Game Analysis: Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey for Nintendo Switch – Nintendo Game Details


Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D Platformer published by Nintendo. It features Nintendo’s flagship character Mario, as he traverses around the world with his sentient hat, Cappy, in order to save Princess Peach and Cappy’s sister from a forced marriage with Bowser. Typical Mario stuff. Released in 2017, it was a nominee for game of the year alongside notable titles such as Persona 5, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as Horizon Zero Dawn.

Super Mario Odyssey – Game Trailer – Nintendo E3 2017 – YouTube

Super Mario Odyssey – Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Trailer – YouTube

Lens 9: The Elemental Tetrad

In Super Mario Odyssey, the game successfully ties together the various elements (aesthetics, technology, mechanics and story) into one cohesive package.

The Story

Super Mario Odyssey has a simple story, as per usual platforming Mario games, with most of the emphasis placed more on the mechanics. However, Mario Odyssey does something which most of its predecessors does not, which is to make each distinctly different role have some level of cohesion to the theme of the game.

In the story, after kidnapping Peach, Bowser goes to different kingdom and steals a particular item (wedding dress, a diamond, famous stew, etc.) which would play a part in the wedding. Mario, having a semi-functioning ship, has to go to each kingdom in order to gain more stars to fuel his ship, whilst resolving the issue that was left over by Bowser.

This all directly plays into the theme of an odyssey, where Mario is made to go on this voyage around the globe in order to catch up with Bowser. It’s a subtle touch, but adds a layer of cohesion that’s not usually seen in other 3D Mario games. In such a case, most worlds and bosses are mostly just temporary obstacles rather than existing as a unit for storytelling.

The Mechanics

In practically all 3D Mario games, he possesses his usual suite of jumping and movement abilities, including the triple jump, the long jump, backflip, and more. In addition, he usually gains a separate ability unique to the game in question. For Super Mario Odyssey, this is the Cap Throw.

The Cap Throw allows Mario to do one key thing: Take possession of another entity. This can include electricity, enemies, and even a DINOSAUR.

The goal of each kingdom is to collect enough moons in order to power up the ship to allow Mario to catchup with Bowser. Each kingdom showcases its own theme, from a realistic New York-esque city, to a low polygonal cooking themed volcano town. The contrast designed really shows the Odyssey-like nature of the game, with each kingdom being ever so different from the other.


Super Mario Odyssey was built for the Nintendo Switch, and its joycon controllers pair well with the mechanics of the game. There are multiple joycon motions available which would allow Mario to use his cap in a multitude of ways.


Super Mario Odyssey’s aesthetics further reinforce the nature of an odyssey. Barring the designs of Mario and common enemies in the game, each kingdom showcases a drastically different style from one another, bolstering the idea that Mario is far from home and is on an epic journey around the world.

As such, it can be seen that Super Mario Odyssey successfully melds the 4 elements together seamlessly, creating a thoroughly cohesive game worthy of its praise and accolades.

Lens 1: Emotion

The way the game is setup is to give the player a sense of wonderment that one might have when they travel overseas. The unique designs and themes of each kingdom is testament to that fact.

A sense of nostalgia is also prevalent in a certain sequence of the game, where Mario pays homage to the first Donkey Kong game in a festival that has an overall feel-good factor.

Super Mario Odyssey – Pauline Band Festival w/ Jump Up Super Star – YouTube

Lens 5: Fun

Super Mario Odyssey is a game that does not lack any breadth or depth. The sheer number of collectible moons are sufficient even for the most hardcore of players. The variation in the puzzles and hidden areas for each moon is also far reaching, and despite the seemingly simplistic nature of the mechanics, the combinations that come from optimization are seemingly endless and drastically magnifies the fun derived from the game.

Lens 8: Problem Solving

Super Mario Odyssey boasts a myriad of puzzles for the player to solve in order to find moons. Some are literally just sitting in a corner, whilst others require a bit of platforming skill to get to. Some require to answer a few questions in a quiz, whilst others require you to solve a simple puzzle from different ends of the map to complete. The variety is magnificent, which keeps players on their toes and always coming back for more as they do not know what to expect.

