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.