Zap Dramatics: Ambition series

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Rating: 4.1/5 (24 votes)
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JessThe Desperate DadA desperate man grips the detonator of the explosives belted around his waist, his thumb hovering ever so slightly above that little, harmless-looking red button. On the other side of the room a cop stands, gun drawn, his finger trembling over the trigger. And you, dear reader? You are the invisible observer, responsible for helping the cop find some way out of this seemingly impossible situation. Can you find a way to walk the fine line between the would-be bomber's hope and despair and emerge with your life?

So begins The Desperate Dad, the first chapter of ZAP Dramatics' online interactive mystery series, Ambition. This is not your ordinary Jay is Games offering; as their website says, ZAP Dramatics produces "serious games and dramatic simulations to entertain, educate and influence opinions." Ambition is ZAP's most, well, ambitious effort to date, with a complex storyline spanning 10 episode and featuring a colorful cast of suspects. Other simulations offer more mundane scenarios, such as convincing your boss to give you a raise or obtaining a refund from a grumpy customer service clerk.

Each simulation proceeds in essentially the same way: a scenario is set up, the conflict develops, and then periodically the player chooses a response/action from a menu of choices. Each choice will then lead to a new set of options, and so on. Only a few correct "paths" exist to attain the desired conclusion. Expect to meet many dead ends before navigating your way through the crisis, and to spend a fair amount of time replaying the successful choices before finding your way back to the fork in the road.

Analysis: I was delighted when Jay offered me the chance to write about ZAP Dramatics in my inaugural review, as I've long been a fan of their intricately plotted, psychologically compelling simulations. While most games rely upon reflexes or intellect, ZAP's offerings forces the player to use his or her empathy; only by understanding the antagonist's motivations will you be able to develop a rapport with him or her and ultimately defuse the conflict. Some nice voice acting and simple but effective graphics add to the level of immersion experienced by the simulations, and the variety of situations, from mundane to potentially fatal, emphasize that the same psychological tools used to extract a confession from a murder suspect can also help you get a raise.

A few flaws do exist in the simulations, most notably the tedium that can result due to the constant replay. Overall, however, ZAP provides entertaining, compelling and educational simulations that you may just find yourself addicted to.

Play The Desperate Dad

Be sure to visit the ZAP Dramatic "Dramas" page for access to other episodes. You can also find more free episodes on Newgrounds.

Note: While a number of the simulations are free, full access requires paying a membership fee.


I love the voices, especially the cop!

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Nice Jess, thank you. I can't wait to check it out... now!

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alright, i'm sorry, but that was cliche all over. The heavy breathing, dumb receptionist, cop with the heavy voice and the ex steals the kids

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This game was pretty easy. I liked the voices.
But to me, that game just seemed like an ad for the series.

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My pleasure, Mr. Monkey! I'm excited to be joining the prestigious team of JIG reviewers. I've enjoyed many of your reviews as well. :)

And yeah Ruka, it is a bit cliched, but I think the content's still interesting enough to check out. Maybe try another one of the free simulations and see if ya like it a little better.

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I played this game about 5 years ago on a different website, these ZAPdramatic people just took this from someone else!

[Edit: Zapdramatic was founded in July 2000 by filmmaker Michael Gibson and Negotiation and Alternative Dispute Resolution experts Allan Stitt, Frank Handy and Lisa Feld. Get your facts straight before making accusatory comments, please. -Jay]

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Naughty Lukex115! What you should have said was "I played this game about 5 years ago on a different website..." and it was stilted and unenjoyable then.

I am ashamed that JIG has featured these games - they are like patronising Choose Your Own Adventure stories that attempt to teach you how to Do The Right Thing. Aesop's Fables would make a better simulation experience, so let's do that instead and forget this ever happened.

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Hm...can't say I agree with you, Beef. I don't feel like the simulations are trying to pass along any sort of moral values, per se. It's more like, in very simple ways, showing what psychological strategies do and do not work.

I'm also glad that JIG featured this one because it's so different from most other selections. At the very least, it's good to show the range of internet offerings.

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"It's more like, in very simple ways, showing what psychological strategies do and do not work."

According to who? The problem is - as a psychologist - I don't find the those strategies entirely believable, and I don't think any of the options encapsulate what I would really do in that situation.

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oops :P sorry!

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You have every right to disagree, Beef.

