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  • Most games are made by development studios that have multiple people working on the same

  • game and triple-A titles can even go into hundreds of developers, while small indie

  • teams consist of at least two developers more often than not.

  • However, it's very rare to encounter a bigger sized game where every single part is made

  • by only one person.

  • This is exactly the case with Stardew Valley though since all the art, music, sound effects,

  • dialogue and programming were done by Eric Barone, also known as ConcernedApe.

  • In 2011 Eric graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma with a computer-science

  • degree so afterwards he applied at a few places, did some interviews, but they never offered

  • him the job.

  • At that point he didn't really know what to do next.

  • Eric has always been into video games, drawing doodles, making music, and writing, but he

  • hadn't really considered combining all his hobbies to become an actual game developer.

  • Now that he was looking for a job he decided to give it a shot and develop his first game.

  • Eric figured he could get better at programming this way and improve his chances at scoring

  • a job.

  • Growing up he was encouraged by his father to play around with computers since his father

  • was a technical, logical person himself.

  • His mom on the other hand was more artistic and this gave Eric an insight into both worlds

  • from an early age.

  • In high school Eric kept himself busy playing guitar and even joined a couple of bands,

  • while also making music on the computer.

  • After school, he would work at a pretzel place where he would stand at a kiosk and draw little

  • sketches.

  • “I guess it's all just a lifetime of creating stuff.

  • I've always just enjoyed making things, and in the process of doing that I learned a lot

  • of skills.”

  • He's a huge fan of the farm simulation RPG series Harvest Moon so when Eric wanted to

  • make a quick little game to get familiar with game development, he decided to create a Harvest

  • Moon clone.

  • “I liked that you could have relationships with the townsfolk and even get married and

  • start a family.

  • That was something you couldn't do in most games I played as a kid and it made the experience

  • much more personal.

  • That you were living in a world that felt alive, time moved forward with or without

  • your input.”

  • According to Eric however, the series became progressively worse after Back To Nature so

  • he frequently searched for a fan-made or indie Harvest Moon clone, but he never found anything

  • that satisfied him, which compelled Eric to try making one himself.

  • Initially he was planning on releasing his fan-made project, back when it was still called

  • Sprout Valley, on Xbox Live Indie Games since anyone was able to publish a game on that

  • platform.

  • Eric figured he would work on the project for a few months, release it and move on.

  • Perhaps a few Harvest Moon fans would enjoy it and the game would look nice on his resume

  • for future job prospects.

  • However, once he started working on the game and his development skills improved, Eric

  • started seeing more possibilities.

  • He believed it could become a legitimate game and start his career as a real indie developer.

  • Eric didn't have a deliberate plan when working on Stardew Valley and would just follow

  • his intuition when it came to expanding the game.

  • He started with creating the player avatar and next he added a simple area that would

  • later become the player's farm.

  • After that, Eric added the basic farming mechanics.

  • Before he would add things like crops and minerals, he would do proper research on them

  • to accurately match their behaviors and scarcities in the game.

  • He applied this technique to the rest of the game: work on one part until it was about

  • 80% done before he would add depth to it and move on to the next part.

  • In September 2012 Eric, now 24 of age, publicly announced the game on Steam Greenlight to

  • see if people would be interested in the concept behind Stardew Valley.

  • The announcement was accompanied with the first official trailer.

  • Eric had also set up a website to keep people updated on Stardew Valley's progression.

  • As mentioned before, he wanted to develop a Harvest Moon homage at first, but since

  • he decided to expand the scope of the project, Eric saw an opportunity to improve on one

  • of his favorite video game series.

  • "The gameplay in Harvest Moon was usually fun, but I felt like no title in the series

  • ever brought it all together in a perfect way.

  • My idea with Stardew Valley was to address the problems I had with Harvest Moon, as well

  • as create more 'purpose' with tried-and-true gameplay elements such as crafting and quests."

  • In February 2013, a couple of months after the Steam Greenlight announcement, it was

  • revealed that Stardew Valley would be published by Chucklefish, a development studio and publisher

  • that specializes in retro-style games.

  • Eric said that the offer came at just the right time, since he didn't want to put

  • the game on Steam Early Access.

  • It seemed like nearly every indie game was doing Early Access at the time.