Additionally, an added segment named ‘Luigi’s Balloon World’ sees the player seek out balloons that other players have hidden across the map with a time limit. The player is also able to hide his own balloons. The PVP structure of this minigame expands the scope of problem solving in this game as we pit players against one another to see who can pop the other’s balloon. Multiply that with more than 10 kingdoms, and it’s easy to see why players would continue coming back.


Super Mario Odyssey pog.

Lens 27: Time

Super Mario Odyssey is a game that is accommodating to different player styles. The length of the game is largely determinant on the player style. If one is more of a completionist, he/she would definitely spend a lot more time trying to collect the over 800 moons available in the game. For players that are more casual, a mere 120 moons are required to to complete the game, with 500 for the true ending. If one so wishes to skip finding moons, he/she can simply buy them at a shop at an infinite amount!

This accessibility to different player types easily accommodates players such that they would not find frustration or boredom in having to play the game for too long or too short.

Homework 1 – VR/MR Review

My pick for VR device is Oculus Quest 2 and my pick for MR is HoloLens 2. My pick is based on the following reasons.

For Oculus Quest 2:

  1. Good Specs. I believe it has great specs at its price level. With a resolution of 1832*1920 per eye, an FOV of 110 degrees at 90Hz, the experience will not be bad. In addition, the Snapdragon XR2 Chip with 6GB RAM. I heard that it offers performance equivalent to Snapdragon 865.
  2. Affordable price. At a price <450 SGD, it is much more affordable than an iPhone.
  3. Rich contents. Since Oculus is a subsidiary of Facebook, which has an online store of adequate resources, I have higher chances to find games or videos that I want. It can also use steamVR.
  4. Easy to use. The setup of Oculus Quest 2 contains only the display, a handle, and the connecting cable. I heard that the optional Headband breaks easily, but we can always use

It is difficult to find a match for Oculus Quest 2, because for example, Valve index that offers 144Hz is almost three times the price of Oculus Quest 2, while the devices below the price is almost unusable, say, Samsung Odyssey+ (2018 version).

For MR, I pick HoloLens 2 only because it gives me a feeling of Tony Stark. Evidently, I cannot afford to purchase it. However, even at its terrifying cost, HoloLens 2 still has multiple things that I cannot overlook, not to mention other entry-level MR devices. For example, all MR devices are not so friendly to those who wear spectacles. Battery is a problem, and resolution is limited. I believe MR technology still has great potential to improve. Maybe the current MR devices are like iPhone 3G, they are usable, but they do not provide the best experience. Thus I will hold my money and only purchase when MR technology becomes better.  

Game Design Analysis: Civilisation VI

Epic Games Store Releases Civilization VI As Latest Free Mystery Game |  Geek Culture


Civilization VI (cvi6) is a turn based strategy game. It was published by 2k Games. First released on 2016 on Windows and macOS, it was later released on most other platforms. The game was based on real history of mankind and contains many famous leaders of the world, world wonders and natural wonders.

link to game:

Link to game play:

Lens 9: The Elemental Tetrad


  • 3D game, top down command view of the map with detailed and breathtaking game graphics of human civilization through history.
  • Very engaging audio and sfx, there were distinct sounds for each buildings and characters.
  • Beautifully crafted animations for different interactions.
  • Realistic reflection of light in many parts of buildings/ water bodies in game, also in part due to the tech used.


  • Only 1 interaction at a time, reducing computation burden on the system.
  • Fps is insignificant in a turn based game, setting it at 20 could allow for finer and more detailed textures and game objects in the game on low spec systems.
  • Seamless cross play between steam and epic games users with just a room code. Such feature is not supported in other games.
  • Advance and realistic simulation with seemingly infinite outcomes.


