With the imminent release of not just one, but two farming games, the folks at Rising Star decided to hold a special event to celebrate the launch of Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar and Rune Factory 3, which grace the DS at the end of the week. Yesterday, they took us on a trip to Surrey Docks City Farm in London to see how life on a farm compares to on the games – and, if we were lucky, stroke some friendly animals.
Surrey Docks City Farm is located on the south bank of the River Thames, and has about 2.2 acres of land – which is very small for a farm, as most are about 100 acres at least. The aim of the farm is to provide the locals with information about farming and food production, something which studies suggested inner-city kids were unaware of - if you asked them where their beef burger came from, they would likely say Tesco.
First things first – we arrived at the farm, had a cup of tea and got given some farmers hats while we waited for the remaining journalists to arrive. Once everyone had arrived and got hatted up, we set off on a tour of the farm.
One of the first things we paid a visit to were the ferrets, which is where the quizzing started. "Do you know what ferrets are for?" our guide asked. Tempted to say "chewing on fingers and smelling funny", we resisted the urge, and answered seriously - rabbits. It turns out, the ferret's long, thin body lets them chase rabbits through their warrens - hence their inclusion here on the farm (although we're not convinced they'll see much action in inner-city London). Unfortunately, though, the ferrets seem to be quite the escape artists. As our guide attempted to get a ferret out to show us, two others decided they were going to make a break for it, and did a runner out of the cage, scarpering across the ground – and took a fair amount of hunting around to get back. After placing us on guard at the other end of the cage, and much scuffling, the ferrets were safely returned, and it was time for us to commence the stroking, and, er, sniffing, of the one remaining "friendly" ferret – seeing as they have quite a 'distinctive' aroma which puts the fear of God into rabbits...
Then we moved onto the pigs, who had loads (around ten) very happy piglets that seemed to like nothing better than skipping round the pen, and chasing after each other. Suddenly, we felt incredibly guilty for eating those sausages for breakfast. We learnt that pigs are probably the best and most profitable animals on a farm, as they produce quite big litters of piglets, which will net you a fair amount of money each – about £110 per pig, due to the amount of ways pig meat can be used. Watching the little piglets skipping around their pen, though, you couldn't help but feel cruel for even considering eating meat (at least until you smelled bacon). Although they were happy there, in six months time, the pigs would be off to the abattoir. Luckily, in Harvest Moon, there's no such moral dilemma, as everyone is basically a vegetarian (although you can eat fish), as your animals are solely for producing wool, milk and eggs – not meat. And for taking the occasional ride around on.
Of course, it wouldn't be a trip to the farm without getting our hands dirty, and our guide was only more than happy to get us involved. Handed a shovel, a wheelbarrow, and a cow's pen, we got to have a go at mucking out – something you never ever seem to have to do on Harvest Moon/Rune Factory, as the animals on the games seem to be special, self-cleaning breeds. All you have to do in the morning is milk them and feed them and they're happy – although it does make me wonder where all the food goes. As for mucking out real-life cows, there's definitely a knack to it, seeing as we just seemed to be pushing it around with a spade, failing to get the right angle and speed up to get it all on... In the end, the team of five of us had managed to clear the yard bit – although it probably took ten times longer than it needed to. Also – did you know that when a cow has identical twin female calves, they're both born infertile?
Obviously, we were so bad at that, that we didn't get offered the chance to do any other bits of farming – instead continuing our tour onto the pair of donkeys and a rather friendly miniature pony, who'd been rescued from a nearby field. She had crazy hair, too. And while people do eat horse meat (not sure about donkey meat though), these donkeys and horse are kept for the sole purpose of giving rides to the visiting kids.
Seeing as a large part of the Harvest Moon games is growing crops, we were then taken around the farm's very own vegetable patch, which, somewhat surreally, overlooks the river Thames, and is directly opposite Canary Wharf. Maintained by a group of people with learning difficulties, there were herbs, some rather large sunflowers, and even a giant pumpkin thriving in the centre of London. There was also a section of the patch called the 'Dye Garden', where they grow plants that can then be used to dye things – something which you can also do on the Harvest Moon games, by growing brightly-coloured flowers or herbs and use them to die your wool or silk.
Released from the tour, we went and wondered around the courtyard where the goats, sheep and chickens roamed free. While the goats alternated between trying to eat anything that wasn't nailed down and climbing on their climbing frame, we got acquainted with the cutest and fussiest lamb ever – who spent a lot of the time following one of the farm workers around, looking rather upset and dejected when he left him on the other side of a fence.
Obviously, doing real work on a farm is a lot more taxing and time-consuming than on a game, where you can finish feeding your animals, harvesting your crops and planting new ones in a few in-game hours in a morning, before popping off to wonder round the town and socialise with the locals in the afternoon. The woman who took us round the farm explained that she wouldn't finish working on the farm until about midnight if she was on her own without the many volunteers that make up the staff – and their farm is just a small one!
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar and Rune Factory 3 launch on the DS at the end of this week – and we'll have reviews of each up shortly. Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar has you helping the inhabitants of Zephyr Town restart their once world-famous bazaar, that's now faded into obscurity – and it's up to you to use your farming abilities to attract the customers back. Rune Factory 3 is a bit different, as it combines the farming of Harvest Moon with a bit of hack-and-slash dungeon crawling, as you try to keep your half human, half monster self a secret from your villager friends whilst working on uniting the humans and Univer (monster) people. To find out a bit more about the events of Rune Factory 3, why not check out our PostCarden/Rune Factory 3 diary, and see how we're getting along.