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The RPS Advent Calendar 2022, December 4th

Growth market

It's the fourth day of the RPS Advent Calendar and today it's rainy. But it's nice rainy - relaxing. There's a purring cat. You've got a brew on, and nothing in particular planned. Maybe you'll recatalogue your rustling, living inventory.

What else could it be but Strange Horticulture!

Alice Bee: I often think that I would like to run a small shop selling a niche of products. Except, I wouldn't want that, because that would involve doing a different kind of tax and paying rent on the premises and ordering stock and etc. and so on. So what I would actually like is to run a shop like Strange Horticulture. It's a place out of time, a retail simulator where what you sell are answers to problems in the form of weird plants. You sit in your shop, and people come as supplicants to an altar and ask you: I need the plant to help me sleep, which is it? I am troubled by visions, so should I take the plant to stop them, or make them stronger? Which of these plants will open a lock?

And you open your big illustrated tome of plants, and you flick to the right page, and you take note of the description. And then you look through the pots on your shelves, and you find what your customers are looking for. There's a deeper mystery, too, but what I most loved about Strange Horticulture was that tactility. As I moved the plant pots around, as I read about how some leaves felt sharp, or others smelled of citrus, I was transported! I felt I really was pulling open the secret drawer in my desk and poring over the map of the area, that I really was putting new pages in my instructional tome, and carefully writing out my labels for the plants. What a lovely, and slightly sinister shopkeeper to be.

The main screen from Strange Horticulture, showing the moment when a plant (Meakdew) is correctly identified by the player. In the background, it's a dismal day as seen from the windows of a shop filled with plants, and a black cat sleeps on a counter to the right.
There is no cat in this image.

Rebecca: Did you know that in Strange Horticulture, you can prevent Hellebore the cat from becoming startled by the ringing of the shop bell? What you need to do is pet him right before you ding, launching him into his getting-scritches animation and therefore overriding his scared animation. I know this because my partner played Strange Horticulture before I did, and was so adamant about not scaring Hellebore with the bell that I actually went into the game believing there was some sort of hidden cat stress metre I needed to manage. Then I remembered that my partner is just a big softie when it comes to cats. I still did it every time, though, because you should be nice to Hellebore.

From Strange Horticulture, a map of the Lake District open on a table with a magnifying glass and playing card placed over it.
Kendal and Tebay are also lovely, if you're ever tempted to put together a Strange Horticulture-inspired tour of the region, which I've just decided is what I want to do on my holidays next year.

Strange Horticulture wasn't a hard sell for me: it's an indie game about running a little plant shop in the company of a friendly black cat, and to be honest, I think about chucking in this job to pursue that exact dream at least once a week. What's more, I have an enduring interest in video games set in the UK that aren't based around London. To the best of my recollection I've only visited Windermere once in my life, but it was one of those random nice days out that for some reason becomes a core childhood memory, so I was out-of-proportion excited to see the Lake District as the setting of a game.

There's also a certain fascination I have with any game that puts you in the shoes of a character who'd traditionally be an NPC. I'm a sucker for the sub-genre where you run a blacksmith's shop or a market stall of miscellany, providing the heroes with the key item at the exact right moment, but for you it's just an ordinary day. In Strange Horticulture, the leading figures in an intricate occult mystery pass through your shop on a daily basis, but you're just mainly puttering about the place thinking about your plants. It's a delightful side-angle to see this dark fairytale from, with the added bonus that it ups the creepiness factor significantly.

Now remember: it's scritches for Hellebore, then ring the bell.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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