IF Comp 2015: Capsule II – The Eleventh Sandman (PaperBlurt)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)

Capsule2_PosterCapsule II – The Eleventh Sandman (PaperBlurt). I have a weird relationship to PaperBlurt’s stuff. Some of it clicks for me, some of it doesn’t, and I can’t always explain exactly why I like the ones I like. This may in fact be my favorite of PaperBlurt’s standalone work so far, more focused than The Urge and more relatable (at least for me) than Dad vs Unicorn.

Capsule II is actually the second part of the Capsule trilogy, which I had not heard of until I encountered this game. It tells the story of a cryogenic escape ship carrying millions and millions of humans away from Earth towards some alternate earth-like world; you are one of the unfortunate suckers who has to stay awake (in shifts) while everyone else sleeps their way to the new world. Incredibly, the planners of this ship have decided that despite the amount of machinery and the number of lives at stake, they will go with no redundant backups when it comes to crew: you alone are awake for your eight-year shift. Or so it seems at first, anyhow.

The literal events of this story are not all that plausible, and the hero’s motivations are often more tied up with physical comfort and avoiding blame than with any high heroism. Also, it is very linear — not even really a gauntlet, because I don’t think there’s a way to die before the end.

Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed it: there is something about the narrative voice that made me smile. And even though it is hard to believe that humanity would entrust its future to such dubious arrangements, there’s also a charming specificity about the way the space ship and its systems are rendered. And ultimately I sympathized with this story of a person whose desire for human connection was so great that it caused him to make what were probably some poor judgment calls.

After I played Capsule II, I also went back and tried Capsule I (which you can reach from links within the same game). Capsule II is highly linear and definitely in the dynamic-fiction category; Capsule I has some actual alternate ending possibilities. I don’t feel like they suffered from being played in this order, either. If anything, I think Capsule I felt a bit more suspenseful than it otherwise might have because of what I knew from playing Capsule II. There is supposed to be a Capsule III forthcoming as well, but it’s not released yet.

These are not long pieces, and it will be easy to judge whether they appeal to you. If the personality of the narrator amuses, keep going. If not, maybe they’re not your kind of thing.

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