The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Amber Hageman was selling pretzels when she first met Eric Barone. Amber was about to graduate from high school and Eric had just started college, and they both worked in Auburn's Great Corridor, south of Seattle. Baroni was a handsome man with black eyes and a wry smile, and Higman was drawn to his flair for making things as varied as games, music albums, and design. It didn't take long for these two to get into a relationship. They found out that they both like the Harvest Moon game. Harvest Moon is a relaxing Japanese game series that puts the player in the role of a farmer who must reach his farm and restore it. During their dates, Higman and Baroni would sit together and play Harvest Moon: Back to Nature on PlayStation, making friends with villagers and growing cabbage for profit while playing the game. They used to exchange each other.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Amber Hageman was selling pretzels when she first met Eric Barone. Amber was about to graduate from high school and Eric had just started college, and they both worked in Auburn's Great Corridor, south of Seattle. Baroni was a handsome man with black eyes and a wry smile, and Higman was drawn to his flair for making things as varied as games, music albums, and design. It didn't take long for these two to get into a relationship. They found out that they both like the Harvest Moon game. Harvest Moon is a relaxing Japanese game series that puts the player in the role of a farmer who must reach his farm and restore it. During their dates, Higman and Baroni would sit together and play Harvest Moon: Back to Nature on PlayStation, making friends with villagers and growing cabbage for profit while playing the game. They used to exchange each other.

In 2011, the couple's relationship had become serious and they were living together in Baroni's parents' house. Baroni, who had just graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma with a degree in computer engineering, was struggling to find an entry-level programming job. "I was nervous and shy and didn't do well in interviews," Baroni said. While Baroni was sitting at home applying for jobs wherever he could, a thought came to him: why not make a video game? Making a game seemed like a good way to improve his programming skills, boost his confidence, and maybe help him find a decent job. He had already started a series of big projects, such as a web clone of the action game Bomberman, but had not finished any of them. This time he told himself he would finish whatever he started. He told Higman he would be done in six months, before the next wave of job applications began.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Baroni had a precise, but not so grandiose, vision of the game he wanted to make: he wanted to make his own equivalent of Harvest Moon. The series had lost its popularity due to the lawsuits over its name and the gradual decline in quality over the years, and it had become difficult to find modern games that could convey the sense of relaxation of these old farming simulators.

(Footnote: Natsume) Natsume, the publisher of the game, has owned the rights to Harvest Moon since the first game in the series, but in 2014, Marvelous, the long-time creator of the series, decided to split from Natsume and publish its own games. It was called Harvest Moon, so Marvelous published his farming simulation game called Story of Seasons. Natsume continued to publish Harvest Moon games. Yes, it's complicated.)

Barony He said: "I wanted to play a game that was exactly the same as the first two games in the Harvest Moon series, but with different characters and a different plot. Personally, I could have played those games or variations of them forever, but there was no such thing. I was asked why no one has made such a game yet? I'm sure there are many people who would like to experience this style of play again.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

He also wanted Do it alone. Most video games are made by a team of dozens of people, each specializing in areas such as art, programming, design, and music. Some games, such as Uncharted 4, have a team of hundreds of people and outsourced work from artists around the globe. Even small and independent game developers need contractors and third party game engines to make their games. Eric Baroni, a self-professed introvert, had another plan. He wanted to write every single line of dialogue himself, draw every game design himself, and create all the game songs himself. He even decided to ignore the established game engines and code the game himself from scratch, because he wanted to see if he could handle it. Without colleagues, he no longer needed to fight with anyone to get his word across or wait for someone's approval to get things done. He could make a decision based on his judgment - and only his own.

Baroni decided to release the Harvest Moon clone he wanted to make on the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, a popular platform for The game makers were independent. Unlike other digital distributors in 2011, XBLIG had few restrictions and included any game from any type of gamer, even college graduates with no experience. "My idea at the time was maybe five or six months to make the game," Baroni said kill Then I can publish it on XBLIG and sell it at a low price and make something like a thousand dollars from it. It was good experience for me and I could move on to other things.

Using a basic tool called Microsoft XNA, Baroni began writing the basic code that would allow his characters to move around 2D screens. He then borrowed a series of sprites from SNES games and taught himself how to animate them. He manually drew different frames to give the impression of moving images. "There was no specific method," Baroni said. Everything was completely random and sloppy." (Footnote: In the game world, a sprite is a two-dimensional image that represents a character or object on the screen.)