  • This is a turn based strategy game.
  • There are 4 types of resources the player would generate per turn
    1. Science
    2. Faith
    3. Gold
    4. Culture
  • These resources would determine the actions player can take.
  • Each turn, a player can take multiple actions
    1. Build new cites
    2. Build buildings
    3. Train troops
    4. Move troops
  • Well planned actions would allow the player to advance their civilization towards the 5 victory conditions.
  • There are 5 victories, achieving any counts as a victory and you would be the leader of the greatest civilization in mankind.
    1. Religion, convert every civilization to your worship your civilization’s religion.
    2. Science, beat the science race by having high amount of science.
    3. Domination, conquer and hold all the civilization’s original capital by force.
    4. Cultural, be the most cultured civilization by having huge amount of artworks/wonders which grants high tourism to your capital
    5. Score, have the highest score at the game of the game.


Only the strongest civilization writes human history. Hence, as the leader of a human civilization, the player must carefully develop their cities, with the goal to be the greatest civilization by being the first civilization to complete a victory. Build as many world wonders as you like, research as much science as you like, just be really good at something and your civilization would be the greatest amongst them all.

The game had a slow learning curve which was easy to pick up and uses a very hands on approach. Playing with the lowest difficulty is very useful to learn to slowly pick up the game and explore the endless possibility to advance your civilization. However, also due to it’s endless possibility, the game is also challenging at high level allowing players to repeat levels without beating the game easily.

Lens 8: Problem solving

The game poses many problems for players at different skill level, ensuring civ6 always pose new problems for the players to solve to be bring their civilization to great new heights.

  • Placing buildings in civ6 have different bonuses.
    • As a beginner who is starting to learn the game, the most basic bonuses are overlaid and shown to the player when placing buildings. Though it’s not the most, the different values at differ tiles would probe the players to ponder about it while learning the game.
    • As the player became more advance, they would realized there are hidden bonuses from their leaders/ buildings, if well planned would allow the player to squeeze out all the bonuses it has to offer.

Lens 79: Freedom

As a leader of a great civilization, players can do anything they like. Though there are only 5 ways to victory, the path to victory is never fixed. The player can focus on anything they like or are good at, and use those aspects to drive their civilization’s development.

For example: Player going for science victory in civ6 can still go around conquering other civilization if they are very advance in science. There is no fixed path to victory.

Lens 6: Curiosity

Civ6 does is very limitless, there’s lots of hidden details and bonuses for the players to uncover. The game strongly adopts a show, don’t tell technique to arouse players interest in any area. It always shows just enough information to the player. If the player first discovered a new item, the player can visually see it, but it will not prompt the player to act on it, this would allow the player to be continue their tasks at hand and come back again later if they are curious. But if it didn’t pique their interests, when other civilizations are using it, it would prompt the player to investigate it further. Having a encyclopedia called civilopedia also helps aid users to easily investigate their interests.

Lens 55: Visible Progress

As a turn based game, there are often downtime while waiting for other players to take their turns. Hence, players can view their progress towards each of the 5 victory in civ6. There is a world ranking board which allows the player to keep up to date with the latest progress of everyone in the game. This information allows players to prioritize their game play depending on other players progress. Players would be able to adopt different tactics to be the best civilization.

Lens 59: Control

The game provides a guide perimeter for players to know how to control and move their character. Meaningful UI allows the players to act in control and to check their understanding of the characters movement. It is easy to master since clicking on troops only moves or attacks a object and nothing more. By being easier to control and more predictable in the characters’ movement, it allows players to feel powerful. Also, the controls does not feel outdated like a normal 5 year old game would.

Game Analysis – Sayonara Wild Hearts


Sayonara Wild Hearts is a self-described pop album video game developed by Simogo and was released on the PS4, Nintendo Switch, Steam and Apple Arcade in 2019 and Xbox in early 2020. Its description further states that it is “dreamy arcade game about riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords, and breaking hearts at 200 mph”. An unorthodox description for a unique game that changes up the typical rhythm genre.


