Stardew Valley

Developed exclusively by a single man, Eric Barone (or more commonly referred to by his online alias, ConcernedApe), Stardew Valley is a game that appears rather simple at first glance. To the uninitiated, the $34 million net worth it has brought its sole developer may come as a surprise. Nominated for the 2016 Seumas McNally Grand Prize in the Independent Games Festival, and winning the Breakthrough Award in the Golden Joystick Awards (among others), Stardew Valley is likely a game you have heard of, even if you may not have played it. Premised on the concept of escaping a dull, stressful corporate life in the city, Stardew Valley promises a refreshing countryside change where the player starts their new life on a farm inherited from their late grandfather. At its core, Stardew is about resource-managing, another game in the farming simulator genre alongside other titles like Harvest Moon. Yet, there is something about being a humble farmer in the lively Pelican Town that sets this game apart.

One of the first trailers for the game released in 2016.
A video explaining the development process by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone.

Lens #2 & #3: Surprise & Fun

On its surface, the goal of the game is simple: plant and harvest crops, forage for materials, sell resources for profit, then rinse and repeat. Its mechanics involve an in-game clock, where the player cycles through 4 seasons of 28 days each, and every day, they are granted limited energy to to spend on actions, which gets refreshed when the player goes to bed at night. Yet, under this deceptively straightforward concept lies several key features which have garnered Stardew Valley its many loyal fans. Besides farming, players are free to explore the village, including delving into mines which are arguably almost entertaining enough to be its own game.

In caves, players can mine their way through different levels filled with rocks to pick, enemies to defeat and crystals to discover. These enemies even cause damage, and players are at the mercy of their health bar, which only appears when they enter a cave. Much like your typical dungeon crawler, the player can equip themselves with armour and weapons to boost their combat statistics.


Fishing is also a major activity featured in the game. While fishing serves as a means to gather profitable stock and food, they also pose a challenge for the player to collect different fish at different locations and in-game seasons.


Lens #5: Endogenous Value

With 40 achievements existing in the game, and an estimated 150-200 hours it takes to attain them all, players will be hard pressed to run out of things to do ( Cutscenes featuring the residents of Pelican Town and their lives reward players at various milestones, and the sheer assortment of items and artefacts to collect and use in the game intrigues players to continue making new discoveries through game progression, and the inherent endogenous value of rewards in activities such as mining or fishing compels continuous play. For example, the elusive prismatic shard found in the mines can be transformed into a high-level combat weapon, while rare crops like starfruits and ancient fruits can be harvested and cultivated to make incredibly profitable wine. Adding on to the RPG experience of this game is a skill level system, granting the player additional abilities as they progress.


Lens #25: Goals

Providing a diverse selection of activities allows players to take a break from the monotony of watering plants and harvesting crops, while still serving as alternative means for resource-gathering in the game so that players are able to continue progressing by upgrading their tools and accessing new locations. Essentially, Stardew Valley players are free to curate their own experience and set their own goals, and this freedom is part of the core experience that the game is selling, be it earning the most money, befriending – and even starting a family – with villagers, starting an extensive collection of rare fish or perhaps even challenging themselves to gather resources only by raiding trash cans.


Audio and World-Building

An often underrated element that buttresses the success of Stardew Valley is its aesthetics. While the charming pixelated graphics making up the world of Pelican Town and its inhabitants are endearing, it has to be pointed out that the audio – also developed by ConcernedApe – provides an added dimension which elevates the gameplay experience. Catchy tunes signify the change of each season, cycling through spring, summer, autumn and winter, and upbeat music accompanies players in the mines as they battle their way deeper underground. Overlying the melodies of Stardew Valley are the chirping of birds greeting players at the start of a sunny morning, while the pattering of rain on the windows mark a stormy day even before the player leaves the house. Footsteps crunching on soil contrasts the clicking of shoes on linoleum and hard stone, and in multiplayer mode, the telltale chopping of wood from another player a short distance away renders the map unnecessary as players can tell when the other is near. These aesthetics, while often residing in the background, is invaluable in world-building and serves as reminder that while the sounds of nature may be overpowered by the very real, raucous city noises of a player’s life, there is always respite to be found in the whimsical Pelican Town off the beaten track.

