Plant Tycoon: A Not-Late-To-The-Party Encounter

With my finger firmly on the pulse as I am when it comes to pop culture and/or videogames, I am currently ensconced in the world of Plant Tycoon [official site].

Plant Tycoon is about eight years old on PC, older on Palm OS, and came up as part of my quest to find a relaxing gardening game I can run in the background while working. Mostly what I want is a lovely-looking handful of plants which sometimes require me to snip off dead leaves, or maybe I could dust their leaves, or give them a splash of water.

It’s not really about the actual gardening, exactly. I hate gardening. What it’s about it providing a gradually changing aesthetic which I have a limited influence over and which I can stare at while stressed about an email or grumpy when a feature isn’t flowing. Essentially, I want a way of utilising my second screen so it can provide a mood boost rather than just housing Twitter.

Plant Tycoon was likely not going to be that but it was appealing on the aesthetic front. Not for its menus or interface – the main screen is a set of greenhouse work benches with predefined plant pot spaces. You fill those pots with soil, water them a bit and then add a seed.

What I’m more interested in is that you can cross-pollinate the plants to produce new species of increaasing value and with increasingly demanding and expensive lifestyles (or whatever you call their nutrient demands and general upkeep requirements). I like the shapes of these seeds, and I like the surprise you get when rearing one of these mystery hybrids for the first time. There’s also a relatively simple genetic inheritance element at play if you want to pay attention to it.

Plant Tycoon is a bigger, better version of the thrill I used to get in Pocket Frogs when trying to produce little hopping collections of pixels with the right patterns and the right colouration. I got cross with Pocket Frogs because it began to feel unmanageable. The idea of completing it started to feel like a lifetime’s work and I do (sometimes) have better things to do with my life.

There are 529 kinds of plant here so it ought to keep me going for a while but there is, ultimately, an end point. It’s a different beast from the gardening quest, though. More like a second job and a satisfying time sink than a mood lifter. Apart from where I keep forgetting time passes even when you don’t have the game open and I come back to a dead greenhouse. Then it’s a bit less satisfying and a bit more OH GOD IT IS ALL DEAD AGAIN.

In an ideal world my quest would lead me to a game/desktop companion which took the slow, guided development of actual gardening, married it with the highly stylised plant aesthetic of My Organic Garden and added the almost-white-noisey-weather sounds and chimes of Mountain.

The quest continues.

7 Comments

  1. DrollRemark says:

    What it’s about it providing a gradually changing aesthetic which I have a limited influence over and which I can stare at while stressed about an email or grumpy when a feature isn’t flowing. Essentially, I want a way of utilising my second screen so it can provide a mood boost rather than just housing Twitter.

    Sounds like we need a new category for games: Games For Games Journalists. This and Mountain.

    • arisian says:

      Actually, this kind of thing sounds lovely to me, and I’m definitely not a games journalist, so I’m pretty sure it has broader appeal. Just because it’s not your cup of tea doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Personally, I don’t have a second monitor, but I keep a small fish tank on my desk for this very purpose.

      Though I’ll admit it might be best to pro-actively come up with a name to describe things like this to attempt to avoid getting bashed by the “not-a-game” crowd. It almost reminds me of some “interactive screensavers,” from back in the day before displays had power-saving modes, but I think it needs a better name than that. Perhaps something like “ambient game”?

      • quietone says:

        My sentiments, exactly. Oh, how I miss Johnny Castaway! I wish somebody would make something similar.

  2. Groove says:

    It’s almost definitely more active than you’re wanting, but have you played Reus? It’s certainly got slow, guided development; a stylised aesthetic; and gentle, peaceful sound effects.

  3. racccoon says:

    lol, I never knew this existed, seems like fun, plant here plant there lol

  4. racccoon says:

    they got to mad though to ask for cash up front they should be on that faceslap place

  5. Tukuturi says:

    I worked at a call center doing tech support for HP, and some of the demo models we had were loaded with this, Virtual Villagers, Zuma, etc. Playing Plant Tycoon while ignoring screaming end users and waiting for my wheezing Compaq to load my case logger helped get me through a lot of shitty work days.