Navigating Space: Stardew Valley

Upon opening Stardew Valley, I was presented with a little loading cutscene, then a pixel-art menu of clouds and leaves. Upon starting a new save file, I spent probably too long creating my little avatar before giving up and hitting the Randomize button. After the obligatory explanatory cutscenes, I was presented with a little cabin, presumably my home, and a helpful popup to the side giving me basic instructions.

Already, the ample lighting, cute but detailed pixel style, and warm tones work to communicate a hopeful and cheerful atmosphere. In addition, the popup (which faded after a moment so as not to be annoying) helps to orient new players and to guide them towards the box near the door, which contains some starting seeds and a note from Mayor Lewis, the leader of Pelican Town. The little exclamation lights up after you pick them up, helping you locate your journal.

Once I walk out the door, I am greeted with a mess that, thankfully, I was expecting due to the cutscenes. The bright color scheme continues, now accentuated with bright greens and an extra popup. The trail to one side suggests a possible path, and the popup helps guide the new player into clearing out an area to plant their new seeds. In case the designs on the toolbar aren’t clear, hovering over them reveals their name and a short description, further assisting with getting used to the system.

When curiosity won out and my seeds were safely in the dirt and watered, I followed the trail out towards the town. It is not an immediate link, a stretch of path between the farm and Pelivan Town, but the trail helps to guide you and, just in case you get a little confused, a signpost cheerfully gives you directions when interacted with, further adding to the atmosphere of a living town that might need some directions now and again, with people who think to add in signposts.

The town itself is a little more complex, with lots of buildings to poke around in, and each one has its own personality. Each stick mostly to the bright style of the overall game, but with their own personal quirks. I also find a calendar with birthdays outside a building proclaimed to be “Pierre’s”, and a Help Wanted board that is currently empty.

Not everything is happy times in Stardew, though, and they make sure to hint at it in the environment and some of the starting messages. For instance, I run into one of the town grumps outside Pierre’s, and a quick trip to the left shows an area covered in aluminum cans and other trash. A trip further up also reveals a mysterious, dilapidated building. It is locked, promising further exploration later. In a way, this makes the world more interesting, because now I know that there are imperfections and darker sides to this idyllic town, waiting just under the surface.

After talking to a few more villagers and exploring the area a little more, I opened the UI. It maintains the style of the rest of the game, hinting at future developments with inaccessible inventory slots and places to equip rings, boots, and hats. The tabs are simple, represented by images, but mousing over gives better clues as to what each menu contains. There’s a lot of information and a lot of things that spark curiosity, particularly within the map, which contains several areas simply marked, “???”.

Overall, the design choices made in Stardew Valley work to communicate a welcoming, generally cheerful place with more realistic elements worked in and lots to discover – in other words, they work brilliantly to communicate what the game is all about.

Discussion — One Response

  • Jamie Laurel 03/10/2022 on 4:07 PM

    Grey, I think choosing Stardew Valley as the place to analyze for the Navigating Space assignment was such an interesting pick. I used to play this game (probably only for about a month) and every time I logged on, I definitely felt that sense of cheerfulness and being greeted with a warm welcome. As a player who tends to get lost in an open-world video game such as this one, I thought that it was generally an easy game to find my way around, provided the trails, maps, and signs. I loved how the developers of this game made it so relaxing, yet adventurous at the same time. Despite the real-world functions in the game, such as farming, they also don’t try lose that perception of being in a video game due to the utilization of pixels. Because of this post made by you, it’s made me realize how often the relationship between design and spatial environment actually is.

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