Prose & Codes give a different experience for readers with an interactive library of the classics. The game uses ciphers as the key to engaging readers with reading more about the quotes unlocked. The reader will read free books from excerpts with many genres to choose from inside the game. A portion of all sales will go to Project Gutenberg, an online library of over 60,000 free ebooks.
Being a readers book haven, however, the game lacks adding new to the cipher mechanic and instead leans on the shoulder of readers as its prime audience. The game has a lot of potential of becoming something unique for both the literature and gaming community. There are many ways the developers can expand to bigger audiences and make the game more memorable in the long run.
Gameplay: Decoding the heart of readers
Prose & Codes is a casual puzzle game where you decode different ciphers to unlock quotes from hundreds of seasoned classics. You can pick through 7 genres featuring Adventure, Children, Sci-Fi, Drama, Notable, Mystery, and Horror. The game has three difficulty modes; Easy, Progression, and Hard. The game follows the rules of a substitution cipher where each alphabetical letter swaps with another. The quote unveils after decoding a cipher with options to do another cipher or read more about the excerpt. All quotes are saved and include the meaning with a link to the book of the quote origin. In this demo, you are only given 3 to 5 passages for each genre.
The game reminds me of playing classic paper-based games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Playing the game felt nostalgic with the simple mechanic of decoding ciphers. It presents a different approach to checking out books in a fun way than going directly to the library. The randomness of the quotes gives a delightful surprise to finding something unique. The player engages further with a section from the book besides only looking at the cover and the synopsis.
With my favorite genre being sci-fi, I enjoyed reading the quotes after decoding them. The citations feel relevant to the genre and give enough information about what you can expect to read when you find more about the book. The excerpt captures the tone and mood well without spoiling much of the story. You can see how much admiration and work the developer had for each of the books to pick an excerpt from the book that is interesting.
As a reader, this game proved to be very useful in finding different types of books that I would never expect to find naturally. It is a very convenient and refreshing concept to experience. But as a player, I found the gameplay became stale after doing the ciphers repeatedly. The game prides itself on having simple ciphers to better enjoy the quotes in the end. But can something simple be too simple?
Firstly, I find the game lacks a lot of interactivity with its audience. When first entering the game, I had a slow start completing the ciphers as I was confused and often had to go through the Help tab above. A text box stating what to do presents a flat opening. For people new to the concept of ciphers, there should be a more in-depth interactive tutorial at the start. The tutorial should be an interactive guide and an easy short quote to get new players warmed up and started.
The secret code to interactivity
The game can be more fun and engaging with modes surrounding the core mechanic of ciphering. A timer-based mode or storybook mode can be very intriguing to others. The game can have a story mode where selected few chapters from featured books can have an interactive play-through with voiceovers, animations, and dynamic sounds. In the story mode, you can complete ciphers from selected sentences. An immersive storybook will give the game a uniqueness than being labeled as just a cipher game.
Another way to improve engagement is if ciphers could sync with art on the page. With each correct letter, a piece of art can reveal with it. Syncing art with ciphers can captivate players to complete the cipher and see the finalized art with the quote. Another idea would have the art piece animate with the excerpt like an animated tale. Imagery can be more impactful for new and seasoned readers. Using art can be more memorable and something that people will note down on top of the quotes shown.
Furthermore, the use of voiceovers can end up being very powerful as well. Someone reading the quotes after decoding the cipher can tune the player into knowing more about the book. Listening to a voice can balance between reading and thinking after decoding the cipher, like an audiobook. Tying this in with the library can enhance the strengths of this game and widen to different audiences.
Audio & Graphics: Locked in mediocrity
What immediately caught my attention about the game was the art. The art is very visually pleasing and references vintage sketches in the background. The illustrations remind me of childhood favorites like Through the Looking-Glass and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Most of the art shown dates back to the 1800s and aligns with the corresponding quotes that match the era. The UI supports the art acting as a virtual binder and blending in with the overall aesthetic.
Keying in the missing pieces
Even so, the potential for the art feels wasted as it can majorly support the game. As stated in the previous section, an impactful way to utilize the graphics within the game is by interconnecting the art with the gameplay. The illustrations maintain in the background and instead puts the gameplay as the focus point. Therefore, making the art go overlooked and a missed opportunity of sinking readers further into reading. Having that connection can embody the nostalgia of paper-based books and enhance the visual experience.
Furthermore, the music also misses the mark with embracing the gameplay. The melodies are a mix of calming soundscapes and occasional soft sounds from buttons. They flow together and provides a calming experience while working on the ciphers. Despite this, the music doesn’t supply anything special to the game. With the audio being royalty-free, utilizing the sound in creative ways can make the game more unique. It would be more stimulating to hear audio cues as you progress or different musical tunes with each genre. In doing so, it would be more mesmerizing and refreshing for readers and players.
Altogether, both sound and art feel natural together as it fits the theme of the game seamlessly. However, they aren’t used to their fullest to making the game beyond ordinary. The developers mastered capturing tactile players with ciphers, but the visuals and audio lag behind heavily.
Prose & Codes was previewed via a demo available on Steam.