Don’t judge Verde Station by its cover/trailer/Steam Greenlight page. At first glance it’s easy to pass off this intriguing virtual reality (VR) compatible title from indie developer Duelboot as Gone Home by way of Moon. Yes, the title is narrative-driven, with a complete lack of combat or puzzle-solving, but you won’t find the developer’s Soren Silkenson apologising for that fact. And while those that enjoyed Duncan Jones’ 2011 sci-fi movie might draw similarities in the premise of enduring a lengthy and lonely mission on a space station, Silk actually likens it more to Christopher Nolan’s Memento and David Finch’s The Game.
In fact there are a lot of things about Verde Station that will surprise you, as VRFocus found out in a recent interview with Silkeson. In the Q&A below the developer discusses his true inspirations for the title, his thoughts on the ‘walking simulator’ genre and support for the Oculus Rift VR head-mounted displays (HMD) second development kit. Verde Station already completed a Steam Greenlight campaign and hopes to launch on PC, Mac and Linux in autumn 2014.
VRFocus: You’ve mentioned that Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey somewhat inspired Verde Station visually. Are there any other inspirations for the title?
Soren Silkenson: The game is inspired by a variety of things from movies to other video games. Two movies that come to mind are The Game and Memento. They’re both movies where the first time you watch them will always be unique. Once you learn the ending it changes the experience for the viewer moving forward. It can still be very enjoyable but that first watch will always be different. On the game side, my three big inspirations are Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, and Frog Fractions. Gone Home for the base gameplay (walking around an environment and interacting with the world to experience the story). Stanley Parable for the way it treats narrative and player choice. And Frog Fractions because of how well it constantly surprises the player.
VRFocus: You’re eager to avoid spoiling much about Verde Station. How long will the story take for players to see through?
Soren Silkenson: For game length, I’m targeting around 2-3 hours if you take it at a normal pace. If you speed through it will be considerably faster but the player will also miss out on the entire point of the game. The main reason I’m eager to avoid spoilers is because I want players to experience it for themselves. It’s an exploration and discovery focused game so if you already know all the whos, whats, and whys it’s less exciting.
VRFocus: The ‘walking simulator’ genre has come under fire from some people for its lack of challenge. What do you say to those claims and where do you think the genre fits within the industry?
Soren Silkenson: If you don’t like the genre I completely understand, it’s not for everyone, but a huge number of gamers love these types of games and I’m one of them. I also happen to love multiplayer shooters and AAA action games. There’s room for everything in the industry.
I’m not a big fan of the term ‘walking simulator’ but mostly because it’s just not a very accurate description. These games are about creating an experience for the player or sharing a narrative that can only be done through a video game. Saying you just walk around misses the point.
VRFocus: How long have you been working on Verde Station? Has it been a full-time commitment?
Soren Silkenson: I came up with the concept about a year ago and began to build it in March of this year. By April I had created a prototype and began to playtest it. The majority of the feedback was very positive so I started working on it full-time. It’s been my full-time project since April.
VRFocus: You revealed the title (or at least posted its Greenlight campaign) not too long before its intended release. Why wait this long?
Soren Silkenson: With a game like Verde Station it’s tough to just describe. I wanted to get the game far enough along that I could show players a bit of the world and give them a sense of the mood. That meant I had to just build it. As a gamer, I’m also impatient. It’s tough to see a video or concept art for a game you think you’ll love and then have to wait 2 years to play it. So I thought it would be nice to build the game, share it when it’s further along and then release it within a few months.
VRFocus: Why did you decide to add Oculus Rift to the experience? What does it add?
Soren Silkenson: In general, I love technology so I was excited about the Rift when I first heard about it. Once I tried it I was immediately hooked. The sense of presence is almost indescribable. It’s not perfect yet but when done well you can forget you’re playing a game for a while. You really feel like you’re in another place. Since Verde Station is an experience game it really benefits from the level of immersion VR can provide.
VRFocus: Are you planning to add support for the Oculus Rift DK2 before launch?
Soren Silkenson: Definitely. I ordered my DK2 kit about 3 hours after pre-orders opened up. As soon as it arrives I’ll start working on it.
VRFocus: Would you consider bringing Verde Station to other platforms, perhaps the PlayStation 4 with support for Project Morpheus?
Soren Silkenson: I would love to. I haven’t had the chance to try Project Morpheus yet but from what I’ve seen I think Verde Station could be a great fit. As a solo developer, working on a standard PC, Mac, and Linux build plus Oculus Rift support is a big job already. I’ll probably need to wait until the game is released before reaching out to Sony though. I’m really excited that they’re getting involved in VR. It shows that Oculus is probably on the right track and boosts VR in general.
VRFocus: What about post-release? Is Duelboot planning to stay a story-focused developer or perhaps try other genres?
Soren Silkenson: Like most developers, one thing I’m not short on is game ideas. I have pages of notes about moody side-scrollers, narrative driven open world games, asymmetrical VR experiences, platformers with RPG layers, and on and on. So I really don’t know what’s next. However, any game I make will likely include story as a driving force of gameplay. I still like a good mindless shooter but more and more I gravitate towards games that blend story and gameplay together. Games like The Last of Us or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s a huge challenge to achieve good balance but games that do it well can make a real impact on players. Ultimately I just want to make games that really resonate with people, even if it’s just a small group.