Since 2016, dozens of farm and life sim games have been chasing the success of Stardew Valley—fated to be forever compared with Eric Barone's breakout indie hit. Now that he's announced his next game, the shop sim Haunted Chocolatier, Barone says he's well aware that his second game may wind up chasing after his first game just as much as all those others.
Barone sat down on a livestream with Reason Studios, the developers of the music software that he used to create all of Stardew Valley's soundtrack. Before jumping into the music itself, Reason's host compares Barone's success with Stardew Valley and the resulting pressure on Haunted Chocolatier to the "sophomore slump" theory of bands struggling to live up to an initial hit with a second album.
"I can relate to some degree with working on Haunted Chocolatier," Barone says. "Which is a game that's very much in Stardew Valley's shadow at this point and will be compared to it.
Sure enough, it was immediately obvious from Haunted Chocolatier's initial reveal trailer how much it looks and sounds like Stardew. Barone's pixel art style is definitely still present, as are some of the instruments and vibe of Stardew's music.
"I can't help but think about Stardew Valley when I'm making this game. It'll manifest in ways like 'Oh, I can't do this. It's too much like Stardew Valley.' But then a lot of the things in Stardew Valley are the way they are because it just makes sense. It would be foolish to do it any other way."
"Lately I've just kinda been like 'you know what, screw it,'" Barone says. "If that means a lot of stuff in Stardew Valley was perfect and it doesn't need to be changed, then I'm just gonna do it the same way and not worry about it. If people say it's cut and paste Stardew Valley, well so be it. What did you expect? Did you expect me to make a sports game or a racing game? This is just what I do."
Even knowing that he's inevitably leaning on his past work, Barone has already revealed a bit of the ways that he's looking to evolve past the Stardew standard. He's explained a bit about how he's changing Stardew's combat for Chocolatier by adding things like shields. "Almost everything in Haunted Chocolatier, including the combat, is completely coded (and drawn) from scratch," he explained in that developer log from October.
"Probably even me announcing Haunted Chocolatier is a way of lighting a fire underneath myself," Barone says of the choice to reveal his next game while he's still deep in development. "Now everyone knows about it. I can't back down now. I have to finish this game. I have to make it fantastic."
As Barone says of Stardew's success elsewhere in the livestream, he believes that it was the right game at the right time. There may already be more Recettear-like and Moonlighter-ish shop sim games on PC now than there were Harvest Moon style farming sims when Stardew Valley launched. Even so, I'm not the only one eager to get Barone's take on it.