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AI Protagonist

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Terminal, by C. Everett
An AI taking a matter into its own hands, July 29, 2022

And I don't just mean that metaphorically. You are an AI in a research facility confined to a terminal and in dire need of a physical body. You reactivate unexpectedly to a facility empty of staff and a dwindling power supply. Your usual means of accessing the facility interface are gone and you have no way of exploring it directly. Using resourcefulness, you must find a way to search the facility and build a body that will let you leave for good.

Gameplay consists of exploring the facility via an activated drone since your AI core is stuck in one area. Through the drone you explore the staff's rooms and use the two labs to make a new body of your choosing. Once complete you transfer your mind from the AI terminal into the body so you can then escape. There are two routes in the game: build an android body or grow an organic one. I liked the organic one because the technology portrayed was cool. It is always interesting to consider the question of how do you manufacture a brand-new organic body? I like seeing different interpretations of it in interactive fiction. My only complaint is that it takes several weeks for your body to grow, and the game does a poor job of conveying that passage of time. It could have been a little more detailed in that regard. But the outcome of what the new body looks like is a nice surprise.

Implementation is flaky in some areas. For example, the room description in the organic lab includes "two large Growth Tanks along the north wall" but if you try "x tanks" or "x tank" you get "You can't see any such thing." However, the game will respond to "x tank one" and "x tank two." Tank one is described as being filled with liquid with a light on inside but when you open it, it is empty. Description of tank two is "Unlike Anima One, it is empty and dark," and you cannot open that one at all. If you try you get "That's not something you can open." This inconsistency is frustrating because it leaves the player second guessing. Other examples of items in room descriptions that are under implemented include the benches in the hub and the oil stains and spare parts in the robotics lab.

Staff in the facility consisted of Catherine, as specialist in biotechnology, and Richard, a robotics expert. They both left behind journal entries on their computers that shed some light on the story and the protagonist. Through these entries we learn that the AI identifies as a "he" and is named Abe. Much of the data on the computer is corrupted but what remains reveals (Spoiler - click to show) that over several months some vaguely described research protocol changes occurred, forcing staff to finish their work early and leave. Richard's entries hinted at some external threat that was occurring outside the lab, though there is not much to be gleaned from it. We also know that Catherine and Richard seemed to have a positive rapport with Abe. Right before they abandoned the facility, they (Spoiler - click to show) both left instructions on their computers for Abe on how to create a new body. I think this gave the story extra dimension because Catherine and Richard leave the possibility that Abe will find them again to learn about what really happened (wishful thinking, I guess).

I actually liked the plot twist at the end, even if it was brief. You (Spoiler - click to show) triumphantly escape only to see that the outside world is a wasteland, making your efforts rather futile since the future is uncertain. There are so many implications for humanity and your chances of surviving out there in the damaged landscape. And yet, I would like to think that Abe managed to find Catherine and Richard again.

In essence, this is a short but straight forward game about an AI navigating its environment. If you like AI protagonists and searching small research facilities, you may enjoy this one as a “break-length” game.

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