Stardew Valley - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

The long-awaited cooperative multiplayer mode is still on course to hit Stardew Valley soon, going by what creator Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone has tapped out on the tweetosphere. Following February’s word that it was entering testing, Barone last night offered the update: “still making good progress on fixing bugs, if all goes well it should be ready in about a month” on PC. Good, good. The plan had been to enter beta testing in spring and hell, I’m not sure we’ve even left winter yet. (more…)

Stardew Valley

On a warm October night, I woke to find my leg felt like it was on fire. My ability to walk around had been deteriorating for the last month, to the point of being sent home from work. Eventually getting out of bed had become a herculean task, my knee swollen to unnatural size, and my back locking up at the slightest motion. At the unusually young age of 25, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), a chronic autoimmune disorder that aggressively attacks the body's joints.

Though my doctors have told me I'll recover with time, the past months have been an excruciating reevaluation of how I spend that time, and how much I took for granted the ability to hop from task to task. Unable to walk unassisted or return to my day job for the better part of a month, I fell into depression, lamenting my inability to focus on my work or the world around me.

Until, that is, I visited the rolling pastures and shimmering beaches of Stardew Valley.

With its rows of corn, baby chickens, and charming librarians to woo, Stardew Valley has uniquely tapped into the sense of pride that comes with a hard day's—and a hard year's—work. From the opening moments as you flee your dreary office job for the untamed fields of your late grandfather's farm, Stardew Valley pins all your hopes and dreams on your willingness to work slowly towards a goal, one step at a time. It's been instrumental in recentering my drive to get better.

Perhaps the smartest thing the game does is push you out that cabin door with almost zero guidance

I've never been one for life simulators. The warm charm of early Harvest Moons couldn't capture my Pokemon-obsessed attention, I enjoyed visiting friend's homes in The Sims more than making my own, and the anthropomorphic debt collectors of Animal Crossing couldn't sell me on a new mortgage. Why play out a normal life when you can live a high-flying fantasy? It's an easy perspective to have, until your sense of normality is threatened or outright taken from you. Suddenly, the ability to build the ideal living space or the ideal routine is as much a fantasy as hunting robot dinosaurs.

Let's see if this sounds familiar. It's 6 a.m. and time to hop out of bed. You take a minute to check the weather, step out, breathe in the air, and then it's off to your daily tasks. There's the matter of what to do with your afternoon, but for now, those rows of tomatoes need watering, your chickens need feeding, and those eggs aren't going to magically transform into mayonnaise themselves. As much as Stardew Valley's activities are farm-based, its most universal diversion may be the moment you just stand on your porch, thinking of how much you can cram into the day's schedule. 

If there's one thing real life has over Stardew Valley's small-town charm, it's that my doctor is infinitely more available. But for those first few weeks, even my regular physician was stumped by my rapidly expanding kneecap. With my family insurance only covering one busy rheumatologist, the following weeks were a torturous blend of waiting, uncertainty, experimentation, and more waiting. After my leg was drained of inflammatory fluid, I was ordered two weeks off work—which only gave more time for aimless thoughts.

I'm sure the protagonist of Stardew Valley had their share of questions (both actual and existential) when they first arrived. A new stage of life, unfamiliar tools, and a feeling that nothing will ever be quite the same again. Perhaps the smartest thing the game does is push you out that cabin door with almost zero guidance. There's the occasional letter from a neighbor, but other than that it's on you to learn the steps to grow and maintain an entire farm, to say nothing of integrating into Stardew's tight-knit community. 

Even after my diagnosis, and with the direction of a trained specialist, I still felt that uncertainty and inexperience gnawing at me. What does my immediate and long-term future look like? How will the medicine and tools given to me impact my physical and mental health? Is this something I'll have to worry about forever?

And like Stardew Valley's protagonist, I've come to find comfort in the small gains I make each day. In planting rows of corn I'm strapping myself in for one of the game's lengthier waiting periods. At times, it can feel like the plants are mocking me, barely growing over the course of 24 hours. But after 14 long days of labor, I finally have these majestic stalks of gold. Since my social pursuits mainly consist of fawning over Penny the redhead tutor, I also grow a small grouping of poppy flowers just for her birthday.

