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[Interview] Botany Manor’s creative director discusses upcoming game’s narrative, inspiration

Posted on March 20, 2024 by in Interviews, Switch eShop

Botany Manor interview

Back in 2022, a cozy-looking first-person puzzle game named Botany Manor was highlighted during one of Nintendo’s Indie World showcases. I had an opportunity to preview the game at PAX West last year, and enjoyed its gardening-based puzzles and the warmth of its lush locale.

Ahead of its release for Switch on April 9, I met with the game’s creative director Laure de May at Day of the Devs San Francisco to chat more about her inspiration for the game, its development, and more. You can read our full discussion below.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us about your game. Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a bit about who you are?

Yeah! I’m Laure, I live in Devon in the UK. I’m the creative director on Botany Manor from Balloon Studios, which I founded a few years ago. And it’s coming out really soon, so that’s kind of been my life the past few years!

I played a little bit of this game previously at PAX, and really enjoyed the puzzle loop of trying to grow strange plants. Can you share a bit more about the gameplay?

Yeah. So, the plants are the puzzle. You’re trying to figure out, “what does every plant need”? Like, you know in real life, some plants like shade, some plants like sun; some plants like very moist soil, and some plants not at all. And it’s the idea of, how can you push that really far? Make it really fantastical, and really extreme botanical environments. That’s sort of the design behind it.

Previously you worked at Ustwo Games, the studio behind games like Monument Valley. What led you to go off and start your own studio?

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Like, I’m a programmer, but I also really like to do the creative side and I think as a programmer, it’s hard to find something that combines everything together. And doing your own thing is the way to do everything! But honestly, it mostly started just from really wanting to make Botany Manor. And like, I just had that idea and started tweeting about it, and people seemed to like it. Then it kind of led to finding a publisher, and yeah, I sort of just found my way into it.

So where did you get the idea for this game? You alluded that this game was something you’ve been wanting to make for a while?

Yeah. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Croft Manor levels in Tomb Raider?

Yeah! Okay, this is starting to make sense.

Yeah, so I just love that. Specifically, I didn’t like to do the shooting and the going off into the dangerous world, so I always thought, how nice would it be to have a game that’s just a manor? And then I also like the idea of doing something in it, not just like a life simulator. And then plants came up, and science. Darwin was another bit of the inspiration. He has this house in the UK that I visited where he has this entire botanic playground set up. He used the facade of his house to grow climber plants and do research, and he had a really big greenhouse, and it was his research house. And that’s kind of how it came together. 

Are you a gardener yourself?

Well, a lot of people ask me that. I’m really not! I love plants and I love the science behind it. I love learning about them, but I’m not really amazing with plants, I’ll say that!

Does that mean you had to, say, consult with a real botanist or something similar while making the game?

I think we just did a lot of research, like what kinds of plants have really weird requirements in real life. And we do draw a lot of reference from real things. Like, for example, there’s a plant that requires fire for its seed to crack open. That’s a real thing that exists! So, it wasn’t it wasn’t too hard to find inspiration because there’s so much out there already, and we just crank it up a notch to the extreme sort of fantasy. 

Also, a lot of people ask, “are the plants real”? The plants are definitely not real. Don’t try this in real life, it won’t work! But it’s nice to know that people do know it’s based on real life… plants are cooler than you think, they are more evolved than people might think.

When I first demoed this game, I only got a little taste of the kind of story. With first-person puzzle games, sometimes they have fairly clear-cut stories, and other times they ask players to put the pieces together themselves. So where would you say your story falls on that spectrum?

Definitely the latter, because we don’t want to force people a certain way, so everything kind of has to be snippets that you pick up in any order. We’re consciously not a very narrative-heavy game. It’s more like if you really care, if you want to, then you can, but you’re not spoon-fed. The narrative is mostly about women and science. [It’s] drawing from my own inspiration as well of being a programmer and a woman. My artist on the team, Kit, she has sort of a similar experience. That’s our personal lives put into that story a little bit, and it’s very subtle; as I said, you’re not spoon-fed. It’s like, there’ll be a letter and it might be a bit… true to the times, of what it would have been like trying to make a career… [that] nobody really wants you to have. That kind of subtle story, it’s there. If you want to pick up on it, you will. 

So you’re incorporating your own personal experiences into Botany Manor. How does that affect how easy or difficult it might be to craft a narrative with original characters? When you’re very close to a story, I wonder if sometimes that can be a challenge. 

It was easy in the sense that we’ve lived it; we kind of find it easy to explain, we have examples that we can draw from. But I do find it nervous. It’s nervous to put a game out there that is quite personal to you. Like, if people don’t like it… I mean, obviously this character isn’t me, right? She has a different story, she has a different background, and it was a very different time as well. So, it’s not that personal, but it is always a bit scary to put something out there that is quite meaningful to you. But honestly, I think that’s the reason to do it. Like, if someone else can feel validated by it, that’s what we want. 

Yeah. So what’s the main thing you want people to take away or feel while playing Botany Manor?

I think the feeling of really wanting something but facing resistance. Facing judgment and having to push through that, and how difficult that can be. And obstacles that other people might not realize exist, and sort of making more people aware of that. That’s the goal.

This interview has been lightly edited from its original transcript for clarity and brevity only.

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