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

By the end of 2011, Baroni was no longer interested in finding a day job. He was completely immersed in this new project, which was originally called Sprout Valley and was later renamed Stardew Valley. He wanted to finish it full-time before joining the attrition process. The idea behind Stardew Valley was simple: you had to create a male or female character and customize their appearance - from the hairstyle to the color of the pants. At the beginning of the game, your character quits his boring office job in a mega-corporation and moves to a lush village called Pelican Town, where he has inherited an old, abandoned farm from his grandfather. As the protagonist, your task is to grow crops, build relationships with the villagers, and restore Pelicantown to its former glory. Barony's goal was to make doing erosive tasks like planting seeds and scavenging as fun in Stardew Valley as they were in Harvest Moon. The game was even supposed to have a multiplayer section where you could join your friends.

Baroni's daily habits were almost always the same: he would wake up in the morning, make coffee, go to his computer, and between eight and He spent fifteen hours of his time working on the game. When Higman came home, they would eat dinner, go for walks, and discuss important questions, such as: "Which characters should be marriageable?" and "Which characters should be kissable?" He continued this way of life for a few months, but it didn't take long for the couple to become independent. They saved some money while they were living in Barony's parents' house. It was their relief money, but it wasn't enough to cover all the expenses, especially if they wanted to live in the central part of Seattle. Baroni's video game project was making zero dollars a month, so Higman, who was studying for an undergraduate degree, had to support them both. When they found a house, she worked two jobs: one as a coffee shop barista on the weekends and the other as a janitor after college. "We lived a humble life, and this approach worked for us," Hageman said. After a few months, they got used to this routine: Baroni worked on his game, Higman paid for food, daily necessities and rent for their small studio apartment. But apparently Higman did not have a problem with the case. "When we were living at home, it wasn't difficult at all, but when we moved to Seattle, the fact that I had to support [Eric] financially became more apparent, but that fact never became a point of contention," she said. He was working too hard to really complain.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

That was true. Baroni was working hard, but he was not working with high efficiency. Considering that he was building the Stardo Valley by himself, there was no one to hold him accountable or force him to follow a certain plan. He had no employees or extra expenses. There was no producer walking behind his computer chair and telling him to stop wasting any more time and release the damn game. Whenever Baroni thought of a cool trait or interesting character to befriend, he would add it to the game. Every week, the game got exponentially bigger.

However, it's not hard to tell the difference between a game that was built by hundreds of people, and a game that was made by one person. The more realistic a video game looksthat is, the higher the resolution and the more polygons in its 3D modelsthe more likely it is to have been made by a large team of specialists who know how to handle the highly technical aspects of art and engineering. Games like Uncharted 4 required huge teams and tens of millions of dollars to be made, because they needed to take people's minds.

For Baron, who was sitting alone in his apartment studio, making games had a completely different meaning. . His game wasn't supposed to have super-realistic 3D graphics or full-orchestral music. Stardow Valley used hand-drawn 2D sprites and the music was composed by Baroni himself with the help of a cheap sound production program called Reason. Although Baroni had little experience in game development, he was familiar with songwriting from years of playing in bands (in high school he wanted to be a professional composer). He self-taught programming in college and was now slowly learning how to create the simple backgrounds and sprites that would make up Stardo Valley's graphics. Baroni learned how to make sprites by drawing individual pixels by reading pixel art ideas and watching tutorials on YouTube. He knew nothing about the complex lighting techniques in the game, but he learned how to artificially create these effects; He would draw semi-transparent circles and place them behind torches and candles to give the impression that they were lighting up the room.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

He could use the help of others in a specific field and that was planning. Some game developers plan project milestones based on the longest part of the project, some plan around the demo they have to prepare for exhibitions like E3. Eric Baroni had a different approach: he built whatever he wanted. Maybe one morning he was in the mood to make the game's main theme music, and the same evening he felt like drawing character portraits or designing a fishing mechanism. One day Baroney might look at his 2D sprites now transformed from SNES imitation sprites to genuine pixel art and decide that they're all awful and he'd better start over.

