AI has been popping up more and more in today’s computers. Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana. People can chat online with the likes of Cleverbot or they could buy Pewdiepie’s newest game where he’ll respond to any questions you have. Besides that, I don’t think we’ve seen it done in a resounding way in a video game, that was until Event by the Ocelot Society came out and exceeded my expectations with what you could do with really robust AI in a videogame. Gameplay and story is channelled through Kaizen, the AI host of the long-abandoned Nautilus ship in Event and for the most part, it works quite well. Kaizen feeds off the players behaviour and what you say to it so one player’s experience might be totally different to another even if sometimes the communication feels a little haphazard and circuitous. As you go from room to room piecing together the personal histories of its last inhabitants, you slowly gather an understanding as to what happened on this ship and begin to wonder if Kaizen is trustworthy or not.
The game starts with some exposition into the world of Event that is an alternative history of our own where every nation of the world united into one and were seemingly inspired by space exploration in the sixties. The game presents us with dialogue options during this intro giving our character various choices that help to establish him/her in the world of this game, from someone from a war-torn country seeking to make a difference to the world to someone from a hippie commune that simply wants to explore the stars. We also learn of the Selennites who have a prestigious position in society and that the protagonist is part of the Europa-11 mission, it’s details non-essential to the overall game but helps to add a bit of colour and context to the universe. Your ship explodes and after a few days adrift in an escape pod, you find the Nautilus mysteriously orbiting the moon of Europa. Upon meeting Kaizen, the AI in charge of the ship, it becomes clear that something went awry with it and the inhabitants and you’re given a specific task that requires you to get past the bridge door, which in essence is what you spent the majority of the game building towards all the while communicating with Kaizen through old terminals located across the ship.
Visually, the Nautilus has not aged well with its stylistic choices look and outdated equipment. The ship is decorated to fit the style of the eighties when it was made, giving the entire ship a retro look. Its interiors feature a strong sense of retro-futurism aesthetic with vintage computer screens, TV screens and film projectors and there’s a real realistic, purposeful look to the corridors and depressurisation rooms. Then there are some sleek, bright and spacious rooms with large windows showcasing the entire vastness of space. The game looks well with great lighting and shadows that help give weight to the moodier, darker moments. Its such ominous situations that really heightens the sense of isolation that pervades throughout the game. What sound and music we also hear usually comes from the environments’ surroundings which sometimes lends itself to minimalism, Being in the vacuum of space leads to a lack of sound for example. The different sounds that emanate from Kaizen give it an organic, lifelike feel when he reacts to different situations. It all sounds natural to the ship’s environment which does help with the immersion.
Kaizen is not the friendly, butler of sorts designed to help humans with whatever they demand. It will guide you through the game, offering hints about where to go next and ultimately dictates what you do in this game. What’s unique with this game is that it’s up to the player to ask the questions and to get answers out of it so that the player can solve the puzzle. It’s more of a rogue AI trying to accomplish something using guile and obscuring the truth to get what it wants the player to do, which reveals itself more and more as the plot goes on in the game.
The puzzles in the game use the AI’s interface and technology of the ship with good effect. Each room has something which the player can interact with using the terminals on the ship. Beds can be moved, doors opened and the player can use the interface of the old terminals to get access to important information.
Kaizen was made to feel like a totally articulate AI with 2,000,000 lines of dialogue and for the most part it will be an accurate response that feels fitting to the questions and statements the player types on the terminal. One way that this AI feels dynamic is the way Kaizen will react in a naturally emotional way to how you treat him. In my second attempt at the game, I decided to make a more negative disposition towards him, which did not end well for character when he went on a space walk because Kaizen had had enough of me and decided to lock me out. You can also ask it any number of topics pertaining to the ship and it could talk at length. What I like the most about this is that it builds a relationship between player and character that the player forms with a high degree of satisfying interaction.
The conversations might not always work or feel natural however. Sometimes Kaizen’s response feels off or just proceeds to veer off into a chain of text that pertain to a general section of the game while anything you say deviate from his circuitous deviations in between would fail. In some respect, you could say its because its an old model that’s falling apart or that it’s in line with Kaizen’s trait of circumventing the truth and sordid details. The fact that it’s a machine so lacking emotional traits or the need to express itself to others in certain way also lends itself to this.
Researching the logs on the terminals expands on the history of the Nautilus and sheds light on the characters who lived on it. The story in the main player’s game feels subservient to these older historical details of the ship, not so much the player’s which makes the intro sequence feel redundant ultimately. The philosophical ambitions that came with the the opening sections are not lived up to by the poring through of log entries and talking to Kaizen about the ship, but I do think there is something to be said with the development of AI-human relations and any tensions that could come with it.
It does have short, concise story which some may feel to be too short with a play through that might last around three hours. The game feels like a resolute proof-of-concept, showing that the gameplay mechanics at work here are viable. Talking to Kaizen felt like fresh, new experience that I hope would inspire other developers to take note and expand on the ideas of human/AI interaction. Kaizen intermingled well with the setting and story and felt like the key character throughout the game. Event can be a richly rewarding game if player can coerce it out of the sometimes finicky but always interesting Kaizen.