Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"1958: Dancing With Fear" (review)

One way to get your IF competition entry posted near the top is to title it with a number. But with more entrants cottoning on to this (three this year), it is still no guarantee you'll be listed first.

"1958: Dancing With Fear" is a parser driven interactive fiction written by Victor Ojuel for the 2017 interactive fiction competition. Victor wrote last year's Adriadne Aeaea which I enjoyed quite a lot, and which shares some features in common with this one. But the game that really came to mind while I played "Dancing" was the old Infocom title Plundered Hearts. Both are romantic adventures, set in some past time at the mansion of a corrupt Caribbean politico. Both feature a female protagonist who solves puzzles requiring frequent costume changes. "Dancing" is played on a somewhat more modern parser featuring an integrated hint system. It also presents frequent flashbacks to develop a deeper backstory.

The puzzles in "Dancing" are mostly of the sort "what do I need to do next in order to advance the story?" Often that's just talking to someone, using one of the few items that happen to be in inventory at a given moment, or taking off your dress. The purpose of the puzzles is for pacing or enhancing the sense of tension, and most of the time those goals are achieved.

There are many ways to end the game in failure. Some modern IF theorists might find fault with this. There's been a modern trend toward games that you can never lose. Which sort of runs parallel with a larger trend in modern society toward recreations which have no "winners" or "losers". Everyone at my daughter's swim class received a participation ribbon...even if by the end of the season they still couldn't swim. But frankly, I think it's OK to let the player die sometimes, especially in a game that is supposed to be a high tension Cold War spy adventure. And there is always UNDO.

There were a few moments when I wished the game had a larger vocabulary. Why is "body" not a synonym for "corpse"? This again recalled early Infocom. Then I came across an amusing bug: I was able to unlock an office safe from a location three rooms away. Curious if I could open the safe from the driveway on the first move of the game (because that would be a big help to Claudio) I restarted and tried. Alas, I could spin the dial from there but didn't know the combination yet.

I was able to find four of six endings.

A fun period piece with a "bad girl" protagonist.

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