When it comes to tranquil, holistic and family-friendly gaming fare, there are few experiences more pleasant than farming sim Harvest Moon. Placing you into a rustic setting where you have to tend your rundown farm to become a commercial success, it's also one of the few games that lets you get married and have kids.
Still, nothing – not nature, let alone kids – stays the same forever, and ten years on from the series' first English language release, its creator Yasuhiro Wada is keen to explore new areas.
Pocket Gamer caught up with him during his recent publicity trip for the European release of Harvest Moon DS, the first version of the game to be released for Nintendo's current handheld.
"It was a natural process to make a version of Harvest Moon for the DS, but it wasn't like we decided to make Harvest Moon DS just because the DS arrived," Mr Wada explains. "Before the DS version, there were the GBA and Game Boy versions, so this is part of the natural flow."
Considering the underwhelming critical response to Harvest Moon DS compared to its GBA predecessors, cynics might say the game would be better viewed as something of a half-way house between the two consoles.
But for Wada, who's the development director of small Japanese gamemaker Marvelous, this, too, is part of the process of making the most of limited resources.
It's an unusual approach for a small studio. "We're not a big company – we prefer low cost, low risk projects so we can do many games at same time rather than concentrate on a few big projects," he explains.
"With a lot of projects, you can target more areas and find more creative possibilities for future development. I want to encourage our designers to explore as many different ideas as possible."
The second DS Harvest Moon game – Harvest Moon: The Island I Develop With You – has already been released in Japan, and it's a prime example of the new directions Wada is experimenting with.
"I want to broaden the interactions you have within the game world," he says. "Farming as a concept should just be one part of the game. I want to build up the surrounding nature. For example, in the island environment, you're not just farming on an island, you're dealing with the island as a natural world."
Use of the DS' wireless connectivity in the new game also pushes the series' boundaries.
"With Harvest Moon DS, I didn't want to get too carried away with features such as the dual screens and touchscreen," says Mr Wada, when asked about why the game didn't seem to fully utilise the DS' available functions. Equally, there wasn't any use of the wireless features.
"In Harvest Moon DS 2, we use the wireless capabilities for the first time, so you can swap stats with the other players and everyone can see who grew the most type of crops or animals. You can even see who walked the most miles," he reveals. "And Harvest Moon DS 3 will certainly use wi-fi even more."
However, when pushed whether that means the game would go down the full Animal Crossing online route – Animal Crossing remains the most popular game using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection – Wada said that with the game still in development, he was keeping such ideas secret.
He was happier to talk about two other Harvest Moon-related projects, however.
The first is Rune Factory, or the so-called 'Harvest Moon with swords'. "I want these new Harvest Moon-related games to head into areas where the original games can't go," Wada says. "The big difference with Rune Factory is you can fight in it. It's something that's never happened in previous versions of Harvest Moon. Fighting is the main focus of the gameplay."
Another departure is the PSP game Innocent Life, which is also known as 'A Futuristic Harvest Moon'.
"It shares the name but you should consider it to be a new series really," Wada says of its relationship to Harvest Moon. "It was made by another team so we're allowing them to develop something new, with new possibilities."
As for his personal long-term goal concerning the series that has defined his profession career, Wada reckons it's all about game characters. "I want to make them more human," he says. "Not more photorealistic, but in terms of the human qualities that the player can associate with." Now, that's one quality that will never go out of fashion.
Harvest Moon DS is already out (see our review). Harvest Moon: Innocent Life is due for release on May 11th.