Moonglow Bay is a relaxing, slice-of-life fishing RPG due to release on Xbox consoles and PC in just a couple of week’s time. Ahead of the game’s official release on Oct. 26, I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with creative director Zach Soares and art director Lu Nascimento to get a better idea of what players can expect from life in Moonglow Bay, and the depths of the deep blue sea off this coastal town.
In the interview, we cover their inspirations within the slice-of-life sim genre, an initially ‘darker take’ for Moonglow Bay, how relationships work with the characters, working with Microsoft, and making the decision to launch on Xbox Game Pass, as well as achievements and much more.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank both Zach and Lu once more for taking the time out of their busy schedules to share so much about the creative process behind Moonglow Bay, in what was a truly fascinating conversation. You can read it in full below.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Twinfinite: So first off, I just wanted to say, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules to sit down and talk with us today about Moonglow Bay. I, and the rest of the team have been waiting with, pardon the pun, bated breath to check it out for ourselves next month. So to start us off, could you just give us a quick introduction of who you are and what your roles are within the development of Moonglow Bay.
Zach: Yes, I’m Zach. I’m the Creative Director, that’s my primary role but I also do all the voxel art for the game.
Lu: I’m Lu, I’m the Art Director and do everything to do with the effects, the UI, everything. And thank you for having us.
Twinfinite: No problem. So, what were your inspiration within the slice-of-life sim genre for Moonglow Bay?
Zach: One of the first major ones was Harvest Moon.
Lu: And Legend of the River King as well.
Lu: And then, I think it was Animal Crossing. Not the newest one because it was not out when we started making the game. It was New Leaf.
Zach: Yeah, just the dynamic that occurs in that game, interacting with the people that live there, that kind of stuff.
Lu: Like the whole becoming friends with the villagers.
Zach: Yeah, becoming friends with them, learning about them a little bit more and that’s basically what drove the friendship system in our game.
Lu: And there was also a lot of manga and anime.
Zach: Oddly enough, yeah. I read a lot of manga but the one that stuck out most was Toriko. We didn’t take inspiration from the entirety of the manga, but just the initial premise of people who just punt weird creatures and cook and stuff with it.
Lu: There’s loads of slice-of-life manga and anime that exists out there too that inspired us.
Zach: Silver Spoon, is another manga and anime that’s really good. But yeah, those are the basics things that kind of inspired us for it. Aesthetically, our inspirations are a little different. It was more along the lines of the ‘Ghibli palette’.
Lu: Especially Ponyo.
Zach: Yeah, Ponyo had a lot of that because of the fish and stuff like that. Like the way they emphasize the wildlife at sea is really nice and we wanted to play with that idea. And anything else aesthetically, like polaroids and being able to flip through an album. That’s a really interesting one. Flipping through an album and seeing the past and stuff like that kind of inspired how the UI went, which is an interesting take, and also the voxels kind of dictated the squareness of the interface.
Twinfinite: So the reception to Moonglow Bay has been really positive. I think quite a lot of people are very excited about it. Has this put more pressure on the team or is it kind of encouraging you all to really push through those final months up until launch?
Zach: At least for me, it’s a bit of both. Definitely the pressure’s on to make sure people are really pleased with it when they’re playing. We’ve played it and people have tested it and played it a bunch and everyone seems to enjoy the game, so we’re like “alright this is good, good.” But there’s always that expectation that people build internally while they’re looking at it from the outside, and I’m like “oh please, oh please.” *laughs*
Lu: For me, it keeps me motivated because in my head I’m always keeping my expectations really low, so if anything goes wrong, at least I’m not going to end up disappointed myself, so when I see people actually like the game I’m like, “Oh ok, yeah this is really nice.”
Zach: Yeah, at least for Lu and I, we’re a team that really beat ourselves up. *laughs*
Lu: I feel like for the others in the team, it has been very motivational, especially because they couldn’t say anything about the game.
Zach: Yeah, and they all worked on games previously, where they haven’t really been able to speak about them. Either because they’re working on a AAA, or they worked on indie games that had already came out, so they were kind of just there as an assist. There’s not that same excitement of “we worked on something secretly, and then we’ve announced it.” The announcement definitely made all of us really pumped to finally talk about it. For me definitely, my productivity just before we announced was so low, and as soon as we announced, all of the reception kind of just boosted me up, like “We need to impress, we need to do well!”
