Cultivate: The Allotment #2

We’ve started covering patches of grass with cardboard to kill the incredibly tufty grass underneath. This is part of our no-dig method, where we’re seeking to keep the structure and life in the soil intact. By putting cardboard (recycled from a local shop!) on top, we’ll kill the grass, but its nutrients will go back into the ground.


Allotment Cardboard


The partially filled (with water) plastic bottles are to weigh the cardboard down.


A composting bin had been left by some previous tenants of our allotment, and we’ve been fastidiously collecting grass cuttings and kitchen leftovers for it! Something (A rat? A rabbit? A small fox?) has been burrowing underneath to steal some of it, but we’re hoping a big pile of grass cuttings will help stop this (but at least someone is enjoying our hard work!).


At first glance, the allotment looked like it was simply covered in grass, but when we started to look more closely, we found that the grass was concealing a lot of things! There was an open growbag – only a small amount of it still protruding from the grass – that we had to dig out. There were several disintegrating plastic pots. There’s a tarpaulin which we’ve still not been able to dig out – it’s under a lot of tangly grass and earth. And there was a deckchair which I only realised was there when I felt something odd underfoot.


Allotment Rubbish


Due to the incredible number of large lumps created by the species of grass that’s taken over the allotment, we’ve decided to make a mulch path down to the bottom in an attempt to stop us falling over and hurting ourselves. Using the loudest wheelbarrow in the world, we’ve started work on this.


Allotment Wheelbarrow


It’s definitely going to take some time though as the piles of mulch provided to the allotment by the council is down a steep hill – pushing the full wheelbarrow back up is a bit taxing.


Allotment Mulch Path


Cultivate: Before Time Dev Blog #2 – Scenes, Character and Fade Shader

I planned how to structure the game within Unity, and decided to use multiple scenes for different aspects of the game. So for example, there’ll be a menu scene, a base scene which controls the overall behaviour of the game, and a scene for each area in the game. There’ll be several areas including the village, caves, a beach, and a prehistoric rainforest! The base scene will always be loaded along with the area scene the player is currently in.

I also wrote a character controller. We’re using Cinemachine to control the camera – it’s exactly what we need – a camera centred on the player’s character, constrained within a specific area. We’ve not done the animations yet, but here’s a rough version of what the characters will look like!


To transition between area scenes, I wrote an image effect shader which fades between the game and black, and back again. The code works out which area the player is moving into and loads that area scene.



I named the C# classes that make this work things like TeleportationManager mainly because it makes me smile each time I read it!



Howdy folks, Gwen here – Living Ember’s writer and artist. My blog posts will be about the story and art mischief I’ve been up to…


The evolution of art style and tree design…


We’re in the process of developing our art style. Though we are fans of pixel art and games like Stardew Valley, what we want to achieve with our art style is a drawn style more along the lines of a brighter, twee version of Don’t Starve.

In putting pen [graphics pen] to paper [graphics tablet], it became apparent that the first attempt (see tree below) was not working for us. 

small tree drawing


Only by having something as a visual starting point did we begin to formulate further ideas about what we wanted. We came up with some keywords that are now guiding the development of the artwork:  



Jenny and I both like watercolours, so we embraced the idea of using a watercolour texture and then sketching over this, then layering further to get the level of ‘tuftiness’ we wanted. The next iteration of the pine tree (image below) is much closer to the style we are seeking.

rugged watercolour tree

Here’s another example of a rather flat first iteration of a tree…

flat tree

…and then the more developed version…

rugged tree with parts

As we keep developing our art style we’re sure to keep improving and getting a better idea of what works for our game. I’ll be sharing images of undeveloped and developed images as we go along. 

Cultivate: Before Time Dev Blog #1 – Tiles, tree brush and a Unity tilemap shader

Development on Cultivate: Before Time has begun!


Hello everyone, Jenny here – Living Ember’s programmer, game designer and composer. I’ll be sharing development blog posts each week to show you what we’ve been working on – you’ll be able to see how creating the game is progressing. Gwen will be writing separate posts about the artwork and story.

We’re making Cultivate: Before Time with Unity – a game engine which comes with a lot of useful things built in. One of these things is the tilemap editor – which makes drawing with tiles easy.

