Development Notes: ‘Back to the Garden’

Jul 27


Back to the Garden Sketch

Back to the Garden started out as an idea to make a series of games based on the music of Jason Webley. Jason gives a concert every autumn during which he dies theatrically on stage. He doesn’t perform all winter until the spring when he has a rebirth performance. I thought it would fun to play off of this idea in the games, where at the beginning of each game Jason would be killed, and the goal of the game would be to bring him back to life. Fans could win song downloads, desktop wallpapers, and other fun stuff.

Ultimately, Jason and I decided against producing the entire series, but Back to the Garden has been slowly growing in popularity as more and more people discover it.


The first step in starting to produce this game was to see if I could figure out the programming I would need to make the game work. I built a quick sketch in Processing to try to flesh out my idea of how it would work. I was able to get the Processing sketch working enough to convince me that I could accomplish the entire program.

Processing Sketch of Back to the Garden

When a seed is placed in the garden it first needs to check if any of its neighbors match its color. If a neighbor does match, it needs to check all of those neighbors to see if they match. All the while, the original seed needs to keep a count of how many matches there are.

To accomplish this I wrote a method in the seed class that sends out tree-like tentacles to retrieve the total number of matching seeds. Essentially, it goes like this:

if you (seed) match:

  • ask each of your neighbors for the number of matches he has.
  • add all the results.
  • add yourself.
  • give me the result.

So seed0 asks seed1 for his number of matches. Seed1 then asks seed1a, seed1b and seed1c. If none of them match, seed1 returns 1 match (himself) to to seed0. Seed0 then goes on to ask seed2, and so on. This way, even if the seed put down has only one matching neighbor, the query can travel down a chain of matches to determine if there are enough to sprout the seeds.


I knew I wanted to make the game in the same old-timey woodcut style that Jason uses on his albums and posters. Translating this style to the small size I needed for the game graphics turned out to be more difficult than I expected, but I think I eventually got the look down pretty good.

Veggie Sketches

Veggie Icons

Back to the Garden Screenshot


Most people seem to really enjoy the game. I think the concept and artwork go well with the song to create a cohesive package for the game. I think the game’s main shortcoming is that it is too easy. Unless you are being careless with your seeds, it’s pretty easy to keep playing indefinitely. This could be easily solved by adding more weeds, or adding a 4th color and veggie. It might be nice to have levels that got progressively more difficult also. Since I wanted the game to have a clear attainable goal (to save Jason and win the secret download), I decided this simple one-level gameplay structure was appropriate.

Play Back to the Garden Now

And don’t forget to check out Jason Webley