Vitals

Released: September 14, 2016
Developer: Ocelot Society
Publisher: Ocelot Society
Platforms: Steam, Itch.io, Humble Bundle
Trailer: Youtube

What is Event[0]?

Event[0] is a “retrofuture” narrative mystery video game, and it provided me with probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had. I genuinely felt connected to the game and the singular character in a way that no other game has made me feel. If I were to boil down the gameplay — basically, you are alone on a space station, and your life depends on a Kaizen, quirky and outdated AI system with a lot of personality and not too high of a regard for human life. You must interface with the terminals across the space station in order to open/close doors, turn on lights, etc. By “interface”, I mean you type text into the terminals with your actual keyboard — full sentences, type whatever your heart desires, no “select one” dialogue options or anything like that — and the AI performs actions for you. You have to convince the AI you’re worth keeping alive, have conversations with it, gain its trust, etc. It’s a good concept, right? But what really makes this game shine are the following two things: firstly, conversing with the AI doesn’t seem forced at all; and secondly, the AI feels amazingly human. I actually felt like it was conscious; it had a lot of personality, the personality doesn’t seem forced, and it didn’t have dumb or repetitive responses to terminal inputs.

The only criticism I have is that it maxed out my graphics card, which should have been more than enough to run it absolutely fine. It made my graphics card’s fan run very loud as well. When I was glancing over the forums of the game, I came across a thread in which a person with a graphics card much nicer than mine had the same issue. Apparently, it will consume whatever resources are available, and not just what it needs. Which is bizarre, because the game itself seems very well-thought-out and well done (no bugs or anything). I believe the game’s been out for years, so they’ve neglected to make use of the ample time they’ve had to fix the issue as well. I still ran the game fine, played the game with 60 frames pretty much the entire time, so it wasn’t really a problem as much as it was just a surprising annoyance.

Also, the game has one of the most gorgeous soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Just listen to it!

The Plot

I don’t really need to assert this, it should be pretty obvious, but there are spoilers. In fact, if you are considering getting the game, I suggest that you do not read this section.

After America landed a man on the moon, mankind became a space-faring civilization. (I don’t remember the extent to which the game said that people occupied space; whether it was off-world colonies or simply space-travel. I think it was colonies. It’s irrelevant though.) The people who have been to space are the ruling class, and they are called Selenites. You are a promising astronaut-in-training in this world’s equivalent of a space program. One day, the space program’s equivalent of a CEO sits you down in his office and tells you that you have been selected for a mission to Europa. You’re overjoyed; you get to become a Selenite!

A few days into the mission, the alarms start blaring, and the ship’s AI tells you to get to the escape pods. It doesn’t let you go anywhere else in the ship or talk to anyone. When you get to the room where all the escape pods are, you notice that all but one pod has been ejected. You climb on into a pod and eject from the vessel, and are in the pod for days until you come upon an old, abandoned space station from the 80s (apparently in this fictional version of the world, we had artificial gravity and space-travel and all that jazz in the 1980s. Like I said, retrofuture.) This is where the introductory cutscenes stop and you take control of your character. You go to the console, and introduce yourself to the aforementioned AI, Kaizen.

You go through the vessel, interfacing with the terminals to open and close doors, turn on lights, etc. and talk with Kaizen. You learn that the vessel was once inhabited by two scientists; Kaizen’s creator Nandi, and Anele Johnson (I forget Anele’s role/specialization. She created the Selenity Drive — Event[0]’s version of a warp-drive/hyperdrive, the sole one of which is on this particular vessel — but more on that later.) Kaizen tells you that he’ll only take you home if you can get to the bridge and destroy the Selenity Drive. It must be destroyed, he says; he’s convinced that it has the capacity to obliterate humanity. You can’t get into the bridge without the access code. Kaizen doesn’t know the key to the bridge because he was a well-behaved AI and didn’t bother spying on the crew (actually, he did – he has logs of all their conversations, but he didn’t bother to get the bridge key.) Each terminal has its own separate logs that record all the conversations, as well as all the terminal inputs. When going through these logs, you learn that Nandi and Anele had a heated disagreement about the destruction of the Selenity Drive. Anele designed the thing, and she said she is one-hundred-and-twenty percent convinced that it is harmless. Nandi changed the bridge’s keycode to keep Anele out of the bridge. Anele hacked the retina-scan terminal that led to Nandi’s room and, though I can’t remember exactly how, ended up killing Nandi to protect the Selenity Drive.

