Stardew Valley 1.6 kicked up a mad dash for modders, but they were in good hands

Stardew Valley 1.6 kicked up a mad dash for modders, but they were in good hands

Hold on to your parsnips, because an apocalypse has struck the pastoral lands of Stardew Valley.

No, it wasn’t a game-breaking bug or new content. Rather, the highly anticipated Stardew Valley 1.6 update introduced changes that overhauled the back end and rendered several of its most popular mods completely useless. While mod compatibility might not be at the top of mind for every fan, it’s paramount in the larger Stardew Valley community, where a single mod might have more than 10 million downloads. Now, the 1.6 update has kicked off a frenzied scramble among its enthusiast creators to fix their content and mitigate the effects of what people in the community are calling the “modpocalypse.”

But it’s not all bad news. Update 1.6 might be one of the biggest turning points for modding in the game’s history and will make it easier to add new content, like characters and music. Previously, certain changes required technical programming knowledge, but thanks to improvements made in 1.6, it’s easier than ever to create mods. Polygon spoke with creators behind some of the biggest mods, and while they mentioned the challenges that came with all the current dysfunctional mods, in the opinion of Stardew Valley Expanded creator turned Stardew Valley developer Devin Hedegaard, the changes will “make the modding community stronger than ever before.”

According to Hedegaard, better known as FlashShifter, the game was developed in a way where you “would need to be a programmer“ to edit and add things behind the scenes. Content Patcher, a popular program for modders, made it much easier to add content, but there were limitations on what you could use it for. Now, modders can use it to edit and add even more elements to the game, like animals and music, that you couldn’t before. “With Content Patcher, you don’t need to be a programmer, you just need to be able to read data and think logically. And you can add things very easily now. […] It was easy before, but now it’s even easier,” Hedegaard said via Discord voice chat.

Developer Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone first released Stardew Valley in 2016, and it’s sold over 30 million copies to date. That lasting popularity can, in large part, be explained by Barone’s continual updates, but also by the passionate community of modders who continue to create new content and expand the world of the game. Players can explore new regions, meet fan-made characters, or alter the art direction thanks to these mods. According to a representative from Nexus Mods, there have been over 336 million downloads across roughly 15,300 Stardew Valley mods over the past eight years, making it the fifth-largest game community on the site.

Rather than policing modders with the likes of DMCA takedowns, Barone has worked tirelessly to foster collaboration. Prior to release, he described the 1.6 patch as a “modding-focused” update and even released an alpha version that showed off the code before its official release. Additionally, Barone hired the creator of SMAPI, the most popular software used to load Stardew Valley mods, to work on update 1.6 and make the game more modder-friendly.

The creator of SMAPI and Content Patcher goes by Pathoschild, and every person Polygon spoke to mentioned the key role he played and how he served as a consistent line of communication between Barone and Stardew’s community. LemurKat, a creator behind the popular East Scarp mod, told Polygon via Discord that Pathoschild “kept up amazing documentation on the aspects that were being opened for us to work with.”

DestyNova, another active modder in the East Scarp community, echoed those sentiments. “[Pathoschild and Barone] collaborated to make sure that modders like myself had every tool that you could possibly think of up until the last second,” DestyNova said via Discord voice chat. “And Pathoschild pretty much accommodated changes as best he could, like up until [two nights prior to release].”

In addition to structural changes in the code, the new update also brought new assets for modders to work with. DestyNova previously created a mod that added a nonbinary NPC to Stardew Valley, and now they’ll have more things to work with.

“It’s like having your art palette expanded. Not every modder is going to also be an artist, so every time there’s an update from the game, there’s more assets people can use. There’s more content people can work with,” DestyNova said.

However, with big changes come major growing pains. Pathoschild maintains a database where players can check to see if mods work with 1.6, and just a quick look shows dozens of now-defunct mods, which has led to a ton of work for modders. Hedegaard described a grueling schedule in the days after the update’s release. “I sleep as much as I can, and then I kind of just get up and just work all day. Like, definitely over 12 hours a day minimum,” he said.

“There are a lot of regressions in some places. But there are parts of my mod where it’s been fine for like two years, and now with this update, it’s broken, and I’ve had to fix it,” Hedegaard continued. “But that’s just the short run of it. The long run with these changes, it’ll make the modding community stronger than ever before, in my opinion, and it’s a good change. And it’s something that the modding community really needed.”

Although the patch has introduced plenty of new problems, like bugs and version compatibility issues, these modders at least aren’t in it alone. The same communities that helped bring previous content to life can now offer support during all the troubleshooting. The one around East Scarp, in particular, has gained a reputation for being a welcoming place for people to learn and a haven for LGBTQ-friendly Stardew Valley content.

“That is what’s important to me as a queer writer. I think people see [the East Scarp] NPCs and people see themselves, and it becomes important for them. […] ‘Oh, hey! This is a nonbinary NPC. I love them so much. Here you go, friend who is also nonbinary.’ Then we accidentally grew a community of people who want to make queer NPCs, and I love that,” DestyNova said.

And at the end of the day, the communities around these mods can be just as meaningful as the content they add. Guides and active Discord servers all serve as pillars of support.

“It will be easier, eventually, but many of us more veteran mod makers are having to relearn the process as well, and adapt to the new mechanics [in the game],” LemurKat said. “This has led to less of a teaching environment and more of a sharing, ‘Hey, look at this cool feature I’ve just figured out.’ Which is pretty cool since I’ve been mod-making for almost five years now and still have a lot to learn.”

If you’re a fan of these mods and want to support the creators, sometimes a simple “thank you” can do wonders.

“For the majority of us, this is a part-time hobby, and we want to experience the new content as much as you do,” LemurKat said. “If you find your game is bugging out, I would urge you to learn how to parse and read your SMAPI logs, as there are some things you can fix yourself. If you cannot find the solution there, let the mod author know about it by posting a clear description of the issue, and the link to the SMAPI log on the Nexus Mods page. […] And please, offer supportive comments too! I love finding a ‘Thanks for your hard work’ post buried amongst the screen of ‘This is broken, please fix’ comments.”