The RPS Advent Calendar 2022, December 4th

It’s the fourth day of the RPS Advent calendar and today it’s raining. But it’s nice rainy – comfortable. There is a purring cat. You have a drink, and nothing specific planned. Perhaps you will re-index your live stock.

What could be other than exotic gardening!

Alice B: I often think I would like to run a small shop that sells a range of products. Barring that, I don’t want to, because that would involve doing a different kind of tax, paying rent on the premises, ordering inventory, etc., etc. So what I would actually like to do is run a shop like Strange Horticulture. It’s an old place, a retail simulator where what you sell is answers to problems in the form of exotic plants. You sit in your place, and people come pleading to the altar and ask you: I need the plant to help me sleep, which one? I am disturbed by the visions, should I take the plant to stop it, or strengthen it? Which of these plants will open a lock?

You open the large illustrated volume of plants, turn to the correct page, and take a note of the description. Then you look through the wares on your shelves, and find what your customers are looking for. There’s a deeper mystery, too, but what I loved most about Strange Horticulture was that touch. As I was moving plant pots around, when I read about some leaves feeling sharp or otherwise smelling citrusy, I was transported! I felt that I was already opening the secret drawer in my office and glancing at the map of the area, that I was already making new pages in my textbook, carefully writing my labels for plants. What a sweet and slightly sinister shopkeeper.

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There is no cat in this picture.

Rebecca: Did you know that in Strange Horticulture, you can prevent Hellebore from becoming startled by the ringing of the store bell? What you need to do is to pet him just before you knock him, and push him into the choppy animation, thus bypassing the spooky animation. I know this because my partner played Strange Horticulture before I did, and he was so determined not to scare Hellebore with the bell that I actually entered the game thinking there was some kind of hidden cat stress gauge I needed to manage. Then I remembered that my partner is just such a nice person when it comes to cats. I still do it every time, though, so you gotta be nice to Hellebore.

From Strange Horticulture, the Lake District map opens on a table with a magnifying glass and a playing card laid out on top of it.
Kendal and Tebay are also lovely, if you’re inclined to take a Strange Horticulture-inspired tour of the area, which I’ve just decided is what I want to do on my vacation next year.

Strange Horticulture wasn’t too difficult for me: it’s an indie game about running a small botanical shop in the company of a friendly black cat, and to be honest, I’d consider throwing in this job to fulfill exactly that dream at least once a week. Furthermore, I have an abiding interest in UK-based video games that are not based in London. As far as I can remember, I’ve only been to Windermere once in my life, but it was one of those random lovely days that for some reason became an essential childhood memory, so I was really excited to see the lake district as the game’s setting.

There is also a certain fascination I have with any game that puts you in the shoes of a character who might traditionally be an NPC. I’m fond of the sub-genre where you run a blacksmith shop or various market stall, supplying heroes with the staple at exactly the right moment, but for you it’s just a normal day. In Strange Horticulture, the lead characters in an intricate mystery run through your shop every day, but you’re basically just hanging around thinking about your plants. It’s a delightful side angle to see this dark fairy tale, with the added bonus of upping the creep factor considerably.

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Now remember: It’s a barb of Hellebore, and then Rang the bell.

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