Moonglow Bay Interview – On Capturing That Harvest Moon Feel, Microsoft Support, and More

Nathan Birch
Moonglow Bay

Video games and fishing have always gone together like fried halibut and tartar sauce. Countless games have focused on the pastime and even more have included fishing as a bonus minigame. The recently-announced Xbox-console-exclusive fishing RPG Moonglow Bay includes over 100 underwater creatures to catch, but it also expands its horizons beyond angling to include an array of cooking minigames, a full Harvest-Moon-style village to explore, and a dramatic storyline to progress through. Set in the Canadian Maritimes during the 1980s, you must take on a struggling fishing business after your longtime partner is lost at sea. Can you make a go of it, help heal your town, and maybe figure out what’s really happening in the mysterious outer reaches of the ocean?

I recently got the opportunity to chat with Moonglow Bay creative directors Zach Soares and Lu Nascimento about the appeal of fishing games, recapturing that Harvest Moon feel, the game’s scope and real-world-inspired setting, Microsoft indie support, and more! Batten down the hatches (whatever that actually means) and sail on down for the full interview…

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Why do you think fishing in video games is so satisfying? It doesn’t matter what else is happening in a game, if I come across a fishing minigame, I’m like “Yeah, I’m doing this for the next couple hours.”

Zach Soares: For me, the satisfaction of it, it's twofold -- you've got that close-to-instant gratification from your catch, but also the mechanics are always just tricky enough. The timing on that kind of stuff is always just tricky enough to make you feel like you have a chance to fail, but you don’t.

Lu Nascimento: For me […] it's the fishing without the mess, the insects, like waiting for hours to get a fish. […] Like, I think everyone likes the idea of fishing, like the relaxing and just catching the fish, but not exactly like fishing in real life.

As we’ve seen in the first Moonglow Bay trailer, you’ve lost your partner, but are carrying on the family fishing business. You fish, you cook, you interact with other folks from the village. Beyond that basic premise, how’s the game actually structured?

Zach: So, the story is introduced to you through your daughter, who comes back from university and wants to pick you up and help you out because she realizes that you're pretty stressed and…

Lu: Your partner has been gone for three years.

Zach: Yeah. [Your daughter’s] the catalyst for what moves you forward. She'll bring you around town, she’ll kind of force you to make interaction with everyone around town. And that's when you start to realize everyone has their own issues that they’re dealing with right now. And as much as they're happy to see that you’re out of the house, they have to solve their problems.

And then your daughter kind of alludes to you, “Hey, you know, you have this [fishing] business that you're doing. And you've got this book, we should probably I continue with this, and maybe it's gonna help others in turn.” Then as you progress in the game, you start off by doing your initial fishing, to kind of test the waters and get your first money, well…shells in the game. That's when it starts to snowball.

Lu: Each part of the game kind of follows one of the NPCs.

Zach: There are five acts. We don’t categorize them in the game as chapters or anything like that, but there are five acts that you can kind of flesh out, with a start and end. And each of these follow a specific NPC that has a story that you can relate to and associate to your character and their struggles. That's how we’re moving it forward and it kind of passes hands after every act.

How much effect do you have on how the story plays out?

Lu: There’s exploration, but the story is linear.

Zach: Yeah, the story's linear. So the outcome is going to be basically the same. It's more gonna be how much you put towards…

Lu: How you improve on the town.

Zach: We have like a baseline level for what's required to succeed […], but you can obviously go well above and beyond that.

Lu: The autonomy is, who you’re going to be friends with, how much you improve the town, how many fish you're going to fish.

Zach: The outcome, while it is the same for everyone who plays the game, what you put into the game is going to be different, because we try to vary things like be how many fish you can catch, how many recipes you can cook, and other things like talent upgrading. That's dispersed across a multitude of locations, so it helps to give players choice as to what they want to do.

Can you talk a little bit about the village itself? What’s its scope? What kind of characters will you meet there?

Zach: There are 12 main NPCs. There’s side stories with NPCs other than the main 12. The main 12 are the ones you can become best friends with. And then there's, I think, more than five additional NPCs who have more story to them. In total, there's actually just about 40 NPCs in town that will be walking around having their own routines and stuff. Not all of them will have a story. That's why we have the main 12.

Hey, you can’t be friends with everyone!