Twinfinite: So I just want to quickly talk about the actual fishing mechanic for a moment. I noticed in the gameplay trailer, the float kind of bobs around a few times before it disappears under the water completely. Then the music picks up as you wrestle with the fish. Will players need to complete a Quick-Time Event (QTE) to successfully catch a fish, or is this more or less like a cutscene similar to Animal Crossing?
Zach: It depends on the layers. So there’s three layers to fishing itself. The initial being, if you’re just fishing in open water, and you get like a tier-one fish. So, smaller fish. Typically, it’s going to be closer to Animal Crossing where it’s just an immediate reaction and you just start pulling.
Lu: Yeah, but it’s not exactly like Animal Crossing where it catches it immediately. You actually need to be pulling against the direction that the fish is pulling.
Zach: But the tier one fish, because of their size and the fact we determined them tier one, they’re much easier to catch. So you can expect your encounter time to be something like a few seconds.
Then you’ve got the tier two and tier three fish. Tier three fish being like shark-sized creatures, like really big fish. One of them is the Sailfish. That’s a tier-three fish and that will have a QTE instance, where the fish jumps out to do their boost, which is their way to try to escape and break the line, and you will have a window. So we tutorialize this initially, we tell you ‘this is the window in which you have to react,’ and then later on you’re expected to study that window when you’re fighting the fish. Then within that time, you have to pull and react in the correct direction and then you can stun it, start pulling it in and you can resume your encounter, but it’s that kind of stuff. Like, we add a little bit more to the tiers, so that the encounter feels like there’s a reward balanced to the size of the fish.
And the monsters of Moonglow don’t make use of that exact mechanic. They take on the fishing mechanics and put a little bit of a twist to it.
Lu: You’re not catching them really.
Zach: No, so yeah, that’s one of the big things about the monsters in Moonglow. It’s not about catching them, it’s about figuring out what exactly is wrong with them and helping them in their scenarios. Like the very first one, you’ll see it’s struggling and in pain, and you’ve got to help it out by relieving that pain with your rod, and you kind of figure it’s pretty obvious when you see it.
Twinfinite: That’s awesome. I love the fact that players can kind of clean up trash out at sea, especially given where we are currently as a civilization with pollution and climate change being such key issues. Are players rewarded in-game for doing such a good deed and how deep is that mechanic?
Zach: So the player will be rewarded, yes. You’ll be getting more of the in-game currency as you collect more trash around the sea, but it also has an added bonus where the more trash you pull in — there’s a limited amount of trash throughout the whole of the ocean — the less likely you are now to be catching trash when you’re trying to fish. So you’re kind of incentivized to do this because if you don’t ever touch it, you’re gonna have like a 25% chance of catching trash and it’s like, “Oh that’s really annoying.”
Lu: And there’s a storyline that’s also related to ocean cleaning as well.
Zach: Yeah there’s a few quests here and there that highlight that and indicate like, “Hey you gotta clean up. It’s not good.” And there’s a larger arc that associates directly to the trash that has accumulated at sea.
Twinfinite: So you mentioned there was a Side Story to do with trash there. How many of these side stories are there outside of the ‘core story’?
Zach: So there’s about five total chapters, but these aren’t indicated in the game outside of being on the ‘save file’ screen. Within each of these, there are two side quests that relate to just the people in town and a new story that relates to them. So there’s 10 side quests, but then you’ve got a bulletin board with repeatable side quests that just accumulate and evolve throughout the game as you get more fish and expand the town.
Lu: The quests also relate to becoming friends with people in town as well.
Zach: So the friend quests are a little bit of an extension which there’s a total of about 12. So there’s a fair amount of like side questing, but we try to give value to each of them. The repeatable ones are simply there to give you quick money if you’re stuck, and all the side quests give you a reward at the end. It’s quite rewarding as it’ll contribute towards the late-game progression, like with your shop.
Twinfinite: In an interview with Pure Xbox you did recently, Zach you mentioned one of your initial takes for Moonglow Bay was a lot darker. It really interested me when you said this, so are you able to share any further details on what that darker Moonglow Bay would have looked like?
