Moonglow Bay has been growing a wave of anticipation since its announcement earlier in 2021, and the Xbox Game Pass title finally has a release date of October 7! As a result, we sat down with developer Bunnyhug about the upcoming fishing RPG.
Talking about its wholesome roots and the joys of Xbox Game Pass, we talked to Moonglow Bay's creative director Zach Soares and art director Lu Nascimento, who gave us a bunch of details on what to expect later this year.
Pure Xbox: Could you give us a quick introduction and your role on Moonglow Bay?
Zach: I’m Zach, and I’m the creative director on Moonglow Bay! I do all the voxel arts, and all the 3D art you see in the game is me. I also do game design.
Lu: I’m Lu, I’m the art director! We’re both co-founders of Bunnyhug. I do a lot of other stuff like UI, UX, everything 2D, marketing - loads of hats.
Pure Xbox: In a nutshell, what is Moonglow Bay and what can we expect from it?
Zach: Moonglow Bay is a slice-of-life fishing RPG set in Eastern Canada in the 1980s - but fictionalised. The premise is that your partner for many, many years is lost at sea and they’ve been deemed ‘deceased’ at sea, but you are set to look for them and fulfil the final wish you had together, which is to fill in a journal of all the fish in the sea nearby.
Lu: While you’re doing that, you’re also helping your community that is kind of falling apart, and the cities are about to go bankrupt.
Zach: So basically, everyone is afraid of going out to fish, because everyone has passed at sea, so this is the final straw where you can do this. As you grow, as you become braver, the town also becomes braver with the ocean and stuff like that.
Pure Xbox: What were the inspirations behind Moonglow Bay? One of the main draws of the game is fishing, so what was the idea behind having that as the main focus?
Zach: Personally, I adore a good fishing mini-game, and I’ve always wanted one to be a full-fledged RPG. Legend of the River King was the closest thing I can remember.
Lu: I remember playing it on the Game Boy Color, and we haven’t seen a Legend of the River King in years.
Zach: I think the last one was on the Nintendo DS, and even then it became very mini-game focused which was a shame for me. I kind of wanted that 'RPGness' again, so on a mechanical level that’s the pursuit of the game. But then on a tone and atmosphere level, we were kind of aiming towards Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. We kind of wanted the town to feel like this wholesome, caring place with people who have gone through a lot and you have gone through a lot as well, so you all relate to this kind of struggle, and you grow together, and you all become best friends essentially.
Pure Xbox: Moonglow Bay has a very distinct art style, reminiscent of games such as The Touryst. Can you tell us more about the choices behind the art style you chose?
Lu: So Zach has always done voxel art. We used to do fake game mock-ups together before we started.
Zach: Yeah, so we both originally freelanced in our own artistic styles and when this opportunity came, we were already making our own mocks to figure out we were eventually going to make a game together, that’s going to be the goal. So we made a bunch of fake games(!), and this was cool, our styles work. Lu does the concept art, I interpret her concept art into voxels, and we just kept going.
Lu: The art direction of the game itself is trying to make you feel like you’re scrolling through your family’s photo album that nobody touches but you’re always curious about it. It has that warmth, but distant feeling.
Zach: I’ve been doing voxel art for almost ten years and I love it, but it can also be really crunchy as a look, which is counter to the wholesome, cute aesthetic. The goal with the voxel art was to find this squishy soft feeling so that the game world will also feel very soft as you play in it - even though it’s with cubes.
Pure Xbox: Going on from that, was the idea of a ‘wholesome game’ something you developed in the beginning or did that come down the line?
Lu: I think it came naturally from both of us, because especially me, I was tired of working freelance and always doing violent games. I’m not a violent person. I love to play very wholesome games. I’ve always been a big fan of Cooking Mama, Harvest Moon, and stuff like that.
Zach: For me, initially one of the takes of the game was a lot darker when we were mocking up and doing pre-production, but it didn’t really fit. It was one of those things that as soon as you put in the violence, you can’t get into a lot more difficult questions to ask that are not worth answering because there’s no good answer essentially.
Lu: We both wanted a game for if your day has been awful and stressful you can just go to it and lose your mind to it, instead of adding more stress to your day.
Zach: Very much from the get-go, we wanted this relaxing space, and when you do relax your kind of inherently get into wholesome because it’s welcoming, it’s refreshing, and it means that in any circumstance that you feel you’re in you can get into that game and enjoy it.
Pure Xbox: Outside of fishing, what else can players expect to do in Moonglow Bay?
Zach: The town has a two-prong growth to it. One of them is in the townsfolk themselves, there are 12 NPCs you can befriend.
Lu: You get to know their stories much more closely.
Zach: Yeah, and you have a bunch of other side stories. You get to learn about spare NPCs on the side that you can converse with, figure out how they get into Moonglow Bay, and what are the things they are dealing with right now. Also, the town has a progression system laid out as a beautification process. It starts out as very beat up, trash everywhere, and then you can help build that up to be nicer buildings, cleaner spaces, better foliage, and more.
Lu: Essentially those two are community-building gameplay, and then there’s also an aquarium where you can research more about the fish.
