Where we're going we don't need roads

This is the fourth article in the Back to the Future theme week series.

Welcome to the future!

Oct 21, 2015 shown on the Back to the Future time machine's display.

In the movie Back to the Future Part II (1989) the protagonists travel to the future, to the distant date October 21, 2015. That day is today, so we'll have a look at what parser interactive fiction looks like — and could look like — in this futuristic year of 2015.

Let's start by establishing the baseline. The grand illusion is that an average parser IF story looks like this.

An abstract but complex node graph showing multiple nodes branching and convening

Not a parser story structure. [source]

This recent document from One More Story Games categorizes interactive story flows. To which category does an average parser IF story fall? It's not what the document says it is.

An average parser IF story flow looks something like this.

Contrary to the popular belief the traditional story structure of parser IF is strictly linear. The gameplay is more often than not a linear stream of puzzles leading to one conclusion. In other words, the story in each playthrough is more or less identical regardless of what actions you take during the game. You might have the choice to solve some puzzles in any order, or choose which order to talk to NPCs, or uncover pieces of the backstory at your own pace, but the number of meaningful choices is almost always effectively zero.

I know this is blasphemous, but to quote an unrelated movie: search your feelings, you know it to be true.

The illusion of free choice is created by the geography. Note that the PDF linked above has fallen into this same trap. It puts IF into a "connected map" category on page 2, but it's conflating story and world geography which are completely different things. Moving around in the game world doesn't count as a story. This bears repeating: open game world does not equal branching narrative.

That is not to say that all parser IF is linear, but there are only a handful of exceptions. It is on one hand a little bit surprising, considering the impact of Galatea (2000), and on the other not at all surprising, considering the amount of work needed to pull it off and the lack of tools designed for that specific purpose.

This is not criticism. Branching narrative is not and should not be a value by itself. But let's not fool ourselves by pretending that parser games are the shining paragon of branching narrative.

What are parser IF's strengths then? Here's a few:

  • World exploration
  • Storytelling
  • Adventure game puzzles
  • Wordplay

By adventure game puzzles I mean the standard use-thing-on-other-thing puzzles, which are pretty much fully explored by now. There might be something new to discover, but mostly everything is a variation of things already seen hundreds of times.

To me world exploration is still the main selling point of IF, and the world model is where I see biggest potential going forward.

Sandbox worlds

After that rather lengthy introduction, let's take a look at another kind of map.

Partial map of Zork I

Partial map of Zork I. [source]

This resembles the earlier storybook structure quite a lot. The difference is that it depicts a physical map of a parser game's geography instead of its story structure.

If we lay out a linear plot on top of the spatial map, it might look something like this (imaginary example):

Linear plot laid out on top of Zork's map

The red dots are story events placed on the locations where they happen. The story world exists only to support the plot, or to serve as a setting for the puzzles. And there's nothing wrong with that – story comes first. But what if we turned the setup the other way around?

Here's the story structure of AAA sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto:

Sandbox story flow.

Sandbox story flow. [source]

There's a central storyline, and side missions sprinkled around the map that are unlocked as you progress in the game. Once the side missions become available you can complete them in any order.

Parser IF already has the geography of a sandbox world, so why not take advantage of the fact? Instead of building the world to support the story, we could make the world the primary focus. Now the plot becomes a string of interconnected, self-contained "missions".

This requires some additional work, but also has a payoff. It would also require stepping away from the strict expectations of realism in IF, the same way that GTA and other sandbox games are often somewhat unrealistic: after failing a mission the game world resets and lets you retry as many times as you want, for example.

Crowdsourced content

One largely untapped potential is shared worlds. There are some shared settings like the Andromeda series, Flexible Survival and Kerkerkruip. Andromeda is a series of games written by different authors sharing the same setting. Flexible Survival and Kerkerkruip are single games written and continuously expanded by multiple people. Flexible Survival is especially an impressive result and by far the largest parser game ever made, but sadly a pornographic furry game is unlikely to ever get mainstream recognition no matter what its technical achievements are.

What I'm envisioning is a multiplayer setting like Guncho but with a common world and developer tools built into the environment. It would also help with the content creation problem.

In a shared environment the players could make content as they're playing by filling in the blanks that have not yet been completed, or creating their own spaces inside the shared world. MUDs offer this kind of functionality but they often lack the kind of direction I'm looking for: letting everyone do whatever they want will usually create a mishmash of varying quality. There would have to be some kind of editorial role that would maintain integrity and quality.

