IF Comp ’09 – Oliver Ullmann Utkonos’ The Duel in the Snow That Spanned the Ages!

October 13, 2009

Episode 1:  The Tale of the Age of Old Russian Machines!

I’ve got a lot of these games to play still.  Might as well double-fist.

Mostly Spoiler-Free Upshot: Well, I sort of liked both of them, actually.  Duel That Spanned the Ages is full of space-marine-saga-survivally-horrorish business that is frankly not my thing at all, but the puzzles were actually pretty fun, if not groundshattering, and the writing was serviceable in most places and delightfully over-the-top in others.

The Duel in the Snow has not much in the way of puzzles, or stuff going on in general (“Ah, yes.  The duel.”), but it’s got a lot of personality and I refuse to not sort of like it.  The Duel That Spanned the Ages is probably a better game (in terms of gameplay), but I think I enjoyed The Duel in the Snow more.

Also, Duel That Spanned the Ages has exactly the kind of hint system that I like games to have.  Watch and learn, The Grand Quest!

[spoilers begin here]

He knows the time has come when all of a sudden his skin begins to burn, his eyes turn to dust, and his blood starts to boil.  He is almost thankful as he finally dies, transformed into a lifeless bag of blood and bones, plummeting towards the metallic surface below.  In his last moment he wonders if his people know they are godless now.

Vast field of barley
You are standing somewhere in a vast field of barley.  The barley stretches as far as you can see in every direction under a hot summer sky.

Point:  Duel That Spanned the Ages.  The writing’s a bit Serious Space Business, but I’ll take “he wonders if his people know they are godless now” over “you are standing somewhere in a vast field of barley.”  I have never cared for barley.

Oh, wait, he didn’t die after all.  Man, this intro is long.

The stalks of barley rise almost to your waist.  They feel ticklish.
A windmill walks past.
> x windmill
A towering windmill on wooden legs strides past, nodding its sails.
…oh.  Carry on.
> tickle barley
Nothing thrilling happens.
The windmill does a cumbersome little dance.

You cough, trying to get it out but it is as if the fruit is transforming into some kind of cactus; it pricks your mouth and throat, expanding, getting hotter again, pulsating,

You walk south for an hour or so…  You are very thirsty.  You walk east for an hour or so…  The wandering windmill dwindles into the distance and vanishes.  You walk south for an hour or so…  You stir in your sleep.  Perhaps it’s time to wake up?
Friggin’ dream sequences!  At least this one responded to WAKE UP the first time I typed it.  (You know who you are.)

It seems impossible that this could be the same garden in which you sat with Natasha on so many summer evenings, nibbling strawberries or drinking sugary tea.
I’m starting to think I may be a widower.  Also, I think I might be thirsty.
You are very thirsty.
Just a thought.

The recollection of her words is still painful:  “I cannot live in this house any longer, Victor Pavlovich!  I shall simply go mad!  No!  Really, I cannot!”

You step again onto the barren surface of Asteroid 3095/4.  Everything around you – the sand, the boulders, some distant mountains – is of a dull lifeless grey.  There’s zero atmosphere in this place.  The asteroid came from a dead region of the galaxy, and it is just that:  dead.
“Wiseguy, you take point.  The rest follows in diamond formation.”

Point:  Duel in the Snow, because I know where I’m at with my gloves and my wife leaving me and my being very thirsty, as opposed to leading some sort of mission thing in diamond formation over Asteroid 3095/4 and what does this have to do with the space battle and the god dude and really, my name is Wiseguy?  Really?

Oh, okay, I’m in sort of a maze, but I’ve got some guy on the space radio telling me where I’m going and how I can get there.  That’s actually pretty cool.

“Heads up – there are dead bodies here.  Looks like our missing prospectors.”

“Where are you, Victor Pavlovich?” cries Kropkin.  “We must make haste!  The duel is scheduled for dawn!”
Ah, yes.  The duel.
You are very thirsty.

You hesitate for a moment before entering the carriage.  Is there anything important that you have forgotten?  After all, you probably won’t be able to come home again until it is all over…
Well, I don’t have a weapon.  Do you think that’ll be important?

“Huh?  what theAAARRchhhh…”
Oh shit, something killed Dashman, and now it’s sending zombies at me.  Space zombies.

It looks somewhat like an exotic hovercraft, except that a humanoid-shaped torso is mounted atop the main body.  For lack of a better word, you call it the “centaur.”
Well, that’s weird.

Some low-key stealth gameplay here where I have to keep ducking back into the rocks so the centaur doesn’t kill the shit out of me.  S’kinda neat.  Or it would be, if all these rooms had listed exits, so I didn’t have to duck out of cover and go “northeast?  No?  Ohshit,” etc.

