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The Spectators

by Amanda Walker profile

Historical
2022

Web Site

(based on 20 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

It is 1560. There are no secrets in the iron-willed Duke d'Este's marriage to his young bride, a girl unprepared for her new role as Duchess. The Duke's army of servants are always present, always watching, and always under his control.

There are a map of the game and a walkthrough available to download at the game's itch site: https://amanda-walker.itch.io/the-spectators

Cover art by Alessandro Allori, circa 1560.

Play time about 4 hours.

Content warnings: Violence, death, mild sexual situations, scatalogical language, mentions of rape and domestic abuse.


Game Details


Awards

Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee (for the duchess), Best Individual NPC - 2022 XYZZY Awards

2nd Place, Le Grand Guignol - English - ECTOCOMP 2022

Winner, Outstanding Game of the Year 2022 - Author's Choice; Winner, Outstanding Inform 7 Game of 2022 - Playerís Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards

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Member Reviews

5 star:
(12)
4 star:
(5)
3 star:
(3)
2 star:
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Average Rating:
Number of Reviews: 2
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Complex and rich historical tragedy with multiple perspectives, November 6, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game is a fine game, one of the most complex and deep I've seen during Ectocomp. I may be making this up but I swear I heard the author say she was planning on entering this in IFcomp but decided to enter it into Ectocomp to allow for more polish time. This might not be true, but it would make sense, as this game has the kind of structure and polish that high-ranking IFComp parser games tend to have.

The idea is that you play as multiple player characters, each with their own chapter, but sharing a large map: a duke's castle, where the young duchess, only 15 years old, is struggling to please her older lord, and his anger has found its expression in unpleasant ways. The various chapters provide a solid narrative arc, from introduction to rising action to climax and denouement.

The story is based off a poem (whose name I'll omit, as the authors has), and has the feel of a richly researched game. Period-appropriate clothing, art, jewelry, architecture, horticulture, etc. are described in detail.

The game has a high ratio of words-to-action; new scenes will often have page-long introductions, and single actions will often set off large chunks of story. This is often paired with a short game, but this game is quite large, with a big map and many things to see and do. Instead, the game strikes balance by providing significant guidance for most events, a style that is more of a guided tour than a puzzlebox. (I've adopted similar a similar playstyle in some of my own games, including a Sherlock Holmes adaptation; it fits adaptations well, as it keeps players on the main narrative path).

This is an earthy game in a grim world, though happiness exists for some. Players encounter domestic abuse, rape, sexual abuse, degradation, intimidation, underage marriage, and psychological manipulation. Most characters are on the bottom tiers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, concerned about physical safety, food, and sexual desires, while a couple reach for love or even esteem, but none are situated well enough to reach for self-actualization.

The map is a large castle, hard to navigate at first but slowly becoming more familiar. By the end I could make my way well-enough, but I found out after finishing that there is a map available for download. I don't feel it was completely necessary, as the oppressively large castle and getting lost adds to the sense of fear or awe in the game. And getting lost is the main source of in-game hints, outside of talking to people.

Speaking of conversation, it's a topic-based system that works pretty well, especially since you're primed on how to speak early on. I think adding 'A' as a synonym for 'T' would be useful, because ASK/TELL is a fairly common IF trope and it's usual to implement both (just now, going back in the game, I see that T stands for TALK [Noun], not TELL [noun], which makes sense. It might be worth making A/ASK/TELL synonyms for TALK/T).

It's interesting to see the connections between this game and the authors' other games. The use of poetry, either author-written or as inspiration for the whole game is a strong pattern (at least 6 other poems have inspired games by this author, including 4 in a single game). The darker historical setting is also common in these games, although the exact time period varies. This game is unusual in that there are less puzzles and more roleplaying as a renaissance character.

Overall, a strong game and one that I think everyone should check out.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Viewing a tragedy through a multitude of eyes, November 21, 2022

The Spectators is a game set in 16th-century Italy, and stars a cast of characters (mostly servants) going about their duties while observing the decline of the relationship between the jealous Duke and his new naive bride the Duchess. Each characterís chapter follows roughly the same arc: they need to do a task as part of their job, but they have something else that they desperately want to do. The puzzles all revolve around trying to fit said task in without detection by other staff (and therefore avoiding the harsh punishment that would come with it). While going about these tasks, each character gets another look at the Duchessís life and the Dukeís controlling relationship with her, all the way to its inevitable end. This description falls short as it makes things sound much more repetitive than they are - the characters are rich and varied, as are the puzzles they need to solve, and I never felt bored. Even though we spent only a little time with each character I felt invested in each of them and their desires (even, in the case of one particular character, that investment is shown by disliking her intensely).

The player character writing here, I have to point out, is good but not too good. What I mean by this, of course, is that while I was fascinated with all of the PCs, none of them overshadow the story of the Duke and the Duchess. The Duchess is the center of the game and is the axis about which the plot spins around - catering to her and interacting with her shapes most of the servantsí days, and form the tasks that conflict with their own desires. While we never get to see the world through her eyes, we get an idea of the kind of woman (or girl, really) she is, and the shape of the Dukeís conflict with her. Heís not seen as much but his presence looms large over the entire castle. Whenever he makes an appearance on screen the story tension goes up a notch. The pacing of the story is superb as well, with the rising tension lasting exactly as long as it needs to before coming to a horrifying climax.

Thereís a number of other touches to this game that I loved as well, particularly the attention to detail. The author has clearly done her research about the setting, both about the poem the game is adapted from and the real history behind the poem itself. I love all the little details, especially all the ones that turn out to be true (I had no idea dial locks were invented that early!). This extra effort made the whole game a delight from start to finish.

Finally, some spoiler discussion: I was not previously aware of the poem My Last Duchess, which this game is an adaptation of. I am fascinated by the general idea of IF adaptations of works, and in particular by the way this work pulled it off. Itís almost entirely written from whole cloth, but it follows the beats of the poem faithfully and is, in my opinion, an excellent adaptation.

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