Rune Factory Producer Talks Design Philosophy At GDC

By Spencer and Ishaan . March 27, 2013 . 1:00pm

This morning, at the ongoing Game Developers Conference, Marvelous AQL’s Executive Officer/CCO Yoshifumi Hashimoto, producer of games such as the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series, gave a talk titled: “RPG Development: Inspiration and Perspiration”. At the talk, which Siliconera attended, Hashimoto discussed the Rune Factory games and the thinking behind their design.


The concept of the Rune Factory series, Hashimoto says, is “living the fantasy life”. Adventure is not the main theme of the games, and combat is not the main focus. Like in Harvest Moon, you raise crops to earn your livelihood, and there’s a heavy focus on relationships with the supporting characters in the games.


Instead of creating simple NPCs, the characters in Rune Factory are designed so that everyone in the village has their own opinions and stories. A surprising amount of thought is put into the villagers in these games. Since everyone in the village has the same daily grind when it comes to jobs, Hashimoto felt that they would want to stand out despite this. This is why the characters of Rune Factory tend to look fashionable. Hashimoto says he discussed the matter with actual farmers and they agreed with his views.


Here’s something you may not know—in the world of Rune Factory, tattoo-like symbols are used as a form of sun block, since the characters don’t want themselves getting overly tanned.


Your fellow villagers in the Rune Factory games do more than just go about their daily lives, though. These are the people you form relationships with, and the Rune Factory games allow you to fall in love with them, get married, and even have children. Once you have a kid, they become part of the story. The games are designed to be widely accommodating, and in Rune Factory 4 (3DS), the developers added the option to play as a girl. In summary: “If you want to live a simple life together, you can. If you want to go off and save the world, you can.”


On the subject of saving the world, though, while combat isn’t the main focus of the Rune Factory games, the series still has dungeons with bosses in them. However, the road to reaching them lets players take breaks along the way. Hashimoto compared this to marathons where runners would get water stations to recharge. The equivalent of this in Rune Factory is being able to grow your own crops within dungeons to revitalize yourself. While skilled players can skip this entirely, having the option available makes it easier for more people to clear the Rune Factory games.


However, going into battle doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll come away with treasure—you’ll still have to raise crops to earn your livelihood. Adding bits of real life to an RPG makes it resonate with players. Hashimoto says that one of the ideas behind Rune Factory was to make a game where you aren’t from a notable background. The hero could be anyone. He compared this to the Hobbit village in The Lord of the Rings.


Rune Factory is a consistently successful franchise for Marvelous AQL now, but Hashimoto reveals that when the first Rune Factory was in development, he didn’t have a lot of support. He had just a few allies that understood his plan for the series, which made for an awkward situation. Now, however, the Rune Factory games are played both by existing fans of their parent franchise, Harvest Moon, as well as completely new players.


“When we first announced the title I’d say we had new users who were keeping up with the news,” Hashimoto replied when asked who buys Rune Factory games these days.


However, he says, once the first game hit shelves, Harvest Moon fans read reviews and found themselves interested in it because there were enough elements to catch their interest. As of now, the sales divide is about half-and-half—half of Rune Factory players are existing Harvest Moon fans while the other half are new players.


Hashimoto was also asked about how relationships came to be in Rune Factory.


Prior to Rune Factory, Hashimoto made action and fighting games, which were about the setting and who your opponent is. Part of his approach, he says, is trying to do something different. That was how things got started. Another thing—and perhaps, Hashimoto suggested, this is a Japan-specific situation—the developers would get letters from fans who felt like they could have a conversation with in-game characters and wanted to build a relationship with them. That, he says, got him thinking and naturally became a core component of the storytelling in Rune Factory.


The latest game in the series, Rune Factory 4, was released last year in Japan for the Nintendo 3DS. Rune Factory 4 is headed to North America this Summer, and Xseed will be publishing the game.


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  • Ethan_Twain

    I think the most important insight coming out of this is how adding a little bit of normalcy to the life of a video game character totally changes how a player perceives their role in the world and interacts with it. Some other games that I would love to see this sort of philosophy applied to include Deus Ex and Dragon Age.

    I would also be real curious to know the sort of audience at a predominantly western event like GDC was interested in hearing about the design philosophy behind something like Rune Factory. That photo has the room looking pretty empty.

    • And that’s a sad thing. Games like this are just as relevant as others that are out and about in the world.

    • Well, for one thing, it didn’t help that this was happening at the same time as the KojiPro panel.

      • Ethan_Twain

        Ouch! Tough break. You make it across the ocean to talk about your little franchise that could, a successful and growing IP from an under the radar publisher. You have a new installment releasing in the US in the next couple months so this seems like a great opportunity to raise some awareness of the brand… and you end up scheduled opposite the giant Metal Gear Solid blowout from auteur superstar Hideo Kojima.

        Was it a pretty good presentation at least? Were you the one there?

      • MrRobbyM

        That kind of sucks. ToD is one of my favorite games this gen and to see such an empty room is a bit disapointing. Darn you MGS and your greatness!

        • greay

          it really wasn’t that empty. people were spread out, but the room was pretty big. honestly the largest block of empty seats was probably in this photo.