This is something that has seen some implementations (mainly on the MUD front) but they lack the final touch that would make it actually work outside niche environments.

Alternative interfaces and genre hybrids

What is the key feature of parse IF? For some it might be the parser itself, but to me it's the world model. If we left everything else as is but changed the user interface to something else, I think it could work just as well. In the current mobile-dominated landscape there's pressure to move away from typing primarily because it is a significantly inconvenient mode of interaction in touchscreen devices, and secondarily because the parser is generally considered having a steep learning curve for newcomers.

The current alternatives, mainly turning parts of story text into clickable hyperlinks, with or without context menus that appear on click (for example, clicking on the word "door" opens up a menu with verbs "open", "close", "unlock" and so on), haven't been very successful. I don't have an immediate suggestion as to what would be a working alternative, but I'm sure there's something that could be made to work. More experimentation is needed.

Taking the alternative interface idea even further, parser IF would have a lot to offer to other gaming genres. What parser IF really does well is the world model. Using an IF engine to power a non-IF game could create a spectacularly deep game worlds. Even a graphical adventure game using an IF engine under the hood could be worth trying.

Shark still looks fake

This is the third article in the Back to the Future theme week series.

A holographic shark in the future

The parser is a curious piece of technology. Since its first appearance about 40 years ago it has survived almost unchanged to this day, apart from superficial improvements.

Parsers come in two generations of sophistication. The first generation is the now practically extinct two-word parser that only understands commands in the form of VERB or VERB NOUN. The second generation is the modern parser that understands VERB NOUN PREPOSITION NOUN and VERB [NOUN PREPOSITION] TEXT where "text" is freeform input.

The third generation, which we don't yet have, is a parser that understands any reasonable input and is able to transform the player's intent into lower level tokens for the story engine. For example, a third level parser would know how to interpret the intent from OK LET'S TAKE A PEEK INSIDE THAT MAILBOX NOW and tokenize it into [LOOK IN] [MAILBOX] – all without the author having to anticipate and write grammar rules for that specific input or even those specific words.

The good news is that we probably have the technology to make a third level parser, at least to a reasonable extent. It would solve a big part of the age-old tutorial problem and remove many causes of frustrations associated with the parser. It would take a dedicated team some serious effort and university-level research but it's certainly doable.

The bad news is that there's another piece of the puzzle that needs to complement the parser or that kind of sophistication would completely go to waste. It's not enough for the story to understand input, it has to also respond to it appropriately.

Let's look at an example. In the past a relatively common complaint was that the parser didn't understand commands with adverbs, like OPEN DOOR CAREFULLY. In reality patching the parser to recognize adverbs is trivial in most modern development systems. A story that "understands" adverbs would be expected to respond to input something like this:


You close the door.


You close the door, careful not to make a sound.


You slam the door closed!

Where are those different responses coming from? It's not the parser that spanws them. Someone has to write the text, either as default responses to the CLOSE DOOR [ADVERB] action or as custom responses for interacting with this specific door.

Realistically you'd group adverbs together so that considering synonymous and closely related adverbs you'd have maybe 3-5 separate adverb groups. Even in the best case scenario you'd have to write up to five extra custom responses for every action to take into account all reasonable user commands.

After the author has done all that work, the end result is perhaps mildly interesting for the player to explore but has yet no real meaning within the story. It's not really worth the huge amount of extra work just to acknowledge the adverbs player has used by varying the game's responses. If you drop a glass violently instead of carefully, shouldn't it break? Shouldn't NPCs react differently if you talk to them amicably or aggressively? How should the parser respond if the command is nonsensical, like CLOSE DOOR LOVINGLY?

Any adverb-aware system that had any real effect to the gameplay would suffer from a combinatorial explosion of both all the extra responses that would need to be written and the results of actions that it would have to take into account. Making such a game wouldn't be beyond imagination but it would practically require dedicated effort from a fulltime team. Apart from trivially short works it wouldn't be feasible to a solo hobbyist.

Doc Brown wearing a "mind reading device" on his head

"Do you know what this means? It means that this damn thing doesn't work at all!"

To further illustrate why the parser and prose are inseparable, consider a story with a parser that has a human-level understanding of language but the story engine isn't sophisticated enough to deal with the input.

First a neutral command. This is what you'd generally see in any standard parser game.


You reach for the almanac very carefully, holding your breath so that Mr. Strickland won't notice you...

