Play Review: Interface Zero

In the year 2088, the interface has been eliminated.  The Tendril Access Processor creates a direct link to the brain, downloading the user’s entire consciousness to a virtual-scape known as The Deep.  This is Interface Zero, this is Savage Cyberpunk.

Booting Up

Interface Zero has been waiting in my rpg queue and calling to me since the day I got it.  I love Cyberpunk games and I love the Savage Worlds system, so this should have been a match made in heaven.  The book makes heavy use of “in character” writing and flavor text, which immediately started to spawn bits of ideas in my mind about the kind of stories I could tell.  I imagined tales of corporate espionage and crooked cops, gritty private detectives and serial killers that use biofeedback programs in The Deep to assassinate unsuspecting schmucks trying to give their computerized avatars a dirty kick.  All of the components for some fantastic science-fiction plots are present, but unfortunately trying to dig into those pieces can be a frustrating exercise.

While I was preparing for my session, I found myself getting “lost” in the confusing layout of the book.  Mixed slang and acronym references made it extremely difficult to search back through the book, even with the search-able text PDF I was using.  I appreciate the effort Gun Metal Games put into making the world seem believable with colloquial language, but there is a line between creating a world and making a game.  Sadly, I think the line was crossed.

Plugging In

In spite of struggling with the book’s organization, my excitement to jump in and play was undeterred.  One thing the book does very well is draw you into the feel of the setting; every weapon or armor is branded and information is given about each company that makes the equipment, as well as slogans such as, “Act of God Armaments:  Peace Through Overwhelming Firepower”.  The whole thing sort of captures this dark future reminiscent of the Robocop movies, things are so awful and humanity has fallen so far, but at least we can laugh at a few tongue in cheek jokes.  I found it very easy to craft my initial story ideas for Interface Zero, and using some of the flavor text from the book, my players were able to drop right into this new universe and have a pretty good understanding of the world around them.

In our one-shot story, my group fought corrupt police forces, raced away in an SUV, and were chased down by a Golemmech mechanical armored suit.  Action and intrigue were high while the players sought to investigate their bad setup and to clear their names.  In time, they decided to attack the mega corporation that wronged them in the only way they could get answers, by hacking in through The Deep.

In too Deep

Sadly, in gaming, no matter how much fun the session is, it can be marred by one bad scene.  When the players first entered the virtual world I gave them a chance to design their Avatars.  Because Avatar depictions are completely independent of actual stats, their representation online could like like anything they describe.  Some chose Avatars similar to their “real world” character designs, while others took far out and wild designs.  The player made descriptions were completely free, as well as funny in some cases.  But sadly, when the dice began to roll in The Deep,  the fun started to dwindle.  The mechanics for determining the stats of the virtual character bring the simple systems of Savage Worlds down even a step further, everything about the character including his new Defense and Firewall scores, which replace Parry and Toughness, are all derived from the Hacking skill.  This boil down of characteristics leaves little room for variation in The Deep.  These constraints are not limited to the player experience, in The Deep, all combatant programs used by the Game Master are given a description regarding their appearance, and in some cases a special ability, but for those programs, their dice rolls are all derived from the network or Domain they run in.  This makes for some very repetitive Hacking/Combat experiences within The Deep.

Another concern regarding The Deep is the “magic” system replacement used within.  Players can run or even create their own programs, which, for some reason, have limited uses per purchase or creation, as opposed to perhaps a Power Points system typical to Savage Worlds.  Descriptions and use of these programs are very basic, and the list is particularly short, making combat in The Deep even more repetitive.  During our session, the play actually became so intolerable, that I offered the group the chance to skip the scene, everyone hurriedly agreed.  I wrapped up the fight with some description, gave the party the Hacking roll successes needed to find the information they needed, and moved on to the next scene, logged out and moving on to spread the word of the corruption of their corporate conspirators.  Recharged and excited to move on, the energy picked up in the room as the players returned to their “skin” and didn’t rely on only Hacking roll after Hacking roll.