Higman and the rest of the family have developed a new habit: constantly asking when the construction of Stardo Valley will be finished. He said he would have a job in a month or two. Two months later, they were asking this question again. He said that in a few months. As time passed, Baroni extended the time frame of the game's development. Two months more became three months more and three months more became six months more. "One of the lonely aspects of making a game, when you have no money and your girlfriend wants to live together, is that you have to accept that this is what you have to do and they shouldn't stop you from doing it," Baroni said. . I had to convince everyone to believe me. The thing is, if I had said from the beginning that the game was going to take five years to make, I don't think anyone would have accepted it. I wasn't even aware of this because it seems so tricky, but in my subconscious I knew that I had to let them know the process of making the game in detail. As in: Oh, it will take six months. It takes a year. Okay, two years

In mid-2012, after a year of working daily on Stardo Valley, Baroni launched a website and posted about his game on Harvest Moon fan forums. In these forums, many people agreed with him regarding the decline in the quality of Harvest Moon. These people were immediately attracted to Stardo valley. The game looked vibrant and colorful, like one of those SNES games that someone discovered two decades later and gave it a fresh makeover. True, the sprites looked rudimentary, but when you saw the happy Stardow Valley farmer plucking a white turnip from the ground, the game made its way into your heart.

Baroni, impressed by the positive feedback he received. Kurd, he thought about how to present Stardo Valley to the people. He had already decided to make the game for PC and not Xbox. Games released on PC had a much wider audience, but this market was dominated by one exclusive store: Steam. Steam was a large network managed by Valve, the game publisher. However, indie game creators couldn't just put their game on Steam; They had to get Steam's approval.

This was problematic. Baroni was not familiar with Steam. He didn't know anyone in the game publishing industry. He didn't even know anyone else who made video games.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Baroni worried that anyone would even Not knowing about the existence of the game he spent a year of his life creating, he searched the Internet and came across a new program that looked promising: Steam Greenlight. With the help of Greenlight, Velo received approval from Steam users to publish the game on Steam, because this program allowed users to vote for the games they were interested in playing. For games whose votes passed a certain number (a number that was not announced by Velo Secret), a place was opened for sale on Steam. Greenlighted it on Steam. "I thought the game was over," Baroni said. I thought to myself: Yes, I can have it ready for release in six months."

A little later, a British game developer named Finn Brice came to Baroni with an offer. Bryce, who was the manager of a company called Chucklefish, was curious about Stardo Valley. "Everybody could see the game's potential from the start," Bryce said. A Harvest Moon clone for the PC platform with eye-catching graphics attracted everyone's attention. Baroni emailed Bryce one of the game's builds, and it wasn't long before the entire Chucklefish office staff gathered around Bryce's computer to watch him play. Some parts of Stardo Valley were unfinished and the game crashed from time to time, but they were all attracted to it.

Finn Bryce made an offer to Baroni: in exchange for 10% of the game's profits, Chucklefish was willing to be the official publisher. Stardo Valley. Chucklefish didn't have the scale and reach of big publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision, but it was equipped with lawyers, advertising specialists, and others who could help Baroni with the tedious work of game development. (You'll understand how boring it is when you have to read a bunch of legal documents about intellectual property rights.)

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Baroni knew Chucklefish from Starbound, a game that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance sales alone. He wanted his game to be linked with this game. Also, he realized that if he goes to a bigger publisher, this publisher will demand a much higher share from him, maybe something like 50-60%. That's why 10% seemed like a good deal. "That's why I jumped at the chance without hesitation," Baroni said.

On May 17, 2013, Stardew Valley received enough votes to be approved on Steam Greenlight. Excited, Baroni took to his website to update his growing fan following. "I'll do my best to get the game to you as soon as possible, without compromising on how fun and content-rich it is (within a reasonable timeframe)," he wrote. I still can't announce the exact release date. These things are hard to predict and I don't want to make empty promises. However, you can be sure that I am working hard every day and making steady progress!

Just a few more months. Only a few more months! As the process of making the game progressed, Baroni kept repeating this slogan to himself, even though his mind was going into dark places. He would wake up in the morning with the feeling that his game was not good enough. "I decided [the game] was crap and I had to do something better," Baroni said. "I knew that the game in its current state was not going to become a huge phenomenon." Like an overzealous carpenter, he took Stardow Valley apart again, discarding the code and gameplay elements he had spent months writing. Baroni said: "From one point on, I thought I was almost done with the game, but then I changed my mind and thought to myself: No, this game is not ready. I am not satisfied with it. I don't want my name on it.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Over the coming months, Baroni redesigned all the sprites. Kurd redrew the character portraits, threw away core gameplay elements (such as parts of the game's randomly generated underground mines), and rewrote much of the game's code from scratch to make Stardo Valley run more smoothly. After nearly two years of working on the game, Baroni felt that his skills in game development had improved. Now he's a better pixel artist, a better programmer, more skilled in visual effects and sound design than when he started. Wouldn't he be better off spending his time improving all of these parts?