The answer to your "according to who" question can be found on the Zap Dramatics website:

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Right, which is why I say that they're very basic. i.e., if you're confronted by a dangerous, unbalanced person, don't antagonize them or try to give commands. Make yourself into an individual by giving your name, looking the person in the eye, etc, so it's harder for the person to hurt you. Go along with their demands, or at least pretend to. Very simple, easily comprehensible stuff.

And yeah, I understand when you say that none of the responses encapsulate what you'd do, because that's the limitation of the simulation. Interestingly enough, certain sets of choices will say "Other"; if you click on that, it brings you to a text box in which you can send a suggestion to the creators of the sims.

Not trying to deny what you're saying, because you have valid points, but I don't think that it's fair to entirely dismiss the value of the simulations simply because they don't completely go along with your hypothetical actions.

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I think it's interesting that they're charging money for their memberships, considering the quality of the product. It's unique, what they're doing, and commendable, but I'm surprised that their standards are so low for the animation and voices. If this were a game made by some random guys on Newgrounds, it would be fantastic; if it were being offered as a free teaching tool, it would be great. But they're charging money for most of these. I would expect animation and voice work at least on the level of, say, Homestar Runner or Joe Cartoon, which ARE free.

I know, my standards are high for that sort of thing, and they're not charging much. I'm just struck by the gap between ZAPs lofty goals and the actual cartoons. I'm not sure that it's possible to make characters look realistic in Flash. They end up looking bizarre and misshapen. I don't see why they couldn't have used more stylized human characters and gotten the same (or superior) psychological effect.

And stilted voice acting is fine in most games. Resident Evil wasn't any less scary for the awkward dialogue scenes. But this game is ABOUT the dialogue. It's about making empathetic decisions based on the subtleties on human interaction. The characters have to be believable. And man, every time that cop opened his mouth and sludged his way through another line, I just got knocked right out of the story.

I mean, I was drawn in initially, and I thought the premise was interesting, and I did care about the outcome of the scenario. But I couldn't believe that I had to pay to see the rest of the series. If they are pulling in some subscription fees, then I hope they're considering springing for a professional voice director and animator. Perhaps the quality improves a bit as the series goes on. I don't know.

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These games are great. I've been a huge fan ever since I stumbled on to them three or four years ago. I disagree that the voices ruined the experience. Sure they weren't professional, but they were decent. Sound could always be tuned off and enjoyed.

I've been contemplating buying a membership for a while now, maybe I will sometime soon.

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Psychotronic August 9, 2007 4:06 PM

Okay, I just took a look at their earlier piece, Move or Die, and it's WAY better. The writing is much more intelligent, the acting is better (although they still could have used a dedicated voice director), the animation is better. They cast you as an influential character in the drama rather than as an invisible conscience, so I felt much more involved. And the dialogue choices feel much, much more natural and comprehensive and complex. Even though this isn't their newest thing, I think it would make a better link to showcase ZAP Dramatic's talents, if that's the goal here.

I have some qualms with the way they choose to tell their stories (They get hit by a Karma Bus? Really? He falls into a mattress truck? REALLY?), and I still think that the semi-realistic character drawings are a terrible match for Flash-style character movement. But they're obviously capable of making interesting and valuable work. I just don't know why they seem to be getting gradually worse at what they do.

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I'd like to point out, for the benefit of those who aren't planning to pay for full access to the ZAPdramatic site: when I last checked, a number of locked episodes on the site are playable on the newgrounds site from the author's profile:

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Yeah, I do agree that there are some cheesy moments, such as the karma bus. I think overall it detracts from the experience, which is unfortunate.

And I agree with Psychotronic, I think that some of ZAP's other simulations are better. Actually, my favorites are the ones with more mundane scenarios. It's too bad that ZAP hasn't made one of those free...I bet they'd get many more subscribers.

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Ok, so I wanted to play. The cop was even kind of cute.

But you can't skip the drawn out in-betweens? After three run-throughs (where I got very far each time) I was already sick of the same things he kept saying after I hit the same responses. I think that would be an easy and perhaps necessary fix.

Also, I hit a few situations where there were no good options two or three times in a row, so of course he was going to blow us all to hell. One trio was "the kids are behind me" (a lie), "it's ok" and rush him (stupid), or "it's irresponsible of me to let you near kids with a bomb" to which he says he's lost and kills himself. The preceding option list had only one viable solution as well. If they're going to back me into a corner, just cut to the chase and kill us.

