In space, there is no McDonalds. However, there is Bennie's Mac and Cheese. There is an uncanny warmth to the story that unfolds in Zebulon by Matt Slaybaugh. Crafted in the style of classic text-based 'choose your own adventure' games for the 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, Zebulon features the exploits of a somewhat wayward space crew. Unlike most fiction set in a science-fiction universe, the atmosphere is neither too grim nor too jocular. The story itself is relatively simple; you're the captain of a small ship that runs regular courier missions for Asmico, a delivery and service IT company. With you are your shipwright and communication officer; your shipright Hariett is a straight-laced, by-the-book stick in the mud while Reynolds, the communication officer, is unlikely to win 'Employee of the month' anytime soon.
The controls are extremely simple. For the most part, Zebulon requires you to read chunks of the story. The game was written using the Choice Of scripts and tools; at certain intervals, you'll be presented with multiple choices, each of which might lead to entirely different endings. Once you've selected your response, hit the next button and life will continue. There's no right or wrong answer here, really; it's all a matter of how YOU want the character to interpret his situation. Different choices will of course lead to different results, and you'll likely want to come back to the game again to find out exactly what changes depending on how you treat people or how you react to certain situations.
Analysis: More than anything else, Zebulon is likeable. In many situations, interactive fiction is often a straight forward matter that doesn't quite engage the reader. In Zebulon, it is easy to picture a good-natured Dungeon Master lurking behind the screen and penciling in your adventures. On certain levels, the jokes feel a tad bit forced but the overall atmosphere of the game is delightful.
While the writing might not win the Pulitzer's prize for its creator Matt Slaybaugh anytime soon, it is more than sufficiently compelling to hold most attention spans till the end. Small touches like being forced to brush your teeth, mentions of Spacebook and a space-bound goldfish are responsible for truly bringing Zebulon to life. Though 'choose your own adventure' games are the province of the past, the inclusion of almost RPG-like elements to the game will make it approachable even to the younger generation. What I like most, perhaps, is how both the protagonist and their crew seem to play equally important roles. In between training, negotiating disagreements and working your ships, there's a lot to weigh and consider. That's also the reason I would happily sacrifice a chocolate bunny (I seem to like sacrificing confectionary rabbits, don't I?) for a much needed statistics system in the game.
In terms of the game's interpretation of the competition theme of Friends, I'm somewhat undecided about its performance. While I'm extremely fond of the characters that power this soap opera, I can't help but feel that their personalities are somewhat stereotypical. It almost feels as though they were plucked from a predetermined roster. Now, this isn't a bad thing per say and I cannot imagine having to conceive fully realistic characters within such a short time frame but you know, I'd like to have been able to second guess my analysis of the people we meet in Zebulon. Still, the predictability doesn't weigh down the fun read nor the imaginative play on the genre; it's definitely something that could be easily remedied in an upcoming sequel. (Hint, Hint)
I liked it. I was a little disappointed in the ending I got. It feels a lot more like a story then a game, even for a CYOA game.
I laughed at this spelling error:
You finally get the computer working. "Viola! We did it!"
Before I attempt to play this again, can anyone tell me whether the bugs have been fixed?
This can't be a coincidence - a character named Polly Esther who wears roller skates? Samurai Pizza Cats FTW!
Reminds me of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy .....
Hi, I'm the author. Just to reply to the comments above.
#Denise, THGTTG was absolutely the main inspiration, so I'm happy you saw any similarity. Adams was able to balance humor with adventure and thought-provoking situations in a way that few have ever been able to replicate.
#octochan, I have to say I've never even HEARD of that. But you know what they say about there being no original ideas left.
#Reka, the bugs you found last month were fixed. There are still some grammar/capitalization issues I need to address, but the true bugs are gone.
#JIGuest, there are a few 'malaprop'-style intentional spelling errors throughout the game. I've learned that it's a tricky form of humor to use since people often see them as mistakes. They're in the vein of:
"Come on, it's not rocket surgery."
#coolsohn, I hope you play again! There are 4 distinct endings, that ultimately come down to the reputation you have earned over the course of the game. You're right in that this format is much more linear, with less branching, than regular CYOA games. But instead of the plot changing based on behavior, it's the attitude of other characters toward you that changes based on your actions.
#Cassandra, thanks for the review! I've learned a lot from this process and the sequel, if/when I get to it, will take everyone's thoughts into account. Regarding stats, I intentionally removed that feature because I wanted players to respond to the more nuanced reactions of the other characters than to a more abstract number, but looking back that probably was not the right approach.
A particularly irritating and unfortunately common mistake: The asteroid belt isnt tough to navigate, seeing as the closes ones are millions of miles away...
The writing is clever and witty ---- more please. :)
I ended up with a pretty good reputation in the end! I don't know what the other endings are but it looks like I got one of the good ones. For the ship I went with
the fast and easy to handle one but wasn't very tough bought from the Cap
As far as the question of the crew goes I
kept my two original people and hired the woman of "all trades" (wow I'm bad at names)
At the pub I
skipped the drink but played the card game and told them I didn't mind staying. I was honest about not knowing how to play
With the mysterious man I decided
to see what he has to tell me
once the crew was on the ship I decided to
let the crew do as they thought they needed
and I myself
first studied flying and then napped. I decided to be the driver
we did NOT touch
and the hired woman
told us that she was supposed to strand us and steal the ship but regretted it and changed her mind. I kept her close
The computer by the end gave us a surprising message and then
we decided to destroy it!
and that's about it I think! It did tell me that Reynold was a little disappointed though