“This is Austin 1!  I can’t break the lock!  Do something!  Occupy the bastard!”

There is little point in picking berries just now, Victor Pavlovich.

Flipping haphazardly through the book, you come upon a poem for children recommending a death in battle.

I think I’m going to look harder for something to drink, because “You are very thirsty” is getting annoying.  At least I’m not wearing a jackhammer for a hat.  (You know who you are too.  Hi!)

Also, I think I’m going to bring the entire takeable inventory of my house with me to this duel, because you never know!  The stuffed owl Natasha didn’t take with her because it is as ugly and moth-eaten as her abandoned husband (Victor Pavlovich) might take a bullet for me (Victor Pavlovich)!  Who can tell these things?  You are very thirsty.

…I am now very thirsty in real life.  Thanks, Duel in the Snow.

Ah, the siphon just needed a good shake, like other people’s kids.
Now you are no longer thirsty.

Exhausted, you sink down on a bench.
“We did it,” you say.
“Do you copy?”
The shuttle is descending fast.  You jump on your feet again.
Oliver Ullmann subscribes to the never-a-dull-moment school of storytelling, apparently, which is not necessarily a bad way to go.  I’m wondering now what, say, The Grand Quest would have been like if every puzzle came at you right after you’d solved the last one and they were all screaming, on fire, and covered in bees.

Uh.  Well.  I was planning on real-quick learning how to drive the shuttle, but the cockpit seems to be an oozing molten mass of space future shuttle-building materials, so that’s right out.  I don’t have a parachute, either.  Time to investigate the hint system!

Yay, the hint system exists!  Oh, JUMP doesn’t work to JUMP OUT, you just jump fruitlessly on the spot and a second later get all ripped apart by metal shards, which probably makes you feel kinda silly.

“He is the closest match to your prophecy, Great Mother.  They say he is the best marksman in the whole sector.”
“How did he react to the implantation?”
“Reasonably well, I suppose.  The elders say the warrior seed will kill an unworthy being;
he has survived.  I did not have the time for a long examination, however.”
“Yes.  He must be on his way before the node has fully awoken from its hibernation.  Time is of the essence.”

Kropkin mutters something to himself about being late for the duel.

> ask kropkin about anna
Kropkin reddens perceptibly.
Kropkin and the poetess got it on?  You’re shittin’ me.

> x horses
This is not the first time you have seen a horse, Victor Pavlovich.

Am I ready to go yet?  Should I bring a gun?  Do I have a gun?  I guess I’ll just get in the carriage and see what happens.  Surely they wouldn’t let me duel without a pistol…

> x snow
A white, powdery substance that often falls out of the sky in winter.
I was expecting some sort of, I dunno, “it falls heavily in thick wet clumps as gloomy as your soul, Victor Pavlovich,” or something.

You feel miserable.  Why should you have to fight a duel?
Y’know, no one’s actually filled me in on that detail yet.  Why am I fighting this duel?  Oh, hello, flashback!  Just in time!

Kropkin is telling an anecdote.  “You know old Pryagin?  His wife killed herself last week.  Threw herself under an express train.[“]
That’s hilarious!  Tell it again!

Kropkin’s anecdotes are actually pretty awesome, in their own way.  I like the one about the captain who had a lucky three-legged tortoise named Rex, and then got his own leg shot off by a Turkish cannonball.  Turkish cannonballs are stronger than regular cannonballs.  You know, like Turkish coffee.  Why do Kropkin and Gronovskij keep looking at me and giggling?  Oh, right, because there’s nothing so funny as a cuckolded husband.  Although I would argue that story about old Pryagin’s wife was a little bit… wait a minute, what did he say?  The game tells me I’m very upset, and this is the flashback where I find out why I have to duel this guy, so I might as well smack him one in the kisser.

Oh, good, someone thought to bring guns.

Gronovskij looks at the bottle you are carrying sneeringly, as if to say:  “Why would anybody carry an empty brandy bottle to a duel?”
This brandy bottle is actually one of the more reasonable things I’ve brought to this duel.  Wait until you see my poetry book and stuffed owl.

Gronovskij takes a pistol from the case.  The doctor offers the case to you.

You are sprawled on a bed of grey dust.  The sky is black with a sea of stars idly shining down on you.  A familiar female voice sings a lullaby.  You’ve never noticed before that her voice was so… musical.  She sings to you.  “Warning.  Oxygen level critical.”

Okay, I survived the crash, and my plasma rifle is toast.  What am I supposed to be doing now, hint system?

