PAX Prime 2015
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes - Earth-Shattering Kaboom

Joshua Vanderwall | 6 Sep 2015 16:45
PAX Prime 2015 - RSS 2.0

There are intense game experiences, and then there's Steel Crate Games' VR bomb simulator, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

We'd all heard people raving about Steel Crate Games' cooperative virtual reality bomb defusing game, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, so Team Escapist decided to try our hand at it. We were all pleasantly surprised to rank #2 on the day's leaderboard for the entry-level bomb, but we didn't even get close to disarming the more advanced setup. It's impressive what kind of variety they've managed to squeeze into the simple concept, and I'm a sucker for logic puzzles, so it was a great fit for me personally.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes' setup puts one person (we'll call this person the Tech) in charge of describing the bomb they see in VR to their teammates and performing the instructions offered by the rest of the team in order to defuse it. The support team (just "support" going forward) is given a book of instructions, which they have to parse and explain, based on the description of the bomb offered by the Tech.

Janelle Bonanno opted to be our Tech, while Trisha Hershberger and I were playing Support. I took - and somehow aced - two semesters of Advanced Logic in my first year of college, so when I first looked at the binder full of bomb schematics and disarm instructions, I knew I was going to enjoy it. You've got lists of items that read like a series of "if, then" statements. You'll see a list of instructions like, "If there are four wires, and there is no yellow wire, cut the third wire," and "If there are four wires and there are two white wires, cut the first wire." Each bomb has some number of modules, like a set of wires or a button, the details of which will decide which instruction to carry out. For the button, you'd see something along the lines of, "If a green button with the word 'go' on it, press and hold the button, then release when the timer contains a '1'."

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None of us had played before, so we weren't entirely sure the best way to approach the situation, but the first page of instructions was about the wires, so we decided to start there and just move through the list of modules. "Do you see wires?" "Yes." "How many are there?" "Four." "Is there a yellow wire?" "Yes." "Are there two white wires?" "Yes." "Cut the first wire." "Done. Next." For a game with zero action, a lot of reading, logic statements, and Support not even having a screen of any sort, it's amazingly intense. The rush of completing a module, identifying the next, and then rushing to figure out how to solve it hit all three of us. After the dev saw our time on the first, and tacked our team name on the 2nd slot of the leaderboard, he challenged us to something more difficult. It truly was.

Where the easy bomb was almost entirely a series of straightforward "if, then" lists, the next tier difficulty spiked, as they started including modules with visual puzzles, requiring drastically more clear and concise communication from Tech to Support, and the reverse. The first two were the now-familiar Wires and Button modules, but the third puzzle stumped us all. There was a 3x2 matrix of icons, but there were two or three times as many icon possibilities than there were cells in the matrix, so we focused on identifying the icons themselves, without acknowledging the importance of the matrix ordering. That last part was important, and we went "boom" before we could figure out the solution.

Suffice to say, Keep Talking is one of those gaming experiences that you just want to tell stories about. Whether it's the time you puzzled out a six-component bomb in the five-minute time limit, or the close call when you disarmed with a half second left on the clock. I'm not entirely sure if it would work, but a Twitch Plays setup for Keep Talking could potentially be incredible. Or devastating, I suppose. That's going to depend on the viewers.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is available now on Gear VR, and is slated for a Fall release on PC, for the non-VR experience.

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