Homestead Arcana devs discuss “the ideal achievement list”
March 18, 2023
Homestead Arcana is on its way to Xbox Game Pass as a day one addition, and we reached out to developer Serenity Forge to find out more about the magical farming game…
Homestead Arcana is one of the games coming to Game Pass we can’t wait for, and to find out more about the game, we talked to developer Serenity Forge, with founder and game director Zhenghua Yang and art director Eric Grossman having been kind enough to answer our questions about gameplay, inspirations, and crafting the perfect achievement list.
What is Homestead Arcana?
Homestead Arcana is a magical farming and adventure game where we work to heal the land from the corruption of the Miasma. It’s in development from Serenity Forge and published by Skybound Games.
When does Homestead Arcana launch?
There’s not too long to wait for Homestead Arcana — while it doesn’t yet have a specific date, it is set to launch into Game Pass in April.
Will Homestead Arcana be on Xbox Game Pass?
Yes! Homestead Arcana will launch into Game Pass as a day-one addition. If you’re interested in reading more about developer Serenity Forge’s Game Pass experience, check out our Homestead Arcana Game Pass interview.
What’s it about?
So, we play as Billie, a witch farmer who wants to save the land from the corruption of the Miasma, with the help of her cat familiar Huckleberry. Yang and Grossman tell us more: “In Homestead Arcana, the world as you know it is nigh uninhabitable. The last human towns are built on high peaks, where air is still clean, water still flows clear, and crops still grow without blight. The precise history of this world has been lost, but it is rumoured that long ago, great magical cities spanned the landscape, and that the witches who lived there, along with their familiars, could mould the environment almost at will. Your character, the farming witch, has been dispatched by her town as part of the Homestead Arcana program,” they explain. “This program sends witches of age to peaks across the high ranges, with the goal of establishing homesteads that can supply crops, goods, and potions back home. The mysterious Miasma is a force of nature and a transforming force, one that some say is possessed by an unknown intelligence with its own aims.”
Homestead Arcana cites a number of inspirations, and Yang and Grossman explain that the team wanted to combine its magical elements with real-world issues. “We at Serenity Forge are constantly inspired and empowered by the complex and nuanced duality of life. With Homestead Arcana, we looked towards the gorgeous worlds built in games like Shadow of the Colossus, but reimagined real-world issues upon it. We wanted to build a game that both captured the magic of fantasy and the dangers that we face today as a society. In the world of Homestead Arcana, the world is covered in toxic magic due to the errors of civilizations past. We were inspired by worlds such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Made in Abyss and send the player on a journey to discover the truth behind this calamity and come to terms with how they feel about it in the end.”
Any news on the Homestead Arcana achievements?
We don’t yet have the Homestead Arcana achievements, but Yang and Grossman told us more about the team’s design process for the game’s achievements. “Our first goal was to build a list of achievements that would reward players who peek at the edges of the game, and who do their best to master the mechanics,” they explain. “We also wanted to use the achievement list to highlight content that tends to be a bit more hidden, as an extrinsic method of encouraging players to experiment with less obvious mechanics. This is of course in addition to standard achievements for completing mainline quests. On the backend, we have a robust system in place for tracking resources, quests, and player stats, so actually implementing the achievements was a fairly simple matter of hooking into all of those existing underlying systems.”
It’s always interesting to hear what makes for an ideal achievement list in a developer’s opinion, so we asked for Yang and Grossman’s thoughts on this. “The ideal achievement list does a few key things,” they say. First, it should “encourage players to experiment with new playstyles. They should not only be about checking boxes but should lead to play experiences that players might not inherently try out.” Then, achievements should “reward mastery. Some achievements should be reserved for players who go above and beyond, especially with games featuring economies and collection mechanics.” Lastly, achievements “should encourage replayability, but not of a tedious nature. While some achievements for hidden content can be interesting, these can be a double-edged sword if players can easily pass ‘points of no return’ and miss out on their chance to get them. On the other hand, achievements for playing out certain paths, choices, or playstyles more organically promote replays in a way that brings something new to the game itself.”
What’s the Homestead Arcana gameplay like?
