Duel was made over about eight months, starting in December 2014. An aggregate of reviews would read something like this:
[i]Duel is a short, weird puzzle-twine about a magical battle. The setting is recognisable fantasy, but it’s not derivative, and the writing is pretty decent in a school-of-Porp sort of way. The bit about the queen was good.
What works less well is the puzzle. Because the game requires extensive replaying, the text, once enjoyable, becomes a frustrating hazard to click through, which in turn means that new text doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That makes for an unhappy mismatch.[/i]
I think this review is basically fair. It is short, though the combinatoric aspect heightens that impression. And it’s obviously Porpentine fanfic - she’s my hero. But it’s the second paragraph that I wanted to talk about.
What I should have done with Duel is tracked restarts, and made the second/third/etc readthrough of text seen before not just visually greyer, but also shorter and more callous. That would have solved two problems - firstly, it would have reduced the frustration of the repeat-clicking a bit, and made newer text stand out. That in itself would be absolutely worth it. But, secondly, it could allow the game to be more didactic, in a subtle way, about what it was trying to say.
These two passages were as explicit as I wanted to get. They’re a lot more about other games, often offline, non-computerised ones, than they are about IF, which makes the game kind of a weird vessel for them. And I really didn’t want Duel to seem preachy, because that precise fantasy of worthiness-through-capacity-for-dispassion, the one that the game is kind of “about”, has been important to me always. It’s what I love, and where I feel safe.
(“she cuts through the oozing world like a white clear knife” etc etc)
I don’t think making that change would have made much difference to Duel’s score. It’s too personal, too self-indulgent a game for that, and though it might have turned the odd six into a seven, I think issues like “the game was basically unreadable on a phone” probably had more to do with its finish. But that solution is the main thing I’ve learned. I’m really really grateful to everyone who played it, and especially to everyone who reviewed it.