Every decision you make sets you on a path down the rest of your life. Will you choose wisely?
Michael Gibson of Zapdramatic.com has done well for himself in creating a broad library of games based upon a unique gameplay dynamic that I’ve not quite seen anywhere else. In a way, he has embodied the same kind of paring down of a single gameplay aspect in order to perfect it, much like the escape the room genre, or the fighting game genre.
For escaping the room, that aspect is searching for items and using them to solve puzzles, for fighting games, it’s boss fights. For the entire Zapdramatic library, that single aspect would be the art of discussion.
Typically, in adventure games, conversations are generally very one dimensional. Either discussions are scripted out for you, or you are given a set of options to ask about, but such options only provide an illusion of control and interactivity as there are rarely punishments for selecting the wrong option, and usually all the information that the character you are speaking with will divulge all information at the time (with information provided later on if exposed to certain obtained items).
Occasionally you’ll come across an adventure game where you do have to be careful with the conversations, but nothing like what Gibson provides.
The reason for this is found in what was originally Michael Gibson’s original mission statement. His earlier games were not merely games for entertainment, but instead games that were used as teaching tools in negotiation and mediation courses that Gibson offered.
As such, you can play one of Gibsons’ earliest offerings here in the first part of his Negotiator series. Note, this first game which pits you against an armed vagabond looking for some cash to get himself on his feet is HARD, and doesn’t come with the built in hint system that later games provide.
Since his earlier negotiating and mediating training tools, though, Gibson has gone forth to create a host of games with in depth storylines that have you pushing through a string of negotiations, mediations, and interrogations to get to your final goal.
I’ve chosen to showcase “Move or Die” because it is just such a game, one with an intense story line, and a slew of well thought out negotiations tied together by tough decisions, and yet it is a self contained adventure that is free to play even through the main site’s hosting.
“Move or Die” is not close to Gibson’s prime opus, mind you; that would currently be his “Ambition” series, but that title includes ten episodes some of which require either some intense google searching, or a paid membership to the website to play in full.
Thus, a great starting point to explore Gibson’s work is “Move or Die”.
The game begins with a brother and sister driving down a dark, moonlit country road. As is true for most REAL roadtrips (that is, roadtrips not taken by crazy college kids in a movie), navigation arguments lead to bickering, and eventually to the brother switching the headlights off in an attempt to get his sister who’s driving to listen to them.
Of course, that’s when the trouble begins.
With the lights off, the dead body lying in the road isn’t noticed until after the sister runs over it with the car. When they stop to get out and investigate, they learn that the man has no wallet and no ID, but is in the posession of a cell phone and at least ten thousand dollars in cash.
That’s where you come in.
You play a hitch hiker that was asleep in the back seat up until this point, and your role in the game is to advise the brother and sister duo, navigating them through the perilous twists and turns that unfold throughout the rest of the night.
Your role will not only be to negotiate with the brother and sister in order to keep them alive and on a moral path of the straight and narrow variety, but also to negotiate directly with other characters encountered throughout the game.
Interestingly, Move or Die, along with the rest of the zapdramatic library, is one of those rare entities wherein its strengths and weaknesses are often the same. For instance, the artistry throughout all the games appears incredibly rudimentary and at times outright ugly. Yet, at the same time, it tends to grow on you, and for all the rather medocrity that the artwork embodies, it also manages to be highly emotive and approachable.
This is made even more true through the usage of recurring characters. You see the same faces pop up from one game series to another, and eventually they grow to become familiar and comfortable, or as comfortable as possible given the contentious nature of all the games.
Likewise,the unique and intriguing gameplay can also end up being the games’ biggest downfall. Too easily can the intent of proceeding through the use of logic and knowledge of human nature degrade into long fits of trial and error, which, after going through the same conversation half a dozen times, can really start to grate on one’s nerves.
This is helped, in some games, by built in hint systems, but these hint systems are very inconsistent from one game to the next. In the vagabond game, linked to above, there is no hint system, andyou have to muddle through the choices until you finally hit upon the winning combination. With MoD, you get some hints as to where you turned wrong, but that’s only after the fact and can be rather muddled in where it tries to take you.
On the other hand, there are other titles in the library which provide almost perfect nudging that makes getting to the happy endings doable, but not a foregone conclusion. Still, in even other games, using hints is more along the line of just getting the right answer.
Through all the games’ faults, though, the entire zapdramatic library provides an interesting experience, and in its two main titles, Move or Die, and Ambition, an engrossing storyline that will have you battling through each and every negotiation to find out what happens next.
Definitely worth your time.