The Miller's Garden

by Damon L. Wakes

2021

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Number of Reviews: 6
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1-6 of 6


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Quick, efficient motivation and reflection without philosophical cliches, November 30, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

The author has labeled TMG as "experimental," and on my first play-through, that seemed like a cover for "heck, I'll throw something together and claim it's experimental." Oh, sure, the graphics of gardens depicted as rhomboid tiles was cute. It's neat that people offer that sort of thing on itch.io for free, and I think the visuals worked well with the game. But that was it, right?

Because the gameplay seemed awfully repetitive. Not annoyingly, tediously repetitive, but hey, once you get it, it's not too hard to keep going. You've been left some land to tend to, and the lawn and flowers and watermeadow by the river keep eroding, so they need to be tended to more. There's a pamphlet discussing the flooding, which seems like a red herring, but it's not, because the mill you've built is the reason the river is redirected and ruining your nice garden and such--also, the dry text says-without-saying that this sort of thing destroys beauty. It's not hard to figure how to be able to tend to everything you need to for each day of internal time. You then fall asleep, tired from your exertions, before you wake up and have to do it again. So after a bit, I said, okay, I get it, and I, in solidarity with the main character, fell asleep. Then I woke up and poked around to see if there was more. There was. A game-day later, I went through the motions and was asked "Is this how you wish to spend the rest of your days?"

The irony is that I probably wasted more time with more "interesting" stuff before I came back to TMG to see the whole point of it. Even then, I sort of missed the point until I thought about it again.

So the experiment worked. What seemed like a nice, harmless, tidily-packaged fifteen-minute game left a question stuck with me. Sure, I'd asked it before. I'd had others ask it of me, in that “your time isn't valuable but you're morally obliged not to waste it” sort of way. I'd felt bad not feeling fully inspired by people yelling "GET OUT THERE AND DO WHAT YOU REALLY WANT TO DO." It reminded me of how I'd spent some days, not even building anything back up, and I'd have done well to ask myself that question before sitting around for three or more hours, doing something that took energy but not getting anywhere. Perhaps it was at a website that long outlived its usefulness or benefit. Or maybe it was playing a game I'd mastered and found nothing new at.

But by this time I'd forgotten that it was the mill's fault that you had to do this extra work to keep your nice garden up. And so the "is this how you wish to spend the rest of your days?" question becomes more serious. Work and profit have gotten in the way so much that you've forgotten Nice Things, or rather, upkeep of the Nice Things gets so boring, you've forgotten what was there. And that happens whether you own a mill or not. Coworkers distract you from time to yourself. You need to learn new skills. You need to meet and keep in touch with the right people, people who are far less likely to have a garden than you. It brings to mind the opposite of the ending of Voltaire's Candide where the main character says "bien sur, il faut tenir notre jardin." And it takes even less time to (re-)read than Candide.

All this is more motivating to me than being yelled at to either get out there and live or do what you have to do. It reminds me of days I want to tidy up works I've written, or how I want to exercise every day or look through my old writing notes, where there probably won't be anything awesome in any 10-minute stretch, but when there is, it's really awesome. We all need these wake-up calls, and I'm not the sort who likes loud, rousing ones. They exhaust me. I suppose TMG worked on a superficial level and then a deeper level, and it will stop working one day, and I'll have to ask myself "is this how you wish to spend the rest of your time you use to get motivated?" But in any case, TMG really helped me get through all the other entries in IFComp, and I'm glad I did.

Because "Is this how you wish to spend the rest of your days?" is a question we need to ask ourselves, and we know it, but we also need the right context so we don't blow it off, or so we find a better way to spend the rest of our days. And of course we need to ask it before making drastic decisions like building a mill. I'm glad TMG asked this of me, and hopefully the next time I spend more than 15 minutes somewhere out of inertia, I'll know to ask this question without going through a few loops.

I feel like I'm raving about how it's the sort of game you don't rave about. But I think we need that sort of thing. TMG is an oddity for an IFComp entry despite not saying "LOOK AT ME I'M ODD." Its economical design certainly made me think back to my plans for 2021's IFComp--with 100 entries in 2020, I really wanted to make something that people could enjoy briefly, feel good about solving or working through, and move on to the next one, while still offering challenging things to think about. And I certainly hoped to see other games that did this for me. It may seem like backhanded praise to "attaboy, sport" TMG as a "glue guy" sort of game or a "good team player," but I certainly saw it that way, as something small that punched well above its weight and gave perhaps the best insight-per-time-spent ratio of any entry. And if IFComp continues to have 70 entries, well, I think we need efforts like this that help us breathe and still reveal a few things. Some will find it over-general, and I can't blame them, but I'm glad I didn't.


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A simple idea well-communicated, November 23, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

A short mood piece – if it were a painting, it’d be a landscape – The Miller’s Garden provides a tidy meditation on impermanence. There’s no backstory or characters, just a situation: the player comes to an abandoned garden by the side of a river, which is slowly being reclaimed by weeds and water, and each day can choose how and whether to try to shore it up – cutting the reeds, mowing the grass, maintaining the rocky banks.