Sayonara Wild Hearts invokes a magical experience from when you launch the game and manages to sustain it until the end.

Lens 9: The Elemental Tetrad

The Elemental Tetrad considers four basic elements of games, Story, Mechanics, Technology and Aesthetics, and Sayonara Wild Hearts does a great job in harmonising these elements.


The story is linear and relatively simple on its surface, but filled with depth. The setting of the story is established by the narrator and the main character sets off on her journey to find her purpose after suffering from loss. On the surface, the main character navigates through a course where she eventually meets her enemies and defeats them one by one. However, when we look deeper into its meaning, the levels represent an emotional struggle within the main character, which are inferred through the use of Tarot Cards. It is a storytelling experience that enthrals the player but leaves some intrigue for the player to search further.


The goal of each level is to navigate a course and collect hearts to increase the score, which will be graded on upon completion. It is simple to clear each level but challenging for the player if they want to obtain the highest rank. Each level flows smoothly and manoeuvring the character feels good and precise that there was never a moment of frustration in controls.


SWH is built upon the Unity 3D engine, which worked well for the developers to achieve their vision. The game is played a standard Xbox/Playstation/Switch controller or with the Touch Screen, depending on the platform.


SWH has eye-popping aesthetics that immediately draws you into its world. The visuals complement the story and gameplay well, dropping the player into many beautiful locations. These locations represent a certain emotion within story and are pleasing to travel through. Being a pop album rhythm game, music plays an important role too. Each level has a specific song tied to it and their meaning are also representative of the story. Furthermore, the soundtrack is a blast to listen to outside of the game.

Lens 4: Surprise

SWH’s unique gameplay was a pleasant surprise. Never before had I play this type of game and it immediately captures you with its bright visuals and lively soundtrack like a fancy arcade machine. The trailer easily captured my attention and it was an interesting experience playing this game.

Lens 5: Fun

Due to the fast-paced nature of the game, the game was fun to play, albeit short. It puts you onto a speeding motorcycle and you ride your way through a mystical forest, narrow tunnels, a scenic highway and many more. You battle enemies to the beat of the song. Energetic from the start to finish, the game keeps you engaged and never loses its steam.

Lens 48: Simplicity/Complexity

SWH is simple to understand: move your player left or right and collect as many as hearts as possible. Although on paper, it might be present itself as too simple but it is anything but that. There is complexity to the design of the levels that is challenging for players to obtain the highest rank, which requires an almost perfect run. This means that the game is easily accessible for anyone and provides a challenge for those who are looking for it.

Lens 93: The Nameless Quality

The reviews of SWH, including my own, can attest that the game feels special and wonderous. The summation of every aspect of their design shows that the world and its design is very much alive and screaming at the top of its lungs. It is boisterous, flamboyant and ensures that you are in for a good time.


Sayonara Wild Hearts is a masterclass example for indie games. It is beautiful, well-designed and everything a video game should be: immersive and enjoyable.

Game Analysis : Invisible Inc

Store Page:

Invisible Inc is a turn-based rogue-like stealth game. Players have to control their secret agents to sneak past guards, open lockers & complete mission objectives. Fly around the globe to look for lucrative jobs, upgrade 

Elemental Tetrad:


The game is turn-based. Player & the computer AI take turns to make their moves. This gameplay mechanic is similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, an award-winning turn-based game, but with strong emphasis on stealth.

At every turn, each agents have a certain amount of Action Points (AP). Players can spend these AP to control their agents to move, peek, predict guard patrol patterns.etc. Agents can use a wide variety of gadgets & weapons to navigate through the map safely.

When it comes to dealing with guards, guards typically have 2 types of vision: peripheral & direct, which the cone of vision is noticeable on the round. 

Note the red patch on the ground. Bright red indicates direct vision while partial indicates peripheral.

Agents spotted directly by the guard would immediately raise the alarm, whilst being in their peripheral vision means that the guard would investigate your spot once your turn ends. which can be used as a distraction. Guards have 3 states: Patrol, Investigating & Hunting. The first 2 state would be oblivious to your presence (until they spot you), while the last state means the guard is hunting for your agents. 

