The Text Adventure Evolved? CYPHER

By John Walker on September 3rd, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

The text adventure, as we’ve known it for years, is finally beginning to evolve. It’s adding graphics, using new techno… hang on, it’s not 1984. And yet, it’s fair to say that the thriving world of Interactive Fiction primarily focuses on the purest form of the genre – just the text, ma’am. Now, I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough about the scene to know if the claims made by CabreraBrothers are definitely the case, but they’re arguing CYPHER is the first text adventure made using Unity3D, and they’re calling it “the comeback of commercial text adventures”.

It’s a cyberpunk adventure, openly inspired by 80s movies such as Bladerunner, where you play a criminal in NeoSushi City (um) in Japan, trying to smuggle passcodes through borders using a chip in your brain.

The trailer certainly captures a lot of the sense of an early text adventure, for some reason rather heavily focusing on the tedium of trying to open a briefcase that’s locked, for which you don’t have the key. Didn’t IF tidy that silliness up a long time ago? But soon after you can see some of the significant differences here too. For instance, downloading the game also gives you a bunch of assets to print out, used to guide operation of in-game tools. There’s also graphics, recorded dialogue, a soundtrack, and a couple of examples of some really non-text-adventure commands being accepted.

When one of the two brothers responsible for the game previously worked in web design, you’d kind of hope navigating their site would be slightly easier. But the mad jumble of information on one long page does eventually give way to means of buying the game. For $15 you get the basic package, along with all the printable bits and pieces you’ll need. There’s the Collector version for $20 that adds in a digital hint book, or a Deluxe for $25 where they, er, sign it (?), along with some papercraft gubbins. I worry that those prices are a little brave, when releasing into a genre that’s traditionally been either free or extremely cheap for many years. Especially as the latter two are reduced prices, due to go back up 26% in a month. We’ll take a look at it soon.

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80 Comments »

  1. frightlever says:

    I started trying to slit my wrists at the minute mark. It’s okay, I was holding a spoon.

    >slit wrists with spoon

    You can’t do that.

    … ye gods… and I LIKE IF.

  2. baby snot says:

    Yeah I couldn’t work out wtf they meant by digitally signed copies of stuff either. But whatever, looks amazing.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Perhaps it means they’ll cryptographically assert that they published the EXE? :V

    • cabrerabrothers says:

      About the digitally signed copies: Carlos has been working on the industry for years now doing concept art for Aliens Colonial Marines, F.E.A.R, etc. He gets requests most of the time to sign his own art. Since we consider this game a little work of art we added the signed copy from both.

  3. Unaco says:

    SPOILERS! Now I know where to find the Blue Keycard. That mystery is ruined for me now.

  4. Metalfish says:

    You find yourself in a Rock Paper Shotgun comments thread. It is dark here.

  5. Jekhar says:

    I could cope with their asking price, if they sold a physical box with all the feelies. But when i saw they expect you to print a bunch of PDFs yourself, i had to laugh.

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    JiminyJickers says:

    I really like the idea of this game. Never thought of a text adventure with sound and artwork graphics.

    Unfortunately, those prices are way beyond what I will ever pay for a text adventure. Maybe a demo would convince me otherwise, but it seems too much money to risk.

    Have to see if there are any cheaper ones around, or wait for it to become really cheap.

    • Didero says:

      It’s been done before. They even removed the guessing of commands.
      It’s called point & click.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Never thought of a text adventure with sound and artwork graphics.

      They were doing this in the 8-bit era. For example, Secret Mission.

      Much of Sierra’s earlier AGI stuff is effectively a fascinating hybrid of text input with 2D sprites and character control.

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        JiminyJickers says:

        Hmm good point, now that I think of it, the Hobbit was like this as well. Maybe it is the cyberpunk setting that got me exicted.

      • brian1121 says:

        “Circuit’s Edge is a computer game developed by Westwood Studios and released by Infocom in 1989. It was based on George Alec Effinger’s 1987 novel When Gravity Fails. The game was a hybrid interactive fiction/role-playing game; it contained a window of text, a graphic window for depiction of the player’s current location, and various menus and mini-windows for character statistics and other game functions.”
        - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circuit%27s_Edge

  7. asshibbitty says:

    I guess if you’re commercial you need a locked down wrapper of some sort. That looks really uncomfortable though, compared to what I’m used to, PC and iOS Frotz. In Frotz even the blinking cursor bugs me when I’m trying to figure out what’s up.  Plus you lose all the useful shortcuts.

