Recently, I have been playing an online game, currently in alpha testing, called Exploit: Zero Day and I have to say it has definitely been an enjoyable experience. EZD was created by Future Proof Games, who also did Ossuary, which I have previously reviewed. The game itself has a great concept. Basically, you are a part of this group called Zero Day, they are your modern tech savvy Robin Hood and his merry men. A group of hackers that steal from the rich and give to the poor; the voice of the silenced. EZD does a great job of making a compelling story and backstory with this concept. Future Proof Games pays very close attention to detail making the story believable. For example, your main adversary in the game is the company, Samsara Digital, and there is an actual website to accompany the business, breathing life into the fictional company. The narrative also allows for roleplaying as you can choose how to respond to those you are in contact with, are you going to look the other way or speak up? Who will you work for and against?
As I have mentioned, throughout the game you take on the role of a hacker. The way you hack into different systems is through the successful solution of puzzles or as they are called in EZD, clusters. The clusters are extremely enjoyable and just the right amount of challenging that you do not become overwhelmed and want to quit. Many, if not all, of the clusters rely heavily on timing in order to achieve completion. A split second can determine whether or not you have successfully hacked the system. Due to my touchscreen capabilities on my laptop, I completed many of the clusters through touch, and because I loved the capability I began playing EZD on my iPhone as well.
Not only can you try and solve the clusters given to you throughout the game, but you can also create your own. If you are a designer or creative person or think you can make a better cluster than the ones given, then you should definitely try out the creation tool and possibly share your clusters with others to have them test them out and give you feedback. Being able to share is another side aspect of EZD, as there is a forums section. Although the forums are used for system errors and bugs, as the game is still in its developmental stages, there are also many opportunities to socialize. Personally, I did not get much into socializing within the community of EZD, but it is definitely a feature that I know many people appreciate.
After playing EZD for a while, I reached out to the co-founder and VP of Future Proof Games, Melissa Avery-Weir. I asked her a few questions in regards to EZD and here were her responses, many of which made me want to get back on the game as quickly as possible.
What was the inspiration behind EZD?
It’s the sequel to Gregory’s 2009 Flash game “Exploit” (http://futureproofgames.com/games/exploit/). One of the things people enjoyed in that game was the ability to create and share their own puzzles, even though that was something of an afterthought in the game.
With EZD, we felt like we could take the idea of puzzle sharing and the original cyberpunk themes of social justice, and have an interesting, community-driven game. It’s a bit of an experiment, which is exciting! There aren’t a lot of other games trying to tell stories like this; we’re inspired by the format of Fallen London (http://fallenlondon.storynexus.com/) and by games like Uplink.
Why was EZD created as an online game, rather than going through Steam as was done with Ossuary?
A major advantage to EZD being a browser-based game allows for it to be smartphone friendly without having to release the game separately for each device. Folks can currently play and create clusters and systems and post on the forums on desktop, tablet, or smartphone, and we plan to keep that going.
Similarly, the game is always accessible and always up to date. We can roll out updates on our own schedule and know that everyone is having the latest experience. No worrying about the last time folks updated the software on their phones.
This also lets us have the forums integrated into the game. There’s more development for us to do there, but we want the roleplaying on the forums to feel like an integral part of the game.
How did you come up with the back stories and scenarios to go along with the puzzles?
We spent a decent amount of time conceiving of this fictional company Samsara Digital: figuring out their history, what they do, what the public/player knows, and what things should be slowly revealed to the players. That gives us a lot of fodder for stories, even ones not directly related to Samsara.
We also pull from relatively currently events. When major hacks happen or major political or social injustices — we note down moral aspects of those that we want to explore in the game. We’re exploring police militarization in a story I’m currently creating puzzles for, for instance, and that’s inspired in part by events in Ferguson. We’re exploring socioeconomic disparity, race, and police bodycams.
We don’t want any company or person in the game to be wholly good or evil, and as soon as we ask ourselves, “So why are they doing this good/evil thing?” stories we write gain nuance.
When we write these stories, we try to find ways for the players to express their characters’ opinions. If we set up a story in which an otherwise “good” person is doing something unpleasant, we might offer the players the chance to expose their bad deed, stop them, or let them continue. We can use the sum of the choices players made to influence future plots we write.
Other than reporting system bugs what purpose do the forums hold?
It’s a place for players to roleplay, share puzzles and stories of their own, and exchange ideas. Here are some posts along those lines:
https://forum.exploitzeroday.com/t/please-help-me-decode-this/101?u=melissa: A cluster + cryptographic story kicked off by a non-player character, but solved by players
https://forum.exploitzeroday.com/t/the-other-type-of-cracking/142?u=melissa: A player-written narrative
https://forum.exploitzeroday.com/t/adaptive-systems/102?u=melissa: Deliberately tricky set of systems
We want to foster a welcoming community where folks can ask for help, start stories, and post without fear of being ridiculed for a lack of skill.
All in all, Exploit: Zero Day is a great game, it has an interesting storyline and an easy to pick up yet still challenging gameplay. Due to the fact that this is online EZD has plenty of opportunities to expand in new and exciting ways. I would encourage you all to try it out and see for yourself. Personally, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for this game. EZD is most definitely a game that I will keep coming back to.
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It’s actually quite simple. I love writing. I love playing video games. So, why not combine the two? When I’m not focusing on my academics, I’m either writing or playing video games. As a writer and avid reader I love a good story, because of this I tend to lean towards games that have a strong narrative aspect. Currently, I am studying Computer Science and Game Design in North Carolina. My ultimate goal being to one day make a name for myself in the game narrative field.