As the recent news about our progress on funding makes the circuit and…some other news (ahem) looms nearer and nearer, we are understandably being asked questions about the game’s scope, mechanics and genre. We’ve been deliberately coy on specifics and the biggest reason has been to minimize the misery for the fans if things never gelled. Now that we’re feeling more confident in the way things have shaped up it seems fair to start sharing our thoughts on the game itself.
One of the strongest themes I’ve heard from fans of Redwall is easiest to describe this way:
We want to live there.
Sure the action and the adventure and all of that is important, but more than that…is something much less than that, something simpler.
From that observation I’ve wanted to look for games that were able to make simple things playable and by simple I mean the slow-paced actions of a quiet life: sewing, fishing, cooking, chopping wood. As you might imagine there aren’t many examples of that kind of game but one that stands out is Harvest Moon. I distinctly remember the game from my GameCube and getting totally engrossed in husbanding turnips. But as I thought back, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was fun.
The more I thought about it, the more I understood that it was important for me to figure this out – what was fun about Harvest Moon? And I’m not the only one, many, many people remember the series with a lot of affection (over 12M copies have sold worldwide (http://www.vgchartz.com/gamedb/?name=harvest+moon)). So I went to a local shop that sells used games and get set up to explore this iconic title all over again.
What caught my eye, and what felt very different from newer games like FarmVille was that I actually cared what happened. I cared about the farm, about my cow, about my dog, and about the other people in the village. That seems in marked contrast to the various X-ville games where my mind is occupied by efficiency and optimization.
I found in Harvest Moon a series of interconnected entropic systems that all require me to invest in them and in the process of investing my time they become ‘mine’ in a way my Zynga farm never does. No doubt the story and the sense of interpersonal relationships only heightens that experiences since I’m not only invested in a series of mechanical and predictable processes, but also exploring the cloudy and (seemingly) unpredictable world of friends, families and even a bride.
Ultimately I came to believe that the farm kept me occupied but it was the people that kept me coming back. It reminded me of a similar experience with Mass Effect. I was fascinated to explore the dialog trees and relationship opportunities. I spent long hours walking around the Normandy chatting it up with everybody and for me – that’s what I came to feel was akin to living in those environments.
But where Mass Effect felt ultimately goal-driven, I was explicitly trying to open up new branches in the tree, Harvest Moon felt closer to real life. In many ways there are no set goals. Of course there are interesting leads, opportunities to explore and invent, but no real pressure. To my knowledge there is no way to loose Harvest Moon, where in Mass Effect the story line tends to pull the game forward even if you choose to tacitly ignore it.
We said a long time ago that when it came to Redwall the story was sacrosanct. I think we’d be doing it wrong if there was a possibility in which the Abbey could be lost or known characters could get killed.
Ideally, we want to walk a line in which I can spend as long as I want just hanging out in the Abbey, drinking October Ale, singing hale to fallen friends, and sunning ones ears on the parapets in summer. That’s what life in Redwall is like. And that’s a life worth fighting for when threatened from the outside.