IFComp 2019: Pas De Deux

The second game based on classical music I’ve seen this Comp, Pas De Deux is a simple game with a single task: conducting a community orchestra in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Mostly what this means is giving various sections of the orchestra their cues at appropriate moments. The game comes packaged with a PDF of the score that in theory contains enough information to see the task through to conclusion, but it’s a lot easier to instead use the guidance of the score in the game, which basically tells you, on every correctly-timed page turn, who needs to be cued and when.

I haven’t completed the game successfully. Going for perfection here is honestly pretty tedious, in a way that reminds me a little of Kicker from Comp2012, except more active. The Nutcracker is a pretty fun piece of music, and that might be enough to keep me playing some games, but here, you don’t actually hear it as you play. That would be difficult to pull off in a turn-based game where the progress of the music is bound to player input. Instead, you get text descriptions of what’s going on, like “The celli and bassi accentuate the first beat of the bar with a subtle pizzicato”, which just isn’t the same.

And anyway, actually trying for perfection is, I think, thwarting the author’s intent. This is a game that’s at its most amusing when things go wrong. You cue the wrong people at the wrong times. Musicians miss their entrances or come in early. Panic ensues. And this is pretty much guaranteed to happen on your first attempt at the game, when you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re just thrown in front of an expectant audience. What do I do? I… raise the baton? That’s something conductors do at the beginning of a piece, right? Well, it’s the wrong thing to do. I do that on my first turn, and I’ve already blown it.

Individual members of the orchestra have individual descriptions, personalities and histories that are known to the conductor, as well as relationships to the other musicians — “Every day, Rakesh takes his Labrador for a walk in the Botanic Garden, where they predictably run into Jeanette and her Yorkshire Terrier.” You can get a fairly substantial portrait of the community just by following a trail of mentions from one person to another. In this way, the game encourages you to look at people. Looking at a person is also noticed by that person, and interpreted as a cue. In this way the game tricks you into fomenting chaos.

Eventually I realized I should be paying attention to the score, but it was too late to really salvage that pass. Since I didn’t yet know if there was more to the game after the performance, I tried just typing “z” repeatedly to get through it and see what happens. As a result, the orchestra just lapsed into silence at the end of a long diminuendo, waiting for my signal to get back into it. A few turns later with no signal sent, the audience erupted into confused applause. I really appreciate that the author thought to implement that. It’s a lovely moment and you won’t see it if you’re trying to win.

No Comments

Leave a reply