Image courtesy of Miguel Sternberg.
When faced with a snarling CG enemy, most video game characters will unsheathe a sword or yank out a rifle. Some even throw handfuls of magic. But Molly Greenthumb goes for ownage with a trowel and some sprouts. She’s the protagonist of Guerrilla Gardening, the upcoming PC game from local indie outfit Spooky Squid that gives the growing (ahem) activist movement a pixel-over.
Spooky Squid founder Miguel Sternberg didn’t spend his late nights fertilizing forgotten public land. “I’d been interested in general in street art and the street art movement for ages,” he says, “I was also interested in using plants as a game mechanic. Then I read about guerrilla gardening in a Boing Boing post, and it fit with the other ideas in my head. I thought, ‘that has to be a game.’” He’s since been working on Guerrilla Gardening for over a year (a progress report can be seen in trailer form), researching the work of UK activist Richard Reynolds and even going on some vigilante missions with the Toronto Public Space Committee.
Sternberg realized that planting a few rogue ferns does not a video game make. Instead, he constructed a city in which all plants have been banned by the concrete-hugging dictator General Bauhaus. Molly tiptoes through the various districts of her hometown, laying down seeds and inspiring others to rise up alongside her against the leaf-hatin’ Bauhaus. “You don’t have to know the right soil type,” Sternberg promises, “It’s more the meta idea of planting gardens and cheering people up.”
Though inspired by the stealth concepts in Metal Gear Solid and the Dreamcast street art game Jet Grind Radio, Sternberg singles out the nineties PC pixelfest Syndicate as a major visual inspiration. In a market fixated with CG realism, he is dedicated to the game’s retro pixel aesthetic. “I love the number of little animations you can get out of a tiny sprite,” he says, “How such simplicity can have so much emotion.”
Sternberg previously designed the back cover for Scott Pilgrim v.4, and like that series, Guerrilla Gardening will recognize specific Toronto landmarks. Though there’s still a lot to confirm over the next year(ish) before the game is released, he says a building influenced by Robarts Library will play a major role in Molly’s world. “That brutalist architecture is perfect for representing General Bauhaus. It’s squat and ugly in a fantastic way.”