IF Comp 2009: Rover’s Day Out

Screen shot 2009-10-04 at 3.06.01 PMAs has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.

I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with last year: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. Last year that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.

So without further ado, “Rover’s Day Out.”

You too can play it if you download the comp games. It is not as far as I know possible to play online.

This was pretty awesome: snappy writing, good sense of humor, interesting interactions, building sense of urgency. It was solidly programmed and there were lots of loving details in the descriptions. I have a few games left to go, but this is one that I would be unsurprised to see in first place.

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As with Piracy 2.0 last year, I felt that much of the late/midgame did not require me to solve puzzles so much as to use systems I’d already learned in creative ways to resolve problems. This leads to an experience that is pleasingly less artificial and more engaging than a more conventional puzzle structure, and it is something I hope we continue to see more of. I’m sure there are many more ways to distract the boarders that I could have done but didn’t find out about (indeed, the AMUSING text assures me of this). I’ve seen in some people’s reviews that they found the plunger and/or the pan a bit cumbersome to use, and I suppose those could have been streamlined more, but my own experience with these was most comfortable, and I found that by the time I needed to use the ship’s systems on my own, I had a fair sense of what they all did, which was of course the point of the exercise.

My favorite moment: the mechanical droid’s response to my nudity.

Kudos also on the technical details. It’s not completely easy to do some of the font and screen effects seen here. I realize that as a criticism that’s kind of up there with a film buff’s notes on lighting design: technical virtuosity is usually not apparent to most of the audience if it’s done well, and then if it’s pointed out, the response may be along the lines of “uh, so what?” But it does add to the work, more than people perhaps realize.

If I have a complaint, it’s that the game draws on the twin banalities of a Your House game and a Generic Spacecraft game. In the process it manages, of course, to do something much cooler than either one. In certain respects it reminded me a bit of Shade, and I really can’t object too much given that the reliance on a banal routine is in fact part of the fiction of the game.

Still… it feels as though interactive SF rarely touches on the things that I tend to find most engrossing about written science fiction: exploration of what it means to be human, and the boundaries of our ethics and cultures. All too often (and this is certainly true for other kinds of videogame SF, as well as most movies and a lot of TV shows) “science fiction” in IF means an action sequence using futuristic gizmos, rather than thoughtful worldbuilding and thematic exploration. Rover’s Day Out mostly fell into this category; though there are some political themes in the backstory, we can’t really interact with them. Our allegiance is determined from the outset.

However! Rover’s Day Out is good at being what it is. The fact that I would also like to play another kind of science fictional IF is not exactly Rover’s fault.

I was sad that David turned out a traitor. That was completely fair and consonant with the narrative economies, but I did so enjoy the flirtation and its developments in the first few sequences that I wanted him to be a good guy. On the other hand, when we finally meet it turns out that he has a pretty greasy dress sense, so what can you expect? I mean, you know he can’t be all good when his clothing looks like this:

READY>x robe
A shiny, black business robe, with a wide sash of gold terry cloth and high slit in the rear. Surely, the custom-tailored robe is every bit as expensive as it looks. The robe comes down almost to the floor in the front, although David’s fancy boots can be seen as he walks.

READY>x hat
A bulbous, helmet-like version of the classic hat, with a relatively narrow brim. The burgundy-colored hat looks like an antique with no piercings.

12 thoughts on “IF Comp 2009: Rover’s Day Out

  1. Based on your liking this game, I gave it a try. (I’ve been too busy to do comp judging this year.) I’m now on my third iteration of Janet’s boring morning routine, and the toilet tank is empty, so the toilet won’t flush. The commentary in blue letters has gone away, as have the curtains, but everything else appears to be much as before.

    And there are no built-in hints. I’m just stuck, that’s all. Since I’m not judging, I figured I’d just play the game rather than resorting to the walkthrough. Playing the game being more or less the point of gaming.

    I think I get it: You’re playing the part of a software entity that thinks it’s Janet, and its morning routine is actually a heavily disguised set of activities that covertly operate a spaceship. Trouble is, the ostensible scenario is no more than a clever veneer wrapped around a set of object manipulations (feed the dog, fry an egg, take a shower, brush and floss, use the toilet) that is intrinsically quite dull. Once through — okay, it’s not totally dull the first time. But the third time?

    Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe this is cooler than it looks. But when I try filling the toilet tank from the dog bowl and the game won’t let me take the bowl out of the kitchen, I find myself thinking, “Nah, there’s no reason to go on with this.”

  2. So many people seem to have found the morning routine boring and cumbersome, that I found myself forced to defend it on my blog. It’s quite gratifying to see that you liked this game as much as I did, Emily. :)

    • Yeah, I saw your analysis. Like you, I was focused throughout the game on what I was “really” doing, so the activity of frying the egg felt a lot different each time. And fixing the toilet was especially interesting because I had to use the metaphor of the actual toilet (how would I fix this in real life?) and of course that did work, but at the same time I was working out how the action corresponded to something meaningful for the ship.

      Then when it got to the point of repelling the droids, I had to use both understandings of reality to figure out what actions might repel the ship at any given moment. It was brain-twisty, but very satisfying. (I came up with three of the four ways to slow down the ship attaching, if I recall the amusing stats correctly, and a couple of ways to deter the droid once he was on-board.)

  3. I wondered whether David was the right guy for Janet when he didn’t know what grues were. Then he showed up looking like Ming the Merciless and pulled a gun on her, and I thought “Yeah, Janet could do much better.” Now I am fantasizing about setting her up on blind dates with other IF characters, Amy from Riverside, perhaps, or that sad case from Nightfall. It’s fun!

  4. Pingback: IFComp: Rover’s Day Out and Grounded in Space « Saucers of Mud

  5. Pingback: IFComp, I Hardly Knew Ye

  6. Ffff, I think the reason I didn’t find any trouble with figuring out the nonflushing toilet is because I know basic toilet-fixing IRL :’D

  7. I have a tendency to type “ls” at command prompts whenever I’m thinking; this is the first game I’ve encountered where that actually accomplishes something. :-)

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