Stardew Valley reminds me that the most meaningful goals are things you have to wholly dedicate yourself to

Many days, though, it's not about some great payoff. Sometimes you just need to chop wood and chisel stone until you can't anymore. Stardew takes it one step further with your energy meter, forcing you to calculate just how much you'll need to save to make it home from your fishing trip. Any kind of personal upkeep is like that, really, laced with days and days of menial, repetitive actions meant to keep a simple wheel turning, hopefully with enough foresight to account for tomorrow's work. From time to time I still need to remind myself that I'm not quite the semi-invincible man I once was, bounding upstairs for a fourth time because I forgot my keys or hustling from customer to customer at my day job.

Stardew Valley's cycle of honest living has become my (hopefully temporary) fantasy, but it's also grounded me in reality in a way no game had the chance to before. The thrill I get from hiking into town for the annual festival or exploring the beaches for treasure—simply moving about my day at an energetic pace—is one that still feels like something I can eventually return to in real life. And sure, those fantasies are something that can explored in any game with a wide enough world to journey through, but coupled with my responsibilities as a caretaker of self and soil, Stardew Valley reminds me that the most meaningful goals are things you have to wholly dedicate yourself to, even when their fruits are but bumps in the earth. 

A seed becomes a farm, an unexpected encounter becomes a loving bond, and with enough work, an injury becomes a distant memory.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley creator Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone has offered a new update on the farming sim's long-awaited multiplayer mode, revealing that it "should be ready in about a month".

The news comes via a tweet posted earlier today, in which Barone noted that the team is "still making good progress on fixing bugs", and that next month's expected finish date would be hit provided that "all goes well". Barone later clarified that the tweet was specifically in reference to Stardew Valley's PC, Mac, and Linux versions.

Back in February, when Barone last spoke of Stardew Valley's next major update, work on all planned features - that is, the new single-player story content, and as well as the highly anticipated co-operative multiplayer mode - was said to be "done".

Read more…

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley multiplayer could be finished as early as next month, according to a recent tweet from creator Eric Barone.  

In February, publisher Chucklefish said the multiplayer update has entered QA testing. "Work on the new features is done, and we’ve sent all the new text off to be translated into the different languages," Barone said at the time, adding that a public beta should be available for spring, which is consistent with today's update. 

In the meantime, you can play modded multiplayer right now. It just takes a little elbow grease. 

Stardew Valley - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brock Wilbur)

pure_farming_2018_01_0

Pure Farming 2018 is out now. Farming Sim games now come from several competitive developers but also that competition leaves me confused because most entries in the Farm Gaming World seem interchangeable. I’m missing a key element in what draws people in, but this genre keeps raking in money hand over fist, so the problem must be with me. Let’s take a look at what Pure Farming 2018 is bringing to the table.

Update: Whoops, I got a bit carried away in writing this game up the first time. I have some frustrations with the genre and it got a bit out of hand. Sorry to any digital farmers whom may have been offended.>

(more…)

PC Gamer

There's a fairly famous story about the creation of Mario 64 that explains how the team at Nintendo figured out 3D movement for its revolutionary platformer. "We were working on something really simple—deceptively simple, even, from the perspective of the team that would go on to finish the huge, final game," said director Shigeru Miyamoto in a roundtable for the game's strategy guide, handily replicated here. "There was a room made of simple Lego-like blocks, and Mario and Luigi could run around in there, climb slopes, jump around, etc. We were trying to get the controls right with an analogue 3D stick, and once that felt smooth, we knew we were halfway there."

That makes me think about the one unifying element of all great Nintendo games—basic actions always feel good. It might be the way throwing a boomerang feels in a 2D Zelda game, or running up a wall while transformed into a cat in the Wii U's Super Mario 3D World, or moving in morph ball mode in any Metroid Prime. Great Nintendo games start with that, for me, then the rest of the magic comes from art, sound and level design. Its games come from a wide range of studios, and yet it's something I notice about them time and time again. 

"For me personally I think Nintendo are just the masters of putting a smile on your face," says Finn Brice, CEO of Starbound developer Chucklefish. I visited the studio late last year to check out the Advance Wars-like Wargroove. "And I think that’s what we try to bring to our games, it’s what we’ve learned from Nintendo. We want people to buy our games and not just appreciate the mechanics and not just tell a good story, but we want the moment-to-moment experience to make them feel good."