Besides navigating the agents, all electronics have firewalls. Players have to use a hacking AI known as Incognita to break firewalls. Players can buy programs for the AI to bypass electronics such as cameras and terminals to steal cash, move pass areas without getting detected. etc.

Invisible Inc.: Contingency Plan
Number beside the electronics indicate firewall level which one have to break to gain control of the device.

Another mechanic to increase mobility is the alarm. At every 5 turns, the alarm level would rise, given the player additional threats such as activated cameras, increased firewalls & guards. Alarms can also be raised by killing guards, getting spotted by guards or cameras.etc. This forces the player to complete the objective and leave the mission as fast as possible.


The year is 2077. Big corporations took over the world, and a freelance intelligence agency known as Invisible Inc provides espionage services to these companies using field agents & a powerful AI, Incognita. 

One day, their headquarters was attacked, with most of their assets gone, except 2 field agents and Incognita. Their AI cannot survive outside a terminal for more than 72 hours, which within this time, the agency can infiltrate various corporate offices to upgrade their agents, before striking back to host their AI. 


The art style is primarily cyberpunk. This flows well with the weapons, gadgets, guards & drones used in the game, such as Cloaking Rigs to gain temporary invisibility & Buster Chips to hack devices, inspired by shows such as Ghost In the Shell & Psycho Pass. The field agents available are inspired by fiction such as Sherlock Holmes & James Bond.  One of the mechanics, Incognita, fits well with the cyberpunk theme as well.


Mouse/trackpad primarily, keyboard optional. The iOS version uses a touch screen which potentially makes the gaming experience even better since it makes the player feel more like a tactician commanding his troops on the battlefield.

Lens #1: Essential Element

The partial top-down view makes me feel like an espionage tactician when I play the game. Being able to see a guards field of vision, as well as agents being able to predict guard patrol patterns gives me a strong sense of control. The randomly generated maps gives me a strong sense of curiosity as to what lies beyond each room which i have not explored. The alarm mechanic also gives a sense of urgency, forcing me to rush the mission as efficiently as possible instead of being slow & steady.

Lens #2: Surprise

Every match & post match is a trove of surprises, shock & disappointment. In the match, I could never expect the kind of goodies I would find, such as a side mission, or a super powerful rifle that cannot be purchased in-game. Sometimes I get nasty surprises, such as a guard waltzing into the room when I least expected it. 

Travelling to a mission location takes time. After the timer hits every 24 hours, the difficulty level of missions would rise, followed by a new list of sites to infiltrate, each with a different objective, such as rescuing a captive, stealing credit, or simply gaining augmentations. 

You can choose your missions depending on availability.

Lens #4: Curiosity 

Similar to Lens #2. Every gameplay entrails a random set of challenges and architecture. Agents start off in an enclosed room. Outside the room is pitch black & players have to look into the unknown to learn about the map. Agents have to explore the map as the game progresses, piquing player’s sense of curiosity in the unknown area. Every door, while dangerous to open due to unseen guards on the other side, is tempting to open.

Lens #5: Endogenous Value

The endogenous value that this game offers is unique in the sense that it is a lack of one. It is more of a punishment rather than a reward.

Players are encouraged to be as stealthy as possible. By relying on distraction, stealing from guards & avoiding conflict, players will be able to complete the mission with maximised cash in hand & lower alarm levels to deal with. 

On the other hand, relying on brute force punishes the player. Knocking out guards means guards would wake up after a certain period of time and in order to keep the guard down, players would have to use an agent to “pin” the guard, thereby slowing down the game progression since that agent could have use that time to perform other tasks besides being restricted to dragging bodies. Killing guards is even worse as it incurs costly ammunition and causes the alarm to rise. 

