Pas De Deux

I was really looking forward to this one: classical music? Check. Parser/choice hybrid interface? I’m down for interface experiments. Engage with the puzzle or just explore the scene? Great.

But…I’ve started it four times over the last several days and the first couple times I was lost within the first few turns. The third time I just did nothing the whole time. This last time I started to really dig into it and got about a third of the way through before I lost the thread.

I can see what it’s trying to do, and I like it, but I don’t think it quite works in its current form. For me the story/setting and mechanics were at war the entire time. Is it a charming and very authentic-feeling mood piece about community orchestra, or is it an exhausting parser puzzle about finding the perfect 80-turn move sequence? Is it a game about looking around and reflecting on the quirks of your musicians, or one about micromanaging the actions of conducting a piece? They just don’t quite work together for me.

So. The setup is that you’re conducting a community orchestra in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux from the Nutcracker. One measure of music passes per turn: there are no free actions (I don’t think?). You can cue different sections or instruments by looking at them (or sometimes confuse them by looking at someone near them). You play through the whole piece and then get a review in the paper the next day.

If you’re going to play this, you should definitely print out the score (and possibly the seating chart) and mark it up. There are 24 staves of music on each page, and they’re not labeled by instrument except on the first. I do choral music and solo piano, so I’m very comfortable with 2-8 staves, but this is still well beyond my ability to easily follow just by having it open in a window side-by-side with the game.

Oh. And the game doesn’t start with the (simulated) score open. So if you don’t do that, you’ll be completely lost until you figure it out. You need to tell the game to open the score and when to turn each page: then it follows along and tells you where you are (e.g. “the third bar on the right-hand page”; “you turn to pages 422-423”, etc.) and when you turn the page it describes the music and often mentions a cue that you’ll need to give (though not every cue: it’s still a puzzle, after all).

With a paper score to mark up, and the score open in-game, it should be fairly manageable. You can undo repeatedly, so as long as you have a good way to mark where you are, you can back up and try to fix what you did wrong.

Also, you should play it as a strictly parser game (though you’ll need to use your mouse to scroll the transcript, unfortunately). If you’re just playing to take in the scenery you can do it purely with the mouse, but some commands you’ll need to give are not necessarily available to click on. Yeah. Dialog has made very impressive strides, but the interpreter still isn’t quite there yet. It really really really needs to restore keyboard focus to the input area after you click a link, and to allow you to page up/down to scroll the transcript while you’re typing. It’s really tempting to play in a mixed mode, but the interface makes that pretty frustrating: you’re constantly having to click back on the (relatively tiny) target at the bottom left to be able to type again.

I like that the game is so forgiving. You seem to be able to undo indefinitely, and the only mechanical consequence of getting it wrong is that you get a bad review in the paper the next day. But! As someone who has done a lot of choral singing, it’s really fucking bad to let your musicians down like that in a public performance. Conductors who do that should be shot, preferably after undergoing a long period of agonizing torture.

So that didn’t work for me at all. If it were re-framed as a series of rehearsals, and then you decide when you’re ready for the full performance (or something) it would be much better. I’ve just been playing @Spike’s Sugarlawn which is framed as a “reality” show where you can back up and cut sections of tape, or re-tape the whole thing at any time, and I think some sort of in-world framing to that effect would work really well here.

But I will be printing out the score and giving this another go, because I like what it’s trying to do. And the atmosphere and the descriptions of orchestra members are spot-on. It just asks a lot of the player for what it is, I think.


OK, I finally got back around to this. Much more manageable and fun with a printed copy of the music. If you tell the game to open the score, it actually does give you most of the cues you need, but that gets buried in the text describing what’s going on and (especially later on) you have to as for the next page early and track the position yourself. I think most of the reason I had so much trouble with this is that the game dumps a lot of text on you, and the few bits that actually matter are buried in the middle of other stuff, not at the top (or the bottom, like the usual items and exits).

You could probably play this successfully with just paper and pencil to take notes of how long the pages are and which bars the cues go on. That might be even easier than following the score. But you need something to track where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing.

There were some fun little puzzles in there, most notably who do you tap to wake up the tuba without them thinking that you’re cueing them to come in?

It was still annoying that the game has you “desperately scanning the sheet music in front of you, but what you can hear right now is nowhere to be found” when you just turned the page early and know perfectly well that you’re on the last bar of the previous page. It made it hard to distinguish being genuinely lost from being necessarily a step ahead. Some sort of mechanic which let the player character track the position in the score for a few measures after you turned the page would have been really nice.

I’d love to hear about someone else trying it, and their experience. I’ll have to go listen to The Short Game and see how they did.

