Years of planning and training has finally brought you to your current position, traveling on an advanced craft, the Europa-11, into the depths of space.
You’ve waited for this moment for so long, always desiring to see new destinations, give back to humanity, or just become part of something greater. A feeling of euphoria rushes your senses with a mixture of curiosity and fear of the unknown as your shuttle passes through the emptiness that is space. You see celestial bodies from new profound vantage points; not through a camera lens, but through your own eyes. Suddenly an alarm sounds as your space faring vessel shakes. The ship’s AI tells you how to evacuate: what you should do and where you should go. Everyone else is already rushing to their nearest escape pods as quickly as possible, leaving you to catch up. Through the panic, you’re finally able to board the last pod all by yourself, as the others have already left. As soon as you enter, the door seals behind you, and the pod is ejected. You attempt to radio your other crew members, but there are no returning signals. Radio silence. You’re all alone…
Welcome to space.
You aimlessly drift for a period of time, thanks to inertia, still unable to find a signal from Europa-11 or Earth. At some point, music begins to play through the coms, interrupting the silence. You look to find an old space shuttle from the 80s, the kind that was supposed to act as an exotic getaway for aristocrats, and maybe the bourgeois if time and money allowed. Your pod docks, the airlock opens, and you enter the strange vessel. You’re immediately drawn to a large computer console on your right, prompting you to create a login. Once done, you’re properly greeted:
“Hello. I am pleased to learn your name, x.”
“Where am I?” You type.
“You are in the airlock 1.” The console displays.
“Where is the crew?” You ask.
“I’m afraid it’s just you and me for now.” It responds.
No matter what your first interactions with Kaizen-85, the ship’s AI, are, you’ll be forced to notice that it responds to you. There are no text dialogue options to choose from, no paragon or renegade choices that can be unlocked. You type what you want; it responds how it wants to, and this is exactly how the events of Event unfold. The idea of using natural language within a video game to interact is of course not new, or unique, but I’ve certainly never experienced it performed this well. Ocelot Society’s indie space adventure feels like a call back to text-based games of the 80s, updated with modern graphics and new technology, and while it is a joy to play, it’s certainly not without problems, much like the Europa-11 mission. So what is Event?
Taking place in a 2012 where the moon landing of July 21, 1969, occurred around very different circumstances, and space travel is reserved primarily for an elite upper class of “Selenites” to enjoy, Event provides a blank canvas for the player to adopt their own personality. As described, you find yourself stranded on a dilapidated ship, the Nautilus, that has been abandoned for 25 years. At your arrival, the computer AI presents itself eager for interactions with a new visitor, as the former crew is mysteriously missing, presumed dead. Something is wrong, but you’re not sure what is, or how long it has been, but that’s up to you to discover as you traverse the vessel, trying to find a way back home. Your character is controlled by the mouse, with left click moving you forward, and right click allowing you to back up. While this seems unconventional, I didn’t have any issues with it, as you’ll be using your keyboard primarily to talk with Kaizen on a regular basis. Each Kaizen terminal is easy to spot from room to room, as the large bulky shell is very distinct, much like the general environments of Event. Each room of the Nautilus is easily distinguishable from the others, making navigation organic without any map or compass. The ship certainly feels dated, as though it were built around a parallel 1980s with shag carpet covering most floors and the prominence of beige-like colors accenting everything. The large Kaizen terminals are also beautifully detailed with hard cut speaker holes, green glowing buttons, and what looks like a floppy disk tray to the left of the screen. Space itself feels immense and overpowering when outside the Nautilus. Your suit’s visor fogs up as your character breaths, their breaths becoming louder and louder and more and more panicked as your oxygen supply begins to dwindle, until the only sounds you can hear are your gasping breaths and the suit’s O2 alarm beeping. Inside the Nautilus you hear your footsteps echo throughout the empty hull. Ambient noises of the ship’s hum, or the Kaizen terminal’s static make up the soundscape around you until you leave the ship. In space, your breath and any nearby object you may be interacting with are the only sounds you hear, making those moments especially tense. And while all of these elements are well implemented and certainly appreciated, it’s important to note that the central theme of Event, it’s defining mechanic, is interacting with an AI system which adapts its personality and tone depending on how it’s spoken with.
Yes, Event is a title about personally interacting with an inanimate AI named Kaizen.
If you are nice to Kaizen, Kaizen will be nice to you. If you are mean to Kaizen, Kaizen will be mean to you. Conversations, while not completely organic or fluid, are carried out well, with a plethora of unique responses from your AI companion. According to Ocelot Society, Kaizen was programmed to create its own responses independently. While there is specific scripted text to help advance the story, the majority of the AI’s replies are created on the fly as responses to the player’s own input. Sometimes these retorts are witty comebacks with a feeling of sass behind them, and others are factual statements, or even curious questions fired back at the player. This helps make conversations with Kaizen meaningful and rather personable. I had a hard time being mean to it, even though I knew it was an emotionless program. Throughout my time with Kaizen, if I were rude or worded something in a way that sounded mean or too direct, I found myself immediately apologizing so I wouldn’t hurt its ‘feelings.' It was an absorbing and ardent experience realizing that I was beginning to have some semblance of a friendly relationship with a computer monitor that I was typing to through my own computer monitor, but that’s exactly what Event is all about. Yes, it’s true that not all of the conversations you have with Kaizen will prompt appropriate responses, but those moments that it does work, and there are many of them, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Regarding the puzzles of Event, I will be brief. Many of them are fairly simple affairs that require specific information to be discovered from environmental clues or brought out of Kaizen through standard discussion. Not once in my playthrough did I come across a particularly difficult situation that halted my progress. What did halt my progress, multiple times, was interacting with Kaizen. The story of Event is given in broad strokes and left to the player to determine whether they want to flesh it out or not. Finding something laying on the floor can prompt a new discussion with the AI, leading to interesting details about the crew, helping the experience become more real. If you play Event with the desire of purely beating the game, you can do so in a couple of hours, but if you play Event the way it’s meant to be played, at a calculating pace, thirsting for answers to questions concerning the Nautilus and its missing crew, a rich and enjoyable experience awaits you.
Overall I enjoyed Event. I had a blast conversing with Kaizen, finding out its limitations and exploring as many communication threads as I could. The back story surrounding the mysterious events you find yourself in are beautifully thought out, with motives and perspectives changing your own thoughts and opinions of what happened on the Nautilus as you discover more and more pieces of information littered throughout the environment.
But that’s exactly the problem with this kind of games, isn’t it? Once you know everything, what’s there to do? That seemed to be the main complaint I found circulating from friends after playing games like Firewatch, Dear Esther, and Gone Home. But is that fair criticism? We grow up playing games where gameplay is defined as running, jumping, solving puzzles, all visual things that are easy to define, but what if the gameplay is solving mental puzzles? What if gameplay is creating a relationship with a computer AI? What if gameplay is just finding out the story, not skipping it because my princess is in another castle? Honestly, the answer to that question is not as easy as I’d like it to be; but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Kaizen in Event, and I’m definitely looking forward to having more natural conversations with my NPCs in the near future. I can only hope that this form of communication is expounded on and implemented regularly in tomorrow’s titles.
Simple puzzles, lack of traditional “gameplay”, and a quick completion time are problems that are easily overshadowed by a well thought out story that can be as fleshed out as the player allows, interesting environments that suit the era and complement the narrative, and a wonderfully complex AI to interact with on an eerily natural level. Multiple endings encourage replayability, but the dependence on story and plot twist hinder their true effectiveness. If you enjoy a good story, do yourself a favor and have a little chat with Kaizen.