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Wot I Think (And Wot I Murdered): Viridi

A real-time plant simulator.

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Viridi is a kind of free-to-play desktop potted plant companion. What you get is a pot full of succulents which apparently grow in real time. I have no idea if this is true because I am not good at plants IRL. The developer Ice Water Games (who also made Eidolon) describes it as a “safe haven”, “a place you can return to for a moment of peace and quiet whenever you need it.”

Except I lost my temper and shouted and then aggressively watered a snail.

Viridi sits in its own window, the plant pot hovering in space. Its inhabitants are a variety of low maintenance succulents. Succulents can survive in the desert. Surely they can survive the arid wasteland that is my care.

When you first boot up Viridi you get to choose a starter plant set and a plant pot. I’m not a gardener so I just picked a set of plants at random and a bowl-shaped pot with stars on. The tiny succulents poked out of the digital earth like rubbery buds.

I had a handful of Echeveria lola – they’re these rosette-shaped collections of leaves with a purple tinge to them. There were also a few of Sedum pachyphyllum. They look more like tiny bushes, their leaves like pink-tipped jelly beans. Adding height I had several Kalanchoe rotundifolia – tree-like plants with round leaves arranged around the stem to catch the light. In the centre was an Agave Blue Glow with red and yellow edging on its leaves. I don’t know why this one didn’t have a scientific name. There’s also a snail who crawls round the edge of the pot like a guard dog.

I wondered who would survive.

“Caring” in Viridi means you click and drag the mouse around to rotate the bowl or to change the focus of the camera, spotlighting a particular plant. It then gives you a basic health report so you know how thirsty it is. Generally they tell you they’re sated but if they dip into thirsty or parched you can give them a spritz of water. I gave one of my thirsty plants two spritzes of water and it promptly tipped into OVERWATERED territory.

The other type of caring you can do is leave the camera focused on the plant and the game will start to sing to it. I assume the singing helps it to grow (????? DOES IT??) or maybe you can get it to flower if you sing for long enough or something. I found it odd that you couldn’t choose to sing or not, the game just does it to whatever the camera is focused on unless you zoom out far enough.

The music of the game was an increasingly irritating element because it’s a source of constant noise coming from the game window. If you want it gone you have to click on the area outside the plant pot to access a menu and then mute the game from there. I didn’t find that menu for a while and ended up using the volume mixer to remove the sound because the music started really getting in the way of writing and concentrating.

That’s how the snail got wet, by the way. I was so fed up with the noise that I lost my temper and shouted “SHUT UP”. The only weapon at my disposal was the spritzer and I didn’t want to have to deal with more complaints about OVERWATERING so I absolutely soaked the snail instead. Its status changed to wet for a while.

With the kind of game Viridi is it feels like there should be a way to use sound far less intrusively. I liked how Mountain did it, with weather noise and occasional chimes.

Elsewhere in that menu is a greenhouse full of microtransactions. New seedlings cost from 9 to 39 cents or you can pick up the free seedling offered by the game each week. The microtransactions don’t feel pushed, hidden away as they are, but their addition and existence makes me feel a little uncomfy. I get the business reasons for doing so, especially if you’ve chosen to make the game free-to-play in the first place, but when Viridi sets itself out as a safe haven I don’t expect to find a shop where I can spend real money within that haven. I’d have preferred to pay for the game outright and then that be the end of the financial side of things.

The other thing you can buy is a “Map To The Grove” where the Grove is from Ice Water Games’ other game, Eidolon. “Here you can start an additional pot of succulents,” is the game’s explanation. So I guess for $4.99 you can get a second bowl. The game isn’t very good at explaining exactly what that means, though. Is it just extra space? Is it a new starter pack? I assume it’s intended as a way for people who really like the game to pay something akin to a game cost as they accumulate plants but when I see it in the greenhouse buy menu the price tag always jars with this whole haven thing.

I haven’t worked out OVERWATERING either. I left the muted game singing to my OVERWATERED plant for ages thinking that it might increase the rate of growth and thus use up some of the water. It didn’t seem to make it any less overwatered. Certainly, by the time the rest of the plants had dipped back into thirst this one was still OVERWATERED.

I mean, succulents don’t need much water but given they grow in the desert and have worked out how to survive torrential downpours you’d think the species might have worked out a way of dealing with one single extra spritz from my bottle. And if the drainage is inadequate on my digital pot there’s really not a whole lot I can do about it without modding the game.

Eventually I got so cross about the plant complaining it was OVERWATERED that I decided to show it what that really meant. Spritz after spritz after spritz rained down on its sodden head. ENJOY THE LAKE, YOU WHINY JERK.

It died.

It died really quickly, actually. To the point where it felt like the plant was spiting me. How can I care for something which is going to die on purpose when I lose my temper with it?

You have the option to uproot plants in order to get rid of them should you want to plant different ones or clear out the dead. I have decided to leave Dead Lola (for thus she is named) where she is as a warning to the others.

I left the camera focused on her plant corpse because I was still cross and the game now appears to be singing her a funeral song.

And that is everything I did in Viridi. Mostly the plants survived and there was only one murder. At least it is a better success rate than I have in real life.

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Philippa Warr

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