Zach: All your fishing plays into that. We give you more fishing mechanics to play with, it’s not just a regular rod. You end up getting nets and stuff like that, so these are all things you can do on the side, such as clean up trash that’s at sea.
Lu: If you want, you can just sell or make a donation to the aquarium, or you can go into the cooking mini-games that we have and develop that way.
Zach: We have a whole mastery system with the cooking. It’s not just to make one recipe and that’s it, you can master a recipe and then it will lead to a new one that branches from it.
Lu: Other than that, there’s also the legendary monsters of Moonglow Bay, which you don’t really catch but you help them. It’s a different mechanic altogether.
Pure Xbox: You spoke about the townspeople there. Did you ever infuse any real-world experiences into the game through the setting or its characters?
Zach: The story itself is inspired by a friend of the family, who at the age of 50 lost his lifelong partner that he had since he was 15. He didn’t feel he was in a place anymore where he could date. He wanted to be more in touch with the community around him that he lived all of his life with, but never really got involved in. So that story already comes from someplace I know.
A few characters are inspired by real people we know as well. A lot of the NPCs' backstories relate to existing things that have happened. For example, one of the townsfolk is a nurse. She’s Philippina, and you may wonder “how does a Filipino woman end up in Eastern Canada in the 80s?” It actually relates back to the immigration of nurses to Alaska from the Philippines. The US did a whole thing there, so we did a branch after that where when their stint was done, they moved to Canada which was right next door.
All of the characters have a reason for being there and you will learn their stories.
Pure Xbox: Another big feature for Moonglow Bay is the local co-op. Can you tell us more about what experiences players will find here and if there’s anything unique?
Zach: Local co-op is pretty straightforward. Basically, it’s a clone of the single-player in its functionality, so everything player one does, player two can do as well. On top of that, we have an assist mechanic, which plays into it. You can count it as co-op is a difficulty slider within itself where a player can come in and help, and when you’re fishing, player two can grab onto the player one who is fishing and help pull the fish, adding more power.
You can also do the inverse and drive the boat while someone is fishing to make their life harder.
Pure Xbox: With the game joining Xbox Game Pass, was this something you planned from the offset or was it later in the game’s development?
Lu: It was at GDC 2018. Our publisher Coatsink was taking us to meetings and talking about the game as we took a tiny slice of it. We spoke to some publishers and Microsoft was the most keen.
Zach: Coatsink also had other projects to show, as every publisher does. Since ours was so early, a lot of people were just saying “come to us when it’s done”, but Microsoft was like “this is interesting, we like it, just keep updating us”. They constantly asked in emails and stuff going forward
Pure Xbox: Since you’ll most likely find players jumping into Moonglow Bay via Xbox Game Pass than before, is there anything, in particular, you’re hoping they get from the game or maybe surprised by?
Zach: I think players are going to be surprised by the depth that exists in Moonglow Bay. It’s not just a straightforward fishing mechanic. It grows with the player.
Lu: They’ll be most surprised by the size of the world because for now, we’ve only shown a tiny little bit.
Zach: Yeah, we’ve shown the town and we’ve shown a little bit outside the bay. I’m not going to give an exact percentage, but it’s a fraction of the whole wide world you can explore.
Lu: And it gets weirder and weirder as you explore it. We’re hoping people are going to notice that and appreciate it.
Pure Xbox: Can we expect any Xbox Series X|S enhancements? And did you find any challenges working across three different consoles?
Zach: Due to the game’s style, it was pretty lightweight in terms of the amount of optimisation you’d have to do. It works on all of them. The features that I personally like, involve things such as being able to save across console generations.
Lu: And it hasn’t had many challenges on the porting. Even though from the beginning we didn’t know it was going to be Xbox specifically, we were already designing everything around all different consoles and PCs. We were pretty ready to get it across all consoles.
Pure Xbox: How have you found working with Xbox to get the game onto Game Pass? Has it been an encouraging experience for future opportunities, maybe?
Lu: It’s been so chill. Genuinely, it’s been so chill.
Zach: The day you make ‘the deal’, you’re afraid of that point on you’re going to have no control. Well, not no control, but things are going to come in to make development harder, because they load you with features.
They basically said, “here’s a list of things you can do, you don’t have to do them”.
Lu: They told us we could have help with marketing, they told us when they could do it otherwise we’d have to think of someone else.
Zach: They come to us when they have their own marketing events planned. Our publisher organises it with them, but they’ve been so straightforward that you forget that they’re there.
Lu: I’m always going to be happy working with them again.
Pure Xbox: Any final words for our Pure Xbox community ahead of Moonglow Bay’s launch on Xbox?
Zach: I hope you have fun with the achievements, personally. We were quirky with the achievements. You can consider them recipes in themselves, where the description for some will make you think “what does this mean exactly?”
I just hope you have fun exploring the game, trying to find out everything.
Lu: Yeah, finding all the secrets and helping the community grow.
We'd like to thank Zach and Lu for taking the time to talk to us. Be sure to check out Moonglow Bay when it hits Xbox Game Pass on day one this October!