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IF COMP 2004 - Zero One

Game #22: Zero One, by Edward Plant
Played On: 10/17/04 (12:00 PM to 12:20 PM and 12:40 PM to 1:15 PM)
Unofficial Score: 5.5 (6.5 base with -1.0 skew)

     I admit, I started this game with low expectations. From the interesting comments in the "readme" file, to the initial room description (during my brief pre-play peek), the game seemed poised to disappoint. Once I began playing, and when I made some progress, I revised my opinion. It seemed to be a game with a very interesting story -- a plot that made me want to continue forward to see what would happen next. For a time, I thought I might have seriously misjudged the game.

     I did misjudge it, because it's better than my first impression, but at the end, I kind of thought to myself "hmmm." It doesn't really have an ending. It ends, and in a somewhat appropriate spot, but either the author plans a sequel, or he planned to expand this game (the "readme" says the source code is lost -- tip: flash drives are cheap now). An interesting suspense thriller (with bits of gore thrown in for good measure) just kind of drops cold. The game could be a 6 or a 7 (undecided, I based it at 6.5), but the total lack of plot resolution forces me to grudgingly skew it down a full point. I know nothing about the story except that a woman was killed, the bad guys are ambiguously homosexual, and I'm a research subject. Seeing the number on my forehead was a good touch (could it have been backwards?), but just another plot point that goes unresolved.

     The writing in "Zero One" isn't bad. I liked it, in fact. This was the first indication that the game might not be the 2 or 3 or 4 that I had predicted. It seemed like a budding survival horror game was just waiting to burst through, but it never really did.

     I'm going to mix in a few opinions with the following bug report. Some of these things weren't necessarily problems or bugs, but they did seem out of place. First, having the PC scream out when kicking open the double doors didn't fit the game. In this situation, his enthusiasm should have been subdued by caution. I was able to look "in" the coffee machine, and actually take the key that way. I was unable to get a second cup of coffee; the game insisted that I hadn't finished the first one, although I had. Shell casings in the hall will result in "you see no such thing" messages. The description of the interior of the helmet makes it rather disgusting to wear. The PC passes through a kitchen on the way to the point where the helmet is necessary. It would have been nice (and an additional puzzle) if the helmet had required a good cleaning first. A typo: "...oak door leading back to out to the corridor..." (the first "to" should be removed). It would be nice to have "gray" as a synonym for "grey" (one of my beta testers made me do the inverse for my entry, and I think small extras like this can make gameplay go all the more smoothly). The description of the kitchen says the lunchbox is on the counter, even after I've taken it and dropped it elsewhere. After "getting rid of" Terry, a clue indicates (at least, it seemed to indicate) that a better and less permanent solution might be found. I tried restoring the game, to throw hot coffee at him instead. It would have been a nice touch, but no such luck. At the end, when dealing with the padlock, why can't it simply assume which object I mean? I only have one that's suited to the task.

     Perhaps one of the most frustrating problems, and it really illustrates why I received the same complaint about one of my own games in the past, is that "Zero One" asks questions when it doesn't expect an answer. What I mean is, you can't disambiguate. When asked "which X do you mean?" (maybe not the exact wording, but you get the idea) you have to resubmit the complete command. Answering the question won't work. I grant that this is very likely a limitation of the Alan parser, but it's a shame. It's true -- IF players really can become accustomed to a certain type of interface, and a lack of it seems frustrating. To anyone I may have argued with regarding my past efforts, you have my sincere apology.

     Now that I'm not holding back on pointing out the interesting coincidences between each entry and my own, I made a note. In "Zero One" the portrait on the wall is the element that most directly corresponds to something from mine (in fact, a portrait on the wall).

     I enjoyed the game, but the abrupt ending leaves it flat and unresolved. Some of the puzzles are made easier by heeding the advice from "help" -- but I still missed a few important opportunities, such as inside the armory. I had to peek at the walkthrough here (and in fact, near the beginning), but most of it was solved unassisted. "Zero One" could have been much more than it is; it's a shame that it isn't.

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