f you judged E3 by the non-Nintendo conferences alone, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the show floor as an increasingly violent gauntlet of simulated murder and brutality, with each successive publisher promising the latest in accurately rendered exit wound technology. But, as we attendees quickly learned, games with a far different approach existed within the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center — you just had to track them down. And, lucky for me, the most atypical E3 showing could be found adjacent to a giant, inflatable cow towering over Natsume’s booth; this monument to all things Harvest Moon served as a fitting tribute to the series’ 15th anniversary, even if this occasion brings with it a change in management.
Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada has recently decided to take a hands-off approach to his famed farming series, but on his own terms. Not much Is known about his new IP, Project Wonderful, but Wada’s focus is clear; much like how the original SNES Harvest Moon defied the expectations of gamers in the 16-bit era, Project Happiness (the game’s working title) stands in direct opposition to the gritty, dark, and ultraviolent titles receiving the most mainstream attention this generation. Admittedly, it’s tough to ask developers their opinion on the industry in general without tacitly implying that they should criticize their competition, but, without naming names, Wada told me that selling a game based on graphics alone makes for the easiest way to impress players, then gave me a single quote that spoke volumes about the rowdy, chest-thumping bro culture spreading like a virus throughout the industry: “Violence is boring.”
Like Harvest Moon, Project Happiness won’t be for everyone; Wada’s games have always featured a gentle, friendly approach, usually involving adorable animals and themes of sharing, friendship, and togetherness — not the easiest sell for gamers looking for escapist power fantasies. Again, as with Harvest Moon, Natsume recognizes the potential for a non-violent game in the marketplace, which may explain why some major creative talent is currently attached to Wada’s new IP. Legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu (as if I had to tell you who that is) will be providing Project Happiness‘ music, while original Pokemon artist and Pikachu creator Atsuko Nishida will be supply the game’s adorable character designs. And as a collaboration between Natsume, Wada’s new studio Toybox, and Rising Star Games, Project Happiness certainly has a good amount of faith behind it.
Wada wouldn’t reveal too many details about Project Happiness, but he made it clear that his new game will take on the premise of shopkeeping in the same way Harvest Moon approached farming. Much like in Wada’s first series, Happiness will involve in ins and outs of running a small business, and building relationships with people in the community; and though he could easily turn this premise into a predatory social game like FarmVille, the remarkably humble Wada has chosen to make Project Happiness a purely single player experience, with some limited online functionality.
It’s understandable if you take one look at the game’s cutesy, colorful trailer and decide that Project Happiness is not for you. But I will tell you this: I am a thirty year-old semi adult man who regularly spends his post-work hours tending to digital duckies, chickens, and cows while lounder and angrier game languish on my DVD rack, and I have absolutely no shame about this. If Project Happiness can provide the same soothing, addictive game play, I’ll be glad to see Wada’s new series have the same longevity as his former one.
Bob Mackey has survived E3, and is currently looking forward to a weekend free of early wake-up calls, Los Angeles heat, and constant schlepping. You can follow his further exploits via the powers of Twitter.