  8. Tazer says:

    I started to play it, but in the first 2 minutes it was rife with grammatical errors, which I can overlook 90% of the time, but not in a text adventure. Really screws up the immersion.

  9. Ricc says:

    Looks intriguing. Definitely interested in some more detailed impressions or WIT.

  10. JFS says:

    Artwork is stunning, feelies look great. That said, it’s way too expensive and doesn’t have a demo. I guess I’ll wait for a bundle.

  11. Urthman says:

    Most state-of-the-art interactive fiction parsers (those using Inform or TADS) would recognize both “turn on gizmo” and “turn gizmo on.” The trailer implies that their game only understands the latter.

    And adverbs? If it’s just something the game recognizes and reacts to with some extra color commentary, that might be cool, but if there are puzzles requiring them that would multiply the “guess the verb” problem (interactive fiction’s version of “find the pixel”) geometrically: “guess the verb and the adverb”

    There are an enormous amount of amazing free text adventures. People have stretched the form in all sorts of directions. They’re going to have a very hard time writing a game as awesome as, for instance, “Spider and Web” – a spy story that takes the form of recounting what you did to a hostile interrogator.

    End of Alley
    It’s a narrow dead end here, with walls rising oppressively high in three directions. The alley is quite empty, bare even of trash. (Your guidebook warned you: the police are as efficient about litter laws as about everything else they do.) You can retreat to the south.

    A plain metal door faces you to the east, near the alley’s end. It’s firmly shut.

    >south

    You leave door and alley behind, and set off to see what else this fine city might hold.

    – glaring light…

    Interrogation Chamber (imprisoned in the chair)
    You blink away sharp edges of memory, and the dim walls slowly emerge into your sight once again. Dark metal walls and air uncomfortably cool. And cool metal bands around your wrists and feet and forehead.

    He leans forward over his desk, through the glow of his monitors and controls. Impatience tightens his face.

    “Don’t be absurd,” he says. “You’re no more a sightseer than the Old Tree in Capitol Square; and if you’d had enough sense to walk away from that door, you wouldn’t be here. You don’t and you didn’t and are; we caught you. And you’re going to start by telling me how you got through that door. Do you understand me?”

    >

    http://eblong.com/zarf/if.html#tangle

    • arccos says:

      Agreed. There really is some extremely good IF out there, “Spider and Web” being among the best of it. Most of it completely free.

      Additionally, if you want graphics or voice added to your IF for some reason, there are quite a few games out of Japan that have been translated for just that, some of which are good. Just start digging around for “visual novel” on Google or whatever.

      The problems with parsers have largely been resolved over time. Both the developers of the games and the developers of the engines do a pretty good job of guessing intent these days. Cypher seems like a big step backwards.

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    yandexx says:

    Some nice assets, but nothing beats a proper Inform or TADS parser really. And this one looks custom-built.

    • cabrerabrothers says:

      CabreraBrothers here,
      It was custom built, it was built with Unity3D, which is something never tried before. Came out quite good!

  13. googoogjoob says:

    “they’re calling it “the comeback of commercial text adventures”.”

    There’ve been several attempts at reviving commercial IF in the past decade (most notably Textfyre ( http://www.textfyre.com/ )). All of them have fallen flat. I don’t see how this is any different, other than that they’re trying to generate hype outside the IF community.

    Honestly, I love interactive fiction, but it’s simply not for everyone, and its day has passed. I doubt it’ll ever be really viable again as a product.

    • cabrerabrothers says:

      CABRERABROTHERS here,

      We think otherwise. We think text adventure are great and they can sell as a product. While some people won’t pay for them because either

      A) They miss the old days, so it is ZORK for them or nothing
      B) They want 3D games, text is for books
      or
      C) They just don’t like text adventures

      We are not a big company. In fact, we’re just two guys working from a small office and we pulled a new kind of text adventure out to the market. It has graphics, sounds, effects, etc.

      If we, with NO BUDGET, with NO SUPPORT AT ALL, came up with this, I can only hope a big company pick our effort and try to come up with something similar of their own.

      Text adventures can sell well. They can become part of the game industry again. Some people will reject CYPHER, others will hate it just for trying and others will love it.

      Our bet? well, go play CYPHER.

