The Duel that Spanned the Ages: a review of IF Comp 09 reviews

This is a review of the reviews of _The Duel That Spanned The Ages_, largely found with Yhlee’s index of reviews.  Feel free to post a link to other reviews in the comments, especially if the review contradicts the conclusions I come to.

This is meta-criticism; the goal is to understand better how people play and read IF.

I’m not going to have time to get through all the reviews — the end of the Comp is coming up quick — so I’m looking to review games with different patterns of response.  And we can quickly see that _The Duel that Spanned_ is a very different case than _Beta-Tester._

Yhlee had problems with the English, which often slides into non-standard usage, and objected to the prophecy, which irritated her and didn’t make her care about the outcome of the game. 

Emily didn’t like the FPS-ness of the game, and felt dissatisfied with the narrative, which as the first installment of a long series felt to her like a “teaser,” and because the player doesn’t get the chance to know the PC or the world very well.

Saucers of Mud seemed exasperated by the long non-interactive intros, and gave up on it just as it was getting interesting.  He came back to it, and found it a lot more fun; but reported that, “tragically,” he had now passed the two-hour mark, and couldn’t let the better part of the game influence his rating.

Victor G. thoroughly enjoyed the game, commenting extensively on its actiony nature and omitting any mention of the long non-interactive introductions, the prophecy, and so on.  I think he might have skipped them.

Merk says that the game, because it is science-fiction, could be considered derivative, but that he did not consider it that way, because the author takes what has been done before more by inspiration than by ripping off.

And I gave it basically a positive review, while objecting to the long introductory material.

So, for this game, the commentary was remarkably consistent:  Where the introductory and background material are mentioned, they’re considered too verbose, not interactive enough, and, well, too prophetic.  The prose “gets the job done” (as Yhlee put it).  The puzzles are not brilliant innovations, but are serviceable (as Victor said).

But where this game really shines is in its adaptation of IF to an action story.  Those who like action games liked the game well; those who don’t didn’t.

Anybody else notice that the guys liked this, and the girls didn’t?  –That’s an effect of the sampling, at least in part.  Pissy Little liked this game.  But she reviewed it with _Duel in the Snow_, apparently on the basis that both games start with the word “duel,” and talked about her responses to the games mixed together, and largely not talking about her reasons for those responses.  All of which made me skip over hers this time.

We can see, then, that this is a different situation than _Beta Tester_, where people had radically different interpretations of what was going on emotionally.  Here, people’s interpretation of the game was remarkably consistent:  the reviewers all agreed on what the game was doing, and found it well-programmed and effective in terms of delivering action.

Reviewers disagreed mostly because of how they felt about violent action games.  But also reviewers had some differences about what they focused on.  When reviewers focused on the back-story, with its vaguely told of prophecies, and so forth, they largely disliked the game; when they focused on the action, they liked it to the extent they liked action games.

Notice that this is true not only between reviewers, but also for individual reviewers.  Saucers of Mud disliked the game when he was focused on the introductory material; then when he shifted focus to the action, he liked it.

The moral here, for IF authors, is to understand your strength and to play to your strength.  Keep your game focused — don’t let your players get side-tracked into something you don’t do well. 

The strength of this game is its action.  The prophecy and conspiracizing are weaknesses that distract from that strength.  So the development time that went into writing those bits should have mostly gone into souping up the action — perhaps as Victor G. mentioned, quickening the pace and raising the stakes as the game reached completion.

(By the way, the way you do prophecy is that you actually *tell* the reader the prophecy.  You give the specific wording.  And it’s paradoxical or seemingly impossible or it foretells certain doom for the good guys — however you like:  the prophecy is a problem, not a reassurance.

(Then the outcome apparently contradicts the prophecy:  but, on a second reading, we see that all the actual wording of the prophecy has been fulfilled, although not the way we had first interpreted it.

(A classical example:  A general is told, “invade the city and you will destroy a powerful nation.”  He does, and his own nation is destroyed.

(A pop example:  Neo is told, in _the Matrix_, that he is not the One.  “Sorry, kiddo,” the Oracle tells him:  “Maybe in another life.”

(–And Neo does indeed become the One; but only after dying and being brought back to life.)

Also notice that, while there may be room for players’ focus to wander, and while players may have diverse tastes about the kind of game they play, opinion about a game’s quality and playability tend to be consistent.

That is, these opinions may vary depending on whether a player happened to hit a bug, but overall this appears to be a reliably objective part of a review.

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Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 11:00 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Pissy Little liked this game. But she reviewed it with _Duel in the Snow_, apparently on the basis that both games start with the word “duel,” […]
    Got it in a nutshell, One Wet!

  2. I recently added links to all the reviews (that I know of) of every IF Comp 2009 game on the IFWiki. For this game, the link is http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/The_Duel_That_Spanned_the_Ages#Reviews , but you can find the links for other games in the “Links” section of their own IFWiki pages. Hope this helps.

  3. (posting in like every entry of yours now) I got around to this one just today. I did like it and I am a woman! … who likes action games. So I guess that it’s truly an action-game-bias.

    As for the introductory material I just now realized that yeah, I didn’t like it, but, I also didn’t comment on it in my review. I guess the rest of the game overshadowed that for me.


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