He redrew the portraits fifteen timesor something close to that crazy numbersaid Amber Higman. Looking back now, I can see that the quality of his artwork has improved and it was totally worth it... but at the time, he was sitting at his desk working on a character for days on end, constantly changing his appearance. I was like this, carefree, it looks great, you don't need to worry about it. [Eric] is a perfectionist, and he wanted to keep working on it until he felt right about it.

Financial conditions were getting tougher for the couple. They had spent most of their capital, and Hageman was the only one working part-time as he prepared to graduate from college. To help out, Baroni thought of putting Star Valley in Early Access, a mode that allows Steam users to pay to experience an unfinished version of the game before its release date. But he was worried about taking money from people before the game was over. This was putting a lot of pressure on him. Instead, he found a part-time job as a pad at the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle. He worked a few extra hours there every week so they wouldn't go bankrupt.

Once a month, Baroni would post an update on the Stardo Valley website, introducing new game content (fruit trees! cows! fertilization mechanism!). and showed an optimistic face to the fans. By late 2013, Baroni had amassed hundreds of fans who followed her blog posts and left friendly and motivating comments on each one. But he had completely lost his spirit. He sat alone at the computer for 2 years and every day he developed the same game and played it. The seed of anxiety was planted in his mind and it bore fruit at the worst moments.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Baroni said There were moments when I was depressed and thought to myself: What am I doing? I have a degree in computer engineering and I am working in a movie theater with the lowest salary. People used to ask me: Do you do anything else? And I said I'm making a game. I was embarrassed when I answered this. They probably thought to themselves: This guy is a loser.

Some days Baroni didn't work at all. He would get up, make himself a coffee, kiss his girlfriend, and then play Civilization and Final Fantasy for eight hours straight. When Higman got home, Baroni would resume Stardew Valley so he wouldn't know he was playing. "There were times when I didn't want to work at all," Baroni said. "I was constantly pressing Alt-tab and scrolling through Reddit and it just didn't work at all." Maybe this was the work of Baruni's body, which was telling him to take it easy on himself. He hadn't taken a weekend off in two years.

Higman said: "There were times when [Eric] would lose his temper and hate the game, but These negative feelings never reached the point of stopping work on the game. For example, one day he would hate the game and then the next day he would work on it to make it better. Then the next week he would be excited about the game. That was his character."

Baroni needed a real rest. At the beginning of 2014, he saw Higman playing with his new tablet, and an idea came to him: to put Stardo Valley on hold for a while and make a mobile game: a small, simple game that he could build in a few weeks. to finish By the next month, Baroni ignored Stardo Valley and started making an Android game about a surfing purple pear. In this game, players have to guide the pear through the obstacles using the touch screen and compete to get the highest score. On March 6, 2014, Baroni released Air Pear, but it received very little reception. "This game proved to me that I don't want to be a mobile game developer," Baroni said. I hate this job.

Even if making the next Candy Crush wasn't Baroni's ultimate destiny, the break helped give his brain a break. All those seven-day work weeks had drained him of energy. He further distanced himself from Stardew Valley, blogging for his website (fans had speculated that he might be dead because he hadn't posted an update in two months) and said in the blog that he had cut back on his marathon work sessions to "not only live to have fun, but also to be more productive on Stardo Valley (so that I can concentrate more when I sit down to do something").

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

After graduating from college, Amber Hageman got a full-time job as a lab technician, and her job helped them make ends meet. (Later, in 2015, he began his master's studies, where he received a fixed salary for his studies in plant biology.) Higman didn't mind being the sole breadwinner, but after coming home every day and seeing how well Stardo Valley was doing, he encouraged Baroni to release the game sooner. "I was completely confused," Hageman said. I mean, if it's already messing with the game, why don't you publish it?" At the end of the year, Baroni's fans were also asking him the same question. Where was Stardo Valley? Why couldn't they play it yet?

Baroni answered this question in his blog in 2015. "As soon as I know when the game is ready for release, I will announce it," he wrote. "I have no intention of deception and secrecy." He added that he did not want to announce a date that he would later have to delay. He also didn't want to hype up the game until it was ready.