  14. celozzip says:

    sorry i’m having trouble wrapping my head around this? so it’s a text adventure with pictures and sounds? sounds just like gateway to me. gateway set in a blade runner/deus ex rip-off universe. having just played resonance all the way through yesterday i think we definitely need more adventure games, but not like this.

    • AlwaysRight says:

      RESONANCE!

      …that is all I have to say.

      • celozzip says:

        it wasn’t bad, typical wadget eye stuff really – fake-retro-nostlagic-vibe from the bad graphics, crappy dialogue and wooden voice acting. the guy at the end, amul batra, well i had to rip my earphones off he was so bad…. i’d still recommend it but wadget eye really need to step it up if it really took 5 years(!) to make resonance. i think they must’ve spent 4 years of that on the cg news reports….

        playing grim fandango now, put it off long enough because of the crappy controls. got an xbox360pad, antialiasing all the way up and it looks and plays like a modern telltale game.

        • AlwaysRight says:

          Resonance is good if you ignore the bad stuff… I suppose it depends on how easily you’re put off.
          I’m really looking forward to Primordia.

          Edit: Wadjet Eye have got a great thing going on, the games might not be the best written, designed or acted, but they’ve got alot of soul and are made for all the right reasons.
          There’s something about games made by very small teams, or sometimes just one guy who loves what he does and wants to share a story with people

          • LionsPhil says:

            From the demo, I wish they’d been a little less drag-and-drop happy in the UI, and would just have characters remember things they looked at in their short-term memory automatically rather than having to juggle slots for it (and not so few that it’s really a puzzle; just busywork). Think the ghostly “I won’t pick that up, but I’ll remember where it is to fetch it automatically when you find the right thing to rub it on” inventory items in A Vampyre Story.

            Also voiced the thought bubbles. Which is kind of complement that the voice acting wasn’t ear-bleedingly bad (at least from the main cast), but quite a lot of the game is in only occasionally punctuated vocal silence.

  15. villadelfia says:

    That price is ridiculous. A more reasonable price would be $5, for the deluxe edition, which you still need to print yourself…

    And I don’t think they know what feelies are. Supporting documents do not fall under feelies.

  16. malkav11 says:

    I’ll be interested to see if it’s any good, but I suspect they’re pricing themselves out of what’s surely a somewhat limited market to begin with.

  17. Cryo says:

    NeoSushi Tower. What.

  18. Red_Avatar says:

    DO NOT BUY THIS GAME! I bought it because I love text adventures but this is atrocious. Text adventures stand or die on the quality of their descriptions and text and this game has the worst text I’ve ever seen in any game and I’m not kidding. Every line has a spelling mistake or some other error and it becomes a real chore to read through it. Even worse, a lot of the sentences are so poorly written that it gives me a headache trying to understand what the buffoon who wrote it all was trying to say.

    On top of that, the parser is crap. Something simple as “look at …. ” gives me “syntax error”. Seriously? There’s no “up” key to repeat your last command either. Honestly, ZORK had a better parser and was more advanced than this and it sure had a lot better writing that this POS.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      http://i45.tinypic.com/k142ef.jpg

      Here’s evidence in case people think I exagerate:
      - “you almost kill me”-> killED
      - “half of NeoSushi retrievers on my ass” -> NeoSushi’S
      - “how the hell you’d think” -> “how the hell DO you think”
      - “try to slid the blue keycard” -> “try to SLIDE”
      - “Lime doesn’t quite blinks” -> BLINK
      - “pull them back again” -> PULLS
      - “what was it this time” -> What (capitalize!)
      - “another one” -> Another one!
      - “or was it” -> Or
      - “you are a wanted man Dog” -> “You are a wanted man, Dog”
      - “I told you to lay down” -> “I told you to lay LOW”
      - “I should had known” -> “I should HAVE known”
      - “the card” -> “The card”

      Honestly … was this written by an idiot? Then again they’re clearly Mac users <.<

      • villadelfia says:

        I have now played it for a while, and even during the prologue there are at any time 3-4 errors on screen, and not small ones. Wrong tense, convoluted sentences, missing letters (that change the meaning), stuff like that.

        You forgot that they have almost no resolution options, and even worse is that if you change it, it doesn’t save.

        Talking about saving, you have only one save, it does not save the resolution, it does not save that I set the game to windowed mode, it does not let you skip the lengthy opening of the game and loading requires you to first type load, upon which the game gives you a warning and you need to confirm by typing restore saved data.

