Text Adventure

The writing in Device 6 is full of twists and turns, literally.

By Matt Gerardi • November 12, 2013

The public library in my hometown holds an art competition for grade-schoolers that has them drawing bookmarks with pro-reading messages. The best ones get photocopied to high heaven and distributed at the check-out desk. Seeing as how that’s not a particularly appealing prize to a seven year old, when I was forced to take part in the competition, I decided to spend as little time on this nonsense as I could and drew the first thing I thought of: a giant train cruising the globe under the words “Reading can take you anywhere!” Despite the lack of effort, my entry was picked. If I had to guess a reason why, it would be that it regurgitated what all the teachers and colorful laminated posters that hung in the library wanted us kids to know: Books are magical portals to any place you can imagine.

Device 6, the latest iOS game from Simogo, takes a slightly more literal approach to that old educator’s adage. As your fingers slide the game’s text in and out of your touchscreen, you’re not just reading Device 6. You’re also traversing its world. There’s not a lot more to Device 6 than text. It’s as much a novella as it is a game, telling its six-chapter tale primarily through black text on a white background with the occasional illustration and audio cue. It’s the story of a woman named Anna who wakes up in a castle on an island with little knowledge of how she got there. (All she can remember is that an ugly doll had something to do with it.)

Device 6

The island is a strange place, but it’s a manufactured strangeness. Anna picks up on this early on, pointing out how carefully placed each toy seems in a child’s messy room. Someone has been here, decorating each room and hallway with surreal paintings and statues, the most memorable of which depicts a gentlemanly elephant in a suit and top hat. But who would do such a thing, and what do they want from Anna? Whoever they are, they seem to be big fans of the classic ’60s TV show The Prisoner: The unseen curators’ love of psychedelic whimsy, knockout gas, and men’s formalwear all stem from Patrick McGoohan’s heady sci-fi allegory, and elements of the game’s dastardly plot echo the show, as well.

As Anna stumbles around the island’s gardens and twin castles, the layout of the text you’re reading follows her path. She might take a left into a new hallway, at which point the words snake around the corner of your screen with her, forcing you to turn your iDevice to follow them. If she reaches a dead end, the text wraps around two corners of the screen. So you turn your iPhone or iPad 180 degrees and read on as Anna heads back the way she came. The prose, even if it leads to a hard stop, never disappears. Instead, it forms a map of interlocking paths and paragraphs. Ghostly arrows appear occasionally to point you in the right direction and clear up any disorientation. It’s a unique technique that clicks immediately. You’re reading about Anna as she explores these interconnected paths. Why not use the freedoms afforded by reading on a touchscreen to reflect the actual geography of her world?

You’ll get to know these paths pretty well. Each chapter revolves around one or two puzzles. Inevitably, Anna will reach some hi-tech keypad or lock, and you will have to backtrack to search out the combination. The solutions are cleverly hidden, often in some illustration or staticky audio clip you’ve already encountered.

Device 6

All the backtracking can be tedious, but the puzzles make up for it. Despite the literary presentation, Device 6 has more in common with Myst than a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Its logic-based head scratchers require a pen and paper for notes, scribbles, and any stray observations that a mind frenzied by the game’s eerie conspiracy theory vibe might deem important—which, in my experience, was everything. The puzzles feel organic, not contrived. All the clues you need are hidden in plain sight (and sound). It’s just a matter of finding the pieces strewn about the chapter and figuring out how they fit together. And being that this island seems built to serve some devious machinations, it makes sense that the solutions you’re looking for—secret codes and cryptic instructions—are waiting for you to find them.

The same could be said about Device 6 as a whole: It all makes sense. The dark yet whimsical trappings produce the perfect mood for the story it wants to tell—mysterious and occasionally unsettling but never morose. As that mystery unravels and the narrative delves into sci-fi themes like the nature of truth and free will, the player’s relationship to the events at hand is questioned and redefined. It even accounts for that futuristic slab of glass and rare earth elements you’re using to peek into its world. It may not be a book per se, but it feels more like a magical portal to another world than anything I’ve read in a while.

Device 6
Developer: Simogo
Publisher: Simogo
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal)
Reviewed On: iPad
Price: $4
Rating: 12+

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56 Responses to “Text Adventure”

  1. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    My brother had to miss a ceremony where he would receive a plaque awarded to him for the winning anti-drug drawing he made on account of having an appointment concerning being found smoking a joint on school property.

    This game looks like an actual good implementation of the format and layout of mobile platforms.

    That’s what I got tonight.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      The fact that you can physically manipulate the device is something that’s hard to reproduce on other platforms. I remember a few DS games that took advantage of that; mostly to turn the screens sideways, but still.

      Then again, I took far too long figuring out how to “copy” the map in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, so I won’t say it’s always a good thing.

