Behind The Scenes: The Making Of Pocket Garden

Pocket Garden is the new cozy faming game on dot big bang. It has a lot of interesting systems, from the UI, to the economy, upgrades system, and multiplayer aspects such as watering friends’ crops while they’re away. To find out more about the game’s development, we caught up with Ashley Koett, the dot big bang Community Engineer who designed the game.

Hey Ashley, congrats on the release of Pocket Garden! How does it feel to be putting it out there?

Thank you! It feels great, I’ve been working on this game for a long time now and I honestly can’t believe it’s finally going out to the world! I’ve pretty much been living in the world of Pocket Garden for the past couple months, so I can’t wait for other people to do the same! 

Farming games have been in the zeitgeist lately, do you have some history with the genre?

Lots! The first farming game I ever played was Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life on Gamecube, so I’ve been playing farming games for a very long time. As I kid I was fascinated with farming and simulation games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, The Sims etc, and it’s been amazing to see how the genre has moved from a niche casual type of game to one of the most popular and beloved game genres. The original ideas found in early farming sims have really been explored, expanded and perfected over the years, and it’s been really exciting to try my hand at this genre after playing them for so long.

What were some of the important initial ideas that you wanted to get into the game?

For one, I wanted to keep the platform in mind. dot big bang is a web based platform that runs on all different devices, so there will be a very wide range of players. I wanted to give the game a nice mix of fast and slow paced gameplay, and make sure that there was something both for players who only have time to play for a little bit every day, and for committed players who want to spend a lot of time with Pocket Garden. 

“I wanted to give the game a nice mix of fast and slow paced gameplay, to make sure that there was something for players who only play a little every day, and more committed players.”

Ashley Koett, Pocket Garden designer

The farming loop is actually fast–paced – raising crops takes some work! But the long–term progression is slower. Upgrading your farm, automating things, and decorating takes some commitment. Because of the variety of players on the platform, some players may have short sessions, so I wanted to make sure that they felt engaged whenever they play. But the slower pace of progression will give players a reason to keep coming back – there’s always plenty more to do.

When making a farming game, it’s also really important to realize that people will play your game in many different ways, and in different ways than you would play your own game. Some people like farming games because they love to farm, others love to decorate, others love to min/max and create the best functioning farm possible, and some are a mix of everything! So it was really important to me to cater to all these play styles. I got a lot of feedback in play testing from players different from me – I’m the decorating type! I learned a lot about how to cater to their needs.

How was the process of designing the economy, and the ratio of work to reward?

The basic premise of the work/reward system is to leverage the resource most important to you, whether it’s work, time or money. If you don’t have a lot of time or money, you can plant basil – a cheap crop that grows quickly, but requires more maintenance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have lots of time and money, buy a tree planter and plant an apple seed. You only need to water it once a day – but it takes three real life days to grow. The reward is much better than that of a cheap and fast growing crop, but requires a lot more patience! Saving up a lot of money for a farm upgrade or a barn animal will be immensely beneficial in the long run, but requires a lot of patience and planning. 

If you ever run out of money completely, there are always foragables around the map that you can pick up for some extra cash, so you don’t have to worry about a “game over” scenario. It’s a lot of work to run around searching for mushrooms to sell, but it will work in a pinch! I mainly wanted to make sure there was a price with an appropriate reward for everything in the game, whether the price is actual currency or something like time or patience.

The UI is a big part of Pocket Garden, how was the process of putting that together?

The most important part of making the UI was that it works across all platforms, and to make it as simple as possible. Lots of farming games eventually become inventory management games, and I wanted to avoid that. 

There’s only one action button – literally everything in the game can be done with a click. On a computer, there are hot keys for item swapping that will make things faster, but aren’t required by any means. I wanted to make sure the game was accessible to players of any age or amount of gaming experience. There’s a little indicator of the action you can take based on what you’re looking at, so you don’t have to worry about doing anything wrong. It is a bit of an unconventional UI/UX, but it’s intuitive for players of all levels.

You’ve often made the art in your games, how was it to work with Summer this time around?

Working with Summer was wonderful! She really breathed life into the game. Watching the game transform from “programmer art” into a beautiful and vibrant world was such a treat. She nailed the serene countryside vibe perfectly, and I am still not over how charming and alive the town area feels. When I play farming games, I love to escape into the world of the game and get really immersed in it, and Summer really made the perfect environment to do just that. It also took a lot of work off of me, because making art can be a struggle. I was able to focus on design and programming because I knew all the art was in great hands. 

As well as the farming itself, there are some fun side activities in Pocket Garden. What are some of the other things you can do?

Outside of staying on your farm, there’s lots to do! There are foragable items hidden throughout the map, there’s a bustling town you can visit to run errands and go shopping, and there’s even a little island you can take a boat to and clean up trash on the shore! Although there’s always more work to do on the farm, I made sure that players can take a breather and go explore and experience the world as well. 

Many farming games are single player, how did you incorporate multiplayer, and how does it change the experience?

When playing a farming game, ownership is really important – you don’t want anyone coming to the farm you’ve spent so much time on and messing things up. So all the multiplayer interactions in Pocket Garden are positive. You can visit a buddy’s farm, help them water their plants and chill on their couch, but you can’t take their crops or move their stuff. There’s a minigame in town where you can help cleanup trash on an island, and if you work together with friends then all of you will get a better reward! 

Whenever I play the game, I have so much fun walking around and seeing what everyone else is doing with their farm. The world feels so alive with other players in it, and it’s fun to see everyone else’s farm and show off your own! A big part of farming games is progressing and decorating, and in Pocket Garden you get to do that alongside your friends. 

Were there any unexpected hurdles you had to overcome during development?

Developing for such a wide range of players came with lots of design challenges, since this game didn’t have as clear cut of a player base as some other games. Many of the systems have been designed and redesigned over and over until I finally found the sweet spot. The map itself has had tons of iterations, as well as the core farming loop and the way all the upgrades work.

Dot big bang as a platform was also growing and changing throughout development, so sometimes a new feature would come out in the engine, and I would need to adjust my game around that. All of the new features were an immense benefit to the game though, like adding save data and terrain!

Any tips or final words for new players?

There are lots of updates planned so stay tuned for more! I hope you all enjoy the game as much as I enjoyed making it. And don’t forget to weed your crops! 

You can play Pocket Garden at Sub to our Twitch to hear from the gamedevs about how the game was made, join our Discord to talk to the devs and share your feedback and ideas, and follow our social media to stay up to date!

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