Stardew Valley, released by Eric Barone in 2016, has a rather unique origin. It is not rare to feel like something in a game – its gameplay, its plot, or its art style – is deeply connected to one or more of the creators. Just like every other kind of art and culture, video games are a way for game developers to express themselves. This especially happens in indie games, which are often developed by a handful of people. But it rarely happens that one encounters a game in which everything is a reflection of one person.
Eric Barone, also known as ConcernedApe, worked on Stardew Valley completely on his own for four-and-a-half years. He created the music, the art, the code, and everything else there is to create to release it. Working on his own, he had the chance to build a game exactly as he wanted it. He chose to center it around the beauty of the countryside and the appreciation of one’s own time.
A realistic world to lose yourself in
Stardew Valley takes place in a small town near the sea, with a lot of characters that the player can get to know. The map is small, and while it can be confusing at first it is easy to memorize and navigate later on. The main character, customizable in its few pixels, goes to live in Stardew Valley to try a simpler way of living after his corporate job turns out to be a disappointment. A theme that is often found in art, for example in Henry David Thoreau‘s Walden, or Life in the Woods, or Neil Young‘s Harvest. In Thoreau’s novel, the protagonist also leaves the city life behind to look for a simpler life, but in the woods instead of the countryside.
Stardew Valley’s main objective is to establish a successful farm. With the few resources the player has at the beginning, it can be a real challenge to get started. The game offers plenty of different activities, each with its unique gameplay: fishing, mining, interacting with, and romancing the non-playable characters. Juggling everything requires time management skills. As the game progresses, new activities and areas unlock, making it never repetitive. ConcernedApe offers the player a stunning sense of progression, as they witness their farm get bigger and more beautiful every season.
A multi-player mode is also offered, up to 4 people. Modding is extremely easy as the game is open source. The Stardew Valley community offers many opportunities to further personalize both the farm and the town.
A game made only by one person alone
ConcernedApe started working on Stardew Valley in 2011. At the time he really needed a job, but could not find any. Thus, he decided to create a video game to build up his resume, which would take six months maximum. The project ended up becoming bigger and bigger and absorbing more time than he thought, especially as he worked on everything himself. Many places in Stardew Valley are inspired by the scenery of the Northwest, where he grew up.
When you’re playing… I want every moment to be full of joy and wonder, and to bring back the kind of magic that you may have felt when you were a kind and you first played videogames.Barone to KING 5 News, 2020
In 2020, Stardew Valley sold over 10 million copies. During the 2020 pandemic crisis, many people found the peaceful rhythm of the game to ease them from stress. Kind of an escape from reality, in which simplicity becomes within the reach of anyone again.