Now imagine a more complex command:


The story's prepared response to a neutral TAKE ALMANAC command would be almost completely the opposite of what the player's intention is. If the story engine ignores everything in the command except the basic intent, the result is this:


You reach for the almanac very carefully, holding your breath so that Mr. Strickland wouldn't notice you...

The effect is jarring and because the real command is masked it looks like the parser has almost completely misunderstood the player's intent.

Another option would be to communicate the lower level command to which the parser reduces the original command.


You reach for the almanac very carefully, holding your breath so that Mr. Strickland wouldn't notice you...

This would justify the disrepancy between the input and the response, but exposing the internal workings of the parser would further make the complex parser even more of a gimmick. Once the player notices the pattern there's no point to keep writing the "natural" phrases when it's obvious that they're just going to be reduced to the bare minimum. (As a teaching device it wouldn't be that bad though.)

The third option is to discard any command that conflicts with what the story is expecting, but that would not end well. It would lead to either horrible guess-the-verb-and-adverb puzzles or incredible frustration when the parser seemingly understands the basic intent but refuses to carry out the action.

The final option is to write separate responses for every type of intent, but this has the same problems as mentioned above, most notably the multiplied effort required to write the text and test all the combinations.

To sum it up: A system with a mismatch between the capabilities of the parser and the capabilities of the engine is not viable. The two are intrinsically linked. We're in a situation where improving the parser requires advancements in technology in several areas, both in understanding the input and generating the response. A smart parser is somewhat feasible, but only if the content generation problem is solved.

If all this sounds too pessimistic, fear not! Tomorrow we'll explore some untapped potential that could already be available with the tech we have now.

What if we don't succeed?

This is the second article in the Back to the Future theme week series.

One of the most useful advice that has proved its worth to me again and again, both in creative work and in business life, is "fail early, fail often." It might sound counterintuitive, but it simply means "have a lot of ideas, discard the bad ones before you've spent too much time on them." The word "failure" is used here in the most positive connotation it can have.

Not all ideas are equal. In the best case scenario you get an idea, realize immediately that it's not viable, and discard it. Even though the idea was a failure it was useful because you can now focus on better ideas. If you have 100 ideas it's best to shift through them quickly instead of finding the hard way which of them is the gold nugget.

Even if a project is based on a good idea, the details will need constant revisiting.

Doc Brown pointing at a sign in a miniature model that says "Point of no return"

Don't let a bad idea get past the point of no return.

The creators of Back to the Future had always envisioned Michael J. Fox to play the protagonist, Marty McFly. When the filming started Fox was unavailable because he was starring in a popular sitcom Family Ties. Eric Stoltz, an up-and-coming young actor, was cast instead.

A billboard crediting Stoltz as the star of Back to the Future

In an alternate timeline, Stoltz was the star of the film. (Screen capture from Fringe.)

In late 1984, after a few weeks of filming, it became clear that Stoltz wasn't right for the part. He was by all accounts a good actor but he just didn't have the personality or the comedic sense that the part required.

At this point they had basically three choices. Keep filming with Stoltz, risking an inferior end result; change the lead to someone else; or try again to get Michael J. Fox on board. Thankfully they went with the third option and managed to strike a deal with Fox and the producers of Family Ties. Fox joined the cast, Stoltz had to go, and the movie was better for it.

Changing the lead actor was a dramatic decision and it was made right before the point of no return. Recognizing the failure earlier would have saved them a lot of money and wasted effort.

Two pictures from the same scene where Marty McFly looks at his young father in the past, the first one with Eric Stolz and the second with Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly

Above: Eric Stoltz as the original Marty McFly.
Below: Michael J. Fox in the final film.

Other famous but less dramatic "failures" were the first drafts of the script where the time machine was built from a refrigerator instead of the iconic DeLorean, and the original ending in later scripts which involved getting the 1.21 gigawatts of energy to power the time machine by driving it into a nuclear explosion test.

A storyboard frame showing a nuclear test tower

A frame from an early version of the Back to the Future storyboard

The moral of the story is that it's best to fail as early as possible. It opens up a possibility for choosing something better.

The important thing to acknowledge is that you can't plan for success when you're doing experimental or creative work. Failure is always an option. The only time you can plan for success is when you're doing something that's already done and tested before, like assembling Ikea furniture or designing a game by cloning an existing one. When you're creating something new, no-one can tell if it's really going to work or not before you can see it in action.

It's also important to not take the principle too far. Some ideas need time to grow to their full potential, so discarding them would be a mistake. Balancing between being bold enough to discard probably bad ideas and holding on to potentially good ideas is the hard part.