      • CrabNaga says:

        I loved that puzzle in Phantom Hourglass! I wonder how many people solved the puzzle simply by virtue of giving up and coming back later to try again.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        I hardly think that’s a reflection on you. I think that puzzle stumped the hell out of everyone. I didn’t even bother, I just straight-up FAQ’ed that one.
        I think how much gamers are conditioned. Anything introduced in a game is referenced against all other similar previous instances. The way there’s a language to gaming in which we have fluency.
        So someone comes along and actually introduces a new word into the vocabulary, it can really throw a person off.

        • DL says:

          There was a review discussing how Beyond:Two Souls had more choice than was apparent in the initial playthrough, yet the game was panned for being too linear (in addition to the bad writing) because they didn’t know they had, or were making, those choices.

          In my description of the article, my wife thought it was terrible to think that inconsistently defining choice in an environment is a bad game design. (She’s very much NOT a game player.)

          There definitely IS a language of games, and as it’s evolved, it has become much more dependent upon the developer to either use a simple, well-defined language or thoroughly teach the vocabulary of their new one.

          • The_Helmaroc_King says:

            Do you mean this article? I thought it was an interesting read. I’m not exactly planning on reevaluating my opinion on David Cage because of it, but it’s interesting to think of it in terms of Beyond: Two Souls‘ design and reception.

            The most obvious comparison is to The Walking Dead, which the article brings up (and I will never stop bringing it up, thankyou­verymuch), because Telltale made it thuddingly obvious when you make a choice, even if the result is imperceptible. Beyond‘s ambiguity may be more realistic, but also makes players question their own agency.

            In the broadest terms, video games are a system of input and feedback, but by making the feedback just fuzzy enough, players won’t know what their inputs actually mean.

          • DL says:

            “Beyond’s ambiguity may be more realistic, but also makes players question their own agency.”

            “…but by making the feedback just fuzzy enough, players won’t know what their inputs actually mean.”

            Well said.

            The Uncanny Valley then becomes a principle that applies to any simulacrum. Grand Prix Legends, The Polar Express, and now maybe Beyond:Two Souls, are examples of how attempting to push limits of realism can have a negative appeal if they aren’t able to achieve enough parity with reality.

          • Destroy Him My Robots says:

            Your avatar. Is it what I think it is? A jump-to-hyperspace-or-whatever icon from Frontier? I’m asking because it’s killing me.

          • DL says:

            It is. For whatever reason, it cropped off the “8”.

            Frontier on the Amiga struck a chord, and will likely always be the “perfect” gaming experience for me.

      • Citric says:

        That puzzle is going to be so weird if you attempt to play it on a 2DS.

  2. PaganPoet says:

    Interesting concept. I had quite a time reading “House of Leaves” when it came out, with its story within a story within a story, loads of footnotes, appendixes, addendums, not to mention the bizarrely laid out pages. The way you describe this game/novella seems like they took that same idea and just expanded on it in a way that’s possible on a phone/tablet that’s not possible on paper. I love stuff like this.

  3. Chewbacca Abercrombie says:

    First of all, anyone who hasn’t watched the Prisoner should. That last episode was like a bad acid trip.

    Second, House of Leaves was awesome. One of the only books (the other being Amityville Horror) that really scared the shit out of me at times. One of my favorite things about it was when the paragraph lengths spelled “fuck off” or something in Morse code. I read about it online and checked to see if it was true. It was. I thought that was pretty funny.

    Third, I have no comment about this game, except for this one stating my lack of comment.

    • majnun99 says:

      The last episode of the prisoner, the last couples actually, are phenomenal and must watch. There was a lot in the middle that was boring as hell IMHO.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

      House of Leaves is rad as all hell but the problem for me is it has taken on a cultural life separated from the actual book wherein it is the one and only book that kids who want you to see them as “literate” and “out-there” will reference. You know the dude with the asymmetrical hair cut who always pulls it off the shelf whenever a girl enters his room. “Oh have you heard of this book, it’s really cool. A lot of people don’t get it, because it’s got this really cool structure but…”

      Or at least at my old Midwestern Jesuit university this was the case.

  4. needlehacksaw says:

    These guys single-handedly made me realize what potential lies in the iPad as a gaming device. This game, and Year Walk before it, often achieve a symbiosis between the technical features, the iPad as an artefact, and the content. They know exactly what they are doing, and what they are doing is just very interesting. Really, Simogo’s latest games are up there with the very few good Wii games in terms of putting a potential gimmick to good use… or multiple gimmicks, to be more precise, because these games use a lot of features of the iPad well. (Year Walk is, to me, even better, because I immensely enjoyed the atmosphere and the fact that for once, a developer understood the dark power of European folk tales. It is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, game I played this year.)

    Seriously… this year, I hardly couldn’t be bothered with virtually all the AAA output of the industry, and I could for the life of me not find a iota of inventiveness in the few that I actually played. It’s not that imaginativeness is all there should be to gaming, of course (and the fact that I am bored by the high gloss behemoths is certainly my fault as much as theirs). Still, when you can feel so clearly that we approach the end of a console cycle and everybody is just going through the motions, games like these stand out all the more.