Lens #44: Character

Another critical feature of the game which makes it so appealing is perhaps the relationships which exist between the NPC villagers, beyond the player’s direct relationships with them. With crushes, friendships (and even possibly affairs) depicted through dialogues with the various villagers, the player gets the sense that this virtual village is very much alive, the NPCs going on their way carrying out their daily lives offscreen. While there may not be a strong storyline in the game, the personable interactions and charming dialogue draws the player, and as favourite villagers are befriended, we may find ourselves unexpectedly invested in the lives of these virtual people. This take on world-building in a simple farming simulator is a refreshing change from the often solipsistic perspective adopted by other titles in its genre. The NPCs’ dialogue is often quirky and surprising, encouraging further interaction with them as their relationship with the player develops through gifts and events that take place throughout the game.


Lens #84: Friendship

The most difficult part of this game is perhaps getting started. It is admittedly tough to love the game when one is equipped with poor tools, limited resources and unable to access mining or even fishing. Yet, when one is willing to stick through the initial hours spent on a rather insipid farming simulator, it is not difficult to understand why millions of people have devoted endless hours into this game. There is always something to discover and the love for the game is apparent from its vast community of fans online, with forums sharing play-through guides, less-known tips and even modifications by the more tech-savvy to further customise the gaming experience (many of which can be found on

Conclusion and Lens #7: Elemental Tetrad

Though classified under the farming simulator, Stardew Valley is much more than that. It is a farming simulator, life simulator, dungeon crawler, dating simulator all in one, packaged and presented with a wonderfully immersive audio experience and nostalgic visual 16-bit aesthetics. Its simple technical elements and cheerful colours attract children looking for a fun way to pass the time, but the story existing within the rich lives of the onscreen villagers and the surprisingly challenging fishing and mining mechanics continue to draw in more mature audiences time and time again. Allowing players to pet cute cows and fight off monstrous skulls with swords in the same day, Stardew Valley is an indie game that has effectively utilised the elemental tetrad of game design, and has mastered walking the fine line between relaxing and challenging, having a little something for anyone seeking refuge from a hectic life in a quaint pixelated town.

Mozilla Hubs

Collaboration online has become more popular in recent days. The new technology using XR enables for interesting and exciting interaction that has not been possible before. Ever since Covid-19 came around, it has more or less been a necessity to be able to collaborate online, for safety reasons. 

One application that can be used for this is Mozilla Hubs which is an open-source social virtual reality platform. It is accessible on desktop, mobile or with VR-headset and it creates collaboration in a fun way. To start a meeting, simply create a room and share the link with your friends or colleagues. You can either select a premade room with just a click or create your own room from scratch using the 3D modeling tool Spoke. When inside the room, you can move around using the keyboard or a joystick, depending on what device you are logged onto. Hubs have the basic video conference settings such as screen sharing, draw, muting/unmuting mic and react. But you can also place 3D objects in the virtual space. Before I go into more detail about Hubs, it is worth to mention that I’ve only tried the application on a computer.

So why would you use this application? One reason for using it is that it feels like you are actually interacting with people during the meeting, and they must participate actively in the meeting. For me at least, there is nothing more boring than just talking to a screen while everyone has their camera turned off and not paying attention. But when someone is sharing a screen in Hubs for example, you have to walk up to the screen to see what is being shared. Everyone also gets to choose their own avatar, which makes it feel more personal.

The spatialized audio also makes it so that you have to be in proximity to the one you are conversing with to be able to hear them. This is clever because you can easily break out into smaller groups by just distancing yourself from the group. What I especially like about it is that is widely accessible for everyone. It works on all devices as I mentioned before and there is no installation requires which allows for an easy set up. However, if you want to spend more time on setting a room up, there are many opportunities for customization.

