IF Comp ’09 Addendum: Rover’s Day Out

It seems that there’s a lot of people that don’t like Rover’s Day Out as much as I do, so I’d like to take a moment to defend it — or at least, the specific aspect of it that people seem to particularly dislike. Spoilers after your brain on drugs.

That aspect being: The repetitiveness of The Morning Routine.

Yes, you have to cook the egg three times, and yes, the game is very particular about taking the proper steps to do so. But in the context of the story, this is very important, because although the steps are the same (OPEN FRIDGE. GET EGG. OPEN DRAWER. GET PAN. PUT PAN ON STOVE. etc.) what is actually happening is different each time, and the distinctions are important to the unfolding of the story.

The first time, you (the player, and perhaps also the PC) are not really aware of what’s happening behind the scenes. You’ve probably gathered that you’re some sort of AI and that your actions represent functions of the spaceship, as noted by the command line and David and Janet’s comments, but at this point you’re not really invested in that point of view yet. You’re just making breakfast. Perhaps as you do, you notice what the status line says about the ship’s functions, maybe not. But by the time you’ve finished in the bathroom, you’re meant to have figured out that what you’ve just done is power up the ship’s engines, and then land it. And you note, from D & J’s comments, that this was just a test run.

In the next sequence, you’re doing it all again, but this time it’s for real, and you know something’s gone wrong because of the way your drapes/heat shielding are gone. At this point you should be fully aware of the fact that you’re not just cooking breakfast, you’re landing the ship. For reals. And if it goes wrong, you’re dead. Despite the actions all being the same, they have new meaning. And when the toilet doesn’t work, it’s a real “oh shit” moment (ha ha see what I did there).

The third time you’re frying the egg, everything is obviously different. You’re not landing, you’re escaping. The ship’s systems are being described to you directly, although you have to use the old commands because your AI’s parser is trained to only accept the commands from the simulation interface. The repetition of the previous two breakfasts is your training for this moment, so that you know that the magnetic bottle (frying pan) is inside the reactor core (drawer). So, again, the mood and meaning of this breakfast is distinct from that of the previous two.

And as for the parser being particular about the way you do things, this too is obviously mimesis: you are a computer program. You have to do things in orderly steps, because firstly, that’s how computer programs work, and secondly, that’s how the ship’s systems work: you have to take the magnetic bottle out of the reactor core before you put it on the… thermal coupler, or whatever it was, and you have to do that before you put the heavy hydrogen sphere in.

So, in my opinion, a given reviewer’s boredom with the showering-and-egg-cooking process is not a failure of the game, but rather a failure of the player to get into the story. I suppose one could argue that that itself is a failure of the game, but that’s outside the scope of what I’m prepared to talk about here.

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