Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January Distractions

Baby, it's cold outside, even here on the Cape most of the time.

But even with the garden asleep for the time being, a gardener still likes to keep his hand in. You can sit with the new garden catalogs and drool and dream about the coming season's new offerings, which can be a little frustrating when you see how much some of the pretty things cost.

For distractions from winter's cold and dark, I have a fondness for video games.

Railroad Tycoon 3 is a favorite, alternating with Sim City 4 and The Original Sims. I also like to surf through a few different online game sites to see what they have to offer. Unfortunately, I am no longer welcome at MSN Games now that I'm using Mozilla Firefox as my browser. But at Shockwave, I've hit paydirt, as it were, with a new favorite: Plant Tycoon.

Primarily, gameplay takes place in your green house, where you fill pots with soil, water and plant seeds.

Just like in the real world, as time passes, and seeds are kept watered, plants begin to grow. This early part of the game is a little tedious: like any seed-based venture, patience is required.

The whole point of the game, of course, is to grow beautiful plants to sell at your nursery to make you fabulously wealthy. Ha ha...

As your plants mature, they need to be pollinated, so you can collect seeds for future generations of Plants For Sale. Once you've got a nice variety of species, you can start cross-pollinating them, with some interesting and surprising results...which all results in new plants to offer your nursery customers, who will either love them or hate them.

There are butterflies which regularly float and flit through the greenhouse, and you can catch them with a net. The rules suggest this is optional, but it does pass the time, and after you've caught one of each of the butterfly species for your collection, any duplicates are traded in for cash holdings.

Of course, having some cash is always handy for buying insecticide and new seeds and fertilizer, just like in real world gardening. And so there's a nursery supply screen you can visit for these things and others.

This part of the game is somewhat limited due to this being the online demo version of the game. There's a link to purchase the full game, which might just be worth it.

The online version of the game apparently links to your computer, so that when you go back later, it offers to pick up the same game you were playing...although the time you were gone has passed in the game, and you can often return to find dead plants.

The full version includes a PAUSE option for when you need to be elsewhere, which would save some unnecessary heartbreak. It also includes more new seeds to play around with, and more garden art to decorate your nursery to attract bigger crowds.

I also hope that the full version would allow me to grow twice as many plants at once, so there'd always be a wave of them headed to the nursery for sale.

It can be a fun game for a day off, when you are puttering around the house at a variety of smaller tasks. You can leave the game up on the screen and check back now and then to water and otherwise tend your little simulated plants.

And once all that's in good shape, then it's off to watering the actual house plants, or doing dishes, or laundry or taking a walk out to look at the winter garden in the cold sunshine.

Once some time has passed in the game, your plants will mature and blossom, which, like real gardening, is the best part.

Once you've collected some seeds from your plants you can price them and send them to the nursery. Here they are displayed for the gardening masses who descend on the nursery yard and scoop up plants faster than locusts can eat them.

This is a fun and thoughtfully-designed game. It's a fun change of pace. Check it out, if you like, here.

No comments: