The Night Circus

The Night Circus is a new game by Failbetter, the creators of Echo Bazaar, set in the fictional world of the forthcoming book of the same name by Erin Morgenstern. (I should say as a disclaimer, before I go any further, that I’m not a completely disinterested party — I’ve worked with Failbetter several times in the past, and hope to do so again in the future, and I also did some beta work on the game of The Night Circus.)

A few of my mementoes
Structurally, The Night Circus is quite a bit like Echo Bazaar, but tighter and easier to get into. If you’ve ever looked at EBZ and thought that it was more confusing or more of a commitment than you were ready for, Night Circus is doing some similar narrative experiments in a more streamlined fashion, with a shorter lead time and fewer optional extras. (There’s no store to buy objects from, for instance, and no map to move around — just a set of storylets to choose from at any given moment.) Brief text passages let you explore the environment of the circus and make choices about what you’re interested in pursuing. As you go, you accumulate mementoes — an inventory of physical and non-physical rewards from your exploration, some of which are required to open up new possibilities. Because it’s about exploring the mysteries of a setting and making serendipitous connections, it’s light on plot and strong on imagery, but there are some gradually accumulating ideas nonetheless.

The art is disciplined and evocative. Night Circus’ commitment to a black-and-white-with-red-touches scheme means the iconic art fits together well, even when the images are of quite different things.

There is a diary, to which you can save the text of events that are most important to you, and there’s the option of adding your own brief comment to something you’re recording. (Here’s mine, containing some of my favorite snippets from play so far, and here’s another from someone who comments more extensively than I do.) The diary is something EBZ does also, but (IMO) less effectively: Night Circus lets you add things to your diary even if you don’t simultaneously choose to tweet them to your friends, which means that you can make decisions about what you want to include in your personal narrative record without agonizing whether you’ve annoyed your twitter list enough for one day. I’m keenly interested in this technique: it encourages players to think about which events are important and memorable to them, and cooperate in constructing a narrative for themselves. I’d like even more to be able to go back and change the tagging on past events, I think, but that might be a bit heavy-handed for this particular piece.

17 thoughts on “The Night Circus”

  1. Indeed, the inability to log events without also tweeting them is the only black spot on my experience with Echo Bazaar. The end result has been that I never added anything at all to my log, and my public profile looks so empty…

  2. Approximately how much do you have to tweet in order to play this? This sounds like just what I’d want, and I even have access to a twitter feed now, but it belongs to my cat and I don’t want to clutter it up too much.

    (Yes, I could start a new feed, but that would cost me my “I’m not really on twitter” plausible deniability.)

    1. You never *have* to tweet, in this or in Echo Bazaar.

      That said, Night Circus has a thing called “Reveur Rank” which goes up if you invite new people into the game. Raising your rank unlocks some new content. But you can see quite a bit even without.

  3. I like the possibilities for children’s education that your system brings to mind. It seems like you could write up a pull education system rather than a push information system, where kids could go to the things that interest them around a subject and keep memos of what they liked. (Usable to help them discover their passions). A practical example, a game called Who killed Abraham Lincoln?, you investigate the assassination and learn various things playing about the world at that time or motivations, etc… But you keep track of what type of details interested you and learn something about yourself. No matter how you investigate, you learn things serendipitously and are pulled into the story. There are tons of subjects to deal with. How did the dinosaurs disappear for example. That would fit your social network model on a class room scale. What path and method does the kid take to discover the solution. It sounds like a brilliant model you’ve built. Unless of course I’ve completely misunderstood the game.

  4. Hmm, did I miss the whole diary functionality? I didn’t see any hint that SHARE would do anything other than twitter, and not wanting to tweet (sorry #failbetter) never tried.

    1. Yeah, if you hit SHARE, you get a dialog box that lets you check whether you want to record the text to Twitter or your diary or both. (Both are checked by default, but you can uncheck.)

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