Zach: Oh man. *laughs* I’m not able to go too deep into it but, for example, one of the initial ideas was building around the whole fishing encounter itself, and it was darker in that it was very much more of a fight with the fish and this included the monsters. I think one of the inspirations at that point was Monster Hunter. But this is where it was interesting because it actually worked against the story of the game.
When the story was a lot more wholesome, we were just like, “it’ll feel really unhinged if you’re like going through like ‘this town is so nice and friendly’ and you’re just destroying this last form of wildlife in the oceans.” So we kind of decided, let’s stick with preservation.
Lu: From the get-go, we were like “Maybe, maybe that’s not the way to go but let’s give it a try?”
Zach: Yeah, so we kind of found a happy middle with the encounter itself. So, that’s why with the monsters, it’s not directly just fishing. There’s almost more of a puzzle-like aspect to the existing mechanic. Their mechanics are more about helping out and figuring out the mechanical puzzle that’s there. So we kind of toned it down. *laughs*
Twinfinite: So Moonglow Bay has a town to explore as we’ve seen in the gameplay trailer. Can you tell us a little bit more about what players can expect to find around town and how relationships will work with the locals?
Lu: So you have NPCs that have their own routines and you can talk to and become friends with them. You have different shops as well, and I think the big thing is that when you start out in the game, everything looks like it’s trash, literally trash in the street. Everything’s falling apart. There’s not many plants and as you get to know the people in town and as you progress in the game, you get to monetarily help the town to recover those areas. So we have an aquarium that’s completely empty because nobody wants to fish, we have a scrap shop that you can get accessories for your boat from.
Zach: And there’s a tech shop and all-in-all the whole progression around the town itself is that its dilapidated and people are slowly leaving. That was kind of like the setup and then your gains go towards contributions that help build the town up, like restoring houses, making sure streets aren’t broken anymore, building a park that didn’t exist before, and stuff like that. That specifically goes in line with the town’s storyline, so you have your personal one and then there’s the town storyline.
Twinfinite: In the official gameplay trailer, we also saw the players have a choice to pick a partner, whose final wish it was for you to start the fishing business once more and kind of help revitalize Moonglow Bay. Outside of that initial romantic choice, will players have the option to romance a new partner in town?
Lu: No, it’s inspired by a story that happened in Zach’s life.
Zach: Which was my father’s best friend, who was like a second father to me. He lost his wife when he was in mid-life basically at the age of 50. And it was really interesting to see how his immediate response wasn’t the fact of like, “Hey I need to find a new life partner.” It was more a case of “I’ve been with this person since I was 15” and he didn’t really have any involvement with people around town. She was his attachment to the community, which is exactly how it is in our game where your partner was your attachment to the community.
Lu: And now that that’s gone, you’re kind of isolated and you’re trying to be like “Well let’s maybe meet this community.”
Zach: Yeah and to stop being so afraid to let your emotions out, so because the story follows your grief, it’s really hard to validate the shoo-in of a mechanic like romance because it invalidates the story itself. So that’s why we left it to the friendship and building on those friendships, so hopefully people feel just as satisfied with that.
Twinfinite: So in terms of these friendships, once you’ve developed them to a maximum point, is there some kind of physical item or reward that players will be given?
Zach: So of all those friendships, Lu’s made beautiful drawings of the mementos that they give you to symbolize the friendship that they’ve built with you. These are all logged in your journal, almost like the signatures that you would get in Night in the Woods in your journal.
Lu: Yeah, so they are going to leave you little notes saying something about the relationship, or they’re going to give you a little item that is important and matters to them. There’s one from two little kids actually, and they are daughter and son to one of your friends and their reward is like a sticker of the local hockey team and a seagull feather because she found this feather on the beach and wants to give it to you.
Zach: So yeah those are your little rewards, but those are the more emotional rewards and you get some small, like other rewards, too.
Twinfinite: I love how sentimental those personal rewards are. So I wanted to move on to the aquarium and continue this conversation of rewards. In the gameplay trailer, we see that you can donate fish and track your progress and you’ll also be rewarded for your catches. Are these kind of items things that are going to help us catch more fish, or catch fish from different areas around Moonglow Bay?
Zach: Yeah, so there’s not just regular fishing. You’re going to have trap fishing, net fishing, and ice fishing as well. All of these are conducive to catching different fish. Certain fish can only be caught through ice fishing because of their location and what they need to begin with.