Nintendo-style games felt like they lived outside of the PC's sphere when I was a kid in the '90s—a few platformers like Jazz Jackrabbit and Earthworm Jim aside, it just wasn't where you found the types of games that you'd see on the SNES or N64. We now live in a very different time. Indie games and the digital marketplace mean we've seen a ton of games with Nintendo DNA, made by creators who grew up with those old consoles. From Metroidvanias to 2D platformers to Zelda-likes, there's a variant of pretty much every old Nintendo game type. Hell, there's even a pornographic WarioWare-like

Super Meat Boy has over 2.8 million owners on PC, according to SteamSpy

"Before there are any levels made or anything concrete is created for a game I'm working on I always make the movement feel right and I finalise it before I do anything else," says Tommy Refenes, co-creator of Super Meat Boy, when I relay Nintendo's process of figuring out Mario's movement in three dimensions. "For Super Meat Boy it took three months of figuring out how I wanted Meat Boy to move and what I wanted him to be able to do and how I wanted the player to be able to accomplish those things. Super Meat Boy Forever was exactly the same. I believe it's crucial that level design and controls fit together perfectly and I'm hard pressed to find a Nintendo game where it appears they don't share the same belief." 

"Something that marks Nintendo’s games out for me is their commitment to fun," says Jonathan Biddle, whose next game is the lovely-looking co-op game The Swords of Ditto, out next month. Biddle previously worked on Stealth Bastard. "They treat the pursuit of fun as being a worthwhile endeavour in and of itself. In fact, they take it very seriously! While other developers might focus on storyline, or impressive cutting-edge technology, Nintendo instead double down on squeezing as much enjoyment out of their gameplay as is possible. Because their teams are smaller than their competitors, if they focus on this type of quality game design, they can punch above their weight—something they have been doing consistently well at for decades."

"My work has typically been structured in the same way," Biddle continues. "I've always worked from the small details outwards, trying to make something that is enjoyable on the lowest level, and built the larger systems in support of that, rather than, for example, creating a world and setting a game within it. Also, as much as I enjoy it in other games, I'm not one for putting complex meanings in my games. I generally like to make something fun; a toy, something to be played with, something that hopefully makes people smile."

I played two long games of Wargroove last year, and wrote all about how it went here.

'Small details' is something that Chucklefish picks up on as a Nintendo trademark, too, citing how Luigi would whistle the Luigi's Mansion theme tune in both of those games as you played. "The tiny attention to making you entertained in every aspect of the game, I think it’s what really defines [a Nintendo game]," says Rodrigo Monteiro, lead programmer and producer on Wargroove. 

For Chucklefish, too, the team finds players gravitating towards smaller details in Starbound. "The things people discuss when we see them discussing areas of the game, are weird tiny interactions or quotes in the game rather than grand experiences," says artist and designer Jay Baylis. "It's like, 'I stumbled across a graveyard and someone happened to be crying near it, and I thought that was a relative and I thought they were really sad about their relative dying', and that’s a random interaction in the game. But that's a small thing they remembered the most."

"The main quality I think Nintendo brought to game design, if not innovating it than at least doing it the best early on, is having games teach players how to play games while playing," says Thomas Happ, creator of Metroidvania game Axiom Verge. "The important thing to remember is that games are a learning experience from beginning to end. I always try to keep the player learning new things and applying what they learned. You never want to bring in some difficult element before you have trained them to surmount it because that leads to frustration. And before the player achieves mastery of something you need to have something new come up or there will be a period of boredom, which is what kills games."

Andy described Axiom Verge as "a massive, challenging retro-flavoured shooter that takes the Metroid formula and runs with it."

How it was, or how you remember it? 

You can see the look of series like Metroid, Zelda and Mario filtering down to other indie games—and not just from the SNES era. Last year's Rime reminded me of Wind Waker before anything else, and Owlboy developer Simon Stafsnes Andersen cites the cel-shaded GameCube game as an influence in giving his game's characters a recognisable shape, as well as ensuring that each environment feels interactive. 

If you're going to make a SNES-looking game for the modern age, though, it's never as simple as borrowing a style. "I think when people try to make games look like old games, it’s often to their detriment," says Chucklefish's Baylis. "I see a lot of 16-bit RPG-looking games, and they’re objectively nice, but they don't look inspired because they look like a SNES game, rather than looking how you would remember a SNES game. I think that’s key. You've got to find people’s rose-tinted memories."

"For example, Stardew [Valley] to Harvest Moon," says Monteiro. "I can’t speak for how Eric [Barone] was thinking when he developed it, but I think that Stardew captures the experience you remember having in Harvest Moon but not necessarily the experience you actually had in Harvest Moon."

The Swords of Ditto is out next month, and has the best damn trailer.

