The Spectators

by Amanda Walker profile


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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.