My name is Rob, and together with my brother, John, I made an unusual game about running a cosy little plant shop in the sinister setting of Undermere. When we first started making it we had no idea that the finished game would end up fitting most neatly in the detective genre, but now that it’s finished, we kinda think it does.
For a long time we weren’t sure what genre the game belonged to. It has some puzzles but ‘puzzle game’ covers a very broad definition and Strange Horticulture never really felt like a puzzle game to us. It has some sim elements too – you run your plant shop and customers enter with strange requests, often requiring the properties of a rare and unusual plant – but it’s not really a sim game either.
Then someone suggested that it was a detective game and we slowly realised that they were right. In a detective game you are generally tasked with solving a murder mystery. Yep, we’ve got one of those. OK, as the player you aren’t directly required to solve that mystery, but it’s definitely there. More importantly though, every time a customer comes into your shop asking for a specific plant you are effectively being asked to solve a small mystery and you’ll need to use all sorts of detective skills to do so.
Your job is to look up the plant in your horticultural encyclopaedia and track it down among the different flora decorating your shelves. If you’re lucky there will be a helpful sketch of some element of the plant or a description of its leaves or flowers that will help narrow down your search, but you’ll find yourself needing to inspect the plants closer, perhaps rubbing the leaves between your fingers, or smelling the flowers, in order to be certain that you have the right one. There might only be a small clue that differentiates the right plant from one that is going to give you a Sense of Rising Dread, so paying close attention to the details is vital and your trusty Holmes-esque magnifying glass will no doubt come in handy.
There’s also detective work to be done when it comes to the in-game map and using it to hunt down new plants. Occasionally you will receive letters and notes that might point you straightforwardly towards a location, but more often than not you will need to decipher clues and study the map to work out where to go. Then, at the end of every day, you will receive a more cryptic clue to a location that will require some more traditional puzzle-solving skills.
All the while there’s a slowly bubbling mystery cooking away behind the scenes involving covens of witches, dangerous cults, and occult entities, not to mention an intriguing cast of characters. And while, as mentioned, you aren’t tasked with solving that mystery directly (you’re a mere horticulturist after all), you may find that you can influence some of the key events by making choices about which plant to use.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have realised sooner that we were making a detective game – after all, one of our early influences was the board game Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective! I’m a big fan of board games in general and really liked the way Sherlock Holmes made use of a physical map to give clues to the player about where to go next. When we decided to add a map as well it helped to tie everything together and gave us a way to include some interesting puzzles – in particular we wanted the game to have a ‘tactile’ feel to it (did I mention I like board games?) and that allowed us to do some cool puzzles that we couldn’t have done with a more traditional UI.
Whether you agree with our assessment that Strange Horticulture is a detective game or not (it is though, probably sort of anyway), we hope you enjoy the relaxing little world we’ve created. Give Hellebore a scratch behind the ear from us and try not to join any weird cults. Or do, what’s the worst that could happen?