Event 0 (PC) review
"There Is No A and I in Team, Only Me"
Beyond graphical enhancements, programming and other aspects of video-games, artificial intelligence feels like the final frontier for games where its possibilities seem endless. The pursuit of greater artificial intelligence is not merely the means to add greater challenge or more immersion, but to explore the software’s innerworkings to discover how much of its creation is the result of precise coding and of accidental surprises in action. It is the one aspect of video-games that perhaps is the most tangible that will never truly snuff out the endless questions of its mystery, and Event, while not exactly revolutionary, goes to show the untapped potential of a dream in its simplicity.
As with any other artifice of fiction, the A.I. of E0 is a lot more idealistic than it could possibly ever be, and this aspect is its greatest shortcoming as a game. Through storytelling and gameplay, E0 seizes upon the primal necessity of fiction to warrant its existence. Eons since man first dreamed, fiction masquerades its true purpose of make-believe as a learning tool to explore possibilities either dreamed in the immediate or the impending future to persuade others to heed their warnings of what may come to pass. In the case of E0, the lesson it teaches is not to prevent the inevitability of A.I. but to understand its shortcomings, its potential and its value as the realities are less of a concern for the future but one of the impending present.
Artificiality and purpose are not only themes of Event but they are also central to the illusions it creates in terms of innovative gameplay, which is a whole lot of smoke and mirrors to disguise tech, old and new, to create an actual companion who appears to have learning capabilities. The mechanics are taken from games like Wasteland and many Infocom text-adventures where player inputs are conveyed through typing responses with the modern conventions of walking simulators to add audiovisual elements and immersive qualities to enhance its gameplay. It is essentially a glorified ChatBot given its own game, but simply saying it repeats what has already been tried and true with the same benefits and flaws would be a mistake.
The genius element behind what makes E0 believable is not so much its accuracy in imitating intelligence but how it creates a persona to a degree that excuses its shortcomings. Knowing that the only character you associate is an A.I., this fact gives the player enough suspension of disbelief to work around the game’s shortcomings, which is the A.I itself. Kaizen, the ship’s A.I., manages to communicate with enough variety of his responses as well as demonstrate the illusion of understanding the connotations of words that you would have to intentionally type out responses to at its weakest moments to break the illusion. It demonstrates the ability to make inferences from sentences (ex. mentioning a name and then referring to that person as she/he) as well as building some sort of long-term memory about your interactions in its database.
Honestly, the illusion itself is so sophisticated I would have never understood it without the help of Mark Brown’s video, which explains how the A.I. responses operate under the guise of context clues that associate tags (nouns, locations, etc.) generating a list of variable sentences. Games of old were limited by their memory constraints to make these responses anything less than scripts that searched for keywords, but these additional changes is what makes the false appearance of human intelligence feel real. The limitations of Kaizen is similar to the Moravec Paradox mentioned by Steven Pinker, which in layman’s terms describes that it’s not teaching A.I.s how to respond that is the attribute of intelligence but providing the “fundamentals” we take for granted like the senses and applying them to make conclusions that demonstrate real cognitive thought. This method of learning, however, is the basis of imitating human thinking, and it’s the problem of creating these “fundamentals” (ex. How do you program the ability to see?) that is the next challenge. It’s a shame then that E0 is over before the game can really explore just how far it can keep up its pretenses.
Outside of its interest in exploring a tangible bonding experience with an A.I., Event does also manage to create a rather mentally stimulating experience where the gameplay does not feel like an afterthought. Most of the gameplay elements only add to the experience rather than detract from them. Puzzles are not excuses to force players to work alongside Kaizen; they are opportunities to create attachments from requiring information from the A.I and the A.I. trusting you to perform them. This all combines with the immersive elements you would expect from walking sims like audio and visual cues, less obtrusive HUDs and simple mechanics, while never breaking its limitations.
The problem with E0 other than its brevity that would benefit with more time to develop that bond and to flesh out its admittedly simple, vague narrative is that the gameplay nor story really are about you and Kaizen. The A.I. itself is a large focal point of the experience and it plays an important role as a character who you learn about from log files and its actions, but the game itself never puts Kaizen in the spotlight. Puzzles utilize hacking mini-games, wandering around rooms for clues, reading text-logs and exploring space where Kaizen is an accessory to everything. Even in terms of the narrative, Kaizen is the only character you truly get to know its perspective as it is focused around other characters and the Singularity Drive, which is concerned about a different character. Much like its opportunity to be innovative for A.I.s in games, the opportunity to make something unique feel misguided.
To be honest, and I’m surprised of hearing this from myself, this is the type of episodic/early-access game that seems ripe for continued support to enhance its ideas. The core gameplay, ideas, and execution are all here ripe for something perhaps too great for the developers. Had this been the introduction episode with future journeys and opportunities to flesh out its ideas that lead up to the conclusion, the overall impact of Event would be something magical to explore. In its current state, however, it is a dream worth savoring and time worth spending, perhaps at a discount, to explore the unknown with a smart-aleck ChatBot to probe around its thoughts for the times to come.
Community review by Brian (January 09, 2022)
Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.
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