applied at a few places and didn't get the jobs. I felt lost. So I decided to make a quick harvest moon style game to practice my programming skills, with the intention of releasing it on XBOX Live Indie Games. Well, once I started on it, I just couldn't help but let it grow into this huge ambitious thing. There were just so many possibilities, and as my skills in pixel art, coding, and music improved, I wanted to keep redoing everything in the game and making it better. So, over the course of four years this scrappy little practice project turned into Stardew Valley.
Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone at his work desk. (Image Source: PCGamer).
GR: You’ve shared that the game was coded in C#. How did you gain experience programming in preparation for making the game?
EB: Well, I went to school for Computer Science, and we coded primarily in Java. Java and C# are very similar, so it wasn't very difficult to switch. At school, one of our assignments was to make tetris from scratch, which was a pretty good exercise in game development. I had also fiddled with flash and adventure game studio to make little unreleased games, so that helped me learn about general game dev concepts as well.
GR: What most inspired you to make an “open-ended country-life RPG” game?
EB: Growing up playing Harvest Moon for SNES and Harvest Moon: Back To Nature for Playstation. Those games really left a lasting impression on me. They just struck a chord with me, in the deepest way possible. It's rare and wonderful when something can do that, and convinced me that games can truly have transcendental power. So of course, when I set out to make my own game, I wanted to capture that feeling of joy and wonder.
GR: Speaking of inspiration, where did the idea of Joja Corporation come from?
EB: Corporations are some of the biggest players in the global arena. They wield extraordinary power over governments, communities, and individuals. Joja Corporation represents that power, taken to a frightening extreme. It's a bit of a caricature, but also disturbingly realistic. I wanted the game to have some real-world messages, something for modern audiences to relate to. Stardew is mostly just a fun game, but maybe also a plea for individuals and communities to empower themselves.
On a date with one of Stardew Valley's villagers.
GR: Let’s talk about your preferences. What’s your favorite Stardew Valley season, villager, and place to visit?
EB: I'd love to take a nice summer walk by the bus stop, maybe say hi to Penny by the river north of town, and then stop in at Robin's carpentry shop to escape the midday heat. Summer is probably my favorite… those aloe plants, the cloud shadows, the insects… it's all very lush.
GR: If you were in Stardew Valley, what two items would you love and hate being gifted?
EB: Great question. I would probably love coffee and omni geodes, and I'd hate mayonnaise and rabbit's foot.
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GR: Despite being made by a one man team, Stardew Valley has a substantial amount of content (I already have 40 hours logged). What was the hardest part about developing such a content ambitious game?
EB: The hardest part might be making sure everything works together and is bug-free. There's just so many possibilities in a big game like this, and it's impossible for me to test everything or to imagine every possible scenario. That's partly why I've been releasing bug-fix patches like crazy since launch.
I mean, don't get me wrong, creating all that content was a lot of work… but it's fun to make stuff, I wouldn't necessarily call it "hard".
Fishing during the Fall season.
GR: Are there are any parts of the final product that would surprise you five+ years ago when you first began development?
EB: The whole thing is a surprise, really. I feel like the game didn't really come together until the last couple of months before release. There were plenty of times during development where I said, "I hate this game", or "this game is awful". But I stuck with it, and during the last moments of development I realized that the game felt good. I think the journal, which wasn't added until the very end, provides a lot of needed structure… and that's a big reason I felt that the game had "come together" in the last moments.
GR: You’ve already released several updates for the game, and have been actively communicating with the community. What motivates you to provide strong post-release support versus moving onto another project or taking a break?
EB: As the sole developer of Stardew Valley, I feel entirely responsible for everyone's experience with the game. So if something goes wrong, that weighs heavily on me. Conversely, if someone loves the game I feel great about it. It's all very personal.
GR: As a Stardew Valley addict, thank you for making the game and for taking time to do this interview. Before we go, do you have anything you’d like say to the community?
EB: Thanks for being the kindest, most supportive, best community I've every encountered in the world of gaming. And thanks so much for playing Stardew Valley!