Zach: [Laughs] It’s implied everyone is becoming your friend.

Okay, so, everyone will want to know – will there be any romance options?

Lu: We wanted to focus on like friendship, especially because the story is so much about, like, how you are coming to terms with the fact that you just lost your partner.

I feel like there’s kind of a whole generation of developers trying to recapture the magic of those classic Harvest Moon games, but it isn’t easy. Even something like Stardew Valley maybe doesn’t get there 100 percent. Harvest Moon itself lost the spark long ago. What do you think made those games special and do you think Moonglow Bay captures some of that?

Zach: What I liked in those games, in Harvest Moon specifically, was the atmosphere it built. It was very good at kind of telling you what the tone of this world is and what to expect of the people in the space around you. That, to me, was always heartwarming. Also, you can sit in the farm and just not do anything, and you can feel relaxed. Like you're not pushed to do any tasks, but you have the incentive to do so.

Lu: For me, [Harvest Moon] always felt like a very comfortable homey paid place you can just escape to after you’re done with work. You get to choose whatever you want [to do] -- you can mine, you can raise the animals, [or crops]. Having those options and having the cute characters in town that are so friendly to you, it feels like that cottagecore dream that everyone wants to live in real life and that’s the closest thing you can get to it.

Zach: With Moonglow Bay, what we did to kind of go for that mood is we focused heavily on the atmosphere we’re buildings. So like in the town, we put a lot of work into the fact that NPCs have routines that they have, like, an actual day to day, based on [the] climate and where they're going to be. And while that may not impact any particular mechanic, it'll impact how you feel about the town, how alive the whole space is. Every biome that you that you explore, including the town, also has their own wildlife. Again, this doesn't influence anything in particular, but it builds this atmosphere that makes you just want to sit there and take it in. And that's kind of what we were going for with the world building. At least on my end, that’s how I felt like I can kind of recapture that whole feel.

Slice-of-life games like Moonglow Bay usually take place in kind of idealized settings, but you chose a very specific one – Eastern Canada in the 80s. The Maritimes are certainly beautiful, but they’ve also been through some rough times. More recently, disputes between Indigenous and White fishermen have been in the headlines. Why did you decide to ground your world in this way and do any of these real-world elements make their way into the game?

Lu: It started from the fact that [Zach and I] met in Quebec and I always had the dream of living in the Maritimes, I always thought it was such a beautiful place.

Zach: We wanted to do a fishing RPG and we wanted it to be set in Canada. And so, the most obvious place to set your game, if it's going to be a fishing RPG, is the Maritimes. That's the core of their economy. We also, when we designed the characters, of the four you choose from two of them are Miꞌkmaq.

Ah, interesting. That’s cool.

Lu: We tried to make a more or less idealized version of what [the Maritimes] could have been in the 80s. Because we are conscious of the social problems that existed back then, but we wanted to make this like, what if everyone could can live in peace and build themselves back together and just unite instead of being in horrible conflict. We do have stories inspired from real life, like Africville* we do mention. But it's more of an idealized place.

* Africville was a unique Black community in Halifax, Nova Scotia partially founded by former slaves from the American colonies. The community was unjustly neglected by the Halifax government and demolished in the 1960s. Its former location is now a National Historic Site of Canada.

Zach: We researched to make sure that like the people that we would include in the town would be kind of linked to people that might exist in real life at the time, but possibly not in the same exact town, for pretty obvious reasons. The characters […] they’re 58, so they were born in the 30s and they've gone through hard times. Not only the main character, but like other characters in town. So it's important to highlight this struggle and that's where we touch a lot on the community itself and what it means to build a nice healthy community. That's why we bring up Africville and stuff, because they suffered.

The recent events that have been happening in the East really hurt me, because it's a shame that this tension exists so strongly. And I wish like… I think one of the hardest things was just figuring out what stories to tell within the space.

Yeah, I imagine it is difficult, but it sounds like you’re presenting a pretty broad spectrum.

Zach: It was hard to find all the research we can for the Natives of the area. It’s a hard thing to choose which stories to tell. I struggle with that.

Changing tracks a bit, let’s talk fish! How detailed are Moonglow Bay’s fishing mechanics?

