After finding success with The World Next Door and Cat Lady, Rose City Games and publisher VIZ Media have a new project in the works. Described as a mix of adventure RPGs and social simulators, their newest collaboration, Garden Story follows Concord, an anthropomorphic grape on a mission to be as helpful as possible. As a new village guardian, Concord must balance aiding their neighbors and defending against “a mysterious Rot.”
Garden Story is currently listed as primarily the work of two people: developer-artist Picogram and composer Grahm Nesbitt. Concord’s adventure is only the latest collaboration between Picogram and Nesbitt. They’ve previously worked together on other games like P.E. Noire and Planet Pain: Hyper-Conflict. Cliqist got in touch with Picogram over email to discuss their partnership with Nesbitt, the appeal of pixel art, and the diverse needs of a community.
Cliqist: Could you tell us about the origin of Garden Story? Where did the idea for it come from?
Picogram: I’ve played a lot of RPGs growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed the sense of heroism and adventure it instilled in me. However, there’s a lot of dissonance between an RPG’s loner-adventurer heroes and the real-life heroes we know in communities. I wanted to turn the story hyperbolics down, and maybe try to bridge the two definitions of heroism.
There seems to be a lot you can do in the game, between dealing with the Rot and helping other characters. What led to this diverse range of gameplay? Was it because of the genre combination you chose?
A community requires a lot of things, and so I wanted to provide a lot of different ways to help others. Players can kind of sink into, or at least get used to what each village will ask of them. Sometimes that involves procuring resources from other places or delving into the local dungeon.
In the same vein of being tasked with a lot of different errands, no person is good at everything, nor should they be expected to. Completing side-quests doesn’t just provide monetary rewards, but also villagers to help you carry the weight.
The Garden Story announcement mentioned that Concord’s friends provide aid if you help them. Could you talk more about that? Does this indicate that characters can be recruited into a party system like in other RPGs?
Villagers can help you complete others’ requests, or open up shops for items. Some will even buy/sell resources from other Villages! In the same way that the Village needs different things, Villagers also help in different ways! But, a party system sounds great, and I really wonder what it would look like in a game like this. (But sorry, no, I won’t try to add it mid-development, it’ll kill my scope.)
What draws you to pixel art?
I think it’s a really organized way to do art! I’m never ever gonna say it’s easy, but quick iteration and adjustment is a huge perk when working on a bunch of assets. There’s only so much you can do with a limited amount of pixels, and the restrictions are really healthy for me.
How do you approach the character and world design in Garden Story? Has it differed from the other games you’ve made?
Thematically, I just wanted to have a lot of fun, honestly. The Grove and its denizens are designed around four areas as four different seasons and biomes. Their names are derived from their real-life nomenclature, sometimes their scientific names, sometimes other languages. I really wanted to pull from different cultures, because this is really a story about home, and homes always have so many different cultures.
Grahm Nesbitt is scoring Garden Story, and he’s previously made music for your other games. Do you feel like you’ve developed a harmonious working relationship with him at this point?
I’ve worked on games for a while with Grahm, and it’s nothing short of magic. I’m a big music fan (yeah, I’m cool) and everything I make is really sparked by the music I listen to. Once I listened to Grahm’s work, I knew I had to make games for the music he makes.
How did you end up working with Rose City Games and VIZ Media? According to Rose City’s website, you got involved with the Portland Indie Game Squad, a nonprofit founded by Rose City co-founder Will Lewis. Did Rose City approach you about collaboration at one of PIGSquad’s events?
I started Garden Story shortly before going to PIGSquad for the first time, but doing Summer Slow Jams with them was such a great time. (I did the banner art for 2018!) I’ve never been challenged to create stuff in such finite time, and that time pressure kind of clicked everything else I had learned! Kinda wild that was just a year ago.
Do Rose City and VIZ provide any creative input, or are you largely in charge of Garden Story‘s direction?
I’ll be honest. I get a lot of freedom. I’m MAD with power, and I get to bring a lot of my smallest wants to fruition. But I always consult on the bigger stuff. My co-workers at RCG are a great bouncing board, and a much-needed guide in new territory!
One last question—who’s your favorite character in Garden Story so far?
Whew, some of them are secret, so I don’t wanna divulge them just yet. Honestly, my favorite character is probably all the little Rot oozes. I know they’re the enemy, but I love them all. I even put code in them that makes them refer to each other as friends. It makes it that much harder for me to debug combat on them over and over.
Thanks for your time, and good luck with Garden Story.