Sowing happiness in barren fields with Harvest Moon's creator
Interviewing Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada about his new game, Project Happiness at E3, it became obvious that there was a big difference between his game and the vast majority of games at the show.
"I have roots in a small town. What came from that is the world we see in Harvest Moon. When I tried to create something new from scratch, I ended up creating something similar to Harvest Moon. It's the world that is similar, not the gameplay -- but it extends from who I am, so I couldn't help it."
So few of the games at E3 seemed to say anything about the lives or the backgrounds of the people who created them -- these high-concept action stories featuring bigger-than-life protagonists.
"Thinking differently from other people is one of the themes I have for my life," says Wada, when this contrast is pointed out to him. "I wouldn't deny the violent games out there, but rather, I actually get influenced by them to create something very different."
"Because there are violent games with killing and war, that kind of shapes the identity for what I create," he says. "It's healthy to bring much variety to games. If the only things you see are violent games, then it won't be any fun," he says.
"There used to be so many kinds of video games" at E3, says Wada. "but now I walk around, and all I see is the same kind of game. It's a little sad."
What could be more different than a game codenamed Project Happiness? It marks the next chapter in a story he told at GDC this year. Despite a desire to create "something completely different" from the 18-year old farming series that made him famous, Wada was drawn back to his upbringing in a country town in rural Japan. He originally dreamed up Harvest Moon when he realized he yearned for the simplicity of his past, after leaving it behind to work in the game industry in Tokyo.
The game, which is due on Nintendo 3DS and mobile devices, centers shopkeeping -- but it's apparently not a simple simulation; you'll also learn about the lives of the customers who frequent your store. He hinted that through their choices, "users will be involved in the game emotionally" when he spoke to Gamasutra.
"While playing this game, of course you are going to have a fun experience, but in this game, even after you put down the controller and have finished playing, you are going to remember this game as one of the most memorable game experiences you will ever have," promises Wada.
He started his new development company, Toybox, after leavingLollipop Chainsaw developer Grasshopper Manufacture, where he was COO. Why? "I wanted to feel fresh. I wanted to start out very small," says Wada. "I wanted to be fully involved in development." Grasshopper, like Marvelous -- the company where he made Harvest Moon -- had simply gotten too big.
"When the company is too big, you have to be focused on how to keep the company running, whereas when it's small you can focus on the creative side of the business. That's what I would like to do," he says.
"Over the years, the passion to create something new has grown less and less because I was in management, and other tasks I had to take care of," he says. "I'd been involved in Harvest Moon game development for 18 years, and now I'm feeling refreshed, just like when I started making Harvest Moon for the first time."
President Hiro Maekawa, of California-based publisher Natsume, hopes to help nurture Wada's game for the U.S., just as he did with Harvest Moon.
Project Happiness, he says, has the ingredients of success: "The person who gave birth to Harvest Moon. That is Wada-san. Then there is the person who raised it, which is me, myself," says Maekawa.
"We are planning to raise our Project Happiness in the same way as we raised Harvest Moon -- in the beginning it was an unknown IP... We are expecting Project Happiness to be our new franchise in the future, like Harvest Moon. It may take some time, but we have a strong feeling inside ourselves that this has a great potential to grow."