Identifying failure points

Coming back to game design, failing early means identifying potential failure points, testing them, and making correcting moves or even discarding the project if needed.

Pretty much every aspect of game design is a potential failure point. To name just a few:

  • Game mechanics
  • Plot and story structure
  • Characters and character relations
  • Setting
  • Geography
  • User interface

The key is to think what will be this game's innovation. Tried and tested details probably won't be a problem, it's the things that are going for something new that are most likely to require repeated iterations.

Once a potential failure point is identified, the best way to find actual problems is prototyping. Make a small example that shows the thing in action; implement the game's core mechanism, at least partly; start writing from the climax of the story instead of from the beginning; write the key interaction between main characters first. Once you have something concrete, no matter how small, you can more easily get a sense of whether it will work or not.

Biff, what a character

This is the first article in the Back to the Future theme week series. Contains spoilers for the Back to the Future and The Godfather films.

The three things that matter most in a story are characters, characters, and characters.

— Bob Gale

Character arc is a narrative technique that, in a nutshell, means that a character figuratively transforms from one person to another during and due to the events of the story. The character might experience a change in personality or opinions, learn a lesson, or otherwise come out as a different person.

Here are some famous examples:

  • Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Scrooge's extreme transformation from a bitter old man to a philantropist is one of the purest forms of character arc.
  • George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Christmas is a well-suited theme for character growth stories.
  • D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers. D'Artagnan is a hot-headed peasant who becomes a heroic musketeer.
  • Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies. Many of the Star Wars characters have their own character arcs.
  • Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Michael starts out as wanting to have nothing to do with his father's crime syndicate but eventually rises to take his father's place. This is an example of a character arc that results in negative change.

So how to include character arcs in interactive stories? Here are a couple of options.

Option zero: No character arc

A valid, and very common, option is to disregard any character growth entirely. Not every story needs it, especially in a game where the main focus might be in gameplay, exploration, puzzles or something else other than the characters.

The use of this option should be carefully considered, though; although no writing rule should be followed blindly, the character arc is almost universally regarded as a fundamental building block of a good story. Change is part of a character's metaphorical journey, and if the journey didn't have any impact on the characters then it could be argued that the events they experienced weren't really that meaningful.

Option one: Player character arc

Back to the Future didn't start out as a trilogy. When the first film became a huge success, the creators started working on sequels.

While the protagonist, Marty McFly, had driven the first movie's story forward, the film was never about him. The main character was his father, and that's where the character growth takes place: George McFly transforms from a submissive loser into a self-confident, successful author.

Screenshot from Back to the Future II with Marty and Biff

"Are you chicken?"

The filmmakers realized that while it was ok to have the protagonist not experience any real growth during one film, it wouldn't work for an entire trilogy. So they gave Marty a character flaw: he would lose his temper every time someone called him a coward (or, more specifically, a "chicken.") Now he had a negative trait that he could grow out of and thus demonstrate that the journey had affected him.

I'm the first to admit that the whole chicken business feels artificial, especially since there's no sign of it in the first movie, but it does show how important aspect characters and character growth was to the movie's creators.

Player character growth can be much less effective when the player's experience of the story doesn't match the protagonist's experience. As an example, let's assume that the protagonist starts out as resenting one of the NPCs but grows to respect them during the story. If the player hasn't experienced the same kind of change in their attitude towards this NPC, it's a mismatch that can make the story feel unrealistic. There must be a clear reason that has caused the change in the protagonist.

Option two: Non-player character arc

Marty didn't get much more agency in the sequels either. In the second film the focus is on Biff who becomes a powerful and corrupt businessman, and the third is about Doc Brown who builds a new life in the Wild West and finds love.

Marty is someone who mainly goes along with the things happening around him. He is almost purely a reactive character. In many ways this is very similar to the typical game protagonist. The player character is often an empty shell where the players are supposed to project themselves. The player very rarely has any real agency: the plot happens, and the player reacts to it in ways that trigger the next events.

When the game has no strong opinion on the player character, character growth can be delegated to NPCs. They are also less susceptible to the problems associated with how the player experiences the story, because the player is less likely to identify with the NPCs as strongly as they might with the protagonist. Again, there must still be a clear reason why character growth has taken place: an NPC can't just suddenly reappear with a completely new personality or opinions.