  • I wanted my game to stand out from the crowd, and I knew that many people were growing tired

  • of paying for unfinished products.

  • Furthermore, I felt that Early Access was better suited to very open-ended sandbox games,

  • but was not ideal for a game like Stardew Valley.”

  • The team at Chucklefish helped Eric with creating a brand new website, including a new, better

  • forum system.

  • In May 2013 Eric announced that Stardew Valley had been greenlit so now with the help from

  • a publisher and Steam's approval, nothing was holding Eric back from releasing his passion

  • project once it was ready.

  • Yet, it would take an additional three years before Stardew Valley would be released on

  • Steam.

  • Eric initially estimated that the game would be done somewhere before 2014, but in November

  • 2013 he created a blogpost to let people know that he probably wasn't going to hit that

  • target.

  • He explained that although the game wasmostly done”, there was still a lot that had to

  • be finished before he was comfortable releasing Stardew Valley.

  • He would rather focus on developing a polished feature rich game than a rushed quick release.

  • The following years Eric would frequently blog about Stardew Valley's progression,

  • which kept people's interest in the game and also allowed fans to provide feedback.

  • While developing Stardew Valley was definitely Eric's main focus, he still needed a way

  • to earn some money to pay the bills.

  • Therefore, he worked part-time as an usher at Seattle's Paramount Theatre.

  • Fortunately, he was able to live together with his girlfriend Amber, who was a plant

  • biology graduate student.

  • A perfect situation for someone who's developing a farming simulator.

  • During its entire development, the game went through quite a lot of changes.

  • Eric's game development skills would greatly improve over time, which is why he decided

  • to redo some parts of the game several times over.

  • The character art especially took some time before he was happy with it.

  • “I put in thousands of hours on pixel art just to get better at it and better at it.

  • I just persevered and forced myself to learn.

  • You realize the thing that you thought was good actually isn't.

  • You realize why and you improve on it.

  • And that's just an endless cycle.”

  • All the artwork was done in Paint.NET, a free raster graphics editor program for Microsoft

  • Windows and all the programming was done in C# using the Microsoft XNA framework.

  • Eric used the audio software called Reason by Reason Studios, formerly known as Propellerhead

  • Software, to produce all the games' music and sound effects.

  • Eric was very excited that he was able to work on Stardew Valley as a solo developer.

  • He enjoyed the total freedom to implement whatever idea came to his mind and enabled

  • him to bring a cohesive vision to life.

  • He also didn't mind that he had to cover all the development aspects himself.

  • “I also enjoy all the aspects of making a game: coding, drawing, making music, and

  • writing…I would get bored doing just one thing all the time.”

  • It was very important to Eric that Stardew Valley was as open and accessible as possible

  • to a variety of players.

  • If you want to raise 300 rabbits, you can.

  • If you want to invest in a huge field of crops with automated sprinkler systems, you can

  • do that too.

  • The gameplay is flexible and open.”

  • Another improvement over the Harvest Moon series that Eric wanted to include was an

  • endless stream of endgame content.

  • He said that most Harvest Moon games end after two in-game years of farming, so he designed

  • Stardew Valley in a way so that people can enjoy the game for as long as they want, even

  • after many in-game years.

  • Besides making the game as open as possible, Eric also aimed for a certain feel that he

  • wanted the game to represent.

  • A feel that was intrinsically tied to his own values in real life and those were sometimes

  • more important to him than expanding gameplay mechanics.

  • For instance, at one point during development, butchering animals was part of the gameplay.

  • Stardew Valley allows you to raise farm animals that produce useful products for the player

  • like eggs, milk and so on, but some beta testers requested the option to butcher the animals

  • and collect their meat.

  • Eric initially added the feature, but he eventually removed it again since it didn't feel right

  • to him.

  • “I didn't want to have that sort of violence.

  • You give the animals names, pet them, and a little heart goes above their head and stuff,

  • and then you butcher them?

  • It just felt wrong.

  • It didn't jibe with the feeling I was going for with the game, so I cut that, and I don't

  • regret it.”

  • While creating the world for Stardew Valley, Eric, an Auburn native, took some inspiration

  • from the area he grew up in.

  • Therefore, many items in the game are local to the Pacific Northwest, like salmonberries,

  • ferns and chanterelles.

  • “I've lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life, so the feeling of this nature

  • is deeply ingrained in me.”