Others will only be catchable with nets, primarily crustaceans. So, there’s going to be schools of fish you see swimming around. You’re going to see pockets of fish, kind of just sitting resting there and you’ll need to use all of your tools to catch them.
Lu: But besides that, the aquarium also helps you find out what the truth is about the fish, because there’s so many rumors around the town like fisherman stories of these.
Zach: So you’re going to learn one of those — one of my favorite side quests. It’s basically, there’s a set of about 40 myths that you can be told about by NPCs around town and you are basically going to be given information, but not all of it’s going to be true, and you kind of have to go like “Well, okay, you’ve given me this rough location, so I guess I’ll go and find where that is.” And then when you do catch it and bring it to the aquarium, the marine biologist is going to be like “This is the actual species of fish? Why would they come up with that? That’s such a weird myth!”
So those side quests, there’s ways to find all of these fish in the ocean. Some of them it’s going to be through trial and error with the mix of your rod and lures — these are varied as well. So you’ve got three types of rod and three types of lures and those are basically a mix-and-match to determine what fish you can catch with each combination. If you put on an aggressive lure, like the Jiggler that is more for aggressive fish, and you tie that to a weight rod, then you’re probably gonna get a fish that’s more leaning towards weight, but has a level of aggression to it. And if you double-stack then it’s probably going to make it easier for you to catch aggressive fish because you’re perfectly equipped for it.
But if you accidentally snag a fish that isn’t aggressive, it’s gonna be a little bit of a harder catch, so there’s that balancing act of figuring out exactly what rods kind of fit with you because they each have their own little tendencies for the actual encounter.
Twinfinite: Moonglow Bay’s releasing on Game Pass on day one. I wanted to ask about your decision to go with Xbox Game Pass as a platform. How did that relationship with Microsoft come about, and what did you consider the ‘pros and cons’ of going with them, as opposed to trying to sell individual copies across multiple platforms?
Zach: That relationship has been around for a long time.
Lu: Yeah, they saw Moonglow Bay ages ago in its early stage. It’s the worst state possible, you wouldn’t think anyone would be interested at that stage.
Zach: They saw a three-month build of the game basically, which we were very apprehensive to show. But they were really interested. They actually liked it, it was just the initial fishing mechanic and that was it. From then on, they knew it was early, but they must have had plans for Game Pass or something, because this is before Game Pass was announced, and they were like “Hey, keep talking to us.” Well, of course, Coatsink had organized to meet up with them and we showed it through them and then over the years we’ve basically just kept updating them a little bit at a time, like “Hey, we’re still working on this game, we haven’t shelved it or anything.”
Then when the game came to a state that was more presentable, we had a solid 15-30 minutes of the game to show and we presented it to them and they said, “yeah this is good, we can do this with Game Pass.” And so we worked out a Game Pass deal and what was interesting was the fact that like, you would think, “Oh, yeah, we’re putting our game for free on the platform, not going to get much” but no it wasn’t like that.
Lu: It was kind of a case of Microsoft helps with part of the development costs, which is huge for a new studio, especially if we have plans in the long run of making more games. Like being able to pay off part of our debt, and also being able to have the hope that you’re going to be able to continue making games after this.
Zach: But it’s also the fact that they basically say like, “even though it’s on Game Pass, it’s also going to be on the Xbox Store.” It’s not just locked there, and there’s no way you can get it off there. If you look on the Game Pass interface, you can still buy the game directly from the Game Pass library at full price. They’re not trying to hide the ability to buy so that was also comforting. I was like “okay cool, so hopefully people are compelled enough to purchase directly.”
Lu: For me, the con of it is like when we say “oh we’re releasing on Xbox and PC” and then we get comments like “but what about Switch? Do Switch, or do PS4, or mobile or tablet.” Like one step at a time, please!
Zach: Because it’s a lot of work. Just releasing on one console. Like the certification process is… it’s difficult *laughs*. All developers who do all consoles on launch have my sympathies because my God, that’s a lot of work.
Twinfinite: Keeping it related to Xbox at the moment. Zach, I know in the past you’ve said you’re pretty proud of some of the achievements in there. I’m a big achievement hunter myself, so I’m very excited to start digging into those. Are you able to share with us any details of those just yet? Maybe your favorite one that you think players will really enjoy trying to figure out how to unlock?