Option three: Choose Your Own Growth

Interactive media gives us yet another option: the author can let the player decide what kind of character arc the protagonist experiences. A good example of this is Slouching Towards Bedlam where the player's actions have long-reaching consequences in the protagonist's fate.

Providing several options for the player is of course a lot more work than making a single predetermined path. It needs more effort than just slapping on a final choice at the end. If we think of the character arc as a literal journey it should be clear that the same path can't lead to two different destinations.

In the best case when the story provides enough room for the player to move it doesn't necessarily even need to conclude the character arc explicitly. The player creates and experiences the character's journey, filling in the blanks. When the character arc is being built organically during the entire story, any possible last choice at the conclusion should feel like a natural choice to the player instead of just a bundle of alternate endings.

A big pitfall to avoid is the "kiss the baby / eat the baby" choices, i.e. moral choices that make you choose between an obviously good deed and an obviously evil deed. They have been widely criticized and ridiculed, mainly in AAA games, because they are ultimately meaningless: you could just as well ask at the beginning if the player wants to play a good or a bad character and be done with it. The impact is far bigger if the choices the player makes are subtle rather than obvious.

For more practical guidance on writing character arcs, K.M. Weiland's How to Write Character Arcs is an extensive online resource.

2015? You mean we're in the future?

In one of the landmark movies of cinematic history, Back to the Future Part II, the protagonists travel from 1985 to the distant future, October 21st 2015. That date, which marks the beginning of The Future, is next Wednesday.

You mean we're in the future?

Next week we'll celebrate the occasion with a whole series of more or less thematically appropriate posts, one each day, ranging from narrative theory to musings about the past, present and future of parser interactive fiction.

Here's the lineup:

  1. Biff, what a character
  2. What if we don't succeed?
  3. Shark still looks fake
  4. Where we're going we don't need roads
  5. Clint Eastwood never wore anything like this
  6. Where'd you learn to shoot like that?
  7. Please excuse the crudity of this model

Sources for these articles include We Don't Need Roads: Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines, the Tales from the Future documentaries, commentary tracks of the films' Blu-ray releases, and Futurepedia.

Now excuse me, there are some movies I need to re-watch.

IFComp 2015 review: Seeking Ataraxia

Seeking Ataraxia cover Seeking Ataraxia is a choice-based game that describes a couple of ordinary days in the life of a university student who suffers from OCD and anxiety.

The game is a bit buggy and inconsistent in some details, for example the protagonist's apartment keeps reverting overnight from cleaner than it has ever been to total mess, the text talks about an alarm clock's digital display but the illustration shows an old mechanical wind-up clock, and so on. Nothing that couldn't be easily fixed afterwards.

There isn't any mentionable gameplay or plot, but the main goal of these slice-of-life games that describe mental health issues usually differs from other games. Instead of going for entertainment values or explosive action, the goal is often to provide peer support to others diagnosed with the same issues, personal therapy, raising awareness about the symptoms and consequences of mental illnesses, or any combination of them.

Seeking Ataraxia doesn't explicitly tell what its goals are. It's billed only as "a game about anxiety" but it seems to work quite effectively as public education. I certainly learned some things that I didn't previously know about e.g. how OCD can manifest itself. It describes the symptoms personally but neutrally, without preaching or overexplaining. It lets the readers come to their own conclusions about what kind of effect mental health issues have on the protagonist's life.

All passages are illustrated. Art style is consistent throughout.

All passages are illustrated. Art style is consistent throughout.

One problem with mental health issues is that it is often hard to realize that the symptoms might be due to illnesses instead of external causes or personal characteristics. The public service provided by games and other media that accurately represent mental health issues is that they can make people recognize the same symptoms in themselves and seek a diagnose.

It would be interesting to find some data on how effective games like Seeking Ataraxia and Depression Quest are in finding the audience that isn't already aware of the issues they're trying to raise. When a game is purely about the thing it advocates there's risk that it ends up preaching to the choir.

In the best case scenario there's a hook that makes the game attractive to the general audience even when the player don't necessarily actively want to learn about the subject matter. Coming up with such a hook is the hard part though: once you do play the game the effectiveness comes from the relatable everyday setting that would be lost if the plot involved some grand adventure. It might be exciting to play but the credibility of the message would be diminished the farther the plot would deviate from the audience's personal experiences.

IFComp 2015 mini-reviews

by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

Birdland is choice-based young adult fiction about a 14-year-old who, while attending a summer camp, sees strange dreams about birds. Soon the dreams and real world start to converge.