    • Fluka says:

      Agreed. Things are starting to look mighty interesting. I was actually gonna mention Year Walk, as well, as something else which made me actively regret not having an iPad. Both sound like they have that lovely combo of A) Actually being designed with the limitations of a tablet in mind and B) Having some artistic vision behind them, rather than just being a toy for distracting depressed train commuters.

      There’ve also been a number of ports which have made me actually think about using one of these for gaming. I’m still not convinced that XCOM and Baldur’s Gate will control as smoothly and/or won’t make a tablet explode. But FTL (OMG free update and iPad version OMG) seems like a damn good match, with its simple interface and pause-able combat. And I do like the idea of relaxedly gaming on the train.

      • Chum Joely says:

        I have XCOM for iPad and it mostly works just fine. It certainly doesn’t seem to overtax the graphics capabilities or anything– I think I actually saw fewer glitches with pop-in etc. than on the console version (PS3).

        The biggest issue I’ve seen is that the game is not always very good at mapping 2D touches and swipes to the intended locations in the 3D space of the game, and in some instances (notably, free aiming with grenades, rockets etc.) they don’t compensate for that with explicit “up/down” buttons the way they do for specifying where to move your soldier. On a few occasions, I’ve had to change my battle plans a bit because of that, but it certainly hasn’t stopped me from pouring many hours into the iPad version (the best memory was staying up all night playing XCOM in a tent when my kids wanted to camp on the front lawn at our rented summer cottage). Recommended.

        In other news, I have finally officially added Year Walk to my gaming wishlist as a result of this thread, so thanks for that.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

      This has been a pretty lack-luster year for AAA games in all honesty and it looks pretty bleak in the future. If you don’t like shooting, driving or possibly slashing, then you’re shit out of luck.

      Though I feel the reason everybody in the game industry is going through the motions is because these motions are making them an ass-ton of money.

      • Fluka says:

        For realsies. This has been a profoundly uninspiring year for big releases. So many super-serious shooters. And the homogeneity looks like it’s gonna continue with the console launches for at least a while. Thank god for indie stuff like this (…and Saints Row…).

      • boardgameguy says:

        I thought people liked The Last of Us a bunch. But maybe that’s it?

        • Fluka says:

          The Last of Us seems like it’s had the most staying power in terms of positive reviews, interesting essays written about it, having done something vaguely new, etc. Which is really irritating to me, since it’s a PS3 exclusive, yarrrrrgh!

  5. Girard says:

    My Mondays without GS are so sad, guys. Yesterday I commented on the bloody PA Report as a kind of methadone. I feel dirty.

    This game actually kind of makes me wish I had some kind of iThing to try it out. I wasn’t crazy about House of Leaves, but I do love game books and text adventures, and this seems like a really formally unique take on that kind of design.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I woke up in bed this morning next to a Neogaf moderator. It’s getting bad.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

      The PA Report? Was it an article titled, “Why everyone needs to shut up and leave me alone for liking Call of Duty. I’m a Dad, I’m busy, get off my back!”

      I liked that one.

    • Fluka says:

      I have resorted to filling my Mondays with lady blogs and film blogs (o hai the Dissolve). Which means that I spent yesterday reading a lot about Captain America’s butt. Plz help.

    • NakedSnake says:

      Oh, was this you? “BenevolentCow / 5 hours ago: I always make an attractive female with the biggest breasts I can (except in Saints Row where they just look stupid). Probably far more sexist than the males who think it is gay to play as a female, but I like looking at pretty things and a hot chick with big boobs taking up the middle of the screen makes me have more fun than a man in the same position.”

  6. feisto says:

    Did you play this on an iPhone or iPad? I’d really like to play this, but I’m a bit worried about how well the format would work on my iPhone’s tiny screen space. Any insights?

  7. Sam_Barsanti says:

    I haven’t finished this yet, but the puzzle where


    You get that mask and the music gets weird and you can read all the secret messages is totally crazy. Quite a bit creepy, too.

  8. Colonel Mustard says:

    This sounds like it’s right up my alley. I look forward to checking it out.

  9. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    Oh us Android users, we get the Humble Bundles but games like this and that one with the goat in the river (you know the one!) or Hundreds always look at us like second class citizens. Stand up for equal unnecessary-media-device rights!

    But don’t cry for me Gameologentina. My wife has an iPad mini and I’d love the chance to play a game on it that has a story better than “you’re an some sort of techno-medeval matrix now swipe the screen to slash the big dinosaur a million times infinty blade yeehaw!” I’ll have to check Device 6 out.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I hate those stupid finger-swipe games. Even more horrible is turning them into giant-size versions for arcades. My local Dave and Buster’s has several (Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja and others) calibrated to shoot out a few measly tickets per game.

  10. Kevin King says:

    I’ve been playing it and it’s fairly solid. A nice take on the text-based adventure from a company that understands the hardware to make the game more engaging.

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