I’m working on a game based on Stardew Valley. In the context of the video and readings, I’ve come to see the phrase “making a game based on” being another way of saying “making a game that mimics the aesthetics of” i.e. I’m trying to recreate the core types of “fun” that Stardew Valley offers players. Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily mean recreating the mechanics or even dynamics.
Stardew Valley is a farming simulator. There are many systems in one (farming crops, farming livestock, fishing, mining) but I’m focusing on the farming crops system here, which dominates the player’s early game.
- Player has tools (pickaxe, axe, hoe, watering can)
- Player can collect resources from their farm using the correct tool (pickaxe -> rock for example)
- Player has a limited amount of stamina and health, and various actions deplete these resources (player can restore them by sleeping or eating)
- Player can plant seeds and water them daily to raise them.
- After crops have matured, the player can harvest crops and sell them for gold.
- Player has gold (receive: sell crops, sell resources; use: buy more crops, upgrade tools)
- A date/time system: sleeping each day progresses the day. Crops grow in a certain number of days, special events happen on certain days
- Player can gift NPCs items twice a week, and over time can earn “hearts” with NPCs. At certain relationship milestones, the player is rewarded with a cutscene.
- The crop/tool/gold system makes a feedback loop wherein players: buy seeds -> raise crops -> sell crops -> can afford to buy more seeds -> can raise more crops -> can gain more gold -> etc. Over time, this means they can afford new crops/unlock new types of farming, like livestock.
- The player’s limited stamina creates an upper limit on the amount of crops they can raise, but they can effectively increase their stamina by upgrading their tools. This requires sufficient resources and gold which take time to collect, meaning the player’s stamina limit increases over time at a predictable rate.
- Relationships with NPCs also increase over time at a predictable rate, since players can only gift NPCs items twice a week. This means that the progression in farming effectiveness (i.e. tool upgrades and increases in crop sizes) runs in parallel with progression in the player’s personal life (i.e. earning more “hearts”). Therefore, both systems reinforce each other.
In ranked order:
- In the game, progression happens at a predictable rate, and progressing is not particularly challenging. Therefore, the game has a meditative quality that creates abnegation. Predictable, writ large, meaning “limited by the game system” rather than “limited by player skill.”
- A core part of the fun of the game is discovering new crops/unlocking new types of farming like livestock/discovering NPCs cutscenes. This makes gives the progression in the game a motivation, e.g. the feedback loop of farming crops -> selling crops -> farming more crops is now directed, since the player has a goal of discovery.
- A core part of the game is getting to play a farmer living a idyllic, pastoral life. The grind-like nature of the farming and its NPC relationships helps sell the fantasy of living as a humble, hardworking farmer.