It's been nearly 15 years since farming sim Harvest Moon first appeared on the SNES, and Marvelous Interactive president Yasuhiro Wada has been there right from the beginning. Now he's finishing up work on new HM games for the PSP and Nintendo DS, and we got the chance to sit down and have a chat about what we can expect from the latest instalment in the series that gives everyone the chance to pretend they're Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Only without the bit where he kills screaming pigs with rusty scythes, obviously...
Eurogamer: Let's start with Harvest Moon DS... Why did you decide to do a version for Nintendo's handheld?
Yasuhiro Wada: As you know, the Nintendo DS has a touch screen, dual screen and microphone. We wanted to try our hands at the challenge of making a game to suit a handheld with all these new features.
Eurogamer: We've already heard that you can stroke the animals with the stylus in the game, but are there any other features specific to the DS that you can tell us about?
Yasuhiro Wada: In previous Harvest Moon games, you could see the text under the character. This time we use the dual screen, so the text is on the bottom screen while the character is on top - so you can see all his facial expressions, and you can watch him moving around and doing activities.
Also you now have a TV on the touch screen, and you can use the stylus to adjust the volume, change the channel and so on. You can watch a tutorial, and also see some TV series - dramas, variety shows, that kind of stuff.
In this edition of Harvest Moon, we also have new characters called the Kurubok - little creatures that you have to try and collect. I think there are about a hundred of them, and you can watch the news on the TV to find out where they're located.
As for the environment, it's a completely new game, a new Harvest Moon. And yes, there will be Harvest Moon for boys and Harvest Moon for girls, as on the Gamecube.
Eurogamer: Will the game also make use of the DS's Wi-Fi feature?
Yasuhiro Wada: There is no Wi-Fi feature, but rest assured that for the next Harvest Moon DS game it will be incorporated. Harvest Moon PSP does feature wireless play - there's a co-operative system, so you have to work together to grow seeds or take care of all the animals as a partnership.
Eurogamer: Harvest Moon has a few things in common with Nintendogs, caring for and feeding animals and the like... Have you played Nintendogs, and were you inspired by it in any way?
Yasuhiro Wada: The thing is, Nintendogs was released in Japan in April, and the DS version of Harvest Moon was released in March. So we had exclusivity on some of the stuff first! I have played Nintendogs and yes, I like it.
Eurogamer: How about Animal Crossing?
Yasuhiro Wada: Of course to some extent you have more or less the same degree of freedom in both titles, but in Animal Crossing there's a real focus on the dialogue and the characters - whereas Harvest Moon is more about the storytelling and the scenarios in the game.
Eurogamer: So what can you tell us about the PSP version of Harvest Moon?
Yasuhiro Wada: It's going to be a completely different game to previous instalments in the series, and to the DS game. It's set in the future, on an island, and the main character is a robot - but he looks kind of like a cute boy. The animals are still real, though.
Although the game system is basically still the same, we've made a lot of improvements. We wanted to try and refresh the series with this game and present a new design.
Eurogamer: One criticism levelled at previous Harvest Moon games is that they can get a bit repetitive... Have you done anything to address this?
Yasuhiro Wada: Yes, we've heard that things can get kind of boring! So we've tried to make improvements to avoid these problems.
Because Harvest Moon has new features and is set in the future, you'll have to go through a new tutorial and learn new ways to play the game. There will be interaction with the island you're on - so, for example, you might come across a plot of land where there's nothing at all, and it's up to you to appropriate it and make something out of nothing!
Eurogamer: Will there be downloadable content for the PSP version?
Yasuhiro Wada: We've been thinking about it, and yes, we are going to try and implement downloadable content... Additional scenarios and so on.
Eurogamer: Why do you think players find Harvest Moon so enchanting?
Yasuhiro Wada: Firstly because there are no other games like this. Secondly, because the characters are very cute but they're also very deep. We try to make them very human, and that might touch the user too because maybe they identify with the characters.
Another factor is that you can play the game however you want - it's up to you whether to plant seeds, breed animals and so on - you can start from wherever you want and you are very free in this game.
Eurogamer: Which machine do you find it easier to develop for - the DS or the PSP?
Yasuhiro Wada: It's even! Thinking about ways to use the DS's new features and be creative, that can be very tiring, exhausting even! Thinking up stuff for the PSP is pretty easy, but then trying to implement them during the development process is quite hard.
Eurogamer: So... If you personally could only own one handheld, which one would it be?
Yasuhiro Wada: If I had to choose a piece of hardware to buy, I'd choose the PSP. But if I wanted to play, I'd buy a DS!
Check back soon for all the latest on the new Harvest Moon titles.