I wanted to like these but I found it dull and soon couldn't bear the conversation scenes. Too bad--I almost never give up on a game without a finish; I hate not having at least some sort of a satisfying conclusion.

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Ok for all you people out there who don't know how to negotiate here you go.

First the scene.
Put his gun down!!! (The cop) silly.
Look I put the gun down. Now, let go of the detonator and we'll sort this out.
Ok, calm down. My name is Jim and I'm going to help you sort this out.
I don't know if your crazy or not but the dynamite scares me.
Yes, I'm afraid of getting blown up. aren't you?
Tell me what you been though.
You're obviously a devoted father but this bomb thing crosses the line. Take it off and we'll pretend it never happened.
Maybe we can get Bridget over the phone but first you've got to put down that detonator.
(To Lola the Receptionist) Do you know how to get a hold of Bridget?
Say: "Think about your kids"!!!
Last Scene and your DONE. WOOOOOHOOOOOO Way to go.

Tell me what you been through.
Ok, put down the detonator and we'll get your kids back.
Bridget and your kids are in the other room.

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i haven't played this yet, but i can tell you this is an interesting find. i stumbled upon one of zap dramatics' games somewhere else on the internet (i remember it was "the suspicious cop"). to say the least, it was very interesting... (i'm relieved to see that TSC was in what zap calls their "altered states" category, since that game was messed up!) if you look at their whole catalog of dramas available, you can see they have quite a few games that seem to cover a lot of conflict-resolution dilemmas.

i'm a fan of role-playing negotiation games like this one (and here i insert the obligatory cross-reference to facade). after seeing this game posted here and recalling my experiences with TSC, i'm looking forward to playing this game. thanks for the link, jess!

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...I love the concept behind these games, but I can't finish ANY of them on my own. It's incredibly frustrating. It would be nice to have a primer, or something, before playing them? And most places I get stuck are places where no choice seems right. I've also gone through some a bunch of times but I lose no matter what. The one for negotiating a raise, for example- best I can get is "maybe in six months." !@#$%^&*.

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Wow... I didn't think that anyone would dig up those old games anymore... I've actually played Ep 1 - 5 when they were free (like, WAY long ago), and as someone mentioned, the good eps (Ep 1, 2, 4, 6, 7-8) are on Newgrounds. Ep 3 is forgettable (no one is missing anything, seriously), but it would be nice to replay Ep 5 again.

I'm still missing Ep 9 and 10 from my story. Go figure that these are the ones that matter the most.

And I agree that Move or Die is a slightly better game than the Ambition series. Ambition is one very grand story line, but that's not everyone's tastes.

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I have to agree with the comments previously used that these are great in storyline and play...but the animation and voices are seriously lacking. Its not just that its a bit jerky or rough or even the weird way the different people just dont go together (and obviously reused). It's that there are so many OTHER works out there in which the animation is good but the story and game is poor.

You'd think these people would find each other.

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Well, the idea is good and all, but... even putting the psycho-part aside, I have s erious problem with this one: when I'm thru some "levels" and then I choose an incorrect onaswer and BOOM I have to start all over again. And going thru those longish monologues more than twice is BORING. I stopped playing it after I died twice at that "put down the detonator and I'll get you to your kids" part. No way Jose I''ll go thru those conversations again.

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This game has been posted to jayisgames a long time ago why did you do a repeat?

[Edit: Wait, what? Are you sure? As far as I know, this series of games has only been 'posted' once on JIG, Aug. 07. Do you have a link to a previous post where it appeared? -Jay]

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While I enjoy the storyline and all, I really hate how they charge for this. The animation is among the worst I've seen, and there aren't that many redeeming factors to merit the fee.

With that being said, I really like the Move or Die one. The animation was (sort of) better, the characters made sense, and it was a challenge to get through. I liked how nearer to the end, after you've made a lot of good decisions, the two people start to trust in you instead of debunking everything you say. I thought it was a nice touch.

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Does any one by chance with the other episodes? This first one was not too bad.

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Anonymous October 28, 2010 9:34 PM

does anyone know what happens in the final 3 parts of the episode 7 'the trial'? i dont have the money to pay for a memebership and i want to know what happens in the end!

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The concept behind this game was good but the voice acting (especially the cop) sounded more like a simulator than an actor at times and the art and animation, whilst not the worst I've seen, is not worth paying for in my opinion when there are better games out there for free

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