Quite a unique reward system compared to other stealth titles since most stealth titles rely on points which makes stealth a choice rather than an obligation. In this game, players are obliged to play stealthily since playing using brute force will impair one’s game progress.  

You need cash to upgrade agents/buy items, and killing incurs cost

Lens #6: Problem Solving 

The game offers multiple angles to solving problems. Agents can sneak pass, stun or even kill, in descending order of recommendation. However, sometimes there are complications in which the player will have make difficult decisions, such as killing a guard in order to ironically allow the game to progress faster. Players have plenty of options to solve a problem, such as momentarily distract a guard from a helpless agent using another agent making noise, or using an invisible agent to spearhead behind enemy lines. 

Overall this is a fun game with high replay value, something pretty uncommon in single-player games. Every match is based on a good combination of luck & player’s skill, and no 2 games are ever the same. Things that could be improved can include Endless mode, which once you survive sufficiently long, your team is virtually unstoppable and it gets stale. 

Game Design Analysis: Kingdom of Loathing


The Kingdom of Loathing is a turn-based, comedy/satirical Role Playing Game (RPG), played on the browser. The game’s slogan is “An Adventurer is you!” and this reflects the free-spirited nature of the game – you are an adventurer, and what you want to do on your adventures is up to you!

Website: The Kingdom of Loathing
First quick look: Kingdom of Loathing Gameplay – First Look HD – YouTube

The main interface of the Kingdom of Loathing (KOL)

Every real-world day, the player is given 40 adventures, and the player spends their adventures by clicking on the many locations within the many areas on the island. Adventuring at places could result in battles, or certain events happening which could let the player find items, gain status effects or complete quests. Additionally, the player can also craft items, smith weapons and equipment, and cook food and mix booze, and consuming drinks and eating gives the player additional adventures for that day.

Baking Bat wings and dry noodles gives batzle (I just found out!)

While the player is free to do whatever they want with their adventures, there is a more or less linear storyline the player can follow, which involves completing quests given out by the Council of Loathing, starting from simple quests like searching for mosquito larva at the spooky forest to creating and ending a war between hippies and frat boys, culminating in the final quest – to defeat the Naughty Sorceress.

After defeating the Naughty Sorceress, the player can then continue to adventure, growing even stronger, or can choose to ascend to Valhalla, where one receives karma for various good deeds they did in their life. The player then can choose to be reborn from level 1, in a new class, and take up various ascension challenges in their next life, such as being unable to access their inventory from previous lives. The player can use the karma they earn to bring skills they learnt into their next lives. Ascension and reincarnation thus effectively offers the player infinite replayability, and the developers occasionally release new ascension path challenges that keep the game fresh.

The Elemental Tetrad

Technology: The game was released in 2003 and its interface has not changed significantly since then. Images are mostly static and each click refreshes the page. The use of the universal platform of the internet allowed the game to be played on any device with a browser, even feature phones. However, there is no doubt that appealing to the lowest denominator may cause the game to lose appeal with those who desire more interactivity and better graphics.

Mechanics: The game mechanics are extremely simple and uniform. Every adventure involves clicking through choices, even battles (choosing whether to attack, use skills or items, or run away). Crafting involves attempting to combine any set of items in your inventory together. However, this lends the game a lot of flexibility as the possibilities from these open interactions are endless. A large part of the fun is figuring out what interactions are possible using logic, figuring out textual clues, or accumulated knowledge over multiple ascensions.

Story: The storytelling in the game is a major element that makes it interesting. While I mentioned that there is a linear storyline, how you go about finishing your quests is left for you to discover. The council sends the player on extremely random quests with hilarious motivations, which gradually unlocks more and more of the map. However, they leave it to the player to go and adventure, figure out what needs to be done and choose how they want to solve it. For example, in the Frat boy/Hippie war, do you side with the Hippies and defeat the Frat boys? Or the other way around? Or do you calculate exactly how many enemies to defeat on both sides so that they wipe each other out? There are also side stories in addition to the main quests. Ultimately it is up to the player to write their own adventure.