Zach: It starts basic. Initially, when the game introduces [fishing] to you, it just can feel very familiar to other mini games that you've played where you’re pulling against the direction of the fish. You're like, “Okay, I get this.” But as the game progresses, you're introduced to more complex layers to the fishing. There's three tiers of fish -- small, medium, large, essentially -- and each of these tiers add a layer to the fishing itself.

So, with a smaller fish […] they just pull in the given direction, so you can easily catch those ones. But then with a medium fish, you get to the second layer where now they're going to have almost like power moves, where they move in very strong directions. And you need to start countering, you need to be a lot more reactive. The agency’s on the character now to react.

Lu: We have other types of fishing as well, like ice fishing, rod fishing, which is the one that Zach was describing, nets, and traps.

Zach: The ice fishing will feel familiar to some other minigames too. The net fishing has more environmental involvement. So, you have to catch a fish with a net, but only certain types of fish in certain locations.

You say there are 100 types of fish in the game – are these real fish?

Zach: There’s only so many real fish.

Lu: No, there’s loads of real fish!

Zach: Okay, there’s a lot, there’s a ton.

Lu: What we wanted to do, with the zones you explore being more magical as you progress, the fish get weirder as well.

Time for the fish lightning round – do you have a cod?

Lu: Yeah!

I actually don’t know that many fish, so I won’t subject you to any more.

Zach: That's like the best way we do onboard players and into the weirdness, we first we sprinkle in a few different [fish], but then we have mostly real ones and you're like, “Oh, okay okay” and then you as you get further that becomes less and less the case. The percentage flips.

How big is the world you can explore in your boat? The Atlantic Ocean is a pretty big place!  

Zach: Oh, yeah, we definitely have to limit the borders. [Laughs]. So, we have in total four very distinctly different zones with a kind of buffer zone in the middle.

Lu: Part of when I mentioned, like, more of an idealized word, is because the game does [become] more fantastical as it progresses. So, it's not entirely realistic.

Zach: That's the conflict that that part of the town has, it’s with the environment itself. […] The myths make them think that the ocean is scary and it's out to get you and you're kind of slowly trying to convince them [that], “No, they're not out to get us.”

Lu: The zones, they’re like, there’s a regular one, and then they get super icy, then you get really far and there’s a surprise one that…

Zach: To measure the scale, if you were to see the town […] it’s something like 15 percent of the size of the map. The world itself is quite large. We put ourself in a trap there, but yeah, there’s a lot to fill.

How is the world constructed? Is it procedurally generated?

Zach: No, it’s all hand-curated.

Lu: Because there’s so much focus on narrative, we wanted it to be very catered.

Zach: Yeah. So it's easier for us to make any adjustments to the environment alongside the story.

How does co-op work?

Zach: Basically, whatever Player 1 can do Player 2 can do too. So, you’re basically cloned. But on top of that, when you're doing co-op […] you both have the ability to help [the other] person who's fishing with what we call Assist Mode. [If somebody’s] pulling in a large fish […] the other [player] can cancel out and grab onto you and pull with you. So, that added weight is like extra power that you can put on the line. And this goes for rod fishing, net fishing, all the [fishing types.]

Lu: And it’s drop-in, drop-out couch co-op.

The game is an Xbox console exclusive. What was behind that decision?

Zach: Typically, with game development, you go around showing games to people […] and Microsoft is a really good partner. They were interested in this right at the very beginning. We’ve been making this for four years in August.

Lu: Microsoft gives a lot of support. They offer so much support for to the devs.

Zach: They've been in contact with us since the first prototype that we had at the game. They said they liked it and were like, “Alright, come back to us when you've got more, we'd love to see more”…and we did! […] And we realized that they had a lot of like, really good support in general. When we got into building the full scope of the game they were really on board and helping us out.

Could the game come to other platforms?

Zach: That’s to be determined. [Laughs].

PR manager Jack Sanderson from publisher Coatsink briefly chimed in at this point.

Jack: First playable on Xbox, but we don’t have anything else we can share at this time.

Can you narrow down the release date at all beyond 2021?

Lu: No specific date!

Zach: We haven’t even determined when it’s going to be fully locked. But yeah, 2021 for sure.

Thanks for taking my questions -- I look forward to casting off!

Moonglow Bay is coming to PC (via Steam), Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S sometime in 2021. The game will also be a Day One Xbox Game Pass release.

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