Saucers of Mud

November 7, 2009

IFComp: The Duel in the Snow

Filed under: IFComp — matt w @ 9:50 pm

So maybe I should get back to my reviews, eh? I think I have three of these left to write up, and in fact I lied when I said that I wasn’t going to try any more games, so there’s one more left I might try.

These are text-adventure games, arty to various degrees, meant to be be judged in under two hours of play. The games can be found here. My reviews will be categorized under “IFComp.”

This is a review of “The Duel in the Snow,” which can be downloaded here or played online here or here, if you’ve got the right plug-ins.

This is a story game. There’s one puzzle that you’re not really supposed to solve, another that you can get the answer to pretty easily in-game (and annoying as all get-out until then, though perhaps there’s a certain thematic appropriateness to that; look under the spoiler space), and that’s about it puzzle-wise. Nor can you affect much that happens in the plot, which is also thematically appropriate, as the protagonist is a shlimazl who can’t affect much that happens in his own life. Insofar as there’s a challenge, it’s in figuring out just what is going on.

This game does a lot well. I forget exactly who said that this game shows how much atmosphere you can get from snowy nineteenth-century Russia, but whoever that was spoke truly. And you might want to go around adding “Victor Pavlovich” to the end of all your sentences — “There’s no more milk, Victor Pavlovich” — and see how much more melancholy your life gets. The second time I played through I was impressed at how the game conveyed the main character’s hopelessness.

But that second playthrough was after I’d pretty much had the deeper story explained to me. And I don’t think you really need to understand the story to get the atmosphere, but I did think that the clues to the story were too well hidden, so the first time through I felt like things were going on without me. I kept waiting for some event or revelation of significance in something, but it didn’t happen. And again, that might be thematically appropriate — the PC feels much the same way — but it’s not necessarily a good thing for a game to make us feel just like the PC would.

[EDIT: Amanda Lange expresses my reaction to the first playthrough well: “I just felt like the story was a bit too on-rails and I was just drifting through it.” Though I was still much more positive than she was about the game, partly because this kind of game seems to be much more my kind of thing than hers.]

This is the kind of game I’d like to make, too, and it really is successful in a lot of ways. But it makes me think that the best way to make this kind of game, where you discover the backstory through the details, is to include a lot of those details. Soak every room in them. Because not every player will hit upon all the clues you leave, and not every player will hit on the same clues, so it’s good if the player will get as much of an idea as you want from the clues they do get.

The atmosphere and the main character were very well done, though. And that’s as critical as anything else.

Only now, looking through Emily’s reviews, did I notice that this and Duel that Spanned the Ages have the exact same logo. I mean, exact same. Huh.
Victor Gijsber’s commenters here and Emily Short’s here have a good account of what the story is. Actually “miseri” does the heavy lifting; she (?) has especially insightful comments about Kropkin’s anecdotes at the end of Emily’s thread.

I almost did the thing that would’ve saved me on my first playthrough, but there was something where I needed to put the thing that would’ve saved me. So close! I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the way to survive the duel is unclued and fairly ridiculous, because you’re not really supposed to survive, and it’s not like the PC would be going through any great efforts to save his life.

The thirst puzzle was a pain though; it was pretty guess-the-verby, and while the recurring method about your thirst actually did drive me to try to find something to drink, as if I’d actually been thirsty, once again I’m not sure that the game should be trying to make us feel as miserable as the protagonist.

In Emily’s comments Jimmy Maher complained about being unable to avoid hitting Gronsovksij in the flashback, but I didn’t mind at all. For one thing, it’s a flashback; for another, by the codes V.P. lives by, I’m pretty sure he has no choice in the matter. He could no more avoid challenging Gronovskij than we could dance naked on the street, and the game isn’t under any more obligation to let us avoid the duel than it would be to let a contemporary PC take its clothes off. Offer not good on that Invisible Man game.

Really enormous spoiler after the next space.


I don’t care if Kropkin cuckolded us and set us up to be killed, I’m grateful to him for giving me the answer to the soda syphon puzzle. Man, that was annoying.


  1. Only now, looking through Emily’s reviews, did I notice that this and Duel that Spanned the Ages have the exact same logo. I mean, exact same. Huh.

    It’s not an official logo, just an illustration on my blog, and I couldn’t resist the urge to make this pair match up.

    Comment by Emily Short — November 7, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

  2. Ah! I can stop with the wild conspiracy theories based on seemingly insignificant details — which the very game we are discussing has trained me to do! Nicely done.

    Part of the reason for my confusion is, I noticed that a couple of the logos matched up with the official logos that come up when you start them in an interpreter, but I played these online so I wouldn’t have seen the real logos even if they’d existed.

    Comment by matt w — November 7, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

  3. Aha. Yeah, I put in all the real cover art, and then thought the ones without art looked sad in comparison (and various other people had been illustrating their reviews), so I added some. The cover art for Duel in the Snow came first, and then I found the space blaster image and thought, “I could repurpose…”

    Which is of course a totally unfair representation of Duel that Spanned the Ages. But it amused me at the time.

    Comment by Emily Short — November 7, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

  4. Don’t worry, Emily. It amused me too.

    Comment by Oliver Ullmann — November 22, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  5. […] I’ll explain the scale below. Rover’s Day Out: 10 Resonance: 9 Byzantine Perspective: 9 The Duel in the Snow: 8 Interface: 8 The Duel that Spanned the Ages: I’ll be submitting a 7 because that’s […]

    Pingback by IFComp Scores « Saucers of Mud — December 5, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  6. […] your canceled PI license, for instance. (Though that might run into the problem I mentioned in Duel in the Snow, that not everyone will examine the right things.) Which would also mean your poor sympathetic […]

    Pingback by IFComp: Resonance « Saucers of Mud — December 5, 2009 @ 11:46 am

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