        That last point would be fine, except the game doesn’t show that warning during the prologue and if you didn’t know it, it would seem like your saved data was lost.

        So loading a saved game when you boot up the game involves the following:

        Start game, watch 1.5 minutes of unskippable stuff, press space bar, more, more, more, more, more, load, restore saved game.

        Smooth.

        • Urthman says:

          I know what you actually mean, but there’s something pretty hilarious about complaining that a text adventure doesn’t allow you to set resolution and other graphics options.

          Do they support anti-aliased fonts, or do you have to force it in your video driver?

        • cabrerabrothers says:

          Hello people, CabreraBrothers here.

          First thanks for all the nice comments! we’ve been getting a lot of attention this weekend, players are thrilled! they’re just happy about playing a new type of text adventure (beyond the games IF community usually makes every now and then, which we also enjoy too).

          About the misspellings: every game comes out with bugs and CYPHER is no exception. We are already working to fix all these little ones and the patch should be out soon (since it’s a text adventure, bugs will be –you guessed right– misspellings.) we sent the text to a translator here in Argentina but I guess he wasn’t very good with English either. Problem aside, we are going with someone native now.

          While some people want our heads in a stick to walk around town showing they captured the suckers who tried to price a text adventure $15 , others are already asking us to do the second part (and they haven’t even beaten the game yet!) so we’ll stick with the price for a while, at our own risk.

          Carlos is on the roof with his shotgun right now trying to keep the angry mob at distance but I don’t know how much longer he can– oops, sorry gotta run.

          Cheers! thanks for the support!

          CabreraBrothers

          • AlwaysRight says:

            I can see where you’re coming from, but you really should have sorted out the translation before shipping, its the single most important thing about the game.

            I can tell you have put alot of work into this and it’s the sort of game I would be willing to pay $15 for but you have to understand that sloppy translation totally breaks it.

            Thanks for commenting though, you’ve stopped me from writing the game off for now.

          • Ragnar says:

            Reading the text made me think that English was not their native language, and sure enough that’s the case.

            I’m glad to see that they’re working on it, but it seems like a terrible oversight all the same. $15 for a text adventure seems like a premium price, and spelling mistakes on every page gives the opposite impression. A couple beta testers with English as their primary language could have spotted and corrected all those errors before release, which would have made for a much more polished product and avoided all the angry complaints.

      • AlwaysRight says:

        Wow, seriously?
        I don’t think I’d bother typing “more”.
        Cheers for the heads up!

      • LionsPhil says:

        Does the guy on the side ever stop jiggling in an irritating fashion, as in the video?

        There’s a reasonable clue as to the writing quality in the trailer, when the bartender calls you a gajin (that means idiot, neko neko kawaii ugyuu!)

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          CelticPixel says:

          Yeah, they provide the option to turn that off if it’s too off-putting.

        • TCM says:

          Gajin actually means foreigner.

          It’s used in pretty much any game I can think of that takes place in Japan, up to and including Shogun 2: Total War.

          (Baka means Idiot, incidentally, at least get your common overused words correctly if you’re going to accuse somebody of writing like a weaboo)

  19. Punchbowled says:

    Knight Orc. Jinxter. That other one that was good.

    Not this.

  20. Hoaxfish says:

    > Hack the Planet
    I do not understand that command

  21. Hunchback says:

    Reminds me of all the time i spent playing Medievia back in the time…

    I will definitely try this one when it’s out, it seems perfect for a laptop use, when away from home/on lunch break/whatever

  22. rustybroomhandle says:

    Pfff, “Future Boy!” also had graphics/sound back in 2004/5 already. So nyah.

    http://www.adventuregamers.com/articles/view/17787

  23. Freud says:

    I’ll never play a text adventure again, even if they dress it up in a tutu and put lipstick on it. What may sound nice on paper always turns out to be a frustrating game of trial and error.

  24. Perjoss says:

    I think the last text adventure I played was Rigels Revenge on the speccy, and I really loved it!

  25. Sergey Galyonkin says:

    It is actually great, reminds me about Silicon Dreams trilogy.

    Also a LOT of feelies in Deluxe edition. I never printed those, just sent to iPad, like setting intends :)

    • cabrerabrothers says:

      You just gave us an idea. Send these to the iPad. Man, thanks. We’re going to do something with that for sure, great great idea you just have there.

