Retrospective: Startopia • Page 2

Science friction.

Then you've got Nintendo-like attention to detail in the sound effects, and the music that changes as you jump from deck to deck blending like melted wax in a lava lamp with the gentle warbling and squelching of alien voices.

And of course there's VAL, your personal Virtual Artificial Lifeform and Startopia's most blatant nod to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. VAL's a sad rarity in videogames; a helper NPC who doesn't just help, but actually befriends you.

Amongst all of Startopia's mad chaos (the desperate sketching out of a room and its furniture when there's hiring and fighting to be done, say), VAL's dulcet English voice and wry comments keep you grounded, his messages drizzling down one side of your screen like so much honey.

"You are busy," VAL says. "And therefore it gives me great pleasure to interrupt you." You smile, and you stay listening as you hurriedly beam up a couple of scuzzer droids and click them down onto a litter-strewn intersection.

"Unless you are denser than an embryonic anti-quasar you'll want to hire some Targ to man your Comms Sensors." You do so, and up pops another message from VAL. "Your lack of ineptitude is a blessing!

There's more at work here than VAL simply being charming. Mucky Foot also made sure it's expressed that the two of you are in this together. VAL warns of "our" failure, and is actively useful in a way that's so, so important if you're building a relationship between the player and an NPC.

3

Looking at this screen makes me want to be there. I want to run around licking trees and introducing myself. Maybe not in that order.

When people discuss Startopia it's always VAL that gets remembered, in the same way the drones in Iain M. Banks novels steal any scene they're in. Well, it's always either VAL or the Biodeck.

The uppermost deck of your station is a glass-roofed garden that's yours to landscape at will. Four simple tools - Land Height, Water Level, Temperature and Humidity - can be applied instantly with a left click (increase) or right click (decrease), allowing you to sculpt, moisten the Earth into any combination of lakes, marshland, desert, cracked stone and so on.

That's when your hired Karmaramas get to work. These are four-armed purple hippy aliens who'll till the soil and start growing appropriate plants.

The idea is that each alien who visits your station likes an environment that most resembles their homeworld. The idea is also that through growing plants in the right kind of environment they can act as crops which become food, luxury goods, medical supplies, black market goods, even alien artifacts.

And of course there's the idea that you can grow nice, big trees which you can plant in pots throughout your station, beautifying the place on the cheap, not forgetting the idea that your Karmaraman farmers will become miserable and resign if they see you tearing too many trees or crops down, while happy Karmaramans will emit psychic positive vibes, granting passers by excellent mental and physical health.

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