I’d say:

  • Play by typing, not by clicking links.
  • Once you start the piece by cueing the second harp, one bar of music passes each turn.
  • Play with pencil and paper.
  • Start by going to the first page.
  • Every time you go to the next page, leave yourself space for the given number of bars and mark in the cues you’re told about.

I think that would make for a pretty good experience, and I’d be curious to hear if that’s true. Or, y’know, you could just not care about your orchestra and enjoy the character descriptions and watching them flounder. :wink:

Edit: Yeah, sounds like Laura Nash from The Short Game had much the same problems I did.

Also I played through one more time. Skip the score but use pencil and paper to track the bars of music = turns of gameplay and the cues it tells you to give: that’s the way to play this game for the puzzle part.


When IFComp 2019 opened for judging and playing, I sought this game out. I have been following the Dialog authoring system since it was initially announced about a year ago. My interest in game development centers on parser based systems. I enjoy TADS, it is well developed and mature. The fact that it is “C” like is also a plus. However, TADS doesn’t seem to be in development any longer. Thaumistry is the last game of note that I have seen available. Dialog is Prolog based which is different. I dabbled with Prolog back in the 70s when it was one of the “new” languages to experiment with. It was ahead of its time.

Dialog has matured rapidly. Its developer is very active in the community and quite responsive to community input and the needs of IF authors. The addition of A-machine to the system has opened the possibility of new and exciting features. I was particularly interested in the capability to provide links to outside resources that the A-machine may provide.

Pas De Deux is an exceptional demonstration of where Dialog is at and more importantly, where it is going. Even though both Dialog and A-machine are in the beta stage of development, Pas De Dux is an advanced and very functional example of IF game narrative and play.

In a very short time, Dialog is providing a means to develop IF that brackets both the old and the new. It supports and leverages the Z-machine format and all of the legacy and modern means of delivery that entails. An author can easily develop a traditional parser based IF game with puzzles using traditional north / south type navigation. But as Pas De Deux demonstrates, it can break away from traditional navigation and use cues and gazing to change focus and the mood of the scenes. A type of “dialog” with the characters is likewise implemented with this technique.

With the A-machine / Z-machine option, the IF can be either a traditional parser interaction or a hybrid choice based interaction. With the same source code, you seem to be able to target different levels of game users.

As an educator, my audience is a diverse student population. Dialog should make available an interactive learning environment that can span the spectrum from individuals with special needs to advanced learners. It is my intent to develop narrative games that develops abstract thinking and not provide the instant gratification that purely graphics based media provide.

I am looking for graphics (media) that is available “from the game” not “in the game”. Interaction that can be choice based and/or text based.

I have experimented with the resources and how they are used from Pas De Deux. Once IFComp is over, I hope Linus makes the story source available as a learning tool for Dialog.


PS. I have played Pas De Deux to completion a couple of times. It even has a scoring system! I didn’t score well but that is not my focus. It is the system and its flexibility and innovation that are important. For that, I will give it 5 star status.


Played this game today. I’m not sure I can add anything useful to your review. It is thorough and I agree with pretty much everything you said.

To preface, I actually played the offline version of the game originally. It’s more difficult because it’s not nearly as obvious how the interface works. I would recommend (like the author does) the online version first, to get familiar with how the music conducting works. Then, the offline line version is easier to understand.

I would say it’s innovative, first and foremost. I would not have thought translating a piece of music into a medium that lacks sound would have been possible before playing this game. The timing puzzles feel a bit like DDR or Guitar Hero without the music.

I would classify it as primarily a puzzle game with some secondary storytelling. I don’t know if there is a name for that kind of game genre but I would broadly place it in the same category as an Arthur DiBianca or a Mike Spivey game.

More generally speaking, this year’s competition feels like it has more of these puzzle-oriented games whereas last year felt more like the “year of CYOA”. It’s great having these broad themes in the competition, constantly pushing the definition of IF into new areas.

It’s also a frustrating game, for the reasons you mentioned. I know very little about reading music and absolutely nothing about reading orchestral scores. Once I figured out that it was one big turn-based timing puzzle, however, the rest fell into place.

I had one practical suggestion for the author that would not even involve changing the code of the game. Change the musical score feelie to have the instrument names at the beginning of the staves on every page, perhaps in the form of hand-written notes. I could not remember which staff represented which instrument, especially when jumping between divided pages and regular pages.

Lastly, Pas De Deux is an original game that is generating a lot of unusual playing experiences (good and bad) and interesting discussions. That’s the most important quality for me.


I’ve also posted a review of this unusual game on my blog.