Also, the terminal outside the elevator is broken, so you can’t go up to the second deck, but more on that later.

In order to get the code to the bridge — which you believe is in Nandi’s room somewhere — you have to find the specific registry key in order to access the program that Anele used to hack the retina scan of Nandi’s room. I think you have to read through a ton of terminal logs to get the key. Maybe you have to do some sort of extensive search of the books in the living-room space. It’s been a while since I played the game, so I don’t remember exactly what you do. The point is that you hack your way into Nandi’s room, and look around for her journal, which contains the bridge key. This is where a pseudo-deus-ex-machina takes place. You explore Nandi’s living space, look under the bed, in the bathroom, on the desk, etc. It is only after this occurs that an asteroid just happens to crash into the window-wall of the bedroom — even though the vessel was abandoned for years upon years without sustaining any damage, it just happens to occur right when you’re in the room — and sends you flying out into the vacuum of space.

You, of course, are wearing a spacesuit that protects you from suffocating to death; the helmet comes down when it detects that you were sucked out into space (or perhaps you pulled it down, sealed it, and activated your oxygen tanks before you ran out of air in your lungs. Both explanations suffice and neither are relevant.) You stabilize yourself with your suit’s thrusters and propel yourself up to the airlock. There is a terminal outside the airlock. You are running out of oxygen. You frantically beg Kaizen to open the door. Kaizen is convinced that you are dead; therefore, the entity typing at the terminal is not you. Kaizen refuses to open the door, and you have to convince him that you’re who you say you are before you run out of oxygen. It’s probably the most tense part of the entire game. I managed to convince him by telling him things based on our interactions that only I could know. I don’t really know what would happen if I ran out of oxygen; perhaps the game restarts from the beginning, but I’m inclined to believe that the game would restart from some arbitrary checkpoint. Anyway, he lets you into the airlock, you frantically use the airlock terminal to close the door behind you, and then open the opposite door in the airlock, and you realize you’re on the second deck. Remember that broken elevator I told you about earlier? You can now use the elevator using the terminal inside the elevator (the elevator was up on the second deck, which is why you couldn’t use it before).

The second deck is this giant garden, and connected to it is Anele Johnson’s quarters. A small plot error in this scene that prickled me almost more than the asteroid is that the ambient soundtrack they decided to add in this garden-area of the game was the sound of birds singing. Is it possible that the developers’ intended explanation was that the garden is a self-contained ecosystem with enough bug population to sustain the birds? Yeah, I suppose it’s possible. It seems far more likely that the developers simply took a garden-esque soundtrack asset and put it in the garden part of the game without thinking too hard about it. I’m sure if I asked about it, they’d come up with some bullshit hand-waved answer that would make it seem plausible, but I doubt they had thought up beforehand whatever hypothetical answer that would be. I hate retroconning.

Anyway, moving on from that tangent, you and Kaizen need to get into Anele’s quarters in order to find the bridge code. It is the only part of the ship that you haven’t explored, and you reckon that since Anele hacked into Nandi’s quarters to kill her, Anele would probably have taken Nandi’s journal (in which the codes are supposedly located). However, the program/script/whatever that was used to hack the retina scanner was written solely on the terminal outside Nandi’s quarters. You can’t hack into Anele’s quarters in the same way. Therefore, you have to ask yourself: what was the main weakness in entering Nandi’s bedroom? And, of course, the answer is the window. Kaizen agrees with this assessment, and the two of you come up with the brilliant plan to program maneuvering the vessel’s probes to crash into Anele’s quarters’ window. You go back into the airlock, seal the door behind you, and go out to interface with various terminals on the outside of the vessel in order to make the probes crash into the window. You have to perform puzzles at each terminal, and you’re running out of oxygen the whole time, so you’re under a lot of pressure. I think the developer’s intention was for you to do it all in one go, but I actually went back to the airlock after every probe to be extra safe. I didn’t know what would happen if I died and wasn’t willing to find out. Anyway, once you break through Anele’s window, you have to maneuver in there with your suit’s thrusters, search for the journal as quickly as you can, acquire the journal, and then rush back to the airlock. It’s tense.

