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The Act of Misdirection

by Callico Harrison

Fantasy, Historical, Horror
2004

(based on 69 ratings)
10 reviews

About the Story

The curtain lifts to a torrent of applause, as the city's gents and ladies lose their decorum for a just few moments in anticipation of something magical. The spotlights drown the glitter of sequins and pearls, the metal cane-tops and the shining buttons on the waistcoats. From where you are, centre of the boards, behind nothing but a baize table with nothing but the clothes you stand in, you are quite alone in the blinding white light.

The Act of Misdirection is a short horror story about magic both fake and real, on the stage of Victorian England. It was nominated for a XYZZY for Best Story of 2004.


Game Details


Awards

Nominee, Best Story - 2004 XYZZY Awards

Editorial Reviews

Play This Thing!
Improv Fiction
This piece feels narrated. It begins with a riveting set piece scene; then it jumps back in time to explain how you got to this point; then it revisits the present, giving the same events new meaning; then -- but I'll avoid the spoilers. The result is quite effective: It's hard to imagine this story told in any other order.
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Member Reviews

5 star:
(6)
4 star:
(36)
3 star:
(25)
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Number of Reviews: 10
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Most Helpful Member Reviews


10 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
A Diamond in the Rough, March 21, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: callico harrison, fantasy

Play this game if: you like your IF short and simple, or you want to play through one of the more memorable set-pieces in the genre.

Don't play this game if: you're easily put off by linear and nearly puzzle-free gameplay.

The Act of Misdirection opens with a wonderful scene in which the player must perform a magic act without knowing the choreography beforehand. Fortunately, the protagonist does know, which puts the player in the interesting position of being one step ahead of the audience (as the narrative voice provides clues to the tricks) and one step behind the protagonist. The writing is very strong here, and the game effectively builds the player's sense of entertainment and anticipation as the player does the same thing to the in-game audience. It's thrilling stuff, the kind of set-piece which would make for an excellent Inform tutorial.

The rest of the game pales a little in comparison. This is not to denigrate Harrison's achievements: from a purely technical standpoint there's still a fair amount to appreciate, such as some solid NPC interactions and a setting that has the population density of character and detail just right. But the writing and atmosphere just don't harmonize with these aspects of the game the way they do in the first act (no wordplay intended?).

Beyond the opening scene, the writing is probably the chief attraction. Harrison isn't afraid to use some flowery prose, but more importantly establishes a good couple of narrative voices. (Spoiler - click to show)The contrast between the narrator's voice for the magic act and the rest of the game is a good touch, with the dramatic and confident narration in the beginning emphasizing Meldellevo's power and skill, and the following imagined diatribes from Sally highlighting how insecure a character Sarah really is. This adds somewhat to the Faustian conflict at play. The settings are easy to picture as a result of the good descriptive text, rendering progress that much more comfortable, and some tense moments have genuine punch. (Spoiler - click to show)Consider the excellent use of the single-sentence paragraph at the climax of the magic routine, as well as the "normal" ending's final sentence. There are, however, some rough patches - syntax and word usage errors not due to technical issues. They aren't really numerous enough to destroy your enjoyment of the game or anything, but together with a sense that a premise this creative could have supported a bigger story, they add to the feeling of the whole package as a little unpolished.

This is also one of the more linear stories I've encountered in IF - as the author notes, it's impossible to put the game into an unwinnable state. However, the alternate ending - and yes, there is one - relies on a sufficiently unfair puzzle that getting it is more of an exercise for a second playthrough than a genuine opportunity for the first-time player. It also means that the nearly puzzle-less environment consists largely of "guess the verb" mini-games, though these aren't particularly unfair.

Overall, this is a story with strong promise - and even as a diamond in the rough (emphasizing the "diamond"), it's worth your time. Were Ms Harrison to expand this into a larger narrative - which I would argue, is a worthwhile pursuit - I'd suggest maintaining (where possible) the information asymmetry between player and protagonist, as well as getting one (or maybe one more) friendly eye to proofread and test-play.

Good job!

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Revising my opinion, May 7, 2008

The first scene of this game is a favorite of mine: the player is called on to do a magic trick in front of an audience, though (of course) as player he does not know how the trick is done. But there's more to the scene than simply getting the trick right and solving the puzzle: on a replay, it's possible to turn the scene into a real performance, by hamming things up, tantalizing the audience, and making the most out of each stage. This allows for expressive play -- getting into the character of the PC and making the most of it -- to a degree I have seen in few other games.

When I first played, I found the pacing broke down a bit in the later scenes, and the writing became more overwrought. Replaying later, I found the later pieces of the game much more successful. I'm not sure whether this is because I was playing a later version of the game (these notes are based on version 6) or whether I was just luckier with my subsequent play-through. But on review, this piece impressed me quite a bit more than it did the first time around.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Tip o' the Top Hat, February 22, 2023
by Rovarsson (Belgium)

The Great Meldellevo ends his magic show with an unforeseen and, honestly, quite gruesome finale. While he runs away memories of how his career began flash through his mind...

The magic show is a marvel of finetuned implementation. It is possible to rush through with a few well-chosen commands, following the game's nudges. Far more satisfying however is to savour the moment and give the audience a real show for their money. (And give yourself, PC ànd player, a healthy dose of adrenalin and smugness...)

The following flashback to "Meldevello"'s humble origin is a rather railroaded vignette. There is one all-important choice to make, which determines the protagonist fate. Whether this option is even available depends on certain actions during the magic show. Replaying once you understand what I am referring to would almost certainly heighten your appreciation of this game.

I found the pacing of The Act of Misdirection somewhat unevenly balanced.
Act I, the magic show, requires the player to explicitly give the right commands for the following step to the PC. While the game does nudge you forward, sometimes the nudges were not enough for me. Being stuck in this part, searching for the appropriate action, breaks the tempo and the thrill of the performance.
Quite the opposite is true of Act II. Here I wanted to loiter in places, taking my time to study my surroundings and especially to talk about all manner of topics. In this part though, the game seemed so eager to drag me along with the story that half a command was often enough to trigger the next scene.

Taken together, the occurences at the magic performance and the explanations in the flashback make for a fragmented, shiver-inducing short horror-tale. A story that takes a while for all the bits to fall into place.

Worth playing, and replaying at least once.

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The Act of Misdirection on IFDB

Recommended Lists

The Act of Misdirection appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Literary IF by streever
Games that have literary merit make this list. To be accepted, a game should: 1. Evoke deeper themes and meaning, without being blunt. 2. Consistently employ good writing, both in dialogue and descriptions. 3. Tell a rich story from...

See the Show by Walter Sandsquish
If adventure games are a performance themselves, then it makes sense for some of them to also be about performers. So, here's a list of games involving performers and their venues.

My favourite games by Reeah
These are some games that I have really enjoyed playing. If you are new to interactive fiction and don’t know where to begin, these are some games I have really liked and I think you will too. The games are in no particular order.

See all lists mentioning this game

Polls

The following polls include votes for The Act of Misdirection:

Games with extraordinary "wow" moments by J'onn Roger
If there is a moment in a game that stands out to you with vivid clarity, a moment of extraordinary beauty with writing that makes you really makes you see what is taking place, list the game here. Since surprise may play a part in the...

One Hit Wonders by deathbytroggles
Good games by authors who apparently retired after their one gem.

Sublime Moments by Sam Kabo Ashwell
I've been thinking about games that provide really brilliant moments. This is not about the overall quality of the game: there are plenty of excellent games that never deliver a clear, standout moment of unalloyed excellence. And surely...

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