Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cape (a review)

"Cape" is a superhero origins story, written by Bruno Dias with the Undum Engine for the 2015 interactive fiction competition.

I am not normally a big fan of the superhero genre, but this is really well written prose and dialogue, at an appropriate length for the competition.  This dystopic urban setting shares more in common with "The Dark Knight" than camp-1960's "Batman", although nothing I read would lower it below a PG13 rating.

More after the page break (not too spoilery this time...mostly my reflections on the various purposes of "choice-points" in a hypertext game)

The story is mostly linear, though I suspect there may be some alternate endings.  The opportunities for player choice are frequent.  Many of those choice points are there for pacing or for focusing the reader's attention on a particular plot detail, affecting how the player reads the story (explaining why they made a choice that was already decided), or for providing more depth to a description.  All of these are valid uses of choice in a hyper-text story, even though they do not necessarily contribute to what I call "authentic player" agency.  Most of the choice points flow back to the main story quickly.  Opportunities for genuine player agency are less frequent (but do exist).  Note, I only played through once in the entirety, so there may be more branch points, or long-remembered choice variables than I recognized.  One of the long-remembered choice variables is the player's medallion of power.  Whether the player picks one bauble or another from a tray of jewelry in an early scene determines their superhero identity.  (I was Silver Tooth, a crime fighting shark man.)

One memorable scene to me, for the way it used choice for a purpose other than redirecting the story is a scene in which the player searches the boss-villain's apartment.  I thought this scene was written nicely to simulate a methodical room by room search, serving up deeper and deeper descriptions of each room as the player clicks on available text links.

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