  • Eric has said that he wants the game to be fun, but to also have real-world messages.

  • The story for example clearly illustrates the fight against capitalism and the importance

  • of local communities.

  • This is further emphasized by Stardew Valley's many villagers that all have their unique

  • identity and throughout the course of the game they all go about their daily schedules.

  • Furthermore, the player is encouraged to interact with them by giving the villagers gifts so

  • they can unlock more of their storylines.

  • While for the most part the game has a general fun, uplifting theme, the villager's individual

  • storylines can get dark sometimes.

  • People struggle with personal issues and I wanted to portray that.

  • I think it makes the characters a lot more relatable...not just these ideal abstractions

  • of people that are sometimes found in games.”

  • Eric wrote and rewrote hundreds of lines of dialogue for all the villagers which would

  • take him several months of work.

  • The villagers also have their own individual cutscenes which required extensive work and

  • testing as well.

  • Eric also considered what type of game he wanted Stardew Valley to be.

  • He wanted to go in a more zen, slower-paced direction, since he's not a fan of games

  • that encourage more clicking than anything else.

  • That's the reason why the cooking mechanic for example is meant to heal more of your

  • energy than regular uncooked products, as opposed to selling the cooked food for more

  • gold.

  • Eric wanted to avoid players feeling like they had to turn every ingredient into cooking

  • to maximize their profits, which would just end up in the player clicking more buttons.

  • According to Eric, a game like Stardew Valley is a lot more personal than a game made by

  • a hundred people that's some kind of focus-tested experience where they just want to make as

  • much profit as possible.

  • However, Eric kept his real life identity a secret for years and instead used his nickname

  • ConcernedApe whenever he communicated about Stardew Valley's progress on his blog.

  • He later said in an interview that he's an introvert and likes to keep to himself.

  • “I think for me I've always been kind of a lonely guy, kind of a hermit.

  • I keep to myself.

  • I don't really have that many friends, I don't go out much.

  • I'm an introvert.

  • Art is a way to connect with other people.

  • It's a way to communicate and for other people to see who I really am.

  • I think everyone wants to feel like they belong or that they can connect with society in some

  • way.

  • This is just my way of doing that.”

  • His hermit lifestyle and his immense dedication to Stardew Valley would eventually put strain

  • on his relationship with Amber, who would often remind Eric to eat and relax by watching

  • Star Trek together.

  • His busy schedule allowed little room for anything else in his life.

  • When I'm deep into a project that's consuming my entire life, that's what makes

  • me feel the best.”

  • Not once during development did Eric ask anyone for help, not even on online forums.

  • He taught everything he needed to know himself, since he hates asking people for help.

  • He's proud of that achievement and didn't want to have a subconscious feeling of owing

  • someone else credit for a specific part of the game.

  • The huge responsibility of making a game all by yourself would take its toll sometimes,

  • Eric admitted.

  • There were times during development that I didn't feel like working, that I even wanted

  • to quit entirely."

  • However, he never gave up and kept pushing to make his dream a reality.

  • It was both passion and discipline that kept Eric going and he said it's a lot easier

  • to stay driven when you're doing your own project, knowing that there are no limits

  • to how far you can go.

  • When Eric didn't feel like working he would just browse Reddit and procrastinate, but

  • once he had an idea that he was really passionate about, Eric would work like crazy.

  • He explained that during those moments he wanted to see that idea come to life as quickly

  • as possible when it was still fresh in his mind.

  • In April 2015 Eric addressed the game's release date, since people were very eager

  • to get their hands on it.

  • "I've been working on Stardew Valley for years and I want it to be released as much as anyone.

  • However, I'm not willing to do that until the game is not only complete, but also in

  • a state I'm happy with.

  • It simply could not be released in its current form...

  • It's not a finished game yet.

  • It's tantalizingly close to being a finished game, but it's also a huge project and I'm

  • just one guy."

  • In november 2015 he addressed the release date once again, saying he had spent the month

  • of October trying to finish the singleplayer part.

  • However, he also spoke about the multiplayer portion of the game and how there's still

  • work to be done on that front.

  • People had suggested to release the single player version first and patch in the multiplayer

  • later, but Eric mentioned that other developers had advised him to wait with the release until

  • the game was completely finished.