The game has many elements that I generally don't find very appealing, including teenage protagonists, dream sequences, summer camp setting, and almost purely metaphorical/surreal scenes. In less capable hands the outcome could have been disastrous but thanks to above-average writing and skillful game design the overall result manages to avoid most of the pitfalls. Anyone whose personal preferences do match the aforementioned elements should find this one a real treat.

by Moe Zilla

Forever Meow starts as a typical slice-of-cat-life simulator but quickly introduces a twist that averts the common trope. It's not purely the kind of feelgood game the genre dictates because there's a "serious" plot that involves real life-threatening stakes, but once the threat is resolved the ending has again a positive, even euphoric, tone. The story is well worth the 15 minutes it takes to play.

The interaction is slightly more fiddly than it should be. Nodes that advance without choice wait for a keypress but nodes with choices require choosing with mouse click. In practice playing requires having one hand on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse. It also effectively (and unnecessarily) prevents mobile play because there's no way to bring up the virtual keyboard.

by Andrew Schultz

Andrew is known for wordplay based games, but The Problems Compound is only pun-themed. The gameplay is mostly traditional parser IF puzzle solving.

Even though the plot is somewhat random and surreal, the wordplay theme serves as a common thread that gives justification to the otherwise seemingly disconnected elements. The story, characters and geography serve only as excuses to introduce the puns to the game. While the game isn't breaking any new ground, it's solid entertainment for the parser playing masses.

Disclosure: I beta-tested the game.

by Chandler Groover

This is not a review but rather a warning to other unsuspecting players: near the beginning of the game there is a scene that involves extreme animal cruelty, and the choice leading to it doesn't make the fact explicit. If you find the idea uncomfortable it's best to give this one a miss.

IFComp 2015 review: Capsule II – The 11th Sandman

Capsule II cover Science fiction doesn't generally need to explain why its setting includes extraordinary technological advancements. Strong artificial intelligence? Sure. Interstellar travel? Naturally. Telepathy? Why not. The audience doesn't need convincing that such things exist. Science fiction's entire genre premise is imagining futuristic technology and its repercussions.

The trick to writing credible scifi is justifying the things it lacks. Take for example Dune: several thousand years into the future, humanity has regressed into a feudal society with relatively primitive technology. This is explained by the aftermath of a war against intelligent machines that caused a ban on artificial intelligence and advanced computing. They prefer melee weapons because shooting the ubiquitous energy shields will kill the shooter as well. Everything that doesn't fit the expectations of future technology has an explanation.

Capsule II is a choice-based story about someone who wakes up in a giant starship that is transporting half a billion humans in suspended animation from dying Earth to a new planet. The journey takes more than a hundred years and the ship wakes a single person at a time for 8 year shifts to handle unexpected issues.

The setting raises more questions than it answers, and not in a good way. If they knew eight years of solitude has a high chance of driving people crazy, why are the maintenance shifts that long? Why not wake up a team of people for a year at a time? How is it possible that they provided only a year's worth of entertainment when even a single modern iPad can hold more data than that, especially if they were concerned about people losing their minds to boredom? Why would cryogenically frozen people need nutrients? Why does this immensely big starship that must be as big as a city carry so little water and food that the only person consuming them has to ration? Why does the person literally responsible for the entire human race act like the only training they've got for the job was a weekend long crash course? Things like these need some kind of in-universe explanation. Cryosleep and starships transporting millions of people are still within genre expectations, but unexplained organizational problems are not.

The other issue is the humor. Not that the jokes themselves would be bad, but they're just so out of place and incredibly tacked-on in the otherwise dark tone the prose is going for. There's nothing that breaks immersion faster than a random throwaway joke. For example, when the protagonist switches on the ship computer it responds with a surfer dude personality. After this brief initial interaction the personality is discarded, never mentioned again, and from then on the computer displays a neutral voice. So what was the point?

That said, on the whole these are still minor quibbles. Capsule II closely resembles Moon both in style and content; I would be very surprised if it wasn't used as an insipration. The story has a certain vibe to it that compares favorably to classical 50s/60s scifi literature and space travel aesthetics brought on by Alien. The graphical design is spot on and the text effects, graphics and layout fit together perfectly.

Occasionally the story evokes vivid imagery of solitude-induced dementia. During the endgame the viewpoint switches rapidly between two characters, which underlines the chaotic situation the protagonist is in. The author has succeeded in one of the hardest design challenges of choice-based fiction: pacing the story so that it keeps moving forward without the whole or any individual part feeling too short or too long.