November 3, 2022
Games Lift: Elin Meinecke on sowing diversity
One person is behind farming sim RPG Evergreen Garden: Elin Meinecke is solely responsible for the art and game design of her project. She brings a degree in illustration to her work in the incubator – and inspiration from her garden.
Elin stops and thinks before giving an answer: "It's going well!" she says about the past few weeks. Her application to the Games Lift Incubator has already started to pay off. Elin Meinecke is delighted with all the lessons she has learned. That’s not just due to the full schedule of the first few weeks, but also to the helpful feedback from other teams in the incubator program.
Working with a deadline helps Elin focus on the essentials. Most important for her project right now are the "mechanics" of gardening, she explains. This might sound strange at first. Gardening and farming have been a popular element of gaming for decades, with well understood mechanics: Plow, sow, water, harvest. But this simplification of reality has an unfortunate effect: Plants don’t interact with each other or their environment. That’s why many games on the subject end up supporting just one effective tactic – monoculture farming.
Elin’s experience is a different one. She grew up in the pastoral Lüneburg Heath, close to Hamburg. Her Grandmother lived next door. Elin was "always in the garden".
What a garden is about
Elin has grown to love nature. But she has also learned "what gardening is all about." Obstacles and challenges abound. Plants get sick, snails eat everything. But Elin is adamant that "every animal is part of the environment." She loves the experience of gardening "with nature and not against it". A diverse garden that attracts different animals and insects is better for it; it is more robust and resilient.
Elin has a degree illustration from HAW Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, but her enthusiasm for games is not new. The first Harvest Moon she played was on the Super NES. Inspiration for Evergreen Garden came to her, when she was enrolled and living in Hamburg. Aphids had infested a rose in her small garden. Elin was angry at first, but then she found the challenge interesting: "This could work in a game!", she thought. Pesticides are not the only way to fight Aphids. Ladybird larvae eat them, and they in turn are attracted to marigolds.
In Evergreen Garden, players are "rewarded for growing many different plants," Elin explains. They have to consider who stands next to whom and what influence they exert. Elin sums up her vision: "If you grow diversity, the game world becomes more diverse in general."
Painting a game
At first glance, however, it is not this idea that leaves the biggest impression. It is Evergreen Garden’s remarkable art style. The game, still in an early stage, already looks alive, quaint, and easy to read. Elin paints each and every graphical element of her game by hand, with acrylic paint on paper. The fact that her canvas won’t let her undo anything is what makes the method "really exciting" to her. And from study projects, she has learned how to paint elements modularly, so they can be assembled, moved and rearranged in a game.
Elin doesn't want to do everything alone. During her studies, she has learned first-hand that you can achieve "much more as a team." A coder is already involved in the project, even though he is not part of her incubator team – Elin knows him "since sandbox days". Many elements of her game, from the village with its inhabitants to other player activities will have to come later. And the team will have to grow as well.
Elin paints a clear picture of her priorities. Her first playable prototype will show the farming mechanics in action, and soon: The graduation pitch is scheduled for December 1. "I'm doing well," Elin says. She has to stick to her plan and cannot give in to her "perfectionism" when working on illustrations. At this stage of development, graphics are not yet important. That may be true, but it makes the vibrancy of Elin’s work-in-progress-illustrations all the more impressive. It will take time until Evergreen Garden blooms – but something special is obviously growing here.
This article is part of our Games Lift Log series, in which we share peeks behind the scenes of our Games Lift Incubator program and portrait the teams that joined the incubator program this year.