Verde Station: In Conversation

The bark is worse than the bite

Space is the place, they say, and walking is the thing. Duelboot launched Verde Station on Steam Early Access last week, and Pip and Alice have separately explored it, poking around and admiring flora all alone in a space station where something’s a bit off. Then they got together for, well, not a Verdict, but a conversation. One Alice had evidently forgotten they’d planned.

Pip: I FOUND YOUR TREE

Alice: My…?

Pip: In Verde Station – the second time you go in the greenhouse bit the trees all have Post-It note names. I found an Alice!

Alice: Aww. That’s sweet.

Pip: There is no ‘Pip’. This is like the Coke bottle names thing all over again, spending literally SECONDS of my life searching the shelves for a ‘Pip’ or a ‘Philippa’ and all you can find is Emma and Lukasz and Grandad. I considered calling any children I might have “Coke” just to avert the issue when it inevitably turns up again a generation from now.

Alice: As we run out of names and birth certificates start allowing more ASCII characters, simply name them ® to make everything special.

Pip: Or ®® for you – TWIN PEAKS HOLLER!

Alice: I’d communicate with my sprogs only in reversed reverse speech.

But TREES! We’re alone aboard a space station to tend space trees for science. Our science mostly involves tapping commands into computers to run semi-automated tests. It is a… first-person narrative experience. Would you say walking simulator? It feels too purpose-driven to me. Duelboot favour that young upstart “secret box.”

That definitely wasn't me

Pip: I think it starts out as a caretaker sim. It’s definitely not a walking simulator. As you say, it’s too purposeful. I tried to treat it like a walking simulator, though. Just enjoying meandering round the space, but the game resists that approach.

Alice: But as we meander, things turn a bit weird. Some rooms look awfully lived-in. Then suddenly our trees are quite different. And we find mad scrawlings from, apparently, ourselves. These also give us commands to type into the computers — lovely computers, which we need to properly type commands into — to discover more. Then the computers are broken.

Pip: I was a big fan of the Post-It notes and note-art you find as you explore as well as those glorious book domino runs. Really creative uses of everyday paraphernalia – none of your WALLS OF BLOOD. I think I’m maybe just a fan of wood and wood pulp products.

Alice: Never happier than when locked in a stationery cupboard.

Pip: Did you microwave the knife in the kitchen? I did. Nothing exploded.

Alice: I microwaved the bottle of delicious liquid food. The bottle exploded. I stared helplessly at the shards, realising I couldn’t clean them up, and quietly ambled away.

I missed Gone Home’s ‘put back’ command. On my very first day aboard my home for the next year, I ended up tossing my bouncy buckyball into a corner and flinging box lids around. A poor precedent.

Pip: It would be cool if they were there later in the game, dusty and faintly accusatory; a comment on your low housekeeping standards.

Alice: My housekeeping regimen is to fill my bedroom with so many plants they grow over everything.

Pip: Speaking of greenery, the greenhouse was probably my favourite room because those are some good trees. But to be honest I loved all the little details – hang on – do we have spoiler tags we can use in posts? Should we be using those?

Alice: We don’t. Spoil everything. We’re going to spoil everything, chums. Spoil this, Pip.

Though who knows how much of the finished game we’ll spoil, as Verde Station’s actually released on Steam Early Access. Bit weird, that, for such a narrative-focused game.

Help me.

Pip: I was trying to work out whether part of the story was being withheld for that reason – to prevent spoilers or in case part of the story changed – but I think it might be a pacing issue. The game transitions from space life to something different abruptly.

Alice: I thought I’d somehow skipped a third of the game. I enjoyed the surprise transition, but it didn’t do enough with it, give enough to see and discover. I’m not sure how much that’ll change. The developer sez:

The core game-play path is complete but it is not content complete. You can play all the way from the beginning to the end. Most likely, that path will not change, only what happens along it.

Pip: I didn’t really feel like it was missing a third, although I can see why it would feel like that. You were flipping between when you were just starting out and things were fine and when you’d spent a year in space alone and had gone stir crazy. I guess for me I felt like I was okay filling in those blanks using what you find so it didn’t feel like the middle was missing. But the ending seems to support a different interpretation of events and so the way it plays out isn’t quite what the game needs in terms of you actually working out what’s happened or feeling connected to the events.

Alice: Verde drops heavy hints that we’re a lab rat, that our tree science isn’t really what’s going on. It wants us to be paranoid, confused about quite why we’re there. I was so distracted by looking for clues to the conspiracy that I didn’t notice the real reason we’d gone a bit barmy.

Sorry, what?

The hypoxia-induced space madness is only hinted at and takes thought (although there are still some logical problems there), while so very much screams “HEY, MAYBE THIS ISN’T REALLY A SPACE STATION. GOSH, WHAT EVER COULD BE HAPPENING?”

Pip: I guess you could say that maybe it’s recreating being in that frame of mind, of getting distracted by conspiracy theories, forgetting or not realising what’s actually going on. I think I’d actually prefer it if you just kept looping round the space station, flipping between times and exploring more and more of the little touches. It does those detail parts so well! I also have questions about the science.

Alice: Yes, looping and flipping and discovering more would be splendid. Instead, it shows you everything once then physically locks you into the conclusion.

Pip: It would also mean it didn’t force me to leave the greenhouse.

Alice: Just think, Pip: a whole year in space with Alice.

Pip: Maybe the current ending should stay.

Worse than Coke.

Verde Station is out now on Steam Early Access.

11 Comments

  1. Wret says:

    ““HEY, MAYBE THIS ISN’T REALLY A SPACE STATION. GOSH, WHAT EVER COULD BE HAPPENING?””

    …so like a sequel to The Magic Christian? With money, you too can drive a solitary sod out of their minds.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      I… have not seen that. It sounds like a cross between John Fowles’s The Magus and Theatre of Blood?

      • Wret says:

        I took a glance at what those two things are and no, this is a comedy. Deceptions are made and people do go mad however.

  2. hewhosayszonk says:

    Silent Running: The Game? Sign me up!

    • Slouch says:

      I remember seeing that film as a really young kid and it having a profound effect on the way I thought about life. Shame it’s largely forgotten.

    • Ryuuga says:

      Seems we do not get cute robot rovers, tho!

      Still, despite this, this does seem quite an interesting prospect! (well, possibly cute robots would not gel with the general tone?)

      Also reminds me of Moon. Hey, that had a sympathetic robot, too!

  3. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    This sounds like the very first episode of The Twilight Zone, Where is Everybody, wherein a man wanders through a town and no one is there, but people are there somehow and he’s being watched.

    In the end it’s really a NASA-like space program that tests the ability of the human mind to be completely alone for lengthy periods of time, and the main character was just in an isolation box or some such.

  4. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Oh dear. I read the spoiler and will probably now not bother buying. I likes my twists but CURSE MY CURIOSITY and lack of reading discipline.

    • Geebs says:

      Me too :-(. Although, pro tip, don’t release your plot-twisty game on early access, maybe?

      • Gog Magog says:

        I had the same weird feeling about Darkwood, also story-heavy, also released on early access (and pretty solid for such). But that one was at least only the first of (I think) 3 chapters.
        Admittedly, the “story” as such in Darkwood is fragmented and vague and often outright dreamlike. I can think of a few major spoilers, but they are also vague enough that people might not pick up on them being spoilers at all (like the one time the main character “talks” as such).

  5. Sebbatt says:

    hmm. i was going to watch the trailer for this game, but the sound at the start was so intensely annoying i couldn’t bear to watch the trailer. “hmm, what’s this game? i haven’t heard of it before” “GOD DAMNIT that is one annoying sound!”