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Zero One by Edward Plant [Comp04]

IFDB page: Zero One
Final placement: 31st place (of 36) in the 2004 Interactive Fiction Competition

Because I am a whiny malcontent who is never satisfied, I’m beginning this review with another complaint about Alan‘s transcripting capability, or lack thereof. Last year, I moaned about the fact that Alan doesn’t offer a SCRIPT command, and therefore I was having to periodically copy and paste from the Glk scrollback window into a text editor in order to have a transcript for reference while I wrote my reviews. In response, a few friendly people informed me that if I start the Alan interpreter from the command line with a “-l” switch, it will indeed log a transcript.

This, though a little annoying, is happy news. I tested the method this year, and it works! Sort of. For no reason that I can ascertain, the transcripts are saved in an extremely goofy format, with one line per turn, a line that begins with output generated by the game, then lists the name of the current room, and ends with whatever I type at the prompt. Thus, the slightly more readable parts of the transcript look like this:

There is nothing special about the door.Cell> x walls
‘walls’? I don’t know that word.Cell> n
The door’s closed.Cell> open door
It’s locked.Cell> unlock door
You can’t unlock that!Cell> knock on door
You knock on the door.Cell> z

The less readable parts, which are predominant, occur when the game has anything substantial to say — they stretch off into the distance or wrap (depending on the text editor) to form a busy jumble of unformatted verbiage. Also, on a more minor point, I don’t get to choose the filename for the transcript, and Alan uses an inexplicably super-funky naming convention that gave my log files titles like “011100149966.log.” This transcripting capability is better than nothing, but the quality is still unacceptable. Come on, Alan. Transcripting is kind of a basic IF function, going way back to the 80s. Help a critic out.

Now with that screed out of the way, on to the game. I’m afraid that I don’t have many good things to say about it either. Zero One (or 01, as it likes to nickname itself) is an extremely silly game, cliche-hampered, lacking any sort of logical story, bug-ridden, and incomplete. If you were setting out to write a totally hackneyed IF game, what would be the starting location and situation of the PC? If you said “stricken with amnesia and locked in a cell,” you are today’s winner! That’s exactly the story with the PC of 01, but unlike, say, Square Circle, which builds an honest-to-gosh story around this situation, this game is totally uninterested in revealing the PC’s actual identity or the circumstances the led up to his incarceration.

Oh, it makes a couple of halfhearted gestures at explanation, but these are totally insufficient to actually build any real understanding, and besides, they’re totally overwhelmed by the weight of random events and situations. A good example is the kitchen drawer, in which you’ll find a dead fish along with the cutlery. Why? Aw, who cares? What bits of information do exist are burdened by a juvenile fascination with weapons and gore, like the pool of blood and splattered head that awaits the PC just outside his cell, or like this, after you find a handgun (complete with make and model info) and magazine of ammo:

> put magazine in beretta
Lock and Load!

Bro-THER. Throw in a little queer-baiting, and you’ve got a game that just screams “12-year-old male.”

The game is good for a few unintentional laughs, though, due both to its harebrained shadow of a plot and to its buggy implementation. A great example is the doors to the prison, which are secured by a padlock that, to the game’s own surprise, can be unlocked with the first key you find (the bracketed comment is from me):

> unlock green door
There is a padlock on the door and you don't have a key. [Actually, I

> unlock green door with key
The green door is now unlocked.

Sadly, this change just makes the game channel one of the maze rooms from Zork — going through the door will just loop you back into the current room. Oh, and I also managed to crash the interpreter entirely, though I’m not sure whether this was 01‘s fault or Alan’s. I write comments at the prompt as I go through the game, and after a particularly long line, the interpreter itself just up and shut down, much to my surprise. Luckily, I’d just saved my game, so I didn’t lose much.

Actually, I wouldn’t have lost much if I had just stopped right there and never opened the game again. The ending text insists that “ZERO ONE is not yet finished… Expect a return!”, but given the quality level of this game, that seems more like a threat than a promise.

Rating: 2.8

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