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Harvest Moon Creator Reflects on Hellish Development

Posted by James Newton

Where did it all go right?

The very first Harvest Moon was a seminal moment in gaming history — at least, it was if you like farming games — but series creator Yasuhiro Wada recently spoke at GDC 2012 about how close he came to giving up on the game before release.

Initially the game began as a cow-raising simulator, inspired by the ever-popular Japanese Derby Stallion series, but it was too much work with too little reward. That's when Wada and his team came up with the idea of farming, an element inspired by classic mayoral game Sim City and, less conventionally, The Legend of Zelda. Wada speaks glowingly about the moment he saw the first prototype:

Once you worked on the land, you wanted to go back and see. We saw the first sprout appeared... It may sound simple right now, but I will never forget the moment I saw that on screen. It was pretty amazing, and I knew we could do this. I said to our team, 'Let's continue to make this game.'

From tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow, but the game hit a wall when the first playable ROM came together: animal management, character interaction and farming didn't combine cohesively, and the frame rate dropped to a crawl. Six months of trial and error followed, after which the unthinkable happened: the developer went under, its president literally going missing and teams disbanding. Wada was ready to throw in the towel, but programmer Tomomi Yamatate and writer Setsuko Miyakoshi convinced him to finish the game.

Newly energised, Wada negotiated an extra six months of development time from the publisher before going to the studio, reclaiming equipment and bedding down in a meeting room, working day and night for six months until the game was finally finished. Wada's recollection is simple:

I never felt happier or more thankful in my life.

Now of course Harvest Moon is a Nintendo staple, but had Wada given up all those years ago we may never have experienced the simple pleasures of harvesting turnips.

[via gamasutra.com]

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User Comments (20)

Flowerlark

#1

Flowerlark said:

I'm VERY glad he didn't give up. HM is one of my very favourite series. It's a great game to relax to and can feel very rewarding when you accomplish something difficult, but is never I-want-to-hurl-the-game-across-the-room frustrating. Right now I'm completely hooked on Tale of Two Towns. In year 5 and very close to finishing that recipe book!

EDIT: I hope they will release the original HM on 3DS VC. I'm getting into retro games and would love a look at the game that started the series

Mk_II

#4

Mk_II said:

The original HM is an excellent game but gameplay is very very slow.

LeasTwanteD

#5

LeasTwanteD said:

While i'm not very interested in the Harvest Moon games i love how the series adds to the diversity of the gaming landscape. And without it i'd say there would never have been Rune Factory (I have to find the time to play that one someday.) :|
So congratulations for realising one of the most unique gaming experiences the whole scene can be proud of.

Burning_Spear

#6

Burning_Spear said:

GREAT article, James!!! HM is my favorite franchise. It''s interesting to see how it all started. Thank goodness Wada persevered!

DiggerandIndy

#7

DiggerandIndy said:

The SNES Harvest Moon is, IMO, the best in the series, despite the Engrish, typos, and lazily generated dialogue. I do feel like the series is turning into an Animal Crossing wannabe, though.

Tryken

#8

Tryken said:

Harvest Moon is one of my favorite franchises. I remember my brother renting the original from Hollywood Video (he worked there). It was something we had never imagined could exist, and be so addictive. When I got my copy of Harvest Moon 64, I remember playing it day and night without pause. It was just amazing. I felt like part of a real town.

Keep them coming! Especially another handheld Rune Factory.

Ryno

#10

Ryno said:

I bet it was hellish making a boring game! Ha, I kid. :D I have never played this game but for some odd reason I am somewhat tempted to check it out.

Geonjaha

#11

Geonjaha said:

Harvest Moon has gotten stale nowadays, but it was far ahead of its time on the GB, and thats why I'm crossing my fingers for an eShop release :3

TrueWiiMaster

#12

TrueWiiMaster said:

I loved A Wonderful Life on the Gamecube and Friends of Mineral Town on GBA, but haven't gotten around to getting the original on the VC. My question is why isn't Harvest Moon 64, heralded as one of the best Harvest Moons, available on the VC? If the SNES game is available, it makes no sense why they haven't released its sequel. PSN has the PS1 game. Why can't the Wii have the N64 game?

Burning_Spear

#13

Burning_Spear said:

@12: Natsume has said that its staff has looked into converting HM64 for the VC, but that there's some coding issue that is virtually insurmountable. If you do a search on this site, I'm sure you can find the story. They understand that it's the most popular HM, so I don't think it's a matter of not wanting to do it. It's a shame. For that reason, I'm holding onto two brand-new copies of that game — one to last me the rest of my life and one to be buried with!

Edit: Here's the aforementioned link. ... http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2010/08/harvest_moon_64_will_not_sprout_on_virtual_console

SLiM

#14

SLiM said:

This would have been a great tragedy if he hadn't finished the game. I loved the original Harvest Moon.

JustYourAverageBleh

#17

JustYourAverageBleh said:

It's great that they didn't give up on developing Harvest Moon otherwise we would not have something as unique as HM. One issue regarding the current HM games is that they seem to have lost their charm.

Amauriel

#18

Amauriel said:

I collect HM games. My husband surprised me with the original a couple of years ago (I had played it but started my own collection with HM64).

The old ones (HM, HM64, HMGBC, all the way up through A Wonderful Life) are some of my favorite memories of gaming. Now, however, it's hard to justify continuing to buy them...they've become a CoD-type. Another year, another HM that plays just like last year's cycle.

Play_It_Loud

#20

Play_It_Loud said:

I bought this on VC after missing out on it back in the day, and after playing wonderful life on NGC. The first HM IMO is the very best. I dumped a lot of hours into this SNES classic.

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