Of course there’s a catch, and the catch is – well, spoilers for a ten-minute game: (Spoiler - click to show) entropy, because this isn’t a farming sim. No matter how much you shore up the riverbank, the water will eventually drown the garden. Pleasantly, this isn’t just a matter of nature swallowing the hubristic works of man, since my reading of the game is that the construction of the now-defunct mill changed the behavior of the river, and now the river is in turn changing the garden. There’s a nice sentiment that emerges here, as you tend the garden to create some transient beauty before the inevitable comes, without the game implying that this is a futile or useless task (besides the occasional prompt asking you if you’re sure you want to persist until the end – I detected no judgment when I said I wanted to do so.)

It’s a lovely idea and it works on its own terms, but I wished there’d been a little more descriptive zing to the prose. Since this is such a small thing, confined to the same few locations and the same few tasks over multiple days, I would have liked to see a little more detail on exactly what kind of flowers are growing, or have the river’s rise rendered with a bit more sensitivity. Still, there’s a power in restraint in a piece of this kind, so I can respect that.

Highlight: The game is pretty much of a piece, but I got a lot of enjoyment from the opening epigram, which quotes from a recent scientific paper on the game’s exact subject matter – I can’t help but wonder whether it was the impetus for the piece’s creation.

Lowlight: I’m not sure if this was a bug or not, but about midway through the game, the garden’s flowerbed location seemed to disappear, so I could only go from the lawn to the river-bank. I liked that flowerbed, so I missed it!

How I failed the author : it took me way longer to realize the flowerbed had gone away than it should have (blame sleep deprivation).


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Was it really worth the reduced floodplain inundation rates?, November 10, 2021

This game looks nice and is easy to navigate, but it wasn't much fun. It's very repetitive. It makes a heavy-handed point if you play through to the end, but some of the subtle changes that happen during the game are easy to misinterpret. I believe that the purpose of the game is to demonstrate what effects water mills had on river-floodplain systems. It sounds like it probably was bad, but I'm not 100% because I don't understand anything I read when I did a search on it. I also don't know what a river-floodplain consists of, or how many there are, but I guess we can be thankful that cheap electricity means we don't have as many water mills around anymore.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short game where nothing much happens, October 26, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

The IFComp blurb and quotation that displays on the title screen had me interested to play this game, but it greatly disappointed. Unless I missed something significant, rather than examining the impacts that a person can have on a place, in both life and death, and how time can change a landscape, the game is little more than a pacing simulator. You just walk back and forth between a few locations until the sun sets, then you can do it again the next day. I played through three days and didn't really notice any mechanics or philosophical musings. I feel this was a missed opportunity. Pull up the game to enjoy the river soundscape that plays in the background, that was the best part.


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A short and simple game with surprisingly little feedback, October 24, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

I took a lot of ballroom dance classes in college, and I remember one of the biggest problems a pair could have is noodle arms. If the arms are rigid, the two dancers can communicate effectively, but if they're lose, dancers tend to step on and run into each other.

This game has some good ideas but has so little feedback. I had no idea what was going on until I peaked at the code.

Gameplay-wise, you wake up and have 3-4 areas you can take care of by watering, removing trash, etc. (Spoilers for ending and mechanic)(Spoiler - click to show)This lasts for 7 days, and, each day, the river grows bigger, removing gameplay areas unless you shore it up enough the day before.

For me, it was difficult to see any effect of my actions, besides the immediate ones of watering and such. (Spoiler - click to show)The effect of the river was indicated by the absence of old text, not the presence of new, and as I was shoring up a lot from the beginning, I saw few changes. This, for me, made the game more or less a tedium simulator. Even once I knew what was going on, I had no real reason to care for either out come, because I was nobody in a nobody land. I can see the thought experiment, but it just didn't pan out for me.


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Potamological potterings, October 9, 2021
by ChrisM (Cambridge, UK)

Curious, impressionistic piece about time, impermanence, and ‘net channel incision’ (to use a technical term concerning the effect of water mill construction and demolition on the topography of river beds of which I was previously unaware; one learns something new every day).

You play a visitor to the garden of the title, the mill itself having long been demolished, where you can wander through a small number of locations and spend time pruning, tidying, shoring-up and generally fighting entropy while, hard on your heels, time stalks you like a jealous ex-lover and unravels all of your good work as fast as you accomplish it so that you have to continually loop back and start all over again. And all this to the soothing (if bathroom-visit inducing) accompaniment of running water and some pleasing poly art graphics.

As both a game and a story, it’s rather slight, if not unpleasing. One could spend more time than the 20 minutes or so that I spent with it contemplating what it shows us about the futility of existence and suchlike, but it doesn’t really justify the effort (or at least it didn't, for me). “Is this really how you wish to spend your days?” the game asks pointedly, after a few cycles of building up and knocking down, and the answer has to be: no, not really. But as something to while away a quick tea break, it will do just fine.



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