      • Glad there are people like me who don’t really care one way or another about MGS and would enjoy a talk about Rune Factory more.

        Will admit though, my biggest gripe with Rune Factory games is while the other characters have opinions, they repeat the same ones over and over and over. I wish they had a larger number of phrases to go through.

    • greay

      the photo makes it look much emptier than it really was.

  • JMaster3000

    European Rune Factory players: *sob*

    • Andrew McDowell

      Hence why I have an American 3DS, even though I live in Australia. You should try it.

  • Mint~ 3_3

  • Tom_Phoenix

    “Here’s something you may not know—in the world of Rune Factory, tattoo-like symbols are used as a form of sun block, since the characters don’t want themselves getting overly tanned.”

    …Beacuse they don’t want to be perceived as poor? I guess society in Rune Factory mimicks real life East Asian societies to a certain extent.

    Anyway, good stuff; I really like Hashimoto’s way of thinking, although I would say that setting is an important part of a lot of games and not just action/fighting ones (with the exception of games who’s focus is exploring real-life concepts, such as sports, fitness and dance games)..

    This article reminds me that I still need to give this series a shot. Is there any reason to play the older Rune Factory titles or should newcomers just play the latest entry?

    • Andrew McDowell

      Rune factory 1 has the best characters and story and is a fantastic DS game, number 2 is a bit strange, I didn’t play it because I didn’t like the look of the characters, and number 3 has the most refined combat and farming system of the ds games. There’s also Rune Factory Frontier, a Wii sequel to Rune Factory 1, and my personal favorite Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny on PS3 and Wii. I would recommend playing RF 1 or 3 and then play one of the console games if you’re interested in the series

      • Blue

        “Rune factory 1 has the best characters and story”

        eeeergh. I’ve gotta disagree there; I found the writing of RF1 to be abysmal overall, with the character dialogue flat and stilted and the plot cliched and uncompelling. Frontier and 3 are my favorite so far, and 3 is the one I always recommend to newcomers because it’s a lot friendlier to people who’ve never played a Harvest Moon game before. RF1 does that thing where it doesn’t tell you how to do crucial things like obtain basic tools. RF3 has much better gameplay as a whole, not to mention the livelier writing in the localization.

        RF4 is looking to be the best of the bunch, though, so it might be worth waiting until July and starting there.

        • andref

          to be fair, Rune Factory 1 wasn’t as deep especially in the character interaction but I did feel a sense of urgency in the first game, what with an invasion about to happen. RF 2 was a good improvement though my complaints would be a bit of lag and not a fan of father to child transition (more in line of how it was done).

          All in all, I’m just glad the series as a whole has improved with each game in the series whereas some other franchises have gotten a bit stale

          • Barrylocke89

            I agree with you on that last point. Rune Factory 1 was a game that really interested me, but in the end I mainly liked it because even though each component didn’t really stand up on it’s own compared to better examples of the genres (like FoMT for the HM side and Seiken Densetsu on the ARPG side), it was novel to have a little HM mixed with a little action rpg.

            RF3-4 from what I’ve seen seem to have polished up both sides of the game so that they can stand better on their own, while mixing with each other in a good way. Can’t wait for RF4 now.

        • Andrew McDowell

          You may be right, I guess I liked RF1’s characters more than RF3 for some reason, I’ve watched over 110 animes and played plenty games since Sega Genesis so I guess natural tastes develop. RF3 is a good starting point, but it would not be worth going back to RF1 after playing RF3, it’s the same with reccomending the Persona series to someone, if they start Persona 4, they won’t enjoy 3. You are right, but I hope you understand my view as well. I am really enjoying RF ToD having more voice acting, streamlined farming and monster system and better combat are big pluses for me.

    • andref

      Well don’t forget society once thought being fat was a sign of wealth and only poor people were skinny.

    • Suicunesol

      I’m not sure if people in Asian countries consciously have that on their minds all the time when it comes to skin tanning. ~_~ “Oh my skin is tanned now I look poor.” Whiter, cleaner skin is just their general standard of beauty, which is why all of the characters look that way save for one or two. For the record, it’s also pretty probable that pure white skin was also a preference in European countries, especially among royalty. I hardly think it’s limited to just Japan and other Asian countries.

      • Tom_Phoenix

        I agree with what you’re saying and it’s true that, up until at least the early 20th century, white skin was a preference in European countries as well (for much of the same reasons).

        Needless to say, though, that certainly isn’t the case today, whereas many people in East Asian countries still hold this kind of perception.

  • EmptyWarrior

    Interesting read. Would’ve loved to have been there as I really enjoy Hashimoto’s work.

  • Göran Isacson

    They don’t want to get too tan… yet they work out in the field all day.

    They do a job which is ALL ABOUT getting in touch with nature and getting down with the dirt and the sky and sun and shizzle, yet they don’t want to get too tan?

    Only reason I can see this is that skincancer in Rune Factory land causes you to turn into a shambling lovecraftian abomination that has to be put down by a local hero.

