Happy February! Last year, I made a game about a dying flower. It’s been finished for a while, though I didn’t have the heart to put it up for a number of reasons. Still, it’s been long enough, so I’d better dig it up, brush the dirt off the leaves, and replant it before another season passes.
Last Hour for a Flower (LHFF) is a visual novel about interacting with a dying peony. It’s pretty short, so feel free to give it a poke here if you’re feeling whimsical.
I figured I should also jot down a couple of thoughts while I’m at it.
SPOILER ALERT FOR EVERYTHING AFTER THIS - You should go play it first before reading anything else -
We rolled a custom scripting language (affectionately called “jonquil”) for the game, which is synatatically similar to Ren’Py, with fewer features and some specific to the game. Eric even wrote the world’s cutest syntax highlight for Vim…
Writing a game about dying flowers is admittedly pretty morbid, but I find flowers just tragic as they are beautiful. Perennials might persist the best, but cutting a flower basically condemns it to death in a vase, prolonged by the occasional nutrient package mixed into the water. Blossoming is succeeded by inevitable withering. How would it feel to be put on display only to die shortly afterward?
This is why LHFF originally began as a horror game, whose nightmare fuel was born out of my deep love for floral symbolism and mythology. It ended up being a scaled-down game that tries to ask play around with the idea of growth, beauty, and transcience. What is it like to interact with something that fades so quickly? How do you interact with something that is destined to die the more you talk to it?
Regarding the symbolism, I didn’t rely on a definitive authority for it. Given my location in the states, I (and probably most of the audience) get exposed to primarily-Western interpretations of flowers. Exposure-wise, the Victorian era popularized much of what people here associate with flora today and every high school student who reads Shakespeare’s Hamlet gets exposed to Ophelia’s ramblings of rosemary and rue. But there’s lots of history and mythology across the world for flowers that I dug up for this project…and certainly more that I probably missed.
For this reason, everything in LHFF regarding floral symbolism tries to be as deliberate as I could make it work. LHFF is an informal love letter to floral fangirls like me, and perhaps a sympathetic botanist or two (since there is scientific symbolism scattered in the narrative and backgorund as well - see the morning glory that rarely gets talked about). The game alludes to a much larger world and adventure beyond the game’s single room (and exterior door). This world is fleshed out in the development material (with lots of Flowers that never get mentioned), but much of it never made it into the story. It’s something I’d revisit if I ever decide to let the Garden grow again.
Some brief notes about our titular flower: Pio is a Paeonia suffructicosa. The Wikipedia article gives a summary of the species and I’m sure you can probably guess why I picked it. Honestly, it’s too beautiful a flower not to use in a game like this and I can only hope I did it justice.
So why peonies? When I originally thought about the Garden, I wanted a flower of every color. Pio is the pink flower and while there was a very long list of potential candidates, I wanted something both noble and unorthodox. So what could be nobler than the so-called “king of flowers”?
But beyond that, there’s also the fact that I attempted to watch my mother grow peonies for over a decade. She planted the flowers when I was in elementary school and by the time I graduated, she was lucky if she got a blossom or two every year (they’re since bloomed beautifully now that I’m out of the house). Hence, had LHFF been a dating game, cultivating your relationship with Pio would have been just as excrutiating as watching actual peonies grow. Perhaps it’s a good thing you don’t get to romance him… Pio would have been that sterotypically-difficult main route that took way too much effort to accomplish (but would have been the most satisfying to complete).