Event is a student project turned full game that explores relationships, emotions, space, and solitude in a thought-provoking first-person exploration game set in a retro/future solar system. Event even presents some interesting moral and ethical challenges when developing an AI for real-world applications. As a game, it comes up short in terms of length, and ultimately hurts the relationship-building it promises. Event has a unique gameplay element, and that is being able to type in phrases to communicate with an AI to get home – which is perhaps the most personal aspect of the game.
The opening to Event has a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of text-based options, something not too far off from how Firewatch starts and the choices you make there. Regardless of the choices you make, you learn that you have become a ‘Selenite’, the highest class of citizens chosen for space travel. You’ve earned your way to being a space-faring human, and things have now gone terribly, terribly wrong. As part of the Europa-11 mission, one set to go to Jupiter’s sixth moon, has separated you from the crew. You are sent towards the Nautilus, a ship from the 80s with an intriguing story to tell. The ship is very much something of the past with wires, tape decks, and CRT screens abound. VCR players show clips of what it is like to go to space, chairs look very uncomfortable, and there are tons of scattered documents and remnants proving that something happened here.
You’ll first come across a terminal, and be introduced to Kaizen, a sentient AI that is seemingly very lonely and is extremely interested in getting to know you. Kaizen acts a lot like a chat bot, not always reacting accurately, but you’ll learn how to adjust your words to get better responses from him. Kaizen is a helpful and hurtful type of AI, one who has emotions, who will often be vague. And if trust is earned, will guide you to where you need to go. If Kaizen gets angry, terminals get disrupted momentarily until you can talk him down. While I never felt like there was enough time spent with myself and Kaizen, it is interesting to see the evolution of Kaizen, as character through the course of the game. You’re constantly gauging whether to trust him or not, due to being so unstable.
What makes Event stand out is the ability to actually type on terminals using your keyboard. Rather than selecting a preset number of phrases, words, code, or any other type of communication, you can type what you want, how you want, to Kaizen. Kaizen doesn’t like to be ordered around, so inserting “please” keeps him calm. You’ll be accessing programs, hacking terminals for information, and doing whatever is necessary to get the information you need to proceed. Each terminal has logs to read and fill in the backstory of what happened before your arrival, and the game only tells you this once, so it is easy to forget about each individual terminal’s logs that are waiting to be read. A lot of logs are empty or corrupted, but the pivotal moments that happened with the crew of the Nautilus are there. Event explores what being in space for extended periods of time does to people, and for Kurt, Nandi, and Anele, the outcome was not a positive one. It is interesting to read and hear about the relationship they had with Kaizen. This is where you see some smart and meaningful “graffiti” in Event, as they get more frazzled and delusional of trying to get themselves home before their eventual destruction.
The other aspect of Event is observing the environment around you. Anything you want to read or have summarized for you requires that you look and stare at an object for several seconds until you get the information required. This system makes sense if understood as if you were reading it yourself, but it is something that should just be instantaneous. It is especially hard trying to read something in zero gravity, and waiting for the progress bar to fully read the object may get interrupted by your floating and need multiple attempts. It is a small gripe compared to the rest of the game, but one worth mentioning. Thankfully, accessing programs and figuring out the puzzles aren’t too hard, as the game remembers important information on the right side of the screen. If anything just viewed doesn’t appear there, then you haven’t found the right thing to move on. At times, you’ll be sent outside into space (thankfully wearing your EVA suit still) to navigate the Nautilus. These parts are haunting as your jetpack can feel hard to control at times, sending powerful thrusts in any one direction of empty space, or another towards the orbit of Jupiter. While a lot of Event is quiet, these moments are even quieter.
Event comes out of nowhere to be a surprise for 2016. The narrative exploration of this sci-fi world feels familiar and strange all in the same breath. But in a game where the idea is to develop a relationship with an AI, I can’t really say that happened in the two hours it took me to play through the game. I could have taken more time out to make that connection, but there was an urgency of getting home and so I followed that path, and got what I needed out of Kaizen. I think there’s more to do in Event than what you’re given, but this is one of those games where the experience worth having, and will be different for everyone who plays based on how they interact with Kaizen. For me though, it felt a bit shallow for deep space.
A pre-release Steam code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.