    That little strangeness aside, a rather interesting article about how “normalcy” or a little bit of daily life can really add to a game. They seem to have their plan and stick to it, presenting a game that isn’t for the super hardcore RPG-player but for those who like a little RPG with their slice of life-sim and raising crops. I can dig that. I really can. Not digging so much the timing of the panel, because oh man, going up against Kojima is just… what MAJOR publisher would even do that?

    • … Who you talking about? The only one that works in the field all day is the MC….

      • Göran Isacson

        I will admit that I haven’t played Rune Factory but I have played Harvest Moon and possibly extrapolated between the games, where most of the characters are also some kind of farmer, but… are you really the ONLY farmer in Rune Factory? That seems implausible.

        • Draparde

          At least in ToD, farming was not the main point. since there was a story-line to go through, with dungeons/bosses ect. Farming seemed more like an extra way to make money.

          most of the other characters ran shops. or did something else.

          i can’t speak for the other rune factorys however.

          describing it like this makes me want to play it again :/ ….

          • Göran Isacson

            Gotcha, so it’s more like a “regular” rpg with a “Harvest Moon-like” mini game thrown in?

          • Draparde

            yeah, more or less. its got all the aspects of harvest moon (marriage, farm ect) but has more focus on other things as well.

        • I have played all harvest moon and RF x0x, so yeah i know that HM sometimes have other farmers, but in RF that hasn’t been the case, umm i think only in frontier, Erik was a farmer too, but that’s it.

          The point is that the MC is pretty much the only farmer in the games, as you know, HM is a farm based game so its normal to have a “rival” ranch/farm, and they mostly teach u how to farm and stuff. That isn’t the case in RF.

          There is inn, restaurants, general shops, medicine/potion shops, seed shops that are most of the times flower shops, dont exactly have a field, blacksmith…

          • Göran Isacson

            Huh. NOw I’m kinda curious if that’s how you earn gamebreaking amounts of money in RF- by being the only farm around, you’re the only one who can produce food and vegetables for people so they HAVE to buy from you XD

      • AJ

        I only ever spend like 20 minutes working the fields. Then an hour killing monsters in a cave. Then the rest of the day, and most of the night, wandering around town trying to deliver chocolates to someone who will never love me :l

        Though great games, it is hard to explain them to someone.

        • Well, lol, i know that at the end it depends on us, but technically the only one that spends time in the fields is the MC xD

    • Tom_Phoenix

      Well, it’s possible that the society in Rune Factory is similar to real-life East Asian societies in that East Asians prefer white skin. Why? Beacuse white skin is considered to represent beauty and wealth. People of high class would remain indoors and thus have white skin, whereas workers and farmers would be exposed to the sun and thus would get a tan.

      To put it simply, East Asians prefer white skin beacuse they don’t want to be perceived as poor. It’s possible that something like that applies in this case (or the developers didn’t really think about it and applied their own moral code to Rune Factory’s fictional society unintentionally).

      • Göran Isacson

        Huh. Learn something new every day, I guess. Can’t say I like it and find it a little bit strange people are still clinging on to such beliefs when working hard in the sun what the game sounds to be all about, but maybe the game will throw a clever little inversion and people will realize getting a tan isn’t that bad?

        • Suicunesol

          If working hard in the sun was what the game was all about, everyone would actually look like hardened farmers instead of ten year-old moe cosplayers. :P Farming is really neither fun nor illustrious as a profession. It’s supposed to be an idealized game, so you can grow vegetables without breaking a sweat while looking beautiful and ageless like a Japanese princess.

          • Göran Isacson

            This comment is true, that I can’t deny. Glamorous people gotta glam, I guess.

  • Alphabet Soup

    This is awesome, thanks for posting guys! Just out of curiosity, are there a lot of Japanese developers offering panels at GDC? I looked last year and didn’t see very many. I’d be interested on more regarding RPG development!

  • Barrylocke89

    I really thing there’s something to be said about the “Daily life adding to the game” piece. NPC’s that just stand around/wander in a vague circle waiting for The Chosen One to come up to them to chat with them about the next plot trinket do tend to usually be less interesting.

    One of things that I always found fun about RF/HM was trying to figure out on my own the schedules of the villagers that interested me so I could plan my schedule around theirs. It all lends to that feeling that even if your farmer-turned warrior wasn’t around, the people in the game would still be living their life with each other, doing their normal routines that are spiced up by the occasional festival.

    On the other hand, I imagine that doing something like this in a game that takes place in a large world (think Dragon Quest) would be tough to pull off. The bigger the world and the more NPC’s you have to add into the game, the more resources you have to spread out to everything, and at a certain point I imagine it just becomes unfeasible both time and money-wise to come up with unique routines and dialogues for the characters, especially when you may not even see half of them because you’re on the other side of the world most of the time.

    I think Hashimoto’s advice is most important for people who are thinking to develop a game in a similar style as Rune Factory or Persona, where most of the action happens in or around a town or region. These games are already lacking in a sheer number of locales to visit while you’re on your quest, but if the developers make up for it by adding a large amount of life and personality within the few locations and NPCs that ARE there, it can be an excellent experience.

  • lad,z

    i hope this will be releasing in EU too…

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