Logging Off

At the end of the night, ultimately my group was thrilled to have played, but in wrap-up conversation we realized that everything they enjoyed about the session wasn’t because of Interface Zero, but because of the Savage Worlds backbone it used.  From a Game Master’s perspective, Interface Zero provides a fun universe to run adventures in, but my frustrations experienced with the layout and writing left something to be desired.  I know that Interface Zero has been released previously under the True20 system as well as Gun Metal Games’ own Modern20, but I’ve not read those versions of the setting.  I am curious to see if some of the confusion in the face of overused acronyms and slang could be remedied by reading the older editions, but any newly released product for a different system should be able stand on its own.

A great deal of effort was put into this project, but I think it is no coincidence that a book so hard to follow lists eight different writers in the credits.  If I were to run a sci-fi based Savage Worlds campaign, I think there’s a great deal I can pull from this book to enhance those games, but I would most certainly exclude or completely rewrite the rules for The Deep to allow for more varied and effective character builds that do not rely entirely on the Hacking Skill.  Dark futures and corporate overlords make for incredibly fun and dangerous game worlds, but for the price of this book and the issues I experienced, I just can’t recommend it as a purchase.

Interface Zero Logo

[tags]Savage Worlds, Cyberpunk, Interface Zero, rpg, Role Playing, Games, Review[/tags]

14 thoughts on “Play Review: Interface Zero

Add yours

  1. It’s a shame that the content of the book was handled so poorly. Hopefully they get a chance to do some revisions and put out a new version down the road. I’d hate to see a Savage Setting with such promise die.


  2. It’s got to be kind of tough writing a review that really doesn’t bode well for the game. But I think it’s awesome to have a good, honest review. Times are hard and money can sometimes be too tight to invest in something that has the potential to be frustrating at best. Great review!


  3. Good review. The setting does sound fun, but it definitely seems like the rules for The Deep, what should be the draw of the game, leave a lot to be desired.


  4. I notice you didn’t mention anything about the implants. I remember you mentioned there being a definite lack of variety when we played.


  5. That’s true, Eric. Most of the cybernetics fit into pretty limited categories. That kind of thing can create some play room for the Game Master to fill in his own ideas, but a few more options would have been nice, not just Better/Worse versions of the same implant device.


  6. Hi!

    This is David Jarvis, Owner of Gun metal games, and one of the writers of Interface Zero.

    I’m saddened to hear you had such a problem with the game. As it is, I’m planning revisions to The Deep and will likely be doing a second edition of the book in mid-to-late 2011.

    PLEASE, email me with your concerns, so I can properly address them in this revised edition.

    Perhaps you and your crew can do play testing as well?

    Thanks for your time.


  7. I have run six games of Interface Zero. While I am sometimes confused as to the rules, I would argue that simplicity in a gaming system is golden. So what if encounters in the Deep are statistically similar, as long as they are stylistically and thematically unique, then the mission of collaborative narrative creation that is the ideal outcome of a role playing game session is fulfilled!


  8. Thanks for your comment Jesse. While I agree with your principals (they align well with mine). However, the mark of a good game session is everyone’s ability to pool together their creativity and tell a story, just as you described; the mark of a good system is one which the rules promote and aid in that effort.


  9. Funny enough, my crew and our own review of the Game came out to be the complete opposite. The setting itself was the real draw, and seemed to bring back the magic and joy we use to have with Shadowrun,(we found 4th edition to be highly disappointing and abandoned the game). It also allowed for further concepts and ideas most other Cyberpunk games have not touched on.

    The Book itself also came off as Intuitive in terms of it’s layout. It was nice to see the most important aspects for play are in the front and back. That is, the rules for creating your own cyberwear, and hacking are at the front of the book; while the write-ups for sample antagonists and domains are in the back. Detailed character creation and campaign creation are in the middle.

    The Deep rules definitely need some clarification, something I’m helping to work with, in fact, but as a fan of the product my group and I disagree and can’t help but recommend the game enough for those who enjoy the genre.

    To each their own though.


  10. I wouldn’t advise Interface Zero to use for inspiration at all, but rather hint at the “Sci-Fi Toolkits” from Pinnacle Entertainment Games.
    Why? Cheaper and better written IMAO.
    No, i didn’t get the final product, but i read the betatest version and it was both horrible in terms of rules usage and on terms of layout and organisation, as it doesn’t even remotely follow the structure of common SW settings like “Necropolis 2350” or others.
    It was just a mess to read and understand.
    Oh, and under betatest rules a character with cyberware could die due to breaking a sweat…


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