(Footnote: When I first met Eric Baroni in September 2016, one of the most hyped indie games in history had just been released: Celestial No Man's Sky While we were eating noodles at a restaurant near Eric's house, we had a long conversation about the failure of game developers to deliver on their promises. Baroni said: "You can create hype around a game by talking, and you can make money from this hype, but that's not my nature. I don't even like the concept of hype. I don't want to get caught up in the hype at all. I'd rather make a great game instead. I wholeheartedly believe that if you make the right game, if this game is really good, it will create hype for itself. It sells itself.)

Baroni wrote: I had been working on Stardo Valley for years and was as eager as anyone for it to be released. However, I'm only willing to release it when the game is complete and in a state I'm happy with. The game is not publishable in its current state. This game is not over. Of course, it is very close to the status of a complete game, but this project is very big and I am the only one working on it. The first challenge was that it took a long time to do anything. Given that Baroni didn't follow a rigid schedule, it often happened that he would build 90% of one part of the game, get bored with it, and then move on to another part. Even though he had been working on Stardo Valley for four years, he still hadn't finished many of the game's basic mechanics - like getting married and having children. Other than that, it was hard to get excited about coding the settings menu. "When you can run the game and play it from day one, it might give you the false impression that it's almost finished and you can do whatever you want, but if you look at it more closely," Baroni said. Everything needs more work. Reviewing these unfinished features and finishing them all will take months.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

The next big challenge was the feeling of loneliness. It had been four years now that Baroni had been sitting at the computer all day and talking to no one but Amber Higman. He had no cooperation to exchange ideas with him; There was no one to meet him for lunch and talk about the latest trends in the game industry. He had to accept solitude in exchange for full creative control over the game. "I think to make a game alone, you have to be someone who can be alone for long periods of time," Baroni said. I am that kind of person and I have no problem with that. But I must admit that sometimes the feeling of loneliness puts pressure on a person. One of the reasons why I accepted the job of working in the cinema was this; To be able to go out and interact with other people sometimes.

Baroni couldn't tell if his game was good or not as he stared at the mountains and trees of Stardo Valley. The game looked similar to Harvest Moon; There was no doubt about it. In it you could grow crops and go on romantic dates and hang out with cute characters at the annual Egg Festival. But Baroni had been working on the game for too long to judge its finer parts. Was the writing quality of the game good? How about the music? Were the portraits beautiful enough or did he have to draw them from scratch? Baroni said: "This is another one of the problems of making games alone. You can no longer have an objective view of your game. I had no idea how fun the game was. In fact, I thought the game was rubbish until a few days before release. I was saying to myself: This game is nonsense."

The others did not agree. In September 2015, a group of Chucklefish members went online on Twitch and streamed an hour of their experience playing Stardew Valley. The game was not over yet, but it was close to the end. They demonstrated the basic mechanics of the game, played the main character Att and collected the trash collected on the farm, and met the friendly inhabitants of Pelicantown. According to the fans of this game, it looks great. One commenter wrote: Looks great in every way. You really are a one-man army.

Finn Bryce said: The closer we got to the game's release, the more it became clear that this game was going to make a splash. Even though we believed in the project, the level far exceeded our expectations. Our expectations were many miles higher than Eric's." Baroni decided that he was not going to add any more new content to Stardo Valley. Instead, he said he plans to spend the rest of the year fixing bugs and making small changes to make the game more fun. It didn't take long for him to break his word. In November, he added new crops to grow, new instructions for construction, private bedrooms (which you could visit if you were friends with their owner), a quest log, mobile merchants, and horses. (Baroni told fans that there would be no need to feed or care for the horse in order to keep the game from being "stressful".)

Despite these new additions, however, Delays had been added, the game was almost over, but there was still one important part left. Baroni had originally promised that Stardew Valley would have both a single player and a multiplayer section, but adding a multiplayer section was taking longer than he thought. As 2015 drew to a close and Seattle entered winter, it became clear to Baroni that releasing the "full" version of the game might take another year. By this time, Baroni and Higman had moved from their small studio apartment to a modest house they shared with two other friends.

Baroni spent weeks deciding. Releasing an incomplete game seemed uncouth. But for years, fans have been asking him when Star Valley is going to be released. Wasn't it about time? Without multiplayer, the game's sales might have suffered, but he had been working non-stop for four years. Baroni, like the main character of the silent game, was tired of daily wear and tear. "I was so tired of working on Stardew Valley that I just wanted to release it," Baroni said. I reached a point where I suddenly said to myself: Okay, the game is ready. I'm sick of working on it. I don't want to work on it anymore.

