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A look at living in a networked society, August 1, 2022
Society is managed by A.I. created by corporations. But it has not been a seamless experience for society. Oneiri Global, creator of the ATHENA A.I., seems to be hiding something, prompting you to infiltrate their HYPNOS Labs to learn more about their projects.
The start of the game has some visuals that add atmosphere and world building, especially the news articles. And they really do look like a print-out from a website. One news article explains an event called "Dark-0" where the mainframe network went dark. The official claim was that a city mainframe was in the middle of a large update that caused the power grid to blow out from overuse. That constant networked reality that people depended on suddenly disappeared. Social unrest resulted. But even after everything was brought back online, people started to question corporations' claims about the resilience and reliability of ATHENA. Spray-painted signs on the building indicates that people feel like that the truth about the cause of the power-grid failure is being covered up.
The protagonist's background is not given much explanation. Their name is not mentioned. They seem to be an undercover agent but is unclear if they belong to an organization. For now, the game refers to them as an activist. An inside source has outlined a way to learn more about a man named Lucien Durante. The protagonist’s partner, Klein, communicates through comm lines, creating a suspenseful espionage vibe. He narrates the player's choices and shares instructions.
The gameplay consists of navigating the lab to reach the server room. The goal is to retrieve Durante’s files from the server. The player makes decisions based on information they receive from Klein or the personal data device they carry with them. The device is a creatively implemented feature that contains messages with information on your tasks. It even has a map of the facility. If the player fails to follow the instructions and is intercepted, the game sends them back to a checkpoint to try again.
When the player finds (Spoiler - click to show) Durante’s files they can choose a text file, audio file, or a video file. Once you click on one the game ends. The only file with content seems be the text file. In it, Durante says the development of high efficiency A.I. for day-to-day management has been honed to an art. The project has been a success. And yet, he is worried that society has become overly reliant on them. He once scoffed at people who opposed this new technology but now finds himself with second thoughts. Then the game ends. But by this point the game’s author has set a foundation for an interesting story into the ethics of automated technology in daily life. The (Spoiler - click to show) file may not explain why Durante is worried about ATHENA, but I suppose that will be explored in the next part of the series.
Game maintains a basic yet trendy colour scheme. Uses a black background with white and orange accents for text and links. Other colours are occasionally used for colour-coding. I also liked lab logo that we see at the title page. Text is large and easy to read. I touched on this earlier, but the game makes use of photos. Awesome selection of images to “build” the facility, particularly the photo of the supercomputer. I like how there is an actual visual of the poppy paper with the username and password scrawled on it.
Klein’s dialog is shown as scrawling text on the screen as if he were right next to you speaking in your ear (and in fact, that is what he is doing with the protagonist). What I applaud is that with this dialog you do not need to wait for the text to load before proceeding to the next page. The links are there, and you can click them right away. This is nice if you are replaying the game and want to skip over rereading everything.
Not every design feature was seamless, however. Sometimes when I open the message section it will close before I have a chance to fully read it. You do not click on them but instead hover your mouse over them to open. When they open the whole page shifts, causing your mouse to move off the link, closing everything again. It also would have been helpful for the map to be displayed horizontally rather on its side where you must tilt your head to read it. None of this is impossible to manage but it does make it inconvenient.
The meaning of the title is that everyone is always logged in to a network that manages their lives. In this case the network ATHENA A.I. system produced by the corporation Oneiri Global. The AI crisscrosses through networked computers to allow it to manage people's lives more effectively. But having a highly connected online presence 24/7 is bound to influence people's behavior. The game ends before it can dive deeper into these implications, but it does skim the surface.
Obviously if this were a stand-alone game it would get poor marks for being incomplete (it would still score for visual design). HOWEVER. The author made it clear that this is only the first part of the series. and in that case, I think the author ended the game on a nice cliff-hanger. The game was not as long as I expected but I was still impressed with it nonetheless given its paced espionage vibe. I highly encourage the author to keep producing the series because I am eager to see what happens next in this compelling dystopian sci-fi story.