Wargroove, which riffs heavily on Nintendo and Intelligent Systems' long-dormant Advance Wars series, offers a similar challenge to the team at Chucklefish. "People have said with Wargroove, the graphics are basically the same as Advance Wars," Baylis says. "When it's not actually the same as Advance Wars—they remember Advance Wars being that good, and then you look back and it just doesn’t look anything like the same—it looks very different to it." While the colour palette and style immediately puts you in the mindset of Advance Wars, the detail on the map is a world apart. Nostalgia only gets you so far.

It's interesting to see the ways this has looped back around for Nintendo. Indies are now swarming to the Switch, and there can be real benefits to developers getting their games on that platform. It means those console owners are getting the types of games that Nintendo isn't releasing at this point in time—games that made the PC their home years ago. 

Stardew Valley

Project Spellbound, the mysterious magic school RPG from Starbound developer and Stardew Valley publisher Chucklefish, finally has an official name: Witchbrook. Chucklefish CEO Finn Brice announced the name on Twitter earlier today. 

We spoke to Chucklefish about Witchbrook's influences last year. Brice said "the most obvious ones were Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley," adding that combat draws on early 2D Zelda games. Brice also talked about the game's in-depth relationships, which he described as "very young adult literature in a lot of ways." You can find more details here

A release date for Witchbrook has not yet been announced. 

Stardew Valley

Food in games usually just gives you a buff or maybe health regeneration, but designers still work hard to make it look appetizing. Stardew Valley might not be Final Fantasy XV in terms of hyper-realistic meals, but its pixel treats are nonetheless tempting. If you’ve ever wanted to tuck into a Farmer’s Lunch or a Miner’s Treat then Everett and Helena, of Stardew Valley Recipes and Stardew Kitchen respectively, have got you covered.

Stardew Valley’s food is abstract: you transform a few disparate ingredients into fully fledged meals as if by alchemy. Everett and Helena use these in-game recipes as a foundation, take the spirit of each dish and then turn it into something you can actually eat. Helena’s recent Cheese Cauliflower is a good example: in-game, Pam provides a "recipe" that only asks you to combine a single cauliflower and a block of cheese. Helena created a full dish including pasta, breadcrumb topping, and a beer-based sauce (in tribute to Pam, who loves Pale Ale.)

Cauliflower Cheese, mid-preparation. +138 Energy, +55 Health.

Everett’s been working on creating these recipes for almost two years, and has covered almost all the game’s food, including a few bonuses that are referenced but that you can’t actually make. "I was working on the Sous Chef achievement [to cook 25 food items], and I realized that all the recipes in-game seemed doable in real life," he tells me. "I’ve never had any professional experience with cooking at all; everything I know is from my parents, grandparents, and YouTube videos, but I wanted to give it a shot."

I've heard fiddleheads contain carcinogens if you don't cook them properly, but the adrenaline of avoiding getting poisoned is part of the appeal of foraging, I think.

Helena

Helena’s blog began several weeks ago, and she too describes herself as "a dedicated but decidedly amateur cook." The two take different approaches in their descriptions—Helena’s instructions are more narrative, often conversational and jokey, but both are entertaining and easy to follow.

Cooking blogs inspired by games aren’t new—Helena cites the now-defunct Gourmet Gaming as one of her inspirations—but Stardew Valley is a particularly good fit for the genre. Its focus on wholesome living, locally sourced ingredients, and food as a community project (through characters who share recipes with you and events like the pot luck) all translate well into the blog projects.

Sound advice from Penny.

For Everett, the community that’s sprung up around the blog has become a large part of his enjoyment. He invites people who have tried his recipes to submit pictures and tells me that he loves to "hear tips and suggestions from a whole crowd of people."

Helena is particularly looking forward to foraging for her food: "I think it's much easier to get excited about eating something fairly unglamourous like chard or a swede if you've actually come into contact with the earth it was growing in and worked to have it be something you can enjoy," she explains, enthusing about the potential of finding fiddlehead ferns in the wild. Then she adds, as something of an afterthought, "I've heard fiddleheads contain carcinogens if you don't cook them properly, but the adrenaline of avoiding getting poisoned is part of the appeal of foraging, I think." (Sourcing wild food is indeed much more complex and potentially dangerous in real life than in Stardew Valley—it’s probably best to leave this to those with experience, like Helena, who used to work on a farm.)

