By a recent count, there are more than 190 video game companies in the larger Seattle metropolitan area, employing thousands of designers, artists, composers, programmers, etc. Creating a new game can be a mammoth enterprise, with scores of people organized into teams managed in systems called “agile,” or “waterfall,” or “spiral.”
That’s not how Eric Barone, ’11, Computer Science & Systems, did it.
He created Stardew Valley, which, since launched on the PC in 2016, has sold 3.5 million copies. And Barone did it all by himself. A profile in GQ magazine tells the story.
“Valley Forged: How One Man Made the Indie Video Game Sensation Stardew Valley,” by Sam White, GQ, March 20, 2018
In an extensive interview with Barone, profile author Sam White describes the method Barone used to build the game.
“The first moments of the game’s life were plain and uneventful. A single avatar—you, the player—floating in an empty void. ‘I didn’t really have any sort of deliberate plan or anything,’ says Eric. ‘I just had my intuition as to what was the next important thing I should work on.’ He started small (Eric’s focus is always on the player) and expanded from there, creating a basic navigable area (the place that would become your personal farm). He then built on the fundamental farming mechanics (crops, livestock, minerals), all of which he researched extensively to authentically re-create their behaviors and scarcities.
“He’d do all of this again and again: build a slice of the game and develop it until it was ‘around 80 percent done’ before adding depth, reworking bits or fully redesigning them if he became unhappy with them. The peripheral features—the townsfolk, social aspects, mining and cave exploration, as well as combat—would be added later in the development, but the creative ethos stuck with Eric throughout the entire process.”
Barone spent four years working seven days per week, 10-12 hours per day on the game. He funded the development process via a part-time gig as an usher at Seattle’s Paramount Theater.
According to the GQ profile, what sets Stardew Valley apart from most games, and what makes it something that gamers are willing to spend hours with, rather than the typical indie-game sample-it-and-forget-it approach, is “its marriage of workmanlike play and sentimental atmosphere….”
“This is your farm—yours to grow and develop through hundreds of hours of play. You wake up, sow seeds, water crops, nurture your livestock. You gather, cutting down trees for lumber and mining veins for ore. You also explore the nearby town and speak to its locals. Everything you do drains your character’s energy. Whether you’re growing rows of cabbages to sell at the local market or expanding your stables and coops for livestock, an ever-depleting bar counts down the time left before you have to go to bed. The next day, you wake up and repeat the same tasks. Stardew Valley is a perfect loop, one that turns repetitive monotony into therapeutic compulsion.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org