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
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!
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."
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.
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.
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.
Verde Station is out now on Steam Early Access.