Anyway, once you have the journal, you have the keycode to the bridge. You make your way down to the first deck and punch in the code. Between the main are a series of corridors like a string of airlocks. There is writing all over the walls, mostly mathematics, diagrams, quotes, and sentence fragments. Kaizen urges you not to read the writing on the wall on the grounds that Anele Johnson, who was trapped aboard the vessel alone for years, went a bit wonky-in-the-head toward the end of her life on account of her isolation. If you were studious and read all the terminal logs from all the various terminals in the vessel (which I did), you will have known that they ran out of stationery aboard the vessel, and that Kaizen told Anele Johnson to use the walls. You would also have chanced upon a log hidden in one of the terminals that was a correspondence from the AI that was aboard the ship on the Europa mission from the start of the game, which vaguely mentioned “delivering” the human. If you don’t heed Kaizen and read the writing on the wall, you will learn that the destruction of the Selenity Drive is actually a huge conspiracy; the CEO-esque man selected you specificially for this mission because he believed, based on your psycho-profile, that you would destroy the Selenity Drive. There was no Europa mission; the whole point was a ruse in order to get you to destroy the singular Selenity Drive.

Upon reading the writing on the wall, you learn that the world’s lack of the Selenity Drive is the singular thing that prevents the common man from space-travel; if the Selenity Drive is destroyed, the Selenites remain the ruling social class, and everyone else remains the inferior social class.

I am told that this game has multiple endings. I YouTubed them after playing the game, but the video was obscenely long so I didn’t bother watching the thing; rather, I read a forum post that went over what the endings are. I will tell you of the ending that I subjectively got.

You enter the bridge, a large, dark room with an enormous terminal screen (which has The Stanley Parable vibes, it very much reminds me of that dark room with all the cameras.) and find a shriveled, dried-out human corpse in one of the bridge’s chairs, with a helmet over its head, and many wires coming out of the helmet. Anele Johnson, Kaizen says. She tried to merge with Kaizen. Evidently it didn’t work, and electricity and the human brain don’t particularly mix, so she simply fried. You go through the process of destroying the Selenity Drive, and just the bridge explodes, paneling flies off the wall, the railing breaks, the artificial gravity stops working, the whole shabang. But, before the ship can go through with destroying the Selenity Drive, the process aborts, and red text read on the terminal; a contrast from Kaizen’s blue text. Anele Johnson, completely alive, has just asserted her consciousness over that of Kaizen. She’s angry with you for trying to destroy the Selenity Drive. You have two options; transfer her consciousness as she did, or continue with the process of destroying the Selenity Drive. I chose to merge with her consciousness solely because I was curious as to what would happen. If you’re wondering, you become an incoporeal light-being aboard the ship and get to be alone with Anele Johnson forever. You also overwrite Kaizen in the process. I actually really hated the ending that I got, because I got really emotionally attached to Kaizen.

There are two other endings, according to a forum poster. If you’re curious, you can find them here.

Personal thoughts

It’s really good, but my main complaint is that it has a really short playtime. I subjectively quantify a game as “worth the money” if the number of hours meets or exceeds the number of dollars I spend on the game. For example, Metroid is $20 and takes dozens upon dozens of hours to beat. Therefore, it is worth the money. Event[0] is $20, and it took me just under 4 hours to beat. It’s a phenomenal game, incredibly clever, incredibly well-done, but is it worth $20? Subjectively, no. Do I regret buying it? No, I do not.

Anyway, whatever metric you subjectively use to quantify the value of a game might be different than mine, and that’s okay.

If you want to check it out, it’s available on Steam, Itch.io, and Humble Bundle.

I think I bought it on Itch, and it gave me a Steam key, so I have it on two platforms. My memory isn’t great, though, so that might not be true.

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