An interview with Eric Barone about the development of Haunted Chocolatier.

Interview: A Peek Into ConcernedApe’s Haunted Chocolatier

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In 2016, Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone launched Stardew Valley, a charming farming simulator that has found its way into the hearts of millions worldwide. Since its release, Stardew Valley has achieved overwhelming commercial and critical success, selling over 15 million copies by 2021.

Now Barone has recently announced an entirely new game in the works—Haunted Chocolatier. From what we know so far, Haunted Chocolatier revolves around creating chocolates and maintaining a chocolate shop…while living in a haunted castle.

What made Stardew Valley’s success truly impressive was Barone’s sole development of the game without any prior experience in game development. He’d crafted everything himself, from sprites and art to music and coding.  And just like Stardew Valley, Haunted Chocolatier will be developed entirely by him.

I conducted an interview with Barone about the development of Haunted Chocolatier, its potential inspirations, and the challenges of creating a new game from scratch.

A screenshot of Haunted Chocolatier.

VGKAMI: From coding to art, Haunted Chocolatier is a game that you’re creating from scratch. What are your thoughts on your progress so far? Are you learning new things while creating the game?

Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone: The game’s coming along well. I’m making everything from scratch because that’s how I made Stardew, and it worked out well. It’s what I know how to do. Also, I wanted the game to feel distinct, and have its own character. I’m also coming at it with 10 years of experience that I didn’t have when I started on Stardew Valley. Still, I am learning new things.

VGK: Creating a new game must be an exciting endeavor. Do you have a favorite part about the process of creating Haunted Chocolatier? If you do, what is it, and why?

EB: My favorite part of game development is after all the core elements are finished, and I get to just add fun things on top of it. The little surprises for players to discover. But that’s kind of the “spice” you sprinkle on at the very end. I’m not really there yet, still working on the core elements. But I’m looking forward to it and thinking of ideas all the time.

VGK: What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve encountered so far?

EB: One challenge with a game like Haunted Chocolatier (and Stardew Valley, for that matter), is that the game doesn’t really “shine” until all the pieces are in place. If you’re making an arcade game, or a racing game or something, you’ll probably have fun with it even at the early stages. But a game like this is more about the big picture, the synergies, the goals, the steady progress. I seem to make “slow burn” kind of games. It’s like building a computer. You don’t really know it’s going to work until it’s all finished and you try flipping the switch. You just need to have faith that it will work, and I do.

VGK: According to your FAQ on the Haunted Chocolatier website, you’ve switched to C# in Monogame. Is there a reason for the switch?

EB: Both Stardew Valley and Haunted Chocolatier are written in C#. But for Stardew Valley, I used the XNA Framework, which is basically a set of tools to help make games (not an engine). For Haunted Chocolatier, I switched from XNA to Monogame. The reason is that Monogame is cross-platform, open-source, and has active developers and community. XNA is very old at this point and has been abandoned for a long time.

VGK: In your FAQ, you’ve stated that Haunted Chocolatier would have more action-RPG elements compared to Stardew Valley. May we know what inspired you to make it as such?

EB: I enjoy action RPG’s and played a lot of them growing up. So I felt like making a game more in that style. Also, I’m well aware that the combat system in Stardew Valley feels like kind of an afterthought, so I wanted to challenge myself to make something more interesting and fun.

VGK: According to your latest blog post, you’re introducing more complex combat mechanics to Haunted Chocolatier in contrast to Stardew Valley’s simpler combat methods. As you’re doing everything from scratch, what are the challenges and rewards associated with creating a new combat system in your project?

EB: The combat in both Stardew Valley and Haunted Chocolatier are based on long-standing traditions of 2D action RPG’s. The challenge will be to not only capture the classic essence of the tradition, but to extend beyond it in some fun and meaningful ways, all the while keeping it intuitive and “simple but deep.”

VGK: In the Haunted Chocolatier trailer, we’ve seen a variety of NPCs the player can obviously interact and form relationships with. I know it’s still in early development, but can you tell us if the relationship system with NPCs in HC would be similar to SDV? If it’s not too early to share, can you also tell us if there will be differences as well?

EB: Yes, there will be relationships like in Stardew Valley. I haven’t decided exactly how the system will work, yet. And I expect to approach some things differently this time around.

VGK: According to you, Stardew Valley drew heavy inspiration from Harvest Moon. For Haunted Chocolatier, was there anything you drew inspiration from, and if so, what is it?

EB: No, not really. Haunted Chocolatier started with me just messing around coding up an extremely simple “game” that was just one room and you could run around and swing a sword and fight some monsters. I just did that for fun, for some reason, I’m not sure. It all kind of evolved from there and I had these different ideas that came to me.

VGK: Stardew Valley is a game that’s impacted the lives of countless players in many ways, and we’re undoubtedly all wondering about its future. Would you still be working on major updates to SDV even after Haunted Chocolatier has completed its development?

EB: I have no plans either way. I don’t want to make any promises for more updates, and I also don’t want to say definitively that it’s finished. I think the game is in a very good place as it is, so I don’t think it’s necessary to add more to it. But at the same time, there’s always room for improvement.

VGK: Stardew Valley is a massively popular game. Do you think Haunted Chocolatier will receive the same reception that Stardew Valley had on its release?

EB: I don’t know, and I’d rather not worry about it. I just want to make a game that I’m happy with.