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About the Story
Danse Nocturne is interactive blank verse, based on one of the legends of Charlemagne. It is played by dancing in different ways and has over a dozen different endings and understands over 1200 different adverbs.
Entrant - The penultimate not numbered Speed IF
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Number of Reviews: 2
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Adverbs are usually a joke in IF. There's so much work to do just to make the game respond sensibly to straightforward actions that adding subtle qualifiers to those actions seems like an impossible task. Where they do appear, they tend to be used for conversation and other social contexts, where how something is done is as important as what is done. In the romance-parody Forever Always, for instance, you negotiate a fraught social situation (disrupting your lover's wedding without fatally irritating her) by using different verbs and adverbs for speech. ROAR ANGRILY gives different options than WHISPER LUSTILY, and gives those options different effects.
Danse Nocturne is a slighter piece even than the rather brief Forever Always; the verb is always DANCE and your only control lies in the selection of adverbs. The emphasis on tone and mood is reinforced by the writing, spare blank verse that focuses on the core of the story without giving much away beyond that. Avoiding the usual IF methods of detailed, object-oriented setting allows it to get away with a much more immediate, sparse, focused world than would normally be possible, and to deliver poetry without waffling. The core story, a revenger's tragedy that could be summed up in a line or two, emerges at just the right pace: not so slowly as to be irritating, but slowly enough to have dramatic impact. There's a well-maintained feeling of the epic or mythic. The Germanic naming style evokes a feeling of tragic saga.
Again, the core thing that the player does is not exploring the PC's range of action, but her range of attitudes, social styles, emotional responses. This ends up enabling action, but the game's core is: how should this character feel about this? It's about a character who is trying on different personas, seeing if any of them will help her -- a process at the heart of role-playing and of socialisation.
As a speed-IF, this is all quite brief and simple. While the game recognises a great many adverbs, the territory you negotiate with them is not complex; most adverbs give a single response and don't change the game-state. Play is mostly about thinking up new adverbs and trying them out. This is not to say that it should have been longer or more difficult: the strong poetic approach probably couldn't have been sustained over a bigger game. But it does leave me wistfully hoping for more substantial games that are navigated by manipulating tone, style, mood, focus, rather than medium-size dry goods.
For the first Year-End Speed-IF I participated in, I was a bit worried I wouldn't fit everything in that was suggested. I was assured that was okay. I did my best. There were some really good efforts that put everything together. I was proud to sit down and get writing. I think I got some good laughs. Danse Nocturne got more.
It didn't contain any of the suggested items or plot lines. It was definitely its own thing--not guess-the-verb--more guess the adverb, telling you how you, as a lady being courted, should dance. A lot is clued in the story and text, but you can guess and improvise and go against the story's grain without punishment, too. Guess-the-adverb works rather better and not just because you're spotted the last two letters immediately. There's no real way to gauge, at least at first, how well you're doing or what ending you'll get to the poem. There are several, and based on the stanzas you get, you decide what to do next. Guessing wrong gives an interlude-ish sort of line, which is far cheerier than the standard parser errors.
So this is a sort of guessing game, and there's not necessarily a right answer. You just follow it where it goes, and generally after fewer than twenty adverbs, you get an ending. They run the gamut of emotions.
I don't want to spoil the mechanics too much other than to say it's a Speed-IF game and there's no huge surprise and no need to twist your brain, but there's enough you'll keep engaged and probably won't try experimenting formally and measuring what does what for a while. It's possible, but it ruins the experience if you do so too soon.
So I was impressed and glad Joey broke the rules to bring everyone Danse Nocturne. I wanted to see the source, but I'm glad waiting for the source somehow got lost in the shuffle. I think I had a binary on my computer that I poked at, trying to figure the mechanics, and when I finally noticed the source was up, I was a bit sad to lose some of the mystique. But as a programmer, it was very nice to see relatively simple code (the long topic snippets amuse me--Joey recognized coding conventions were the last thing to worry about when trying to cram content into a 3-hour speed-IF, and he had things set up so adverbs could be added easily) bring complexity into speed-IF, and it reminded me that things are out there, where you don't have to be fancy. There are still rules to be broken the right way. In this case, it's guess-the-word, but it's robust and interesting and engaging, and it's hard to get stuck.
I'm glad I've had Danse Nocturne going in and out of my playing experiences over the years, and even if I'll never write anything like it, it guides the way for the sort of effective rule-breaking I like to see and maybe even do. It's one of those positive oddities where you say "I must know how they do this" but you don't want to know righ t away, as it spoils a bit of the fun.
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