Turandot!

It’s a little past 2 AM in my time zone, and I can’t write all my thoughts about this game coherently right now, but I had to come here and scream HOLY HELL WAS THAT GOOD! I was gonna go to bed around midnight and then I thought well lemme just peek at this one first and then it was suddenly 2 AM and now I’m here screaming about how good this game is!

I think this is a 10. This thing has gotta be a 10. First Hard Puzzle 4, and now this? Man this IFComp has gotten off to a good start for me!

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Yay! I didn’t want to be the first one to say something about this because I did help beta-test it, but oh man, I had so much fun with it.

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I agree.
It felt a little like I was on rails the whole time, but nontheless I enjoyed the ride.

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This game is both excellent and makes me very mad (but not in a serious way) (because it’s, if not exactly extremely close to something I’m writing, then conversant with it)

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Okay, so now I’ve had some sleep and got some tea. Which means I can gush more!

Firstly, I’ve wanted to make a Turandot game myself for years! It was one of the first ideas I had after I realized I could write interactive fiction. Then last year Victor Gijsbers revealed in the IFComp author forum that he was working on one too. Well he obviously beat me to the finish line! Now I won’t be able to release one without it looking like I ripped him off! Not that my game has ANY resemblance to this one. (Plus it’s way down my priority list, probably consigned to the dustbin of unfinished projects.)

So yeah, I’ve got a bit of a personal history with Turandot, since I was gonna adapt it. Also I’ve seen the opera. I don’t think it’s necessary AT ALL for players to know the story beforehand to enjoy this game. But I had my own ideas about the plot and characters going into it.

Even if you’re not into opera, tons of people still know “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. Here’s a version on Youtube. Maybe the most famous opera song? It’s up there! So powerful! So beautiful! AND FUCKING BLOODTHIRSTY! This is a song being sung by Prince Calaf, who’s overjoyed that an ENTIRE CITY is about to be SLAUGHTERED! 'Cause if the citizens can’t help Turandot discover Calaf’s name by dawn, she’s gonna execute them. But if she doesn’t discover his name, he gets to marry her! So he WANTS the citizens to die, because it means he will win Turandot’s hand. That feeble weak little chorus in the song is the citizens lamenting their fate in the background, which of course the prince then drowns out by BELTING THOSE TUNES! And people listen to this song at the opera and smile and sigh and cry and applaud, and I just wonder what the hell these people are thinking.

But that is the power and horror of this opera. It takes these absolutely monstrous characters, who are playing monstrous games with each other, and makes them BEAUTIFUL.

When I started up this Turandot game, I was prepared to play Calaf as a total asshole, a complete heel, someone so wrapped up in his own lovey-dovey bubble that he’s willing to watch people die if it means he’ll get laid. And the game, indeed, let me play him that way! At the start. But it changes.

It is on rails for the most part, like Nils said. I don’t mind that. You’re going down a gauntlet in a dungeon of death. Of course it’s on rails! If you survive one death-trap, that means you go to the next one, and you’re Turandot’s prisoner. You don’t get to pick where this story is headed. She does.

But there’s a lot of texture in this on-rails gauntlet! Tons of little moment-to-moment choices which, even if they don’t radically alter the plot, definitely shift the tone and pepper in different angles for you to look at the characters. This game is a buffet of ways to use “meaningless choices” to achieve a meaningful impact on the experience!

So like I said, I was playing Calaf as an asshole, and the game was letting me do it. Until his friend dies. That’s when it became apparent to me what this game is really trying to do: it’s not just about the characters in the plot atoning or not atoning for their crimes; it’s about the game atoning for the opera’s “crimes” and trying to find a way to reconcile these characters’ monstrous behavior with the fact that they’re people.

My version of Turandot, I can say, would not have been so sympathetic!

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t make Calaf brush his friend’s death aside. But I came around. Even if, in the moment of that choice, I felt for the first time that the game was pushing me down a premeditated path, it was ultimately a moment that helped illustrate the game’s purpose. Obviously this is a new interpretation of Turandot: there’s no dungeon or crocodiles in the original; characters like Liù play totally different roles. But THIS is where the game ACTUALLY becomes different. This is why it exists. Not just to retell the story or put it in a new context or look at it from a new perspective, but to re-imagine its core concepts from a more… humanitarian, perhaps, vantage. It doesn’t try to make sense of the horror of the original; it redesigns the original to make the horror make sense on this game’s terms.

Of course it’s not just that ONE moment that does that. Everything in the game does that.