Nature and magic have an important relationship in Homestead Arcana. “Your spells and the magic of the world around you are all powered by the plant life,” Yang and Grossman say. “Both you and the world around you need plants to survive. You need to tend to your garden and manage your plants in order to power up your magic, and in turn, with greater powers, you can explore the world to discover secrets to unlock more abilities to tend to your garden.”
So what might a typical day in Homestead Arcana look like? “First, you wake up just before dawn. As the sun comes up, you may tend to your crops: you’ll cast a watering spell, channel a few from bud to fruit, and harvest anything that’s ready,” they explain. “You’ll also use this time to craft potions, structures, or artisanal foodstuffs, which are quite valuable. At this time, you’ll also have access to Porter, a travelling merchant and your only lifeline to town. Until 11am you can sell any crops, crafts, or potions, and buy valuable upgrades. Once Porter leaves, the sun will be high in the sky. At this point, it’s time to take what you’ve prepared and delve into the Miasma.” The Miasma is a dangerous thing, with ferocious creatures and hidden secrets. “There, you’ll discover new things, from exotic plants to caches of lost goods, and forge ahead to unlock new areas and advance the main quest,” they continue. “You’ll be able to continue only for a limited time, though, as you only have so much breathable air. Return to the entrance to the Miasma while you can still breathe, sleep to recover lost health, and start all over the next day. Ultimately, the game loop involves a combination of tending to your homestead and exploring the Miasma. When you’re at home tending your farms, you are planning, gearing up for your treacherous adventure. Once you step foot into the Miasma, you’re exploring, discovering new recipes, new crafts, new materials, but also you’re planning your trip back home and thinking about all your plants that are growing. In this sense, you’re always looking forward to the next thing ahead of you, slowly making progress in discovering what’s hidden in the crafting recipe, or the next layer of the Miasma.”
We won’t be alone in our endeavours, however, but will have our cat familiar Huckleberry to help us. “Huckleberry is a familiar that has been in your family for generations. He knows quite a bit about the world as well and is instrumental in helping you get set up as a farming witch. He seems reticent to let you enter the Miasma, but of course, that’s because he cares about your wellbeing. However, it may be that over the course of the game, you discover that he knows much more than he lets on…”
What’s the world like?
In the trailers and screenshots we’ve seen of Homestead Arcana so far, there looks to be a clear visible contrast in the safety of our own farm and the world corrupted by the Miasma. “Inside the Miasma, the air is suffused with colour, and wan sunlight peaks through the mist, making you feel almost like you’re deep underwater,” Yang and Grossman say. “It’s quiet there too, though the irregular flora and fauna compose their own, new soundscapes. In short, the Miasma-covered world is a fascinating place. It’s dangerous, but not because it’s evil — it’s simply that the landscape has been transformed, almost brought into a new form of nature — though it’s true that humans can’t live in the Miasma without protective gear.”
Another aspect of Homestead Arcana which has stood out from its trailers and screenshots is its distinctive art style. “The game’s art style is driven by three major stylistic components,” they begin. “The first is the vivid naturalism of WPA posters created for US national parks in the early 20th century. These posters foreground the majesty of American landscapes, and are a calling card for the underlying sense of Americana and high adventure we are seeking to capture with this game. The vivid print style of these posters directly influenced our approach to colour, lighting, and natural forms.” Then, there’s the “strange world of the Miasma. The inspiration for this is much more recent, drawing from films like Annihilation, as well as modern deep-sea footage, to paint the sense of a foreign and transforming realm that has a hidden life of its own.” Lastly, Homestead Arcana is “suffused with a balance of charm and atmospheric worldbuilding, from its characters and locations to its crops and props. This attitude, as well as some specific stylistic cues, were inspired by Hayao Miyazaki films — most notably, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. His movies flow between touching human moments, revelatory sights, and tense encounters, and they reflect this motion through their artistry, which is something we’ve aspired to capture as well.”
Out of all that Homestead Arcana has to offer, what are Yang and Grossman most excited for players to experience? “The world of Homestead Arcana is much more than it first appears, and we’re excited for players to undertake their own expeditions to dive into its mysteries. There’s so much going on beneath the surface. We covered this world with lore and backstory; that said, how much you’d like to ‘peel back the curtain’ would ultimately be entirely up to the player themselves.”
So, what do you think? Will you be jumping into Homestead Arcana to heal the land when it launches into Game Pass in April? Let us know in the comments!