IF Comp ’09 Review: Rover’s Day Out

So last night I had this dream. In it, the cartoon version of Hunter S. Thompson that occasionally appears on The Venture Brothers told me this (and you’ll have to imagine his voice for yourself): “Back in the late 70’s, bands started doin’ these interminably long drum solos that were just cymbals — just *crash crash crash* for goddamn ever. Until one night someone in the crowd stood up and shouted “Sing something, ya faggots!” And that’s how punk was born.”

So without further segue, let’s move on to tonight’s IF review. According to my current “Smallest Z-code File First” schema, the next one would be “Condemned”, but Jenni says I should do “Rover’s Day Out” next, so what the hell, right?

Spoiler-free summary: Fantastic little game, best in show so far. Great concept and atmosphere, terrific implementation. I thought the puzzles were pretty easy, but you don’t need hard puzzles to tell a good story, and this is a good story marvelously-told, taking full advantage of the possibilities of IF. Ten points.

The game is by Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman, and here’s my disclaimer, and (heavy!) spoilers start after we eat steak-flavored clouds and poop secrets.

The game opens with a quote by Robert Heinlein. Heinlein is the SF author that, whenever I see his name, I think “Oh hey, that SF author that I really like… oh, no, wait. I’m thinking of Philip K. Dick. Heinlein’s the one that had all those weird ideas about sex.”

To be fair, I really dug the concept of the Fair Witnesses from Stranger In a Strange Land, and I do use the word ‘grok’ on occasion, but other than that… bleh. But anyway.

And then a brief pause while I remember that the IF Comp site said I should play this in Zoom and not Spatterlight… and another brief pause while I download a newer verion of Zoom that actually can play this…

Ooh! A picture! Neat! And it’s got all color and fonts and stuff. Is that a .gblorb thing? That’s fun.

>xyzzy
That’s not a verb I recognize.

>x me
Lying down. Wearing pajamas. That’s all the description you can handle at this time in the morning

Gosh, is this description dynamic? Someone remind me to check it again later. (Later: it is!)

The status bar is… curious. And are people building a fusion rocket heavy-helium regulator in my bedroom? “Dude, can we use your place for the fusion rocket assembly? My mom kicked us out of the garage.” “*Sigh* Okay fine, but you have to be quiet. I’ve got work in the morning.” “Sweet! Hey guys, he said yes! Bring in the particle accelerator!” (Oh, it was a dream. I see.)

This is getting weird. So I’m an AI in some sort of simulation? And problems with the …rocket ship or whatever get translated into situations in the sim, and my reactions to those situations are converted back into actions carried out by the ship’s systems? Is that’s what’s going on? If so it seems like an extremely roundabout way of doing things. But as plots go I’m certainly intrigued.

You know what’s nice? When my setting of the accelerant pump’s pressor field to true causes my hair to stop feeling like a straw-encrusted swarm of yellow-headed tommygoffs. Fucking tommygoffs.

Ah-hahaha. I was all set to complain about the game crashing on me. Psyche!

The use of different fonts and colors is quite effective so far. Not just for stuff like the fake BSOD, but also it sets off David and Janet’s text really nicely. (“You have a degree in graphic design? What do you use it for?” “Enjoying IF games.”)

I’ve never seen ‘chihuahua’ spelled ‘xihuahua’ before. Is that a Greek Chi?

Janet: You don’t know the crazy things the ACU does! Sometimes
it walks around trying to eat or take everything in
sight.

Heh. You know me; I like a little self-awareness in games.

Bit weird for a fridge to have only a single egg inside. Not that a nearly-empty fridge is weird; I’ve been a college student, after all. It’s weird that it’s an egg and not, say, half a jar of strawberry jam. Who buys eggs? (“You ate it on a paper towel?” “Well, the jam by itself wouldn’t have been very filling.”)

It has suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should’ve been paying attention to what things in the sim represent what things in the “real world”. I sure hope not.

Okay. That may be the first time I have ever actually taken a dump in an IF game. And what I really did, apparently, was land a rocketship on an alien planet. You get half a bonus point for that, and the other half for understanding the word ‘widdershins’. Also I think “I’m going to go land a rocketship on an alien planet.” is my new euphemism  for pooping.

REMEMBER seems like a great way to fill in backstory and such. It’s a pity that I’ve only found out about the option now that I’m in Act II — I missed looking at the picture before. Ah well.

>flush toilet
There is a tinny clanking from within the toilet, but nothing happens.

>uh-oh
That’s not a verb I recognize.

This is also the first time I’ve ever had to fix my toilet in an IF game.

I’m the dog now? Okay, what do dogs do?

>lick myself
You can’t quite get your tongue to reach around to lick yourself.

You get another bonus point.

I think I just put a lump of lead ore in my reactor core. Is that good?

Rover, stop chewing on that space probe. Bad mining rig. No neural net reinforcement token.

Well, that was fun. I kind of flailed during the attack and only got half of the ways to kill invading dudes, but apparently it was enough. And according to the AMUSING, there’s some interesting stuff you can do with the command-line parser. And Rover does tricks? I missed so much!

But yeah, this is a pretty sweet game. The puzzles aren’t particularly puzzly, but they’re enough. It’s really the concept and plot that shines, and interface jazziness. Good show, full marks. If there’s a better one this year, I’ll be frankly surprised.

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