On January 29, 2016, Baroni announced the news: Stardo Valley will be released on February 26. The price of the game was 15 dollars. Baroni had no idea how to launch an advertising campaign for the game, but that's why he agreed to give Chucklefish 10% of the game's profits. The company had sent the Star Valley codes to journalists and Twitch streamers. Baroni was pessimistic about streaming, saying, "I was afraid that people would see it on Twitch before launch and feel that the game was no longer new to them and they wouldn't want to buy it." But the early streams and videos drew people's attention to Stardo Valley more than any press coverage. That month, Stardew Valley was one of the most popular games on Twitch, appearing on the site's homepage almost every day.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

During the last few weeks of February, Baroni no longer cared to take leave. He spent every waking hour sitting at his computer (or standing, as he had made a makeshift standing desk by placing his monitor on top of an empty Wii U box) and fixing game bugs. Apart from his housemates and a few friends he asked to try out the game, he had no testers. There was no news from the quality control team. He had to find, record and fix all the bugs himself. "It was a hell of a job," Baroni said. I didn't sleep for several days." One morning before the game's release, while he was trying to fix one of the game's minute 90 localization bugs, Baroni fell asleep while standing at his desk.

On February 26, 2016, a tired and helpless Eric Baroni He published Dareh Stardo. His girlfriend and housemates, Jared and Rose, had taken the day off work for the occasion, and were sitting together in the upstairs room as the game went on sale. While they were celebrating together, Baroni created his gamer account on Steam. When he clicked on the game's live graph, he could see the game's sales figures go up in real time. As soon as he opened the graph, he could tell whether his game had achieved momentary success or not.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

In Eric Baroni did not know what to expect at this stage. He had been drained of energy for a long time and even though his friends told him the game was great, he didn't know how the world would react to the Harvest Moon clone he had made. Were people willing to buy it? Did they like it? What if no one cared?

He opened the chart.

***

Six months later, On a warm Seattle evening Thursday, Eric Baroni strode up the front steps of his apartment. He had a box full of soft toys from his game characters and was wondering how many of them he could fit in his car. Friday was the opening day of Penny Arcade or PAX. Pax was an event attended by geeks from all over the world. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the venue to find cool new games to play, and Baroni had a small booth to showcase Stardo Valley. This was the first time he participated in an exhibition, so he was a little anxious. He had never met another game developer, let alone a potential fan of his game. What if this awful interaction had gone awry?

Baroni, along with two of his roommates (and me, who had flown in from New York), filled the trunk of his car with the essentials: two small monitors, a banner. Handmade, a bag full of water bottles, a series of cheap ponies and soft toys themed with characters from Stardo Valley. When we closed the bar, Baroni opened the front door of the car and got behind the driver's seat. She He said that the car has been broken for several months. This used car was twenty years old and belonged to his family. I asked him if he was going to fix the door. He said he didn't think much about it.

We were faced with a familiar and almost clich scenario: an independent game developer has secured a place for himself at a big conference that many people are looking for, and he has asked his housemates to run the booth. take If the game developer is lucky, the press coverage their game gets over the weekend will attract a few hundred new fans. For indie games, this is a golden opportunity. Players praising a game at Pax can turn a small game into a big success.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

But Eric Baroni didn't need help. By the time he got into the front seat of the car Thursday in Seattle, Stardew Valley had sold 1.5 million copies. Since its launch, the game has brought in nearly 21 million dollars in net profit. 28-year-old Eric Baroni, who couldn't open the front seat of his car, had more than $12 million in his bank account. But he was still driving around in a damaged Toyota Camry. "People used to ask me, 'When are you going to buy a sports car?'" Baroni said. But I didn't need it. I don't know when this [mood] is going to change. I think I will buy a house in the future, but I am in no rush. I don't need luxuries. I know these things don't make you happy.

Over the next few days, Eric Baroni stood in a crowded booth on the sixth floor of the Washington State Convention Center and, for the first time in his life, shook hands and signed photos with others. , as if he has become a rock star. Those who came dressed as Stardow Valley characters, such as the purple-haired Abigail and the dapper Gunther. Some people brought him works of art and handmade gifts. Some people shared personal stories about how Stardew Valley helped them through a difficult time in their lives. Amber Higman, who also ran the booth herself, said, I heard people thanking Eric in very encouraging and sweet ways, and it was heartwarming to see that happen. This is what I wanted. I wanted people to appreciate Eric's work and to appreciate his music, his writing, and the rest of his skills that I've always admired and thought he was great at. When I saw the rest of the people came to admire him and express their interest to him, it was very pleasant for me."