1/3:  You simply don’t know where to go.
2/3:  When you’re in your car and don’t know where to go, what do you do?
Do you mean when I don’t know how to get to where I want to go or when I don’t actually know where I want to go?  Because in the first case I look it up on Google Maps and in the second I probably just go home, or maybe to Bookman’s, unless… how hungry am I?  I could go for Schlotzsky’s actually.  Maybe I should stop and buy gas.

3/3:  Check your navigation system.
I have a navigation system?  How would I have known that?  Ohhh, by examining my light armour.  Maybe that should be mentioned elsewhere, too, unless it was and I wasn’t paying attention.

Oh, shit, another machine zombie!  Although technically I’m pretty sure it’s more of an animate machine that happens to be shaped like a human and filled with a corpse, which would hardly qualify as a zombie, unless somehow whatever’s animating the suit is also using whatever neural-network interface these future suits might have… actually, when you get right down to it, it’s a spiky thing that’s trying to kill me, so academic distinctions are not priority one here.

Some guess-the-verb here with this card reader, rendered especially thrilling by being punctuated with “you’re running out of oxygen you’re going to die” messages.  Oh, okay, if I look at it, it says I need to insert the card.  I can do that.

Fuck.  Ran out of oxygen.  That’s annoying.

So is continuing to run out of oxygen while trying to work out this stupid door.  Oh, okay, despite finding a red card, I had to push the green button.  Maybe it’s a message about diversity.

You think you just heard a piece of hydraulic activate somewhere near.
That sounded like a sweet piece of hydraulic and I am gonna go tap that.

Oh, hello, I just entered a blood-soaked room containing a machine gun, a rocket launcher, and a fucking Demolisher brand mech suit.  It may be time to level the fuck up.

Damn.  Mechsuit’s locked.  And now I’m crawling around inside a tiny cave with no armour on and two broken legs.  What’s my motivation for doing this again?  Because I’m an action hero and this is what action heroes do?

Yikes!  Chrome spider attack!  Good thing this handgun’s still got some bullets.

Oooh, automatic doctor robot!  I’m not sure whether I should trust my care to its robotic arms, since, y’know, this is a story about machines trying to kill people, but what the hell.

This is an unspent ammunition belt for light machine guns.  Approximately two metres of large-calibre, leaden death.

The doctor says:  “Gentlemen, you will now take your positions and wait for my command.  When I lower my hand, you may advance and fire.”

Blood is gradually welling up through your overcoat from the region of the breast pocket, which contains a watch.  You feel unwell.
Who would have thought that you contained so much blood?  How fascinating!
Don’t worry, I have a save file.  Oh, there’s that windmill again.  Hi, Mr. Windmill!

As you look up at the windmill, you notice that you don’t seem to be lying in the snowy field anymore…
You seem to be at home… and Natasha!  Natasha is here!
Well, that’s nice.  I mean, I must be either dead or dying, but it’s the happiest I’ve been all game.

In that game you scored 0 out of a possible 1, in 209 turns, earning you the rank of dead.
Oh.  I can probably do better than that.

There are only moments in which to act!
> duck
This story has nothing to do with waterfowl, Victor Pavlovich.
Ha ha.  Oh, great, now I’m shot again.  I hope you’re happy with yourself.

…I thought I was kidding about the stuffed owl taking a bullet for me.  I see I was not.  And now I’m still alive, and Kropkin will be happy, and I can go back home and be depressed about Natasha some more.  I was sort of hoping there would be some kind of feel-a-tiny-bit-less-horrible resolution about Natasha, but that’s not how that shit would go down in real life, so I guess it’s all right.

What were we doing with the surgical machine and the chrome spiders again?

Also, if my sentry gun is set to shoot anything that moves and doesn’t have a heartbeat, won’t it take out the robotic arms when they start trying to perform surgery?

Ewwwww that locker had a dead guy in it!  Maybe these dudes are actually zombies.

This is very Fallout 3 right here with the ruined office and the ramp.  Oh yeah, and the blood-slick room with the sexy violence toys was too, now that I think about it.  Oops, I woke up the chrome spiders.  Who’s been giving them razorblades?

Well, that emergency surgery went pretty well.  Thanks, sentry gun!

These metal spiders have been profoundly shot to pieces.
That’s deep.

The elevator controls are formed by a mere two buttons, both of a very generous size, labelled UP and DOWN.  You could easily operate them with your elbow if necessary.
…do you think that’s likely to be necessary?  I am enjoying having forearms.  They’re where I keep my hands.

Yeah.  I’m about ready to be done here.  Going to call both of these a seven, which makes me wonder if I’m not actually one of those bastards who makes games jump through flaming hoops backwards for a lousy eight after all.

Update:  Oh, all right, you both get eights.  Don’t let your mother know.

One comment

  1. This is my favorite IFComp review so far.

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