I'm still struggling to grow a respectable pumpkin in my Stardew Valley farm, and now it seems I'll have more obstacles to contend with, as I've been diverted by Stardew publisher Chucklefish. Last week they released three (3) new screenshots for Witchbrook, their upcoming life sim set in and around a magic school. It has been described by many, not unreasonably, as "Harry Potter meets Stardew Valley".
This is exciting to me. I like games like this, and am also a HP fan (Hufflepuff; unofficial merch only). Witchbrook doesn't have a release date yet, as Chucklefish are operating on an it's-done-when-it's-done-and-no-crunch policy, but the new screenshots show off a very detailed, very beautiful world. And having no set release date means they have plenty of time to put in all the features that I, their number one customer, insist upon! Which I will now list for you here.
Commitment to the school setting
I'm the sort of person who really benefits from structure in their day. I'm having to be really strict with myself currently, making sure I have a shower as soon as I get up and before I start work, because otherwise the option is there to just not have a shower or get dressed all day. And for me, that's a very slippery slope.
Point is, I can't think of any game I've played that's either wholly or partially set in a school that has the actual structure a school day provides. Even the actual Harry Potter games - which, as we all know, are and were excellent - only gestured in the most cursory way at the idea of a timetable of lessons.
I welcome the official Witchbrook website noting that attending classes and completing assignments will feature, as well as having both a best friend and a rival. But if they're going to set this in a school, I want some mandatory lessons, detention for not doing your homework, and probably some sort of punishing exam system as well. Also, I want the extracurricular activities to be as cliquey as they are in real life. If I join the drama club, I expect to be ostracised by the netball team.
(School houses are a bonus, of course. And as an aside, they're not only features of punishingly posh boarding schools. In primary school I was in Raleigh, out of Cook, Scott, Raleigh and Drake. Secondary school I was in Avon, from Avon, Kennet, Silbury and Martinsell. The latter were named after local geographical landmarks, which at least made for a less colonial naming scheme than the former).
I will not explain this one further. It should be obvious that if this game does not have some kind of functional broomstick it is a 0/10. I will institute scores on RPS for the first time, specifically to punish this game if it does not have flying broomsticks.
New and imaginative activities
Slice o' life sims like Stardew Valley are great, but I'm starting to feel a kind of grinding inevitability whenever I see a new one crop up. You already know you're going to be farming stuff, and there'll be a dungeon full of monsters to optionally crawl. Yawnarama, am I right? But different settings offer a lot of scope that these games don't always take advantage of.
It's why I really enjoy Graveyard Keeper. In that, you are a grotty little weirdo living adjacent to a graveyard and maintaining it. You farm dead bodies, amongst other things, and make sandwiches out of them. Unique! Interesting! A good way to get sick! You do also farm vegetables, but only to add other ingredients to your human-meat sandwiches, and to give carrots to the donkey that pulls the body cart (because it has unionised with itself and demands vegetable payment. Play Graveyard Keeper.).
So I expect that I will be farming in Witchbrook. But I want to be farming things like frogspawn, lizard tails, and possibly even weirder things for spells, like "joy" or "the smell you get after rain". Let's really play with the concept in front of us here!
A variety of pet choices
I'm making an assumption, but what I think is a fair one, that we'll be allowed to have pets in Witchbrook. After all, if this really is Harry Potter meets Stardew Valley, then it's a blend of two things where pets feature heavily. If that is presumably the case, then now is an ideal time to expand our thinking on what constitutes a good and useful animal companion.
For too long we have laboured under the yoke of being told that the only pets worth having fall into two categories: dog and cat. [slams fist arrhythmically on table] No more! Witches have always known that the animal kingdom has a real breadth of useful and interesting pets, many of which can be made into familiars*. A black cat is only the least imaginative option out there. Sure, a reptile isn't as cuddly, but reptiles do loads of cool stuff that dogs can't. Dogs don't have rocket propelled tongues, do they? No they do not. Give me frogs and toads! Give me corvids! Tarantulas! Insects! Snakes! Give me a pet goat, you cowards!
*[Sorry, Nate here editing the piece: I can't resist noting my favourite witch's familiar, from a C16th pamphlet warning of the dangers of witches, which claimed a woman had been visited by "a thynge lyke a blacke dogge with a face like an ape". Classic.]
Varied and magical romances
Chucklefish have already confirmed that you can get your digital smooch on in Witchbrook - and, by way of a rainbow emoji, that same sex relationships will be an option. But, much as with pets, a supernatural or magical world really opens the (bedroom, ho ho) door to a wealth of options. It is entirely feasible that a witch could have:
- A doomed romance with a ghost
- A doomed romance with an elemental spirit
- A doomed romance with a mermaid
- A doomed romance with a lizard person
- A doomed romance with a demon
I would especially like to draw your attention to the last option, since traditionally witches were accused of fucking the actual devil. So if you can't do that in Witchbrook, it is ahistorical and inaccurate. I will not be taking more questions at this time, thank you.