This week, I’ve programmed a new tile type that allows us to automatically draw the ground. 47 different tiles are needed for this!


Drawing tufty soil at runtime for Cultivate: Before Time


We’ll be using this tile to let players dig the earth when they want to do some farming.

I’ve also created a new brush which lets us easily add randomly sized and tinted trees (or other objects!) – this way, each tree is slightly different, making the scene look more interesting.


Unity Random Tree Brush for Cultivate: Before Time


We felt that the terrain looked too flat, so to add a sense of depth and texture, I wrote a shader that lets us add detail to the tiles – it makes a massive difference. Klei Entertainment’s Don’t Starve was an influence here as their tiles look amazing. 


Detailed Tufty Ground for Cultivate: Before Time




Cultivate: Before Time Game Music

We’ve spent some time thinking about what style(s) of music will work well in Cultivate: Before Time…


The game is set in the Cornish countryside in a range of terrains, and has a twee, relaxing style. It’s all about exploring the surroundings to find items and knowledge to help you cultivate your land and to discover the story of the place.

After researching different music types, we realised Celtic music, sea shanties and Cèilidh style folk music will fit well with our style of game. The music from the TV series Outlander has been a big inspiration too!

Different music will play in different areas of the game, and tracks will be interspersed with ambient sounds:

  • Cornish sea shanties for the beach/sea area.
  • Desolate and beautiful Celtic music for the moorlands.
  • Ambient rainforest sounds in the forested prehistoric area.
  • The caves will have no music, just drips and the odd unnerving sound.

We’ll be using instruments like the fiddle, penny whistle, harp and bodhrán. Here is an un-mixed and un-mastered clip of the music that will play when you’re inside the local pub:


Jenny, our resident composer, is working on a much longer and more intricate song – and we’ll happily share our musical journey and developments.


Our mission is for our game CULTIVATE: BEFORE TIME to be real world relevant, using real permaculture principles. What better way to learn about what works and what doesn’t – and how exhausting and satisfying growing things is! – than by actually doing it?


As we go along, we will be posting about our allotment journey. The photo above shows our little patch of land. As you can see, it is a sloping plot. It is 2.8m by 26m, with neighbouring plots either side. Within this space we will grow many things – but there is much to do before growing can begin.

The ground is lumpy and covered in tufty grass – and therefore often slippery in our delightful wet English weather. Our first goal, therefore, is to create a mulch path down one side so that we can cultivate our allotment without injury!

We are going to try out a no-dig method: this involves covering the grass with cardboard to kill it in places. This allows for the soil and its ecosystem of bacteria, worms and bugs to be kept intact, and the grass’s nutrients are reabsorbed by the earth rather than removed. We’ll keep you updated on how it goes!


An Overview…

Cultivate: Before Time is a twee farming adventure with a strong narrative based around a time travel accident that propels a whole village into prehistoric times.


The player is invited to explore the quaint village, prehistoric terrain, rugged moorland and mysterious caves in search of resources, tools and knowledge, learning to cultivate their land and survive in another time. Along the way, the player forges friendships, tames dinosaurs and crafts useful items. They discover the truth behind their trip into the past and must decide whether to return to their own time.

What do we want to achieve with our game?

  • Science! We want to be more scientific in terms of how environmental factors affect plant growth and take interactions between different plants and animals into account.
  • Non-transaction based relationships. Many games use transactions to build friendships/relationships in-game: giving gifts = friendship. We want to get away from this style of relationship building.
  • An interesting world made richer by story. We want the world of Cultivate: Before Time to not just be about farming, but to also be about exploring and discovering story.

Ultimately what we want to achieve with Cultivate: Before Time is an enjoyable experience due to its real world relevance.

We believe the latter will increase the former. If the player can emerge from the game with a greater understanding of permaculture principles and have achieved in-game friendships that weren’t ‘bought’, all while delving into a prehistoric time travel tale, that sounds like a worthwhile adventure to us!

What is permaculture? And how exactly are we intending on achieving the above? That’s for future posts! If you’d like to join us on our development adventure, sign up to our newsletter, or follow us on twitter @livingember.

Here’s a little design we’ve put together for the logo. Meet Bunsen, our little logo bunny…