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

The past year has been a whirlwind for Eric Baroni and Amber Higman. After the launch of Stardo Valley, this game made its way to the top of Steam's best-selling games and sold tens of thousands of copies daily. Baroni thought the game would do well, but the final numbers far exceeded his expectations. This figure was both satisfactory and terrifying for Baroni. The success of the game made him feel the pressure to improve the game. Now that more than five people had tried the game, Baroni had to spend all his free time fixing bugs that kept popping up left and right, only to cause more bugs to pop up. Then he would spend the whole night fixing new bugs. This pattern continued for weeks. Chucklefish's Finn Bryce said: "I think it can be quite a shock to achieve this level of success. Suddenly you feel like you owe a lot of people."

One of the consequences of this success - and it was hard to accept even six months later - was that Eric Baroni is now a millionaire. Was. You might not know it from the shabby house he shared with his girlfriend and roommates, and the broken-down Toyota he drove around Seattle, but he had made more money in six months than most game developers make in their entire careers. They do not bring Baroni's previous lifewhere he worked as a movie theater bouncer and depended on Higman for daily expensesseemed to take place in another time/space dimension. When I asked Baroni if he had done anything with his newfound wealth, he said, We had to plan for food and similar expenses before the game came out. Now I buy a bottle of wine whenever I want. I don't worry about these things anymore." He paused for a few seconds to think. "Also, I got health insurance, which I didn't have before."

Baroni later told me he bought a new computer.

Amber Higman said: "The feeling we had at first was very good. It was surreal. It was really abstract. Yes, we suddenly have a lot of money, but it's all numbers on a computer screen... We talked about finally being able to buy a house, and that was great. There was always a fancy house magazine attached to the Sunday paper, and we flipped through the pages at leisure, because now it seemed possible to buy one of those houses. Of course, we are not going to do this. It was just fun to look at them."

***

In 2014, New Yorker writer Simon Parkin wrote an article called "The Guilt of Video-Game Millionaires) in which he addressed the complicated feelings that independent game developers had about commercial success. In this article, game makers such as Rami Ismail, the designer of Nuclear Throne, and Davey Wreden, the creator of The Stanley Parable, discuss their conflicting emotions when it comes to acquiring wealth: depression, anxiety. "I'm just a dude who makes games," Edmund McMillen, designer of the platformer Super Meat Boy, told Parkin. I am an artist who likes to be alone. This success artificially raised my status. Others feel jealous or even hate."

Eric Baroni was stuck in a similar emotional vortex. During the months after the launch of Stardo Valley, strong and even conflicting emotions had taken over his mind. At first, as the numbers climbed, he got calls from big companies like Sony and Valve. These calls made Baroni cry to himself. "I thought I was a complete moron," he said. Microsoft took him to such a dinner party. Nintendo invited him on a tour of its super-classy headquarters in Redmond (a place so secret you had to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to get in, a contract that required you not to take any pictures of it), Baroni said. : "Everyone wanted something from me. "Nintendo wants me to port the game to their consoles, and I think what they're really looking for is an exclusive deal, but I won't agree to that." (Footnote: Baroni later announced a port of Stardo Valley for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch.)

However, a sense of insecurity and uncertainty slowly crept into his mind. Baroni felt like a tourist in a foreign country and while having dinner with game industry experts, he was absorbing several decades of game knowledge in one place. He had always loved video games, but until then he didn't know much about the culture that had developed around them. "I was suddenly thrown into the heart of this crazy world," he said. I went from being an unknown person to the heart of a world where I felt like a complete stranger... I was just an ordinary person who chanced upon him and made the right play at the right time.

Baroni He immersed himself more and more in his work and sacrificed sleep and rest in order to release the patch for Stardo Valley more quickly. Then he looked at his long to-do list: in addition to a number of patches full of new content, it also included the multiplayer he had promised years before the game's launch. The biggest setback for Baroni was that there was no creative challenge in programming to add multiplayer to the game. He simply had to write line after line of networking code, which he hated.