      The patch is going live soon so if you see some grammar errors, please think about something pretty like a bunny or a kitty playing with a little plastic soldier for ten seconds and remember it’s going to get fixed, plus, some other surprises in the future.

      CabreraBrothers.

  26. LionsPhil says:

    Nice banner image for the article.

    Terrible everything else. Shame.

  27. Hunchback says:

    sad :(

  28. cabrerabrothers says:

    Hello people, CabreraBrothers here.

    First thanks for all the nice comments! we’ve been getting a lot of attention this weekend, players are thrilled! they’re just happy about playing a new type of text adventure (beyond the games IF community usually makes every now and then, which we also enjoy too).

    About the misspellings: every game comes out with bugs and CYPHER is no exception. We are already working to fix all these little ones and the patch should be out soon (since it’s a text adventure, bugs will be –you guessed right– misspellings.) we sent the text to a translator here in Argentina but I guess he wasn’t very good with English either. Problem aside, we are going with someone native now.

    While some people want our heads in a stick to walk around town showing they captured the suckers who tried to price a text adventure $15 , others are already asking us to do the second part (and they haven’t even beaten the game yet!) so we’ll stick with the price for a while, at our own risk.

    Carlos is on the roof with his shotgun right now trying to keep the angry mob at distance but I don’t know how much longer he can– oops, sorry gotta run.

    Cheers! thanks for the support!

    CabreraBrothers

    • Sergey Galyonkin says:

      Just a bug report – I have to go through typing “more” four time before i get a chance to load my game. I realise it is used to be like that back in the good old days, but it would be nice for game to just pick up after my last save game without having me to read intro again :)

      • cabrerabrothers says:

        In consideration, thanks! we’ll see to do something about that. Also, if you type M instead of more, you get there faster! and on the intro text that plays the story, hit spacebar or enter to jump that part too. Thanks for buying the game and for your support. Patch is out as soon as we get it done.

  29. Yosharian says:

    Alright, can we all calm down please. There are some grammar issues – according to their Facebook page they are working on it. Perhaps it’s not the best to release in this state, but let’s not dismiss the game out of hand just yet.

    • cabrerabrothers says:

      Yes! the game’s being patched right now! :-)

      By popular demand I will upload a video chopping off my own hands with my laptop. These of you still offended by a game with bugs can lick the screen if you want to.

      Nah, all jokes aside, the game has bugs, and bugs in this case are misspellings, so we’re working on it at the moment.

      • sektor666 says:

        are you also planning on fixing the atrociously terribad parser?

        • cabrerabrothers says:

          The parser is good, what’ you’re talking about! **walks away crying**

  30. Arglebargle says:

    I kinda like IF games now, but my tolerance for poor writing and ‘Guess the Verb’ is extemely low. I remember the point where I cut up my floppy copy of Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and used it as confetti. Though I think that was one of their design imperatives.

    Sounds like the developers of this game didn’t pay attention to advances in the field (parsing, etc).

    • FlipJay says:

      So, just to get this straight: is it bad *writing* or is it grammatical errors, which is something that can be easily fixed?

  31. Ahtaps says:

    Looks interesting. Reminds me of the old Hugo’s House of Horrors series in terms of being that intermediate form between point and click and text adventure.

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    c-Row says:

    I think I will wait for the first patch, but this looks interesting enough to give it a try. Always great to see a fellow Unity dev getting some attention. :)

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    CelticPixel says:

    It’s frustrating trying to guess the correct syntax when you know what you want to do, and I hope they might try to improve their parser as well as the bad English. but when you shift into a new location and the music/ambience/on-screen effects all change; you get a real buzz and its a satisfying pay off for discovering/progressing to a new area. I’m also totally digging the world/fiction they’ve created.

    It’s one of those game’s that doesn’t quite hit its target, but in some ways is still worth experiencing for what it’s trying to do. It can be hard to forgive at times, but if the Cabrera Brothers take on-board feedback and criticism, addressing some of the frustrations and continue to get better at making this kind of game, there’s definitely something very cool going on here.

    • cabrerabrothers says:

      Hi!
      Thanks for the comment ;-)

      Yes, we are taking note of everything you guys comment. We already have a patch in the works as you may know fixing the grammar mistakes by a native speaker. The parser is in the works for another version too.

      Cheers!