I’m going to kick this off by saying up front that Grace McDunnough is someone I admire greatly for a number of reasons: I love her music in SL (although I don’t get to as many of her performances as I should), her writing is thought-provoking and has often been a leaping-off point for many of my own meandering pontificating on SL; and I’m flattered she considers me a friend through SL.
I mention all this because Grace has been one of the minds behind the focus of this review – The Garden. As such, some might feel I’m being overly effusive in this article simply because Grace and I are friends. Not so. The Garden is an incredibly immersive experience, both as a puzzle game and as a place to visit, and any enthusiasm this article exudes towards simply reflects that fact.
Essentially, the idea behind The Garden is that of a clue-based puzzle which incorporates a mixture of exploring, gathering and logic. The aim is to seek the seven Guardians and / or to find their artefacts and, by doing so, gather clues which enable the player to identify which sin each Guardian committed, and the penance they suffered as a result. Then, having correctly identified the sin committed and penance paid be each Guardian, the player can offer forgiveness to one of the Guardians.
The Garden, and the vision behind it, is the brainchild of Salome Strangelove. She developed the concept of the puzzle and also defined and landscaped the sim. In developing the concept, she has been joined by Trav Rexen, who has developed the scripts used throughout The Garden, and Grace McDunnough, who has provided motivation and sponsorship, and who is working with Salome on other elements yet to be introduced into The Garden.
Teleporting to The Garden delivers you to the arrival point. Here you can opt to participate in the puzzle or immerse yourself in other aspects of The Garden.
To take part in the puzzle, you will need to make use of the Patron’s HUD. This comes in two forms: a free version will be delivered to you on your arrival (use the redelivery terminal if it fails to reach your inventory, and a purchasable version. The free version of the HUD is feature-limited, but which allows a player to complete one round of the puzzle. The purchasable version of the HUD costs L$299, which allows an unlimited number of rounds of the puzzle. The purchase price of the HUD goes directly into the upkeep of the region.
The full version of the Patron’s HUD is a multi-faceted tool which allows a player to:
- Start a new game – either on their own or with one or more friends
- Mark their progress in solving the puzzle
- Save progress between game sessions – the HUD will retain progress made if removed or if the player leaves The Garden before solving all the clues
- Review their achievements
- See information on other players.
While exploring, the HUD can be reduced to a single button (labelled SHOW), providing players with an uninterrupted in-world view, and then expanded again when updating the puzzle grid with clues received.
Another nice touch with the HUD is that once purchased, a player need never return to the arrivals area when revisiting The Garden. Instead, they can attach the HUD wherever they are in-world, click the HOME button and be instantly teleported to a part of the game area called Forgiveness. This does not play a role in the puzzle-solving itself, but acts as a “home” location for players, allowing them to remain immersed in the game through successive visits to The Garden.
Once a player has attached their chosen HUD, they follow the cobble path to the threshold. This includes an outline of the game’s objectives and both pictures of the Guardians and copies of their artefacts, a handy overview for those who do not request a help card from their HUD. Crossing the shimmering blue threshold moves a player from the non-immersive arrivals area and into the immersive element of The Garden.
As mentioned earlier, the aim of the puzzle is to amass enough clues to be able to determine through logic and the process of elimination, which of the Guardians committed which of the seven sins – and the penance they paid for doing so. This is done through a combination of visiting each Guardian and / or locating their associated artefacts.
Each of the seven Guardians are located in their own area, which can be found by following the broad, grassy paths around the region, consulting the map of The Garden (supplied via the HUD’s help notecard) and – in a couple of cases at least, keeping an eye open for hidden entrances. When you have found a Guardian, touching it will cause it to reveal one or more sins it did not commit, together with one or more penances it did not pay (allowing the player to eliminate the sin(s) penances(s) as being committed / paid by that particular Guardian), and also indicate which sin is linked to which penance (helping the player to combine clues and further identify which sin / penance may have been committed by a particular Guardian).
Artefacts are scattered throughout The Garden, with two versions of each artefact waiting to be found, one holding the name of the sin committed by its Guardian owner, the other revealing the name of the penance paid when clicked. Once an artefact has been found and touched, it will vanish before reappearing elsewhere in The Garden. The helps prevent people simply telling one another where to find artefacts in order to obtain clues.
Players record their findings from Guardians and artefacts on the HUD’s puzzle grid. Sins and penances which have been eliminated by the clues spoken by a specific Guardian are indicated with a cross (single click). similarly, when the sin or penance for a Guardian is revealed (either by deduction by the player, or through the revelation of and artefact, it can be indicated by a circle (double-click).
It is also important to note that annotating circles on the HUD is a vital part of the game, as it is these which are used to establish whether or not a player has correctly resolved the puzzle. Crosses are recorded simply to help players in their deductions.
You can visit a Guardian more than once to ask them for clues: however, they will only answer if you have visited at least one other Guardian before you ask them a second time.
As clues can be gathered from the artefacts belonging to the Guardians as well as by asking the Guardians themselves, there are several ways in which the puzzle can be solved, with players choosing to:
- Only ask the Guardians for clues, and solve the puzzle through a process of elimination
- Both ask the Guardians for clues and seek their artefacts
- Hunt only the artefacts to obtain the sin committed / penance paid by their owner.
