Opening Night (Review)

Isn’t it horrible when you love a game, check out other games by the author, and find out there aren’t any?

“Opening Night” ranked 7th place on the 2008 IFComp. It doesn’t get talked about; like many other games I’ve found, however good they are, some games simply sink into obscurity (Legion immediately springs to mind); those who played it recall it fondly, but if someone actually asks for recommendations, it’s never these games that get mentioned.

That’s the main reason I’m so anal about playing every single IF game I can, and play it alphabetically so as not to miss out. It’s how I get to these forgotten gems.

“Opening Night” is quite remarkable, and yet it doesn’t seem to be at first. The beginning is downright pedestrian. A working man has saved enough to be able to see his favourite actress live, and plans on giving her a rose after the show. Sweet, but unassuming.

In fact, it’s so unassuming that for the first half of the game you’ll think it’s all there is. Pretty bog-standard stuff; the puzzles are easy and nothing to marvel at. But it’s all slightly off-kilter… that tramp you’ll be interacting mostly with at the beginning, whom you have a sneaking suspicion you might recognise, shifts a banal opening into something intriguing.

On that note, I have to praise that little tramp, and the random messages for atmosphere and flavour. There’s nothing extraordinary going on here, technically; but the flavour of the text is spot on. The little tramp is one of the liveliest non-speaking and barely-interactable NPCs I’ve ever seen. I mean, if you don’t want to emulate Galatea - if you only want an NPC as a part of a puzzle - then you’d do well to take a look at this little tramp (before AND after you solve his puzzles, as you’ll probably see him again later) and take inspiration.

In fact, that’s what I found really extraordinary about this game. I won’t spoil it in any way - it starts pedestrian and unassiming, but where it goes from there is something you’ll want to see for yourself - but I can talk about the economy of means that it uses.

Less cryptically, the game succeeds brilliantly by using sparse, effective prose.

This is so important! (I think so, at any rate). With Glulx, we have no limits. We can inflict our verborrhea on our players. We can produce a magnum opus.

But more isn’t necessarily better. We need to be reminded of that, occasionally. “Opening Night” ends quite powerfully (well, depending on what you consider a “powerful” ending. I felt decidedly moved, myself), but it’s very perfunctury about it all. It states. It declares. Things are as they are. Before coming to “Opening Night” I’d played “One Eye Open” and “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free”, and they both left me as unsatisfied as Opening Night left me fulfilled.

The biggest trouble with OEO and OOOF, for me, is that I felt overwhelmed by the text at every single turn. I felt that the pressure was on me to disentangle interactivity from a mass of story, backstory, characters, past and present and future.

DISCLAIMER - OEO and OOOF are remarkable games in their own right and well worth a play. I am only picking at them now in context. I’d encourage you to play them and form your own opinion.

Whereas “Opening Night” is a lesson in writing an effective story in IF. It’s not minimalist; you don’t have to go to extremes. Also, it’s a much simpler story than, say, OOOF or OEO, so it’s obvious that a denser story will need denser writing. But, well, after playing those games, Opening Night felt like a balm. A simple story, told simply. Those are the best.

“Opening Night” is probably the best “short story” I’ve played in IF. People who are mainly looking at IF to tell a story, rather than a puzzlefest, should take a long hard look here and learn a thing or two.

Your mileage may vary. You may not find it as elegant, as enjoyable, as meaningful, as I did. But I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience.

This is not a game I’d want to see lost to the ravages of time.


As a writer I know I feel obliged to at least try to make a denser story. But really, I like stuff that’s efficient. I’ve never heard of the game, but if it has something that O3F and OEO don’t, it must be very good. It’s a neat coincidence that the two are together.

It’s tough to know what succinctness can actually get through to people, but authors do have an obligation to ask of testers “is this too big?” and also they have a right to say “I’ll cut this off here”

Also, this reminds me of some dumb things I wanted to add to A Roiling Original for a new release, because I found some stray bugs. If you are going alphabetically, this is motivation to me to tidy them up and do some self-testing.

Your games are under S for “Slate Tales”, so you’ve got a while. :wink:

Well, technically it should be “Stale Tales Slate” so it might be even a bit more! Yay procrastination!

Seriously, there’s still so much odd stuff I want to try. But detailing it in this thread would derail things.

Have you ever considered writing a public spreadsheet to show which games you’re on? I’d be curious. Maybe you have and it went over my head. But that’s an awesome goal you have, and I have to admit I’m nosy.

Fine, you want to be exact? I’ll be exact. :smile:

Stale Tales Slate 1 - Shuffling Around
Stale Tales Slate 2 - A Roiling Original


I doubt a listing of which games I’ve played would be of any interest to anyone. :wink: But if I have something to say about a game I play, I’ll post about it - like I did just now. See that did I did there? That thing you see if you scroll up? I posted about it. Whoa. Dude.

The time I spend with each game also varies wildly. If I’m not having fun, I don’t force myself to the end. That happened with O3F, I’m afraid (to use a recent example). But, I’m just a random guy playing away…

If you check my collection, then basically, everything that is NOT in the “Pending Games” folder is something I’ve at least booted up and tried for a couple of turns (in some Speccy or Commodore games that’s how long it took for the game to kill me, and if on retrying a few times I see nothing to hold my interest, I just leave it. Ain’t masochistic)… with the exception of the folders Inform and Web-Based, which I can play on the go so I’ve got them all pre-sorted and am enjoying them both. I’m up to O in both folders.

…this is almost certainly more detail than you’d wanted!

Haha, well played. Just–yeah, the 2 games shouldn’t be played in alphabetical order.

And yeah I agree you commenting on everything would be exhausting, but I’m the sort of person who, even if they look at just a general list with ratings, or 1 or 2 sentences, gets motivated to try stuff. I dunno, to me, it says–look at this person! They didn’t worry about posterity, etc. or having to say too much about any one game. They just jumped in and enjoyed themselves, and I can too. It’s just, a review like yours is more helpful than a critical review that discusses literary devices that scared me away from reading. So, whenever you find the time and motivation, I suspect I’m not the only one grateful.

O3F is rather tough to finish though I was glad I did. Carolyn is aware of the things to fix but she keeps finding cool new projects, so that’s a good thing in its own way for sure. (Like parsercomp.) She has a pretty high workrate, though–and I’d love to see a new version out. But I know how tough it can be to make minor changes.