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About the StoryStranded on Interstate Zero after your car broke down, you are miles away from the last sign of civilization. It's twenty minutes to noon and the temperature is well over 120°F. It's beginning to look like you won't make it to your family's Thanksgiving dinner...
[--blurb from The Z-Files Catalogue]
Winner, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Winner, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 1997 XYZZY Awards
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
The game isn't particularly big, or particularly difficult, but it doesn't give you any "You can't do that here" messages, and everything is very detailed. It lets you roam free, it doesn't let you sit there and have the plot stuffed down you throat. Adam, a darn fine piece of work.
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There are many reasons for the incredible popularity of Adam Cadre's Interstate Zero (or I-0, as it's better known) when it hit ftp.gmd.de earlier this year. It has an engaging lead character (Tracy Valencia, a free-spirited college student on her way home for her 18th birthday), a tantalizing setting (out of gas in the middle of the most desolate stretch of the desert state of Dorado), and a level of detail that sets new standards for interactive fiction (if Tracy's car doesn't have an alternator implemented, it's only because she doesn't know what one is). But mostly, it's got sex.
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Number of Reviews: 11
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The immaturity is clearest, of course, in the game's depiction of sex and sexuality. I-0 is famous for the fact that its protagonist, who is just one day shy of being 18 years old, can undress everywhere and can attempt to perform sexual acts with every NPC (not always successfully). Cadre doesn't take sexuality seriously enough to say something substantial about it; but he doesn't take it lightly enough to turn it into matter-of-course actions either, as Adam Thornton would do in Mentula Macanus. Nor does Cadre go for straight pornography or erotic romance. Rather, it feels as if the narrator (I will not judge the writer) is fascinated by sex while being too ashamed by this fascination to truly admit it. He flirts with being transgressive, but generally pulls back at the last moment.
An obvious example of this can be found in the final scene, where (Spoiler - click to show)the command "rub clit" leads to the following response:
You don’t get very far before Trevor pounds on the wall. “Hey, keep it down!” he shouts. “Some of us are trying to sleep! Can’t you at least go use the tub faucet like usual?”That is the narrator being 'knowledgeable' about female masturbation and therefore 'cool', without having the guts to try to describe the experience. Hence, he turns it into a joke at the crucial moment.
However, it should be stressed that I-0 is not just about sex; indeed, one can perfectly well play through the entire game without engaging in it. In fact, the game's main interest is probably the plot structure, which is widely branching. There are several ways to get home, and they sometimes involve completely different locations and NPCs; and there are even more ways to die, get arrested, or end up in the hospital.
In this respect I-0 is also an immature game; though not in the sense of "adolescent", but in the sense that the form of puzzle-light games with branching narratives was still in its infancy. With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that some of the design decisions in I-0 are not particularly successful. For instance, the use of completely disjunct and unrelated narrative strands only means that we can play two more or less separate games if we have the patience to search for them; here is no meaningful connection between these playthroughs. Playing one of the strands does not throw new light on the other. This means that the branching narrative is little more than a gimmick.
Another defect of the design is that most of the branches are hidden quite well. It is entirely possible to play through the game, finding the way forward only with some difficulty, and never getting an inkling that there were other possibilities as well. This lack of the obviousness of choice undermines the power of having a branching narrative. (Not all choice needs to be obvious, but by making some choices obvious a game can indicate that it has branching plot lines and will reward further exploration.)
Be that as it may, I-0 is still an easy game to like. For an IF game, the setting, plot and characters that Cadre give us are fresh; the writing is often good; and fooling around with Tracy is fun. On top of that, it was an innovative game in its time, and deserves some historical recognition. One of the essential IF pieces? Perhaps not, but it is not too far removed from that category.
(Prospective players may wish to know that on some playthroughs, the game contains sexual abuse, though this is not described in any detail.)
This game isn't really a story-based game (there's almost no plot arch) and it isn't really a puzzle game (unless trying to figure out how to accomplish certain task with the parser is considered a puzzle). It is just a trying-a-bunch-of-stuff game, but that can be fun too.
I did have a few frustrations with it, however:
(Spoiler - click to show)
I think the parser's response to certain phrases could have been more robust. There were at least two instances when I typed something (for example: "get out from under car") and the game responded by telling me I had to do what I had just asked to do first (the response was literally "You have to get out from under the car first"). Also, I asked the server to use the phone, got a reply of "sure, whatever" but then couldn't use a phone.
I also hated how much waiting the game required at certain points. Typing "wait" over and over again doesn't make for fun game play.
Overall, fun for 3-4 playthroughs (each only takes 15 minutes or so) to try to figure out how to get home, but not much depth past that.
(Spoiler - click to show)raped and murdered, which kind of killed the fun atmosphere it was going for, at least for me. Because I don't mind the sexy content otherwise, even if it is, as others have mentioned, pretty juvenile. But that was jarring and unpleasant. Which is unfortunate, because the game is well implemented, and I like that it gives you multiple ways to solve things. But it left a sour taste in my mouth.
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