Of all the different video game genres out there, you probably wouldn’t imagine that “radio serial drama” would be among them. But an interactive espionage game in the form of an old-times radio drama is exactly what Reactive Studios has delivered with their hit iOS-exclusive game Codename Cygnus.
Using an episodic format, Codename Cygnus puts the player into the role of a covert spy as they work their way through various adventures and missions. The action is conveyed entirely through voiceover and sound effects with the player using either screen taps or voice prompts to make key choices at certain intervals which in turn help determine the flow of the story and shape what sort of spy they are (charismatic or blunt, suave or reserved, a man of action or a femme fatale, etc.).
I recently got to chat with the two-man team heading Reactive Studios, Nick Mudry and Jonathan Myers, about the success of Codename Cygnus, what inspired them to make it, and where they plan to take it in the future.
Nate Hohl: Thanks for joining me guys! So, to kick things off, what was the inspiration behind Codename Cygnus? It’s such a unique game concept, guiding your spy through a linear story using voice and touch commands in the framework of an old-school radio serial drama, how long did it take to finalize the game’s format?
Reactive: It went through a few stages. Initially we thought of it as an interactive audio book, which in some ways it is. But that didn’t get as much traction as the idea of really truly re-creating the old school radio drama experience. That evolved over time as we looked at it from the lens of an entirely audio experience that is nevertheless interactive. Drama is different from a novel or book. Drama is action-oriented, and not just in terms of physical- or movie-action. Dramatic action is about that present moment of conflict between characters.
A radio drama utilizes voice, music and sound effects to help the listener to completely imagine that drama in their heads. We take that and make it interactive. All told, it was about six full months from prototype to live product. We worked very fast. I’ve written up a detailed developer diary on an earlier Kickstarter post: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/reactivestudios/codename-cygnus-an-interactive-radio-drama-for-ios/posts/561896
NH: Going with an episodic business model for Codename Cygnus seems to have been a good call; basically allowing players to pay for whatever content they want to play. Was the episodic model your first choice, or did you consider other models as well?
Reactive: I was excited about episodic and made it both a design and a business model decision from day one. I had already worked with that type of ongoing story format before with Indiana Jones Adventure World and Game of Thrones Ascent. It’s a completely different way of planning and rolling out narrative content and the games industry is only just now beginning to explore it with interactive narrative. There’s a slide show in the above link that shows my earlier research on this. I love writing and working with other writers on serial content. It’s highly pressurized but very rewarding.
NH: Do you guys plan to add addition means of interactivity in addition to spoken commands? Maybe something like having the player solve a visual on-screen puzzle or find clues in a short video clip?
Reactive: Funny you mention that. We have talked a lot about it. We may add a feature that enables folks to see a top-down blueprint view of the location, with characters and a “you are here” X. That may help aid the imagination. But our design principle is that a blind individual should be able to fully experience the gameplay and I don’t think we’ll change that.
However, we’ve built a great pipeline and technical infrastructure for this type of experience and we can continue to develop it further in additional apps. We can make content very quickly, so the sky’s the limit with other stories. Why not a Sherlock Holmes adventure with some puzzles like what you describe. We can probably do that, and only time will tell what’s possible and not with our setup.
NH: Currently players can purchase and play the entire first mission and a sneak peak of the second mission. How many missions do you currently have planned? Is there a set number or are you taking more of a “as many as we can do” approach?
Reactive: The pre-installed free content is a Prologue episode of about 5 minutes. The first full episode (Art Show) is available for purchase and download with 15-20 minutes of playthrough content. We have an update pending Apple review that enables everyone to download and play that first full episode for free. We want players to really get a chance to get into the world, and the Prologue is really only a 5 minute tutorial without any real sense of the actual story. After that a player can purchase one episode after another and we plan to keep rolling these out in serial fashion like any old time radio drama. If players are interested they can purchase additional episodes at $1.99 each.
But there is more complexity to it. What we’re calling Missions are packs of episodes centered around a major dramatic arc and theme. Mission 1 is about thwarting Neptune’s plans and the emotional consequences of the player’s actions during those events. (Neptune is played by Logan Cunningham – Rucks of Bastion.) The first mission contains three episodes that are available already, and two sidequest episodes that will release later this month. As a whole, a single playthough of a full mission is a bit longer than a movie. The five episodes of Mission 1 cost $7.99 as a pack, or after the new update it will be on sale for $6.99.
NH: Alright guys, last question: what’s in store for the future of Codename Cygnus?
Reactive: More episodes! After we release the two remaining episodes of Mission 1 the plan is to continue production on a new set in Mission 2. Beyond that, it’s Top Secret!
NH: Sounds good! Guys, thank you so much for your time and good luck with future episodes and missions for Codename Cygnus!
Codename Cygnus is currently available via the iTunes app store for iOS devices. As mentioned in the interview, players can play the 5-minute prologue episode as well as the entire first episode absolutely free of charge. For the latest updates on Codename Cygnus and other Reactive Studios projects, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.