Discussion on the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Farming Simulator Genre

Screenshot from an early build of Veil of Dust: A Homesteading Game

Elle: We wanted to start our dev blog for this game by answering a kind of basic question: Why make another farming simulator game? What is it about the genre that makes us think there ought to be another addition to it?

Mike: I think the genre has room for more than one tone. The existing games have a lot of similarities in their setting and their overall feel — A very cheerful pseudo-european village with very fertile soil populated by extremely chipper villagers who have no problems.

Elle: I would disagree for Back to Nature, wherein the player witnesses a lot of low-key small-town squabbling and they even touch on racism a bit, but that was definitely the case with the subsequent Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games. Yeah, after Back to Nature and N64, The Harvest Moon games are all pretty similar with their main difference being how much they vary in quality. Similarly, the Rune Factory games sort of just kept improving on their formula, until they got to Rune Factory 4, which is considered by most people to be the best one — including me.

Mike: But even at their best, all those games really have no consequence for failure — there really is no failure. The barrier to progress is just your willingness to put time into it. You can optimize crops, income and action economy, but there’s no incentive to do so.

Elle: And, unfortunately, if you want to play that way — maximizing your resource management, you run out of game content before the storylines are complete. I think everyone remembers ‘just sleeping through’ multiple days in Harvest Moon/ Rune Factory games to get to a festival or a relationship event. That’s also one of the reasons why the novel difficulty setting in Rune Factory 4 was such a game changer — You had to plan and use the skill trees efficiently.

Farming in a very early build of Veil of Dust

Mike: It’s a credit to those games that so many people did want to grind through those task-less days to get to the events. It shows they were invested.

Elle: Yeah, as much as I find the older ones grindy, there really is a lot to like about these games. I think this format really encourages the player to get invested in the characters, especially those that they were courting. It’s kind of unique as a narrative structure in that the ‘love story’ is drawn out over months and sort of shuffled in with the other things you’re doing that day. The pace allows lots of space in terms of getting to know characters. Chase of Tree of Tranquility, Ann of Back to Nature and Forte of Rune Factory 4 are my favorite spouses and I still have affection for them years after playing the games.

Mike: And It’s not just the characters — you also have more time to absorb the world and the setting. It’s a just little bit sandbox-y. The game doesn’t force players to do things in a certain order. They can explore, farm, craft, fish, pursue relationships, in whatever order and to whatever extent they want.

Elle: I suppose they were a very early spiritual predecessor to sandbox games in that way. I think the marriage pieces were even optional in many of those games, although I always picked a sweetie to pursue.

Mike: We played Rune Factory 4 together and Forte is one of my favorites too. That being said, I do like that Veil of Dust’s central relationship is going to be completely non-romantic, that’s pretty novel.

Elle: Yeah, I think it’s, I don’t know, less of a distraction? There are fewer expectations on how the narrative should play out when it’s, by definition, a strictly platonic relationship. They’re brother and sister, so their relationship is already established and the narrative can focus more on how time and life events can change a relationship. Like I said, I think this format is great for introducing a little bit of change and development gradually over a longer amount of time than, say, a movie, where you have to establish the characters in the first 5 minutes and complete their arch in the 30 minutes of screen time devoted to interpersonal dialogue.

A conversation between the Callahan siblings from a very early build of Veil of Dust

Mike: It just also feels a bit more grounded. In Harvest Moon, you’re just plunked into this town, a total stranger with no relationships.

Elle: It’s much more interesting and enlightening to learn about a character through their interactions with someone they know well. And partially the Harvest Moon games DON’T do that because protagonists are just meant to be stand-ins for the player. They don’t really have personalities to explore.

Mike: Yeah, that’s another difference in our addition to the genre, which I hope is successful because My Time At Portia, Stardew Valley, and all the older ones all share that trait. But from what you’ve written so far for the marraigables, having the protagonist be an established character makes their dynamic more satisfying and believable when one person in the couple isn’t just a silent stand-in.

Elle: It also makes you feel for them more when they’re starving or you’re putting them through a hard time. [laughs]

Mike: Oh yeah, and that’s another one of the main differences. Our game will give players the opportunity to appreciate their efforts in that they actually need to eat what they grew. And if they fail to do so, there are consequences. To me, this is a pretty important part of a game.

Elle: Yeah, I sometimes have a harder time staying engaged if there’s nothing to strive against. I’d really love to get some of the immersive qualities of Don’t Starve and couple them with the more sentimental qualities of the Harvest Moon games.

Mike: And that combination of qualities is probably the most similar to Grimmsdorf. Grim but personal.

Elle: And in that the mechanics and story advance each other.

Mike: Oh, for sure. I’d like to think that’s one of our strengths.

Elle: Well, let’s go ahead and wrap this up for now. Any other thoughts to throw out?

Mike: Now that we’ve decided a name and have more of the foundational coding done, we’ll be sharing more on social media, so follow us there, if that’s your thing. We love to hear from you!

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Veil of Dust from Calamity Bay Games

Veil of Dust from Calamity Bay Games

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Veil of Dust is a historically-inspired survival/farming game, created by Calamity Bay Games