Obviously, seeking the artefacts is the most direct way of discovering who is guilty of what and the penance they paid. However, actually finding the artefacts has been made a little harder than it might seem on two counts. In the first, and as mentioned above, when an artefact is touched, it will give out its clue to the person touching it, then vanish and reappear elsewhere in The Garden. Additionally, any artefact which remains undiscovered for around five or so minutes will simply have itself moved to another location. In all, there are over 100 places throughout The Garden where an artefact may materialise.
Once a player believes that they have correctly identified the sin committed and penance paid by each of the Guardians and have indicated them on the puzzle grid with a circle each (crosses play no part in the final solution, but are purely there for guidance), they can click the SOLVE button.
If they are correct, the puzzle is solved and the player is asked to forgive one of the Guardians. This is done by clicking on the Guardian’s name on the HUD. The puzzle grid will clear, and a new game can be started, with different clues being offered to the player by the Guardians and their artefacts, leading them to a different solution. Successfully completing a puzzle will also earn the player one or more achievements, which can be reviewed by clicking the ACHIEVEMENTS button on the HUD.
If the player has arrived at an incorrect solution, the HUD will inform them, and they will be allowed to continue in their efforts to solve the puzzle.
Not Just Single Players
The beauty of The Garden is that it is not just a single-player puzzle. Stand within 2 metres of someone else when they opt to start a new game and then press JOIN, and you’ll both be following the same clues. Thus, it is possible to play with one or more friends, either cooperatively, sharing clues as they are discovered, or in competition with one another. This makes The Garden very much a shared experience for those who would like to engage in an activity together. It also means that it is possible for several games to be going-on at the same time, with people playing individual or in one group receiving different clues to others.
Let Us Tell You a Story…
The puzzle itself is currently the most visible part of The Garden – but it is not the only part of it. There is also a story to be told here. This is still under development at the moment, and will be added to The Garden in the future. The theme of the story is in keeping with that of the puzzle: forgiveness; and the narrative for the story is already implied in the design of The Garden itself. Nothing placed in The Garden is necessarily random or simply decorative. It is taking longer to bring the story to fruition, because both Salome and Grace are determined to tell it without resorting to the use of prompts such as notecards.
Idea and Inspiration
Touring the region with Salome ahead of its official opening (on Friday November 9th, 2012), I took time to ask her about how the idea for the Garden came about. “Well the truth is that it’s a combination of factors,” she replied. “From a game perspective, I really believe there’s a hole in current markets that is ignoring couple and small group play. [For] most MMOs you need at least 5 and even big raid gaming 20+; and of course there are lots of single-player games, but other than console gaming you don’t see a lot of things people can do together as friends or a couple.
“As for the build, I had an idea a long time ago to create a story sim. The idea was to build a completely immersive environment, create a character and blog as that character, like a diary; use the sim as the foundation for telling the story and evolving the character. But I never had the resources or opportunity to follow that idea.”
I should mention at this point that the region has, until now, been primarily a home for Salome and her friends, and a place of business – Salome operates a charming themed mall in the air over the region which is well worth a visit in its own right.
However, Salome had recently been considering closing the sim altogether. “So when I began to talk about closing the sim,” she continues, “Grace reminded me of all these things I wanted to do back in the day, and how using the sim to tell a story and allow people to wander and interact with it was something we’d never done.”
Most of the items found in The Garden – statues, landscaping items, plants, etc., have been carefully selected by Salome and Grace, and their use reveals another aspect to The Garden’s purpose, as Salome explained to me. “I wanted the build to be a showcase of SL creators. The landscapers in SL put out such amazing stuff. I plan to have rewards. I’m going to seek a sponsor for each of our 21 achievements so our game players can get rewards and we can send traffic of paying customers to content creator stores.”
I asked Salome what kind of rewards she was planning to offer. As with the rest of the build, it was clear that she’d given this considerable thought, “I’d like to use all different kinds of creators so that we can act as a showcase that reflects the amazing talent that is out there,” she replied. “Although I love fashion, I don’t want to focus on a lot of fashion rewards. Ideally, I’d like mostly landcapers and art pieces.”
The idea here is that a reward should clearly be a reward, something that a player will appreciate as coming from the game itself, rather than being a reason for participating in the game or visiting The Garden; were the latter to be the case, it would quite frankly be a waste of all the hard work and inspiration which has gone into creating The Garden. As such, Salome’s focus is very much – and quite rightly – on developing The Garden so that it offers enough entertainment to stand on its own for a very modest asking price.
All-in-all, The Garden is an absorbing experience. The game play element is engaging and thought-provoking, the region a delight to explore, encouraging player to immerse themselves in their explorations. There has been so much attention to detail here that it is sure to delight any visitor – and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it becomes a favourite location for some of SL’s landscape photographers; my images here scarcely do it justice. I found the puzzle itself very absorbing and enjoyable, and I will doubtless be back again to further try my hand. I’m also very much looking forward to discovering the story element, once Salome is ready to reveal this.
This really is a must-visit location.
- The Garden (Seven Veils) SLurl (Rated General)
- The Garden website
- The Garden Flickr group
- My index of SL in-world places to visit