Quietly tucked away in a market filled with sprawling, complex, and often overwhelming games, the upcoming Garden Story looks to be a cozy respite from modern gaming chaos. Following a heroic grape named Concord who embarks on a quest to save the world of the Grove, Garden Story is a social sim and RPG that doubles down on wholesomeness. With its chill atmosphere, charming aesthetic, and simple action, this much-anticipated indie has been all about caring for your community from the very start.
“I started working on Garden Story when I still worked graveyard shifts at care homes,” says Picogram, the game’s solo developer. “That’s definitely a strong influence on where I wanted Garden Story to go and where it is today. Working there for years made me realize how disconnected work has become from the people you actually perform it for. There’s a tenderness in laboring for the people you care about, and I wanted to put back into video games!”
Having spent their whole life working with computers and doodling with pixel art, Picogram says they were ready to offer something new with their own game. “When I play games, I am almost always anxious. Most of the time it’s exciting, but it sticks out a lot in certain games that want me to have a relaxing time. Specific elements like time/stamina mechanics, idling punishments, etc. are things that I actively sought to keep out of Garden Story.”
This emphasis on relaxation is reflected in the gameplay as well. While the game has light action-RPG and puzzling elements, the real highlight is how your actions can benefit your community. “The story winds Concord through the entire Grove, and each chapter of the story is focused on a different place [where you’ll spend your time] helping different communities and going where the people need you most.”
“…in Garden Story, your community gets stronger through labor, and that makes Concord stronger.”
While the general flow of gameplay is relatively linear, “Concord lives in these communities as their own person. You are allowed to take your time as you see fit in each part of the story. Whether Concord focuses on pushing through the story or on exploring each community will depend strongly on the player!”
Garden Story thrives on this mix of two primary gameplay styles. You can charge through the story by defeating enemies and solving puzzles in Zelda-like dungeons, and you can also take part in social elements by getting involved in your local community and helping those around you. As different as these two styles may seem, Picogram insists that “they’re never at odds with each other!”
Instead, Garden Story incorporates both gameplay styles into each other. “While your style of interaction with the world is definitely an Action-RPG,” Picogram explains, “your end-goals are always focused on helping the community as a whole, or specific people. In a traditional RPG, your player-character gets stronger through labor. However, in Garden Story, your community gets stronger through labor, and that makes Concord stronger.”
Fleshing out this community has been one of the highlights of development for Picogram. “I love working over the small stuff and making them feel just right! I love drawing each building and just filling them out with NPCs. It really calls back to my childhood when I would build tiny homes in my backyard and find bugs to put in them. It’s just a very specific joy.”
“There’s a tenderness in laboring for the people you care about, and I wanted to put back into video games!”
Of course, development has come with its fair share of challenges. Garden Story is a highly cohesive game that blends several gameplay styles into a single, cozy whole; unifying all of these elements certainly wasn’t easy. “The whole run to the Beta milestone was a total slog to me,” Picogram says, “because I was finally forced to think about how everything ties together. You know, make hard decisions about game direction.”
“I think as a solo developer, I get a lot of freedom to be incredibly stupid at times, but you also gotta be hyper-discriminatory to make a quality product. I like it for the most part, but sometimes you just gotta sit down on a bench and think about how stupid you actually are. Let’s just say, I’ve been doing a buncha thinking lately.”
Yet Pico hasn’t had to do that thinking alone. Just like how they’ve created a community within the Grove, their fruit-filled title has begun attracting a community of its own. Garden Story has already built up a large following on Twitter, with five thousand followers for its dedicated account and ten thousand on Picogram’s personal profile – not bad for a game from a single developer.
“It’s easy to say that gaining momentum on that site is plain luck,” Picogram says, “but in honesty, I did a lot of research.” But the firm research is only part of the story behind building up the Garden Story fanbase. “Other than algorithm stuff, it’s all just a bunch of enthusiasm. It’s really nice to be around people who are just as excited as you are! I cherish those kinds of interactions.”
It’s these special moments, shared between people, that make Garden Story special. Both in the real world and in the game itself, it’s all about working to support connections with the ones you love. It’ll be exciting to see how this community will develop once the game releases on PC and Mac this spring. “I’m really glad that Garden Story has already connected with so many people,” Picogram concludes, “and I am absolutely stoked to be able to share it with you (when it’s ready).”