Taking care of a plant is a great introduction into learning how capable you are of caring for a living thing. But rather than starting with a real plant, why not start with a virtual one? With Seedling on the Magic Leap One, you can nurture your very own artificial life form whether you’re at home or work.
Created by Insomniac Games, the studio behind Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4, Seedling is a game that tasks you with growing a “seedling” in real time. You’re given a virtual plant to check in on from time to time to make sure it’s thriving, not unlike taking care of a Neopet. We spent some time with the game on the Magic Leap One mixed reality headset to see if taking care of a mixed-reality plant worth the time and investment.
The Magic Leap One has been under development for years, but it officially launched this past summer. It’s a mixed reality headset, meaning you can see computer-generated images in the physical space in front of you, while also seeing the rest of the real world. In Seedling, you will be placing these virtual plants around your work space or home, and the game will remember where they are placed. While you won’t have control over the type of plant you get, each time you successfully bring one to life, you’ll be able to start nurturing a new plant to add to your collection throughout your space.
But you need a little more than a headset to get Seedling going with the Magic Leap One. It’s powered by a puck-shaped Lightpack miniature PC, which we clipped onto the pocket of our jeans after putting the headset on. Then there’s the controller, which comes equipped with a circular touch pad that supports haptic feedback — it’s what you’ll use to access the variety of tools provided to help take care of your plant (which we’ll get to later). Since there are cameras placed on the front of the goggles, you can interact with the graphics using your free-hand, but only in certain parts of the game. For instance, in the beginning there was a book laid out and we turned the page by touching the virtual page with our free hand and flipping over to the next one. You can touch parts of the plant, which will trigger reactions, movement, or noise.
In short, Seedling takes place in a galactic ecosystem where all plants have been destroyed. Taking on the title of “Seedling Cadet,” you’re tasked with bringing plants back to life and making sure they don’t fall victim to the diseases that now exist in the atmosphere. In our demo, we experienced the accelerated version of the game so it went quicker than usual. But when played normally, a narrator will be present taking you through the entire story with little blurbs that pop up to read. Plants won’t show any new symptoms or reactions as quickly.
The game drops hints as you play, letting you know what’s going on with the plant and which tool to use to help it flourish. For example, at one point our plant had been infested with blight — indicated by these long, red strings that hung on the plant. We used our controller to find the tweezers, and then proceeded to pluck each of the strings off the plant one by one until they were all gone. This action triggered a new phase for the plant, and we moved on to the next order of business, which included watering it or cutting off buds off that were no longer going to bloom.
Graphics in the game are bright and clear. Even though the only object projected on to our table is the plant, there’s plenty of detail, whether it’s the glowing ice-blue water or the magenta leaves. At one point, we even saw a tiny green frog hop across the table. Seedling gives off a whimsical feel with splashes of pastel and neon colors encapsulating your view.
That’s really all there is to the game. There’s a back story to set the stage, but it doesn’t truly impact game play. You’re not out to save specific characters or follow a grand quest: The only goal is to keep your plant alive. The game doesn’t end there, though, as you are able to care for new plants, with the option to place them in different areas of your home or office. Each one will also grow around what’s in the space, whether that’s a bookshelf or desk accessories.
Seedling isn’t difficult to catch on to or learn. Getting used to the controls might be difficult at first, but since there’s not much going on in the game, it doesn’t feel overwhelming and you can take your time to get the hang of it. In terms of controls, there’s not much to remember either. Just slide your thumb across the touch pad to search your toolbox, and the rest feels like natural movements.
Patience is key. Any issues with your plant aren’t completely dire, and you’re not timed to complete specific tasks at that exact moment. Once we saw a pop-up in the corner of our lens, it told us exactly what we needed to do. Each issue the plant had didn’t take us long to resolve either. Since you’re supposed to be checking in periodically throughout the life span of your seedling, you won’t have to spend hours playing — you’ll have to wait a while until something new strikes. We have yet to experience Seedling over a long period of time, but without push notifications, we can already tell we might find ourselves over-checking at times.
On paper, the concept of Seedling sounds like a huge waste of time. But the minute we took off the Magic Leap One, we couldn’t help but notice how zen we felt. Walking in from the busy streets of New York, listing the millions of things we had to do after the demo, we were a bit crazed. It was hard not to notice that after spending about 15 to 20 minutes, taking care of a virtual plant made us feel a lot calmer. While one could argue that gardening has the same effect, it’s tough to participate in outdoor activities like that in such a big city especially when it’s cold out. Most apartments also a bit too cramped to house anything other than the essentials. There’s also the fact that bright colors, coupled with calming music in the background, offer a change of scenery and mood.
But we can’t help think about how ridiculous it all will look while sitting at our desks at work or even at home with roommates. There’s also the insane price you’d be paying for a slice of serenity. While Seedling costs $10, you will need to shell out a hefty $2,295 for the Magic Leap One. At that point, we’d rather invest our money in a real plant and put together a great Spotify playlist — or maybe take a yoga class.
There’s also apps currently on the market that are similar to the concept of Seedling meant specifically for stress relief. For starters, there My Oasis which allows you to grow your own oasis by adding plants, flowers, and animals to create your own zen garden. There’s also Viridi, where you can nurture your own succulents in real time as well — both of which you can download for free.
The only drawback to using these types of apps on your smartphone, is that they don’t transform you into another realm the way that Magic Leap does. Even though Seedling superimposed these images into our current surrounding, it still felt like we’d been plucked out of our element and transported into another world with the headset on.
The goggles and speakers on Magic Leap help to enhance the zen feeling that Seedling gives off, especially since you can interact with the plant by using your hand or the controller. Meanwhile with a smartphone, you’re simply touching the display which cheapens the overall experience — to mimic the experience as close as possible, your best bet would probably be to invest in a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
At first we thought it was a shame that Seedling is stuck on one platform, but it definitely wouldn’t be as impressive or as calming of an experience without being powered by Magic Leap One. But Seedling is on to something when it comes to escapism that doesn’t come in the form of intense gaming and hours of attention. Expensive price tag aside, it’s hard to say we would turn away the option to take a break from our smartphones and surroundings for a little while each day in exchange for the virtual oasis Seedling would provide us.
We’ll be spending a few more days with Seedling, and will update this story with additional impressions soon.