Aesthetic: The game has an extremely unique aesthetic which appeals to some and not others. The images are all either static or simple gifs, and are mostly hand-drawn stick-figures, which some may find funny, while others lazy. Some may enjoy the many subtle puns and references, while others may find it too noisy.

The Lens of Fun (#5)

This is the key lens underlying the experiences of this game – it is meant to be fun, and not taken seriously. There are few serious consequences in the game – even if you lose all your HP, you merely receive a “Beaten up” status and spend some adventures resting at your campsite. Casual players can simply wait to the next day to receive more adventures and continue their journey, and slowly enjoy the many jokes and references peppered throughout the kingdom. Examples:

  • The currency of the game is Meat, not gold, since the creator felt that it was nonsensical for monsters to drop money when defeated
  • The classes. Your character can pick from 6 classes which follow the wizard/warrior/thief archetypes. Except the classes include Pastamancers, who wield pasta magic and whose Nemesis is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Seal Clubbers, warriors from the frigid north, which is poking fun at typical Northern “Savage” warrior classes such as Vikings in other RPGs.
  • The Penultimate Fantasy Airship, an adventurable area, is a parody of Final Fantasy, where one fights trope-y enemies like the Protagonist, Spunky Princess and Quiet Healers
  • The Palindome is another area where all adventures involve palindromes. Even the boss (Dr. Awkward) is a palindrome.
Some of the palindromic adventures to be found at the Palindome (taken from the kolwiki)

The Lens of the Puzzle (#58)

There are many unexpected possibilities in the game, in crafting, or in quest completion.

  • Crafting anticheese + goat cheese = goat, and anticheese + cottage cheese = cottage
  • There is a monster called the Fancy Bath Slug, which can only be defeated with an item called fancy bath salts

The game gives sufficient hints so one need not always refer to the wiki for clues.

The Lens of Challenge (#38)

The regular gameplay is very simple for casual playthrough, but there are always greater challenges for more serious players. For example, one may challenge oneself to complete a full ascension within 1 day – this requires serious planning, strategy and efficient use of resources. There are also special seasonal ascension challenges, such as “Bees hate you”, where one cannot use, eat, or wear anything that contains the letter ‘B’.

The Lens of Community (#98)

While the playthrough may seem to be mainly single-player, players can chat with other logged in players via chat in the side panel, buy and sell items via the Marketplace, or form guilds and clear guild dungeons together. Furthermore the developers are highly involved and often introduce world-wide events, such as Crimbo (KOL’s Christmas), where on one occasion, players had to work together to save Crimbo from mutant elves and the penguin mafia. Overall, the non-serious aspect of the game fostered a fun and helpful community where people could give advice to newer players and share knowledge. This is very important for a game full of Easter Eggs like Kingdom of Loathing.

An Objective Analysis of Stardew Valley’s Design

Stardew Valley is a farming role-playing game (RPG) developed and published by ConcernedApe (Eric Barone). Released in 2016, it has been featured in Independent Games Festival (IGF) 2017 as a finalist for the top prize (Seumas McNally Grand Prize) and an honourable mention for the Excellence in Narrative prize.

Stardew’s official website is at We begin our analysis by looking at the game’s “elemental tetrad” – aesthetics, mechanics, story and technology.


Stardew adopts a pixel art style with a focus on saturated colours and strong outlines. Colour is one tool used heavily to highlight differences, from villagers’ hair colours to quality of items.

Spending time with Vincent in town.

For example, for the different seasons:

  • lush greens with pastel undertones for spring, the season of renewal
  • warm yellows in summer, the season of activity
  • wistful browns in autumn, the season of nostalgia
  • gloomy greys and pale whites for winter, the season of dormancy
The different seasons in Stardew Valley.

The aesthetics serve to give the game an unrealistic, cutesy appearance, which gives the game a fantastical and detached tone, almost whimsical.


Some key game mechanics are the management of energy and time, as the player is given only a finite amount of energy per day. Energy is required to engage in some activities. Time is an important resource to manage since crops take several days to grow, and only grow in certain seasons.

