This isn’t quite a postmortem; it’s more a set of responses and observations about Cape.
The first commit on Cape, then codenamed “yearone”, was pushed on May 16th. The last one before the Comp was pushed on September 27th. There was a significant break in the middle of that dev period, while I worked on Prospero.
The violence in Cape was very deliberately designed to not be what I might call “Batman violence”; the conceit that Batman can kick people in the head all day and never give anyone permanent brain damage. I wanted to talk about violence and confront violence in a more frank way than video games (and media in general) usually do. Violence is usually either a gleeful wish-fulfilment exercise, or horrific beyond contemplation. I wanted to return ambiguity to that.
And those mainstream depictions are often not only terrible, they present a monolithic, worryingly instrumentalised view of violence. (2/2)— Bruno Dias (@NotBrunoAgain) July 25, 2015
Probably the most criticised aspect of Cape is the fact that it has a villain. I did kind of see that coming, but I don’t think I ever really had a good solution.
It felt strange to many, I think, that a relatively realistic, socially conscious take on superheroes would maintain the trope of the evil mastermind behind every societal ill. But I don’t really think I did that; Wysham is never meant as the root cause of everything wrong with Yeats. Maybe that was never sufficiently clear.
More to the point, though, I think we’re locked into a worldview that believes so strongly in the primacy of social forces that we disregard even those individuals that have overt, privileged power. We apply similar standards of blame and responsibility to the people who benefit enormously from oppressive systems that we apply to victims of those systems. I don’t think that’s productive.
So that’s kind of where Wysham comes from: a desire to rescue the idea that, for all the consciousness-raising and bottom-up change you try to promote, sometimes it’s worthwhile punching the Lex Luthors of the world in the face. Even if it doesn’t accomplish everything you hoped.
I’m not sure if I failed to be loud enough, or if this is just a difference of perspective that couldn’t necessarily be bridged by writing the game differently.
Cape’s visual style is meant to evoke the halftone patterns used in 20th century printing, which of course are a prominent feature in the cheap, blown-up printing used in Silver Age superhero comics. The burnt orange colour scheme was around for a long time, though the specifics changed quite a bit.
A Raconteur project I've been working on has found a title and look. pic.twitter.com/0SFpL7cl7k— Bruno Dias (@NotBrunoAgain) May 21, 2015
The newspaper clippings were originally going to feature much more prominently in the story; in the end, however, the focus of Cape ended up being much tighter and more compact. The game always opened on a newspaper clipping, though it was originally something much more innocuous.
Messing around with CSS instead of actually writing content for my next IF piece. pic.twitter.com/BISprcRAZi— Bruno Dias (@NotBrunoAgain) May 16, 2015
The description of Cape’s setting as dystopic is kind of interesting. It clearly is; but there’s nothing overtly 1984 about it. Yes, the police is using new technologies to surveil people, but it’s not really that different from the CCTV systems that already exist. And at no point do I imply that the full liberal-democratic apparatus of justice isn’t still chugging along in its horrendously imperfect way. Yeats is designed to feel too close to home; not much of the feedback I got remarked on that, so I’m not sure how much that worked.
In many ways, of course, Yeats is doing better than the rest of the world; hidden in one of the game’s branches is a set of descriptions of how each of the possible player character countries of origin is doing (spoilers: not well).
Cape runs to about 30,000 words of unique text, which is a lot more than anything else I’ve written. It’s sort of a stress test for Raconteur, and while it prompted some changes to Raconteur itself (and highlighted some issues with Undum itself), it does demonstrate that Raconteur can scale to longer stories.
I’m very interested in the use of text transformations and hypertext for semantic or pacing effect; I wish I had the time to incorporate more of it into Cape. Though Cape is a bit over the threshold for dynamic fiction (with multiple endings and some ability to influence the plot), it has a lot of affinity with that form.
Of course, that wouldn’t stop the people who think that kind of interaction doesn’t count and are trigger-happy with the “not interactive enough” stamp.
In the endnotes for Counterfeit Monkey, Emily Short writes:
I started working in earnest on this game in 2008. Since that time, the US has undergone two presidential elections; for months, the Occupy Seattle protests filled a city block just a short stroll from my apartment; and the successes and failures of the Arab Spring were constantly in the news. These experiences introduced more serious themes into what was initially a purely silly game.
The Greek crisis was a miniature version of that for Cape. A lot of anger at those events made its way into Cape; I’m not quite sure, yet, whether that makes it better.
Per the "agreekment": creditors have review power over every "relevant" bill in the Greek parliament. #Greece is officially a protectorate.— Bruno Dias (@NotBrunoAgain) July 16, 2015
A lot of thoughtful people wrote invaluable reviews of IF Comp games, something that I appreciate enormously. The level of feedback I got was priceless, and I only wish I could have engaged with it in a more timely fashion. One of the best things about the IF community remains the level of discourse about IF. It sure as hell beats the mainstream games media.
Serious question, can I configure Steam so I don't see TotalBiscuit's inane curator comments on game store pages?— Bruno Dias (@NotBrunoAgain) September 15, 2015
Cape had a small but dedicated testing team that helped me catch a lot of things that shouldn’t have made it to the final game.