On a more plot-mechanical note, the game also redesigns the opera’s structure to atone for its structural “crimes”! Leading to perhaps the most hilarious moment in the whole thing, when Turandot finally asks her three riddles. This part of the opera, it’s true, has no tension at all! Calaf isn’t gonna die. It’s too early in the story. Of course he gets all the riddles right! Where’s the suspense? So let’s move the riddles to the end, where his death is a more realistic possibility, and let’s allow him to get them wrong! The result? Comedy gold.

Even though the game deals with horrific subject matter, it’s definitely a comedy. That’s another way to atone for the horror. With laughter. It’s also probably easier to parody an opera, than to try to sincerely hit the dramatic highs that opera can achieve. And Turandot is certainly begging to be parodied! I could’ve done without the IF in-jokes (I don’t really connect with humor that involves checking off a box because you get a reference (yes yes andouillettes savoir-faire let’s move on)) but overall this thing is firing on all cylinders in the comedy department.

And Turandot herself! What can I say about Turandot herself? Best Individual NPC at the XYZZY Awards. That’s what I’ll say for now!

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In the spirit of the competition, I’m not going to react to anything in this thread until after the comp. But I have to show you this horribly (in)appropriate IFDB recommendation. (Only makes sense if you’ve either played the game or know the plot of the opera.)

IFDB%20Turandot

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Captain Connie’s Ejactor Seat was probably recommended because I gave it a good rating. :upside_down_face:

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I dunno that game looks kinda like a dating sim where a blood-mad woman controls everything.

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I keep thinking about this game. Damn this was good.

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Also, I’m sort of revealing my influences before they actually are influences, but if you liked this, you may consider tracking down a copy of Opera, or the Undoing of Women. It’s a French theory book that is, well, extremely a French theory book (the author worked closely with Hélène Cixous), but contains some of the most gorgeous writing about opera, and about themes touched on in this game, anywhere.

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It’s interesting reading the posts here because when I played Turandot, I legitimately had NO idea that the game was based on an opera (what can I say? I’ve never watched or listened to an opera in my life). I still got engrossed in the game, but knowing now that the game was based on an already-existing story better explains the feeling I sometimes got of it parodying specific tropes/cliches I wasn’t completely privy to. It’s like a self-aware fairy tale retelling that deliberately takes its stock characters in different directions than you were expecting.

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I had a very similar experience to JanetLin - I hadn’t heard of the opera before (I guess it’s not a big thing in Asia) and was absolutely bewildered by this game. Among other things, Calaf mourning his best friend’s death for like half an hour before moving on to try to marry the woman who killed him felt strange, though it makes more sense after reading this thread, and it fits the humorous nature of the game. I was also positively convinced the beginning was foreshadowing a reveal that Turandot had some mind-control thing going on that made men fall in love with her, and was surprised when nothing came of it. The tone was kind of jarring to me, jumping from comedy to seemingly-serious social commentary and back… which in hindsight should have made it obvious that it was a parody of something, given the high quality of the writing. I might play it again with the new context in mind, though I’m holding back on rating it for IFComp.

To be fair, this is also characteristic of some operas.

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We played this at the London IF Meetup, with one of our members reading aloud, doing voices, etc.

Given the themes, we declared that anyone in the group could request at any time to move on to another game – we weren’t sure how far some of the content-warned themes were going to go, and we didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. (I think we may do this a little more officially in future sessions of large-group IF play, especially with games that we haven’t been able to fully vet in advance – adopting the tabletop storygaming convention of “the X card” or “drawing the veil”.)

I include myself among the people I was worried about, btw: there are some moments in the game that touch on dubiously consensual sex, and if the story had gone much further than it did, it would have entered territory I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing in a group setting, especially a large public group.

But no one did opt out, and the game played well that way – lots of laughter, and then a few choice points where people sort of stared at the screen in bewildered silence and we weren’t sure what to say.

Also one point where the reader stopped and said “oh no” because one of the Prince of Persia jokes was so blatant he wasn’t sure he wanted to read it off.

I did not want to stop the flow of action long enough to explain the Rameses reference/joke, though I was tempted, because I felt like that portion is not just referencing for in-joke points; reminding us at this point of the story of a socially anxious teenager adds a bit of nuance to the idea that people are not always able to be themselves. But in the Bond game, Rameses never does get to break out of his limitations, whereas Gijsbers’ Calaf does.

As for the riddle sequence, that was up there among the finer interactive-frustration-comedy sequences I’ve ever played.

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