New details and screens from Stardew Valley publisher's magic school RPG

The response to this teaser of Chucklefish's magic school-themed RPG/sim was huge, but not a total surprise. In Starbound, the upcoming Wargroove and Stardew Valley (which it published, with the game developed by Eric Barone), players have shown that they have a strong affinity for these warm, brighter art styles in their PC games. 

As early in development as this magic school game is—Chucklefish hasn't officially announced it yet, or given it a title—the idea of the game captured people's imaginations, given the popularity of magic school-set fiction like Little Witch Academia and Harry Potter. 

Here, I ask Chucklefish about the kind of systems we can expect to see in the game, whether Little Witch Academia is an influence on its world and more. You'll read responses from Finn Brice, CEO of Chucklefish and the game's lead designer, Rosie Ball, designer, and artists Abi Cooke Hunt and Adam Riches. There's also a couple of new screens here for more of an early look at the game's art style. 

What sparked the idea for this game at Chucklefish? Do you have a process for picking new projects?

Rosie Ball: Our first game, Starbound, was a long project which involved the entire team in some capacity. When we finished the game last year, we took the opportunity to let all team members pitch their ideas for new projects. The idea being that we’d all take a vote as a company, with the most popular pitch becoming our next game. 

Initially it was thought that everyone would want to work on a shorter project after Starbound, and we did end up choosing a short project, now known as Wargroove. What surprised us most was that even though this idea was pitched as a long project, the idea of a magic school game drew everyone in and got people excited. It felt like the right time for both ideas, so we decided to do both!

You began teasing this game last year—where are you at with development right now? How far away are you from an official announcement?

Finn Brice: We’re still a little way away from an official announcement, we want to make sure we get the tone and feel of the game just right before we send it out into world. That said, in typical Chucklefish fashion we’ll be sharing our in-development work from time to time.

Were you surprised by the huge response you got on Twitter towards the game?

Finn Brice: The response was wonderful and it was lovely to see so many people are just as interested in a magic school simulation as we are. I think that with any project you’ve been working on for a long time that acceptance is always a bit of a shock and a relief. That said, this is something that’s so close to all our hearts here that we knew people would feel the same.

You've talked about how with this project you're learning from Stardew Valley—what are those lessons, and how are you applying them to this game?

Finn Brice: Stardew Valley is a masterclass in establishing tone, charm and theme. With Stardew, Eric Barone has created the most refined game of this genre and manages to make the player fall in love with every interaction. 

With this project we’ve taken that idea of simply falling in love with a game world and gone all in. The mechanics are going to be tight and that’s important, but from the outset our goal has been to create a game world that is entertaining and charming simply to inhabit.

What can you tell us about your setting and characters? Little Witch Academia looks like an influence—what else inspired the art or the world?

Abi Cooke Hunt: Our inspiration for the game world and art comes from a lot of places. People have picked up on the influence of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, but some of our biggest inspirations have been things like Studio Ghibli’s rendition of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series and Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books.

Ghibli's work plays a particular role in the visuals we're working to create for the game. The environments of Studio Ghibli films are so captivating and charming—we want our players to enjoy this world in that same way.

Contrary to popular belief, we were well into development before Little Witch Academia appeared on our radar. While we couldn't say it's been a source of inspiration from the outset, it has (perhaps needless to say) become very popular with the team.

What are you prototyping in terms of game systems?

Finn Brice: There are many different kinds of magic/crafting/potion making/farming systems in this game and each of those needs to be rewarding and satisfying in their own right. This means prototyping many different, somewhat standalone, aspects of the game and tying them all together once we’re happy. 

Expect to have a lot to do in the final game, but to progress regardless of the activity.

The idea of a school conjures up certain assumptions about the sort of stuff we might see in the game—lessons, relationships with classmates, the idea of a school year passing in terms of time. Are we along the right lines? Will we see some similarities to Stardew Valley in terms of systems or structure? 

Rosie Ball: We are genuine fans and avid players of farming and village life simulation games, such as Stardew Valley and Rune Factory. With this project we are aiming to expand upon the genre, thematically and mechanically, taking it to places we are curious to experience ourselves. 

A school operates very differently to a town. We’re working hard to include what we think are the essential elements of a school simulation while remaining within a familiar format that existing fans of the genre will be able to jump straight into. 

It’s important to us that the game captures the nostalgia of school life as much as possible. Expect memorable moments drawn from our own experience that we think players will relate to. (Our team members went to school in different countries all over the world, so it is an eclectic experience we’re drawing from!) On top of that, we’re diving head first into the fantasy of what’s only possible in a magical school. It’s our personal take on the setting, and we hope to deliver something fresh and new.

Spellbound is a name that's been teased before—where are you at with settling on a final name?

Adam Riches: Coming straight off Starbound, and before we’d settled on the name Wargroove, we internally called that project Warbound. It only made sense to complete the rule of threes and refer to this game as Spellbound. It started off as a joke but it’s something that seems to have stuck. The truth is we’ve not settled on a final title for the game yet. It’s definitely still something that’s up for debate.