One morning, in mid-2016, Eric Baroni suddenly quit. He could no longer work. After four and a half years of non-stop work, the thought of devoting months of his life to adding multiplayer to Stardo Valley was sickening to him. "I felt completely drained of energy," she said. I was doing a lot of interviews and talking to people on the phone every day and making business deals, making toys, etc. "After a while, I couldn't go on anymore." He called Chucklefish and told them he needed a break. The publisher offered to put one of its programmers in charge of adding multiplayer to the game, and Baroni gladly agreed. . When the crunch is over and the game developers have survived the hellfire, they are given a month or two off to settle down. Baroni hadn't done so in February when the game launched, but over the summer he finally decided it was time to take a long break. He spent many hours playing on the computer and thinking in front of the computer. He drank a lot. He smoked a lot of marijuana. He started taking an herb called Ashwagandha, which helped him reduce stress and increase energy, but even these did not motivate him to work more on Stardo Valley.

In On August 6th, 2016, Eric Baroni published a new post on the Stardo Valley website. He wanted to keep fans updated on the progress of the new game page (version 1.1) - which was supposed to add new features and content to the game. "To be honest, the reason this update took so long is because I've been feeling extremely mentally fatigued lately and my productivity has dropped drastically," he wrote. For almost five years now, all my thoughts and memories have been in my waking moments of the Stardo Valley, and I think my brain was asking me to be away from it for a while. "

Baroni added that he did little during the summer and felt very guilty about it. He wrote: "Honestly, I always had a lot of ups and downs: in some periods I would be extremely productive and energetic, and then I would lose my motivation. As far as I remember, my system was like this. This time it seemed a little worse than usual, but I reminded myself that the success of Stardew Valley made my life weird very quickly. It is probably normal that I need some time to adjust to the new situation. I'm not even sure if this recent lack of motivation is due to my sudden success, my unbalanced brain chemistry, or the result of working non-stop for long periods of time without rest. Sometimes I forget that I'm human too and I need to rest and have fun.

However, there wasn't much time left to rest. After the Pax event, Chucklefish told Baroni that he needed to have the game ported to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One by the deadline and Patch 1.1 ready by the end of September. Baroni went back into non-stop work mode, crunching for weeks to meet the deadline. When he got there, he was overcome by mental fatigue again and the cycle began again.

In November 2016, as he continued to work non-stop on Stardew Valley, Baroni received an email from one of He received representatives from a publisher called NIS America. The email asked if he would like to meet a man named Yasuhiro Wada. Baroni said of course I have. It was crazy to miss such an opportunity. Wada, a Japanese designer who has been making games since the 80s, came to Seattle to promote his new simulation game, Birthdays the Beginning. However, before this Wada was famous for designing and directing a farm management game. The game was called Harvest Moon.

Baroni, anxious and a little panicked, drove his car to the office the US NIS had rented in downtown Seattle. He knew he was about to meet the man whose work had inspired him more than anyone. "Meeting him was very anxiety-provoking for me," Baroni said. But I decided I had to do it because at least it would make a great story.

BingMag.com The tribulations of making a solitaire game; The story of the construction of Stardo Valley (blood, sweat and pixels – part 4)

Baroni and Wada shook hands and greeted each other. Wada had brought a Japanese to English translator with him. Baroni said that he brought the first Harvest Moon SNES cartridge with him, and Wada signed it with a smile on his face. They ate dinner together, drank beer and played each other's games. "It was a very surreal experience talking to the person who made Harvest Moon," Baroni said. He was thirty years old when the first Harvest Moon game came out and I was a little kid playing it. I'm meeting this person now and I'm talking to him about the development of his game, and he also knew about the existence of Stardo Valley."

Vada told Baroni that he enjoyed the experience of playing Stardo Valley and was excited. was to see how Baroni has given a new spirit to the genre he founded years ago. "He was addicted to cleaning his farm," Baroni said. He spent most of his time cutting weeds with scythes and felling trees.

Five years ago, Baroni was living with his parents, screwing up job interviews, and wondering what to do with his life. slow Now, the creator of Harvest Moon was cutting down trees in his best-selling game. The word "surreal" doesn't do justice to the situation.

***

In December 2016, about a year after the launch of the Valley Stardo, I called Baroni to see how he was doing. We talked about a variety of things: his meeting with Wada, his tumultuous work cycles, and the bugs he and Chucklefish ran into while porting the game. He told me that he was still sick of Stardo Valley and was ready for a new project.

I asked him if he had finished his new game plan.

Baroni He said yes. He was thinking about making a game centered around catching bugs.

I asked him how long it might take to make it.

"I'm trying to be more realistic this time," Baroni said. I hope two years."

To be continued

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