Zach: Oh I’m a big fan of the names and the descriptions we have for them. My favorites ones are… it’s a set really. We have a set of achievements that relates to a combination of the rod, lure, and fish, and also the combination of specific fish, like a trio of fish.
Lu: So the title is going to give you a hint, but you’re going to be like “is this really where you’re supposed to fish?”
Zach: I’m trying to remember them as I wrote them a while back, but…
Lu: I remember that one is related to zoo animals; it has something to do with the big five African animals in it? No, no it’s not the big five.
Zach: No, no, it’s a Zebra, Lion, and something else.. oh a Camel. It’s a Zebra, Lion, and a Camel and you’re like, “What does that have to do with fish?” But it is a hint to exactly which three fish to catch to get that achievement. So it’s like we have a few of those as well. One of them is about making a salad of some kind and you’re like “excuse me?” and it’s not related to the cooking, it’s related to the fishing. *laughs* So, it’s one of those things of like “huh? What did they mean exactly?” And it’s like a dialog between us and the players which is always fun.
Twinfinite: While we’re on the topic of the cooking mechanic from Moonglow Bay’s gameplay trailer, there appears to be an extensive amount of recipes you can cook and unlock. Can you tell us a little more about the progression on the cooking side of things?
Zach: Yeah, there’s various ways to unlock recipes. Some of them are just purchasing, others are from quests that you’re going to be doing, but the primary means of unlocking recipes is by Mastery. So there’s three masteries — one, two, three — and on the third one, is when you’ve cooked a meal perfectly, so you’ve gotten three stars on a meal x amount of times, then you unlock its next progression in its chain. So in total, it’s over 55, I definitely know that.
I think it’s anywhere between 55 and 65. I can’t remember exactly anywhere between that, and all those recipes, yeah basically it’s like a tree of recipes. You start off with a base of five, and they then expand from there.
Lu: Yeah and they look fancier and fancier, and sell for much more.
Zach: It’s one of those things of, would someone in their house cook such a fancy meal, like Michelin-grade meals because you do have ‘Angels on Horseback’ as one of the recipes and you’re like “excuse me? That’s a really high-level oyster!” But yeah you can make it. So you do have that progression which is nice.
It’s one of my favorite things. I just love the progression in Mastery, and when you do master a meal, you don’t have to re-cook it in full anymore. There’s like an auto-cook that lets you cook it that one time. It doesn’t contribute to any further Mastery, but it’s like, if you just want to get through and get some meals done, then you can do that.
Lu: Yeah, my only note is that I got really hungry while drawing them. *laughs*
Zach: Oh yeah, absolutely. Drooled over all the illustrations for the meals and we have like a Pinterest board of all the meals which made us really hungry. But yeah, the Mastery is really fun because it does make the recipes easier and they do get more complex as you go. So what’s normally three stages, like you just have to chop, wash, fry, will become like chop 15 times, mince and wash it, fry it, oven, fry. Why? I don’t know! We’re trying to trip you up here.
Twinfinite: That’s brilliant. So regarding the main story. How long do you expect players to beat that? And then once they finish that main story arc, can they keep playing after that?
Lu: Yeah you can keep playing for sure.
Zach: So you can keep playing to try to get a completionist rating.
Lu: Or you can just keep playing for as long as you want.
Zach: There’s nothing blocking you after the story’s been complete, so we like that personally. Main story gunning through it, based on what the QA team has managed is somewhere around 10 hours.
Lu: Without counting any side quests.
Zach: Yeah without counting any side quests, without catching all the fish or doing all the recipes. So even if you’re just gunning through it’s still a decent chunk of time.
Twinfinite: Just to round things out now, a very important question. Can you pet the dog?
Zach & Lu: Yes!
Zach: First thing we implemented! *laughs*
Twinfinite: That is excellent news! Lu and Zach, thank you so much for taking the time of your day to talk to me about Moonglow Bay. I can’t wait to get hands-on with the game.
Zach & Lu: Thank you so much.
Zach: That makes me super happy to hear that, but also super nervous! Thank you.
Moonglow Bay comes to Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on Oct. 26 and will also be available via Xbox Game Pass.