Review: 1958 – Dancing With Fear

By habit, when I play a parser game, I am always in beta-tester mode and the first thing I type is “script”. In this case, the document that is produced kind of is a script, at least according to the blurb. The author nailed a classical film vibe with a twist of Latin flavor.

The story is set on a Caribbean island in 1958 with flashbacks a couple decades earlier. The protagonist is a night club singer who has been drawn in over the years to play a role in kicking off a Marxist revolution in her country. It feels a little like if Barry Manilow’s Lola had sung at Rick’s American Café. In terms of setting, I had thought the island was a stand-in for Cuba, but since Cuba is specifically mentioned and as far as I could tell the history of the island doesn’t map well to any real island, I think it is a more or less generic location in the region. However, it does have the flavor of Cuba on the eve of revolution: casinos, night clubs, rum, cigars, and Cold War proxies in the background. It is harder to pin down in time because of the flashbacks, and references immediate post-WWII events up through machinations that laid the foundation for the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 60s.

Since every parser game now needs some qualification regarding the scope of inputs, I would say this one is full throttle. In addition to usual verbs, it also includes “think”, which I believe is increasingly being used as a synonym for subtle hinting.

A couple more comments on structure and then on to story: The intro is a little longer than most parser fiction, and my preference is for as short a text dump as possible at the start. For me, the ideal intro would pull the player in within the first paragraph or two and allow the player to type the first command on the same page without scrolling. Other entries in IFcomp have had even longer intros, but I thought I’d make that point here because it occurred to me as I was playing this one.

One other minor observation: I don’t recall seeing the banner in this game. I recall that in some formative text, probably DM4, putting the banner at the top or within the first couple screens was if not a commandment, at least strongly suggested. I wonder if that was a conscious decision or some side effect of the way the game was written or the tools used.

This was one of those games where I had to scan around for room exits because they were listed inline with text, and their location in displayed paragraphs was not entirely consistent. This is also a conscious design choice, and everyone has their preferences. For some games, I like the exits in the status bar, although that conveys a more game and less literature feel. For most games, I prefer the exits to be listed last, just before player’s next input. This also has a procedural feel, but I think it is offset by the convenience this offers to players.

The Latin flavor of this piece would not have been possible without sprinkling Spanish words and phrases into conversation and background chatter. There was to provide atmosphere, but it struck a good balance to avoid making the story inaccessible for readers with limited Spanish language skills. The nit I would pick here is that when foreign words are mixed into predominantly English text, they should be consistently italicized. For the most part they were, and I realize it’s arbitrary to draw a line where a lone word becomes a functional part of English, but I would have preferred to see words like “coronel” and “guerrillos” italicized for the sake of consistency.

Since we’re talking mechanics: There are a few scenes where background conversations are overheard. This is a common convention in IF, and it always presents a dilemma for the author: how deep should these be written? At some point, even the longest table of overheard dialogue is going to loop. On one hand, readers should be used to hearing repeated dialogue, and suspend disbelief the way you understand that stage actors are not really having an in-depth discussion about carrots and peas, despite their lips making those shapes. I found the loop short in this game distracting, particularly as I was straining in character to overhear clues. I’m not sure what can be done about this — deeper lists of quips or more experimentally, maybe algorithmic generation of short snippets of chatter that focus on some key topics, but are not repeated word for word.

The fact that I’m picking away at these minor points should also tip you off that I really enjoyed playing this one and if there are criticisms, it is not for story. I was so engrossed in the story that I have to admit to not taking a lot of notes on the plot — the action moved at a brisk clip and the flashback integrated well into the story and helped the reader understand Salomé (Isabel)’s journey.

All of the characters were big screen in terms of personalities: Salomé herself, Claudio, Marcelo, Alcázar, Lucho, Pinteño, Liliana, all the way down the line. Everyone was well enough described and had enough to do and say to be memorable — they all get listed in the credits, even the doorman.

Evaluation

Story: 9. Strong story, setting, characters.

Voice: 9. Immersive: multiple different times and a different place.

Play: 8. I did die a few times before I got the hang of one scene, but I would say that game is fair, well-clued, and that player frustration is slight.

Polish: 7. Pesky line feed bugs, the bane of all Inform authors , occur frequently. With an editing pass aimed mostly at fixing that and a couple minor spelling/grammar issues, this score could easily be bumped. I always play the initial release of games when judging IFcomp, so these might even get fixed during the comp.

Technical: 7. Pretty straightforward inform coding, with multiple scene transitions (flashbacks) handled well.

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 8

Transcript: 1958script

 

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