Behind the Magic of Moonglow Bay
The [email protected] program has been making waves in the indie space for years now due to its strides in establishing Xbox as a premiere platform for independent creators. The social media push the program affords combined with the possibility for an Xbox Game Pass deal makes joining [email protected] an enticing proposition. Their spring showcase highlighted a slew of indies coming to Xbox, but one that stood out from the rest was a little voxel RPG titled Moonglow Bay. Built around robust fishing mechanics and a heartwarming seaside narrative of overcoming loss through community, Moonglow Bay is shaping up to be just the kind of wholesome, colorful content Game Pass needs.
Goomba Stomp caught up with Creative Director Zach Soares and Art Director Lu Nascimento, the co-founders of developer Bunnyhug, to learn more about the inspirations behind the title, how the fishing systems work, why the team decided to go for a more arcadey fishing experience, and more.
(Note: The following interview was edited for clarity.)
GS: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Where did the idea for a fishing RPG come from, and what made you settle on the 1980s as the time period for it?
Zach: The idea of making a fishing RPG came about when Lu and I were making various game mockups. We had just finished making a farming game style mockup and next we felt we wanted to make something else that wasn’t as common but was still as fun as a relaxing RPG.
Immediately we thought of fishing. I personally love fishing mechanics and was thinking, “Huh, wouldn’t it be great to play a new version of Legend of the River King, or even a twist on Harvest Moon but fishing?” We even tried making the characters animals but ultimately stuck with humans haha. When we were talking with Coatsink, they liked the idea so we went off and made a design doc outlining everything. Everyone was into it.
Regarding the time period? It just seemed most appropriate; it involves less technology than today but still feels tech-y so there’s some nostalgia for new and old players in a funky way. It tied together the world we wanted to build very well.
Lu: The choice of the time period also came out of a desire to give marginalized folk like me the opportunity of living that magical 80s period that we see all the time on TV but wasn’t a reality for many. We wanted that warm feeling of looking at old family photo albums in the game.
GS: Fishing is usually one of the most enjoyable side activities in a game, but it’s rarely the focus. How did you go about designing a fishing system with enough depth to be the core gameplay loop?
Zach: The first thing that came to mind when wanting to flesh out fishing was to find a way to make every fishing interaction potentially different in subtle ways, and the best way to do that was with similar rock paper-scissor formulas, which I called internally the SAW loop. That represented the varying fish types you can encounter: Speed, Aggressive, Weight. Even with 100+ fish you can lay down micro behaviors within the fish which make these “types” feel unique. Once they are sorted, you can apply that ruleset to rods and lures, which all together gives you enough variables to play with to feel interesting.
This applies more heavily to your primary rod, but on top of that we felt it important to properly showcase other fishing techniques like nets, line fishing, trap fishing and ice fishing. Like you have varying tools for farming, there’s no reason to avoid doing the same with fishing!
GS: You’ve mentioned that games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley are some of your main inspirations, but unlike those games, Moonglow Bay has a structured narrative with an ending. Did you ever entertain the idea of an “endless” fishing RPG, or was there always a succinct story you wanted to tell?
Lu: Zach and I, since the very beginning of thinking of this game, always imagined it with this very specific story that we wanted to tell. Even though we are not writers at all, we absolutely love creating stories and adding hidden meanings to the game ideas we had together (prior to Moonglow Bay) and always had a lot of fun doing it together. The game was finally our opportunity to tell a story for more folk to see and have fun while doing it!
Zach: Going the endless route never really seemed like the right fit for this game in particular. Like Lu mentioned, we had a specific story in mind from the get go and with the help of Jon Davies (Narrative Designer) it seemed best, with our resources, to rely on making a solid story.
GS: Memorable characters are essential for any RPG, especially when the story is taking place around one central location. What was the process behind writing the villagers like?
Zach: We spent a lot of time on designing characters. One of our favourite ways of doing so was taking into account the locations of inspiration and then creating hypothetical scenarios that led them to living in Moonglow Bay.
No character in this town feels out of place and they all have a unique background. We do flesh out the history of some characters throughout the game but even the random ones here and there that don’t speak much will have their reasons for being there. That’s the gist of it!
GS: What kind of research went into the more technical elements of Moonglow Bay (species of fish, lure types, etc.)? Do the fish in the game follow the same behavioral patterns as their real life counterparts, for instance?
Lu: We wanted Moonglow to hit a spot between arcade and simulation, as well as a spot between real and modern-ish fantasy. We do have real life fish, many of them are species that would show in the area of the Atlantic that Moonglow’s coastline would be set in – but we are not overly realistic with how those fish behave.
Zach: Lure types and rods are made up, mainly because we felt that’d be easier for the player to remember when playing. The terminology is simple but we take from real life tools. The way the lures and rods impact the fishing is more or less real but we don’t display it that way since it’s not what matters when you’re fishing in-game. The moment to moment dynamic between you and the fish matters most, the technical stuff only matters when preparing. What combination of rod, lure and bait matters to what you expect to catch and how easy it is to fish that particular fish. The fish dynamic, on top of that, isn’t taken from real life so much. Their ecological behavior, we take from a little bit, but the fishing itself is altered to be more enjoyable and intuitive for the player.
GS: You’ve revealed that players will be able to choose their partner at the start of the game. What are some other ways players will get to customize their playthrough and make it feel more personal?
Zach: The town will be where players can really choose what’s important to them. You’ll get opportunities to help improve the space and the outcome of the town’s beautification. The way you choose to manage your shop and gear, though subtle, will matter long-term.
GS: Earlier this year you announced that Moonglow Bay will launch into Xbox Game Pass day and date. How did that deal come about, and what’s your experience been like getting it ready for the service?
Lu: That was definitely a simmering process! At GDC 2018, we were showing a super short demo of the game privately to some groups and Microsoft was one of them. They were very much into the idea but it was very early in development for any arrangements to be made. From then on, Microsoft always checked in with us, curious about how the game was coming along.
At some point last year, the game arrived to a state that we were all happy to talk Game Pass, so Coatsink + Robot Teddy arranged it with Microsoft and ta-da!
GS: What do you hope players get out of Moonglow Bay at the end of their journey?
Zach and Lu: A stronger sense of community. All in all that’s the message we’ll be communicating throughout the game. Find your peace and learn to share it with those you love. We hope players can relax and take their time staying in Moonglow Bay, genuinely.
Moonglow Bay launches on Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, and PC later this year. You can wishlist it here.