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‘Event[0]’ a Beautiful Game Starring a Mostly Friendly Chatbot

Screenshot from Event[0]

Can you be friends with a computer? This is one of the questions you are asked to answer with “Event[0],” the first game developed by Paris-based studio Ocelot Society. It is, without a doubt, one of the most uniquely styled games I’ve played in a long time. The conceit: You are an astronaut for a private company, one of the privileged few. Your ship, for some mysterious reason, breaks apart after it reaches Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. You plummet towards a defunct, long-abandoned ship still in orbit around the moon. As you make various narrative decisions about who you are and why you’re currently hurtling through space, a hauntingly beautiful smoky jazz piece plays over the speakers, accompanied by a variety of high-quality sound effects to go along with your decisions. Once you’re on the ship, you begin your game-long conversation with Kaizen, the ship’s onboard AI, which might not be as helpful as it seems at first.

I was instantly impressed by how quickly this sequence draws you into the game world. It only lasts for a few minutes, but by the time it was over I was entirely ready to move forward with “Event[0]”. At first, chatting with Kaizen is a novel bit of fun. You walk up to a console—I quickly altered my control scheme to use the more standard WASD movement, rather than holding down the left mouse button to move forward. The idea behind the design decision is that the player can walk right up to terminals and engage them right away, but I found it too hard to adjust and changed to a more vanilla movement scheme. Maybe next time, Ocelot Society.

But as is the nature with just about any chatbot, you quickly realize that that’s all Kaizen is: a (not particularly clever, to be honest) chatbot. You can’t say anything too complicated, or not complicated enough, or else it starts to spit out the chatbot’s last resort of random catch-all phrases. At times when all you want is a nudge in the correct direction or for a door to open, Kaizen is just as frustrating as the infamous Word help paperclip; periodically offering assistance without really being all that helpful.

The game consists mostly of opening and closing doors through the console and combing through rooms or information logs looking to unravel the mystery of the ship. There’s even a really cool couple of sequences spent flying around outside the ship. The game on average, though, seems to lack direction. I spent 20 minutes going in and out of the ship, trying to figure out what to do, before I asked Kaizen for help. After 10 unhelpful minutes of conversation, I had no choice but to commit a cardinal sin of gaming: I looked up a walkthrough.

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This is a red flag in game design. If a reasonably competent player cannot understand from either context clues or overt instruction what his or her next move might be, there is a problem. I’m not saying the game should have waypoints or objective markers, but it would be nice to have some way for completely lost players to reorient themselves. For example, at one point Kaizen wouldn’t let me leave the ship because it was worried it would lose its new friend. At first I was touched and interested that the game had taken this step; 10 minutes of fruitlessly trying to get the damn robot to let me out quickly disabused me of this notion. I would have loved a little hint about halfway into the experience. Instead I turned to my good friend Google once more.

It’s really too bad that the game doesn’t have this feature, because other than these snags the game is a great time. The visuals are breathtaking, especially for an indie studio’s first game; every room is highly detailed and well-textured. Much of the strength of the experience comes out of that visual detail, the way each room tells a story with magazines and reactive storage compartments and all the trappings of retro-futuristic space life.

In fact, “Event[0]” is absolutely replete with graphic detail. “Metropolis,” an old German science fiction film imagining workers as machinery plays on a projector screen in the living room, offering a nod to predecessors and reinforcing the game’s thematic material at once; there’s a piano in the same room that plays itself until the player takes over; and as the game progresses, equations and scientific mumbo jumbo are graffitied on the walls. There was clearly a huge amount of thought and care put into making each room feel like it belongs in the game world.

The game itself is very short: Even with my half-hour of confusion, I finished the entire piece in just over two hours. The puzzles it presents are fun but relatively easy to solve, and despite Kaizen’s sometimes obstinately unhelpful logic, the overall experience is pretty smooth. There are some technical issues—the game ran dangerously hot on my rig and crashed a few times while I was alt-tabbing—and “Event[0]” is not a game that really offers a lot of replay value. If you’re looking for something to sink hours into, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a highly polished (if somewhat experimental) hand-crafted short narrative experience, then you can do much, much worse than “Event[0].”

“Event[0]” can be purchased on Steam, GOG.com, the Humble Store, Itch.io, or from the developers directly at event0game.com for $19.99.

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