Running out of energy is a bad idea.

Most activities that require energy generate resources of some kind. For example:

  • watering crops and tilling land → fruits and vegetables
  • fishing → fish, treasure, artifacts
  • mining → stone, ores, gems
  • chopping down trees and stumps → wood and hardwood

Movement, interacting with villagers, cooking, crafting, and processing raw materials with machines all do not require energy, however.

Leah needs help to pick a fruit.

Overall, the game’s mechanics influence different players in different ways. To some, they serve to keep the game slow-paced and relaxing, a reprieve from the external world. To others, they create a preoccupation for the player, crafting a calculated strategy to make the best use of the limited resources.


The game’s main story revolves around the player, who has a responsibility to his/her deceased grandfather to maintain the farm. The player also plays a crucial role in improving the town, which is run by an arguably corrupt mayor.

Grandpa leaves us the farm as inheritance.
Grandpa revisits Stardew Valley as a ghost.

Other than the main storyline, each villager has his/her own story which they will tell in cutscenes and dialogues when the player gains friendship points with them. The stories are diverse and explore a surprisingly wide range of topics.

Leo tells the player about his life.
Emily and the player go camping in the woods.

Although the storyline is one of the highlights in the game, it is completely up to the player to decide whether to pursue friendships or not. Getting to know the villagers’ individual aspirations and regrets in life does help the player become more emotionally invested in the game.


Stardew uses relatively simple technology. It was originally designed for keyboard and mouse input but has been ported to mobile and consoles. The 2D graphics are easy to render on all devices.

Leo is entertained by a clown.

Multiplayer co-op was added in a patch after the game’s initial release. Although on this front the game is not too adventurous, the simple technology may have allowed it to reach a wide audience.


Overall, the “elemental tetrad” creates a game which appears deceptively simple on the surface. After the initial “hook” into the game, complexities emerge which keeps the player drawn to the game. Now, let’s look at Stardew’s design through other lenses.

Lens of Surprise (4)

Chatting with Granny at the Feast of the Winter Star.

Unless a player searches the game wiki, many cutscenes in Stardew with the villagers come about unexpectedly, triggered by parameters unknown to the player. The game is wired to slowly release content across the first two in-game years, as well as unlock big chunks of new content whenever milestones are reached. This keeps the game fresh and exciting.

Lens of the Toy (17)

Gameplay of Junimo Kart, an arcade game.

Apart from the main gameplay, Stardew includes other small arcade-style minigames like Journey of the Prairie King and Junimo Kart.

Placing candy canes on the farm.

Players can also design their own farm layout and decorate their farmhouse with dozens of specialised furniture objects. This gives players reason to return to the game even if farming is not their thing.

Lens of Time (27)

As mentioned earlier, time is a fundamental mechanic. Crops grow on a fixed schedule, villagers move about on a fixed schedule, and seasons and weather determine what one can do on a given day.

The Skull Cavern is only unlocked when the town’s bus is fixed.

Some activities are only unlocked after a certain amount of time in the game. This gives the game a slower, possibly more manageable, pace, though impatient players may lose interest.

Lens of Secrets (29)

Buried treasure!

There are many secrets hidden in the game, from hidden areas to items only unlocked at a specific time and position. “Secret Notes” are a rare item in the game, which are texts that hold a cryptic hint to unlock one of these secrets.

Lens of Juiciness (64)

For every action in Stardew Valley, there is a corresponding sound effect and animation which gives an instantaneous reward to players. Walking on dirt kicks off small dust clouds, while walking amongst planted crops causes the plants to wiggle.

Sparrows and squirrels run away when the player approaches.

Animals are often startled when the player walks past, scampering across the map to hide.


Stardew Valley may not be the most innovative game out there, but its attention to detail in all aspects of game design has drawn many fans (including me). Sometimes, incremental improvements to a tried-and-tested design results in an exceptional product!