Potential poisoning aside, Stardew’s ingredients have caused other hurdles. "Some of the recipes have vague or weird ingredients in the game, like Pale Broth [made with just two White Algae] and Strange Bun [Wheat Flour, a Periwinkle, and Void Mayonnaise]," Everett explains. For those recipes, he’s stuck with the spirit rather than the game’s instructions, creating a Turkish-style yoghurt soup and a snail-stuffed bread.  

Strange Buns. Ominous.

Helena hasn’t quite decided how she’s going to approach those yet: "I think I’m going to try to keep each dish as true as I can to either the ingredients or the appearance and it’ll probably have to be the latter on those two… I'm pretty sure I could get away with treating the Void Mayonnaise in the Strange Bun as a kind of custard and coloring it with that activated charcoal that seems to be a super trendy ingredient at the moment, though God knows what I'd do with the rest of the charcoal and there's still the periwinkle to think about."

Everett suggested a handful of his recipes, all of which sounded very healthy and wholesome except for cookies. Which I chose.

But even standard ingredients can be tricky. Everett described his issues sourcing seafood: "I live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere and far from the ocean," he says, and Helena has her own reservations. "I do try to keep loosely kosher so all the shellfish recipes are going to be a challenge… Although the only kosher rule I really stick to is avoiding pork."

Nonetheless, she’s looking forward to experimenting. "I'm optimistic that [recipes I’m nervous about] will turn out better than I expected and raise my confidence with that kind of thing in future," she says. She also laid out her goals for the blog, including her desire to keep her food "unpolished" so that "people can see what I'm doing and think 'hey, I could do that!'… I want to make it clear you don't need any real training or special facilities or equipment to derive joy and pride from making food and trying new things in the kitchen."

The recipe for Miner's Treat lollipops calls for Cave Carrot. Luckily the carrot flavor gets cooked out and overpowered by the sugar.

With that in mind I, something of a kitchen disaster, decided to get stuck in. Everett suggested a handful of his recipes, all of which sounded very healthy and wholesome except for cookies. Which I chose.

In-game, cookies are made from just three ingredients—Wheat Flour, Sugar, and an Egg. Everett’s recipe is, thankfully, not much more complex. He categorizes his recipes by difficulty (cookies are 'easy') as well as other factors like whether or not they’re vegetarian so that people can find food that suits them.

My hour or so of baking was lovely, though definitely closer to Helena’s self-described "busy person cooking to unwind after work or when they have time at the weekend" style rather than Everett’s beautiful presentation. In other words, the cookies I made tasted extremely good, but they weren’t especially pretty. I severely underestimated the amount they would spread during cooking, and came away with a slab rather than individual bites, but that was on me rather than Everett. Besides, it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by taking a knife to it, tray-bake style.

Cookies pictured are author's own. You'll need to get Evelyn to four hearts to get the recipe.

"Since Stardew Valley is my favorite game, being able to create content from it has been extra enjoyable," Everett says, and having baked his cookies, I can see why. There’s an appeal to taking something from a game and making it physical. We do it with merch, hobby crafts, and cosplay. 

But everything’s better with food involved, and the fact that Stardew Valley makes food an important part of its warm and welcoming environment means bringing that food into our own lives—no matter how clumsily—can bring that same feeling with it. In sharing their expertise, Helena and Everett have made that possible for even the most inexperienced cooks. 

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley creator Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone has offered another update on the massively popular farming sim's long-awaited multiplayer mode.

According to Barone, work is now "done" on the features planned to be released as part of Stardew Valley's major 1.3 update - that is, the new single-player story content, and the various elements of the highly anticipated co-operative multiplayer mode.

That's certainly exciting news for Stardew Valley fans, but Barone stresses that there's still plenty to be done before the update is ready for its public debut. As of right now, all new text for the game is being translated into various languages, and bug fixing continues apace.

Read more…

Stardew Valley - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Matt Cox)

Stardewmultiplayerheader

My farm in Stardew Valley is a place of solace. It’s a shrine to quiet contemplation, a valuable retreat from the demands of sociability, a hidey-hole built just for me and my thoughts. Why would I want to invite someone in and spoil all that?

Actually, none of that’s true. I’d love to romp around Stardew Valley with a friend in tow, and I’ll soon get the chance to: Stardew Valley’s 1.3 update has entered its QA phase. Update 1.3 will bring official support for online multiplayer, along with other (smaller) new features like the signs pictured above. In a shocking example of northern hemisphere bias, dev Eric Barone’s blogpost also mentions that he’s “still shooting for a spring release for the beta” – so any time from March through to June.

(more…)

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