Another feature that I like is the object panel where you can find and edit all of your objects. Because when you are in a 3D world, it can be hard to keep track of all your placed objects, so it is nice to have an overview of them. But of course, to not take away from the immersive experience, you can interact and edit them with your avatar as well.

Although I think it is a good application, there is some features that could be further developed. One example is that it is hard to position the objects that you are placing in your room, like a shared screen or a 3D-object. When placing an object, it appears in front of your avatar and then you have to manually place it if you want to reposition it. Since the objects have no shadows, it is hard to perceive where you are placing the object. One suggestion to make the placement easier is to add a shadow under the object, or just a small marking on the floor that follows your object so you have a reference point. 

To sum this up, I think that Mozilla Hubs is a good VR application that is easy to use, and it is for everyone. 

Shooting Zombies in Hyperreality VR – Deadwood Mansion

Zombie-slaying gameplay isn’t something new. We’ve seen them in PC games and even in arcade stations. Deadwood Mansion takes the experience to a new whole new level. Players have to don haptic suits and body trackers, giving them a fully immersive experience.

Deadwood Mansion – Official Trailer

Deadwood Mansion is the first hyperreality escape experience ever created by Sandbox VR. They utilise a wide range of technology: Hollywood motion capture cameras, 3D body precision trackers, haptic suits, etc and are built by engineers from EA, Sony and Ubisoft. They have franchises across USA and Asia (one in Singapore!) that we can visit. The price of a ticket is surprisingly more affordable, ranging from SGD 32 – 42 per pax.

What drew me to Deadwood Mansion was the idea of really bringing us into a different world and letting us feel like we are living in it. As exciting as VR is, a part of me would always remember that what I saw isn’t reality. I also loved the multiplayer aspect — up to 6 players are allowed in the room. You can physically interact with everyone inside. You could even choose your choice of weapons, from dual pistols to rifles and guns.

Despite being a heavy shooter game, Deadwood Mansion does a great job of incorporating a narrative to the experience. These are achieved with voiceovers under the pre-tense of calls from the team’s intelligence. Other than that, the game uses HUDs sparingly. Like standard shooter games, hand reference frames are used to show statistics on their weapons. There are some UI placed in the environment when the group receives “calls” from the intelligence or the villain.

Sandbox VR also records several videos for each session: each player’s POV and a room-wide view of all players with and without the virtual environment. Each group can sit down together to watch these footages after their session. Some of the videos really looked like the players’ real bodies got transformed into virtual bodies.

All Time High Scoreboard

There is also a world wide leaderboard for game scores. I find that it gives some level of competition outside the game.

Besides Deadwood Mansion, Sandbox VR also provide many other worlds, some notable ones are Star Trek and UFL. Star Trek: Discovery lets players handle a Starfleet Phaser and find a lost Starfleet ship. UFL, on the other hand, lets people split into teams and battle in a gladiator fighting ring.

While I haven’t had the chance to experience it myself, there seems to be a lot of gears for player to put on before the game. I think that could potentially be a hassle before and during the game, depending on how heavy these equipment are. While it would be great to reduce the size and number of gears, that would probably require a lot more research and development before it can be achieved. After all, hyperreality VR experience is isn’t easy.

Another idea that I felt might make the game more immersive is having more than 1 room. Perhaps in between some zombie waves, the group could proceed to another room as part of the narrative. It could be something like the villain planting a bomb in the present room and the team has to escape it to avoid the explosion. I think might give a better sense of story/game progression.

Overall, I think Sandbox VR did a great job making hyperreality VR well, a reality. Personally, I see this as a one-time novel experience and not something that I would want to try again and again. Despite that, I think it offers a really fun and interesting activity that many people would be excited to try out.