When was the last time you had a great conversation? A chat that saw ideas flowing and hours passing. Whenever it was, I’m willing to bet it didn’t take place in a video game. For as much as conversations have become a central mechanic in nearly every RPG on the market, few of them feel real. You don’t engage in them, you barrel through them looking for your next quest or searching out that particularly delicious piece of lore. They’re puzzles where you search for the right combination of buttons to get what you want rather than conversations.
This lack of conversational nuance was a stumbling block that Event would have had to face. A game that sees you docking into an empty spaceship after being cast adrift in the great unknown, you quickly find out that your only hope is to convince the ship’s AI to help you out. You do that by quite literally having a chat. It’s logging onto a chatbot but in a heavily Alien inspired spaceship rather than a cheap website. Want to tell it to fuck off? Go for it. Want to try and engage it in sexual relations? Well, I won’t judge.
The most impressive part? Despite that freedom, your AI companion quickly begins to feel real. Kaizen (the name of the program) has his own personality, and he responds to most of your questions in a perfectly logical way. There are even moments where you catch him trying to change the conversation, and there were one or two times when I told him to fuck off and stormed away in a huff because I knew he wasn’t telling me what I wanted to know.
It’s a type of conversation that is rare in video games, one that feels like two people trying to outsmart each other rather than two pre-programmed robots going through the motions. Sure, if you set out to break it you will. You can unpick how he works and have him repeat himself ad-nauseam. However, if you play the game the way it is meant to be played, you’ll find yourself developing a relationship with the bugger. And in my case, you’ll want to kick the annoying twat off a bridge.
It’s a move that opens up Event in a way that making the map ten times bigger could never have achieved. If you want to rush through the game, you could probably complete it in half an hour. Taking everything you read at face value and dashing off to do the next task on your list. Yet, you would miss out on the real fun of the experience. Of interrogating the wee bugger and looking for his slip ups. Of unravelling the story so that when you hit the end, you think ‘ha, I knew it’ rather than ‘eh? Where did that come from?’
Of course, taking Event’s conversation mechanics and dropping it into an RPG is an easier sentence to say than it is to execute. That level of freedom would make most of those games unplayable and studios would require a few years to program the first NPC you bump into. However, by making conversation a central tenant of their game Ocelot Society have turned a short and simple experience into something interesting. Rather than being pushed through the game by a simple program you instead find yourself in a battle of wits with Kaizen. Annoyingly, he occasionally wins.