Wonder what it’s like to create all those detailed garden areas and memorable storylines? In this series of articles, we peek behind the curtain of this complicated yet exciting process. So buckle up, and let’s get started!

Every garden area manages to wow with its unique theme, evocative decorations, and unexpected plot twists. It’s a challenge to come up with all of that while still keeping the game fun for both veteran and new players. Luckily for us, we have a team of over thirty top-class game designers, artists, and animators all working their magic to make it happen. Every garden area goes through three main steps:

1) designing a compelling narrative;
2) creating captivating art;
3) and packaging it all together.

Today we’re going to explore the first step. We’ll see who's responsible for the narrative and how it gets developed.

Narrative design: Brainstorming
It all starts with an idea. A narrative designer's job is to find THE ONE idea that will excite you or maybe even make you tear up. Remember when you and Austin built the treehouse and found the puppy? How did you feel? Did it remind you of your childhood? That’s what we’re talking about!

Creating the Treehouse Memories chapter was a particularly difficult task. It’s the first garden expansion, and it is the one that makes it or breaks it for a player. If we lose a player at this point, then we’ve probably lost them for good. We needed something personal, but also something universal that people from all over the world could relate to, so it took a lot of head-scratching and research.

Great ideas are usually born of the simple things around us: childhood memories, old legends, favorite movies and books, or maybe something that a developer dreamed about the night before the brainstorming meetup. The next day these dreams will likely find themselves on sticky notes all over the conference room walls.

The brainstorming phase can last from a couple of days up to a whole week. By that time, there’s no free space left on the wall for any more sticky notes. The time has come to tidy up and toss everything but the best idea.

Narrative design: Choosing the best
It's the time for tough choices. Over the course of a few meetups, the narrative designers go through all their ideas and scratch the vast majority of them. It can be a painful process — nobody likes to see their ideas fall to the side. It’s a good thing there's a "maybe-next-time" pile of ideas for future areas, so all that creative work doesn’t go to waste.

To pass the test, an idea has to align with the overall game concept. Suggestions like, “Let’s do this area in an anime style” or, “What if a UFO flies into the garden?” don’t usually get too far! The idea also has to add something significant to the plot: a key decoration, a funny scene, or an interesting conflict for the player to resolve. For the Treehouse Memories area, the narrative designers considered whether or not their ideas had the potential to trigger a powerful emotional response from players. Who wouldn’t be excited about having a little house in a tree and a puppy?

It takes weeks of debate leading up to a final vote to choose an area’s central concept and draft a raw script with the main points of the plot. The Treehouse Area evolved around the childhood dreams of a few narrative designers. For them, having a treehouse was the ticket to becoming the coolest kid in the neighborhood. The idea quickly climbed to the top of the list because everyone connected with it right away.

Everyone’s favorite pup also has a backstory! The dog lovers on the team pointed out that getting a puppy is a compelling emotional experience. The idea was perfect for the opening garden area, so it was an almost unanimous decision to include the pup. It turns he even has some real-life doppelgangers on the development team!

Narrative design: Going from good to awesome
Now that the hardest part is over, it’s time to refine the ideas and finalize the narrative.

The story in your garden develops around a few principal objects in the area. The treehouse is a great example — it’s both an evocative decoration and a reason for Austin and his friends to get nostalgic and reminisce about the past.

Based on these primary decorations, the narrative designers plan the sequence of tasks you need to complete to reveal the story. Along the way, they have Austin interact with other characters, so this is also the point when our team writes the dialogue and all of Austin's hilarious jokes that you enjoy while progressing through the story.

Once the narrative with all the dialogue and garden tasks gets the green light, the narrative designers share their creation with the art team. It’s time to bring the new area to life! Stay tuned to learn how garden areas are drawn and animated in our next article!