Sunday, November 23, 2014

Codename Cygnus Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/codename-cygnus-review-6b8a2886e0ba#.x6uaub7he

I wouldn't blame you for thinking that radio dramas are a thing of the past. Is A Prairie Home Companion even on anymore? Oh, it is. Anyway, the closest I have been listening to in recent years is Welcome to Night Vale, hands down the best podcast in the world. But if you put the word "interactive" in front of any old-fashioned concept, it suddenly seems modern and cool. So when I found out that interactive radio drama is a thing I was pretty excited.

Codename Cygnus is an interactive radio drama where you play the role of a secret agent. It is full of hilarious spy tropes, and isn't ashamed of it. The story is conveyed through excellent sound effects, dialogue of other characters, or the narration your handler provides. The writing and voice acting were good most of the time. The highlight for me was that Logan Cunningham appears as a villain.
Whenever you get to make a decision, your handler will ask you which option you want to take. They often come with the unspoken question: what kind of agent are you? I of course went with the charismatic approach whenever possible.
I thought it was a little odd that the player takes on the role of the agent directly. Being that you get all your information audially, it would have made more sense if the player was the handler, and simply gave suggestions to the agent. Then the agent would have to have a voice though, and probably a predefined personality. Perhaps their current approach is actually best, even though it does not make sense for the handler to be describing to the agent what is happening around the agent.

Now, you could use your fingers to tap the option you wish to choose. But touchscreens are so 2007. The real way you should be playing is by speaking your decisions. Their voice recognition is quite good. It never mistook my decision, though sometimes I had to say "clever" several times before it registered. The other technical hiccup that I found is that it does not play when the screen is locked. I would love to be able to play while walking to school, but keeping the screen on in my pocket would be too much of a battery drain.
Update: According to Jonathon Myers (ZOMG I got an email from their CEO, how cool is that?) the iOS version presents itself as a media player, so you can play it with the screen locked. On the Android version they have started experimenting with the transcription that writes as you play, so until they implement a toggle to turn the text on/off the screen has to stay on. I do notice that you can go to a different app and it will continue playing though.

So far they have one mission out, which consists of five episodes. Each episode lasts 15-20 minutes. However, with so many different choices available, I will likely play the mission several more times to see everything. I would say that a reasonable price for a mission is $5. Of course the prologue is free, so check that out if you're not sure if this kind of thing is for you. Available on Android and iOS.

I am excited to see where this medium goes in the future. In particular I was happy to hear that they hired Dave Grossman, who has written at LucasArts and Telltale. Who knows, maybe they will use the framework they already created to branch out into other kinds of stories. Maybe in the future I will get to be a detective in Lake Wobegon.