Most video games are based upon stress: the stress of timing a jump, solving a puzzle, or beating an enemy. Viridi by Seattle-based developer Ice Water Games is different. It’s designed to melt the stress away. Game might not even be the right word for it: it’s all about the pursuit of gently tending to the needs of a succulent plant, spraying it as needed, while a lazy snail creeps along the edge of your pot.
“Tamagotchi is probably our closest point of reference,” says Kevin Maxon, technical lead on Viridi, referencing the keychain digital pets that were popular in the 90’s. Zoe Vartanian, the creative lead on Viridi, puts her finger on what Ice Water Games were trying to achieve more definitely.
“I asked myself, what is my ideal happy place game?” she tells me. “And I realized I wanted to make some beautiful little world where everything’s pleasant, and you can just hang out there, and tend to things,” she says.
Viridi was designed to be half gentle simulation, half art game. One inspiration Mountain, a algorithmically-generated simulator by 3-D animation artist David O’Reilly (who also designed the video game sequence in Spike Jonez’s Her). Just like the chilled out Mountain, there’s little gameplay to speak of in Viridi. You pick a pot, and a plant, spraying it with water and tending it over the course of a week, until it grows to fruition.
It has a gentle, ambient soundtrack, so you can leave the window open all day and keep tabs in on your plants. There are three default succulents to choose from, although other varieties of succulents can be purchased for a few cents each, a price point which was a very conscious decision.
Since the game is free to play, Ice Water Games spent a great deal of soul searching on how to monetize it. “For a long time, we didn’t like the idea of microtransactions,” Maxon tells me. “So we thought about the best way for people to unlock the plants. We eventually realized, though, that people would play just to unlock the next plant, which was antithetical to the spirit of the game: we want people to love the plant they have.” So Ice Water Games decided to make buying new plants as cheap as buying real-life seeds.
“It’s not much, but it makes a statement: ‘This plant is valuable in and of itself,'” Maxon says.
But why succulents? “In real life, I have quite a few house plants, and try my best not to kill them, so it was natural I’d pick succulents,” Vartanian says. “And it turns out people are excited by succulents, and really like them, even if they don’t know what they’re called.”
Viridi is a primer, a simulation, and a love letter to this branch of botany, all rolled into one. It’s available to play on PC and Mac for free, with Android and iOS versions coming within the year.