Often without additional visual or audio aids, text adventures are simple to play but often regarded as one-dimensional. Using descriptive narratives like “You see a loaded gun on the old table beside a note with faint scribbles,” the only sense of environment comes from the text you read. Cypher might be a text adventure, but it has managed to add facets into this genre to heighten the immersion experience of the players.
Along with an intriguing narrative that effectively brings you into the story while enshrouding you in a sense of mystery, the sounds build up the ambience to further thrust you into the story. In fact, it is recommended at the start of the game to have earpieces on while playing. This is because Cypher’s sound is complementary to the game. Instead of hearing a majestic orchestral piece that is separate from the context of the game, Cypher’s sounds are either simple loops that evokes the right emotion or sounds that are described by the story. There are also parts of the story where the story progresses through sound. An interesting experience in the game was when I activated an old machine, a choppy, mechanical, female voice played. The voice welcomed me to the system, told me about the possible side effects, and then prompted me to “press the red button.” This brought me into the story more easily than if they were to just use the narrative.
Along with the story, the visuals add flavour to the game. Neatly split, the story text is on the left, while the complementary visual elements are on the right of the screen. The complementary visual elements include a picture of your character, location information, the items that you’ve picked up and a mini-map. However, the developers, Cabrera Brothers, kept the complementary visuals such as the mini-map simple. In the manual, they explained, “We insert images, sounds, little snippets of movements to make things pop into your imagination and at the same time we keep it minimal.” They added, “This way your imagination does most of the work but at the same time we ensure it goes exactly where we want it to go in terms of aesthetic.”
Another visual element comes in the form of “Feelies”. Feelies are extra content that are added included to increase the sense of realism of the game. For example, if it was a game about magic, a possible feelie would be a spellbook for the gamers to follow. In the case of Cypher, the feelies come in flyers that gives you more information in specific scenarios when the command syntax changes. Early in the game, my character was plugged into the QRS-Code machine, and I was stuck for more than 15 minutes trying various commands to grab the piece of code that I needed. After checking around the manual, I realized that the QRS-Code Machine uses a different syntax that I can find by opening the feelie, a PDF file called “QRS-Code Brochure.” The brochure is simple in design, but follows the setting closely. Instead of plainly putting “type [grab],” the brochure also contains many hints of the future as set up by the narrative. For example, it’ll be “USB 6.0” in the future. That machine was described as relatively old too, as described by our character, Dogeron “Dog” Kenan.
With complementary elements that seek to only tease the brain into stronger imagination, Cypher is a game that as evolved the text adventure genre. Unfortunate minor grammatical errors aside, the narrative is strong and descriptive while the audio and visuals aid the immersion process. Many games strengthen their graphics or unique features to rise above others, but might not captivate players because they have a lacking in a certain element. Cypher manages to balance visual, audio and story without losing the essence of a text adventure, bringing a well-rounded experience to the players. Do remember that it’s still a game, so don’t forget your “save” command!