Thursday, October 22, 2009

[IF Competition] Rover's Day Out - Second Attempt

Before any spoiler space, let me say that if you play Rover's Day Out and you see longs strings of blue question marks... don't play on. Get another interpreter. In my case, the Debian package of Gargoyle did not work, and I had to use Windows Gargoyle through WINE. (Ironical, given the game's evident pro-UNIX attitude! This was not a spoiler.) Perhaps this was an issue with non-free fonts? Who knows... anyway, the game will make absolutely no sense of you do not play it with the right interpreter.

So, my second review, after player Rover's Day Out in the intended form.

Obviously, I'm going to be a lot more positive, since things made a lot more sense this time and were also less boring--since the commentary changed, at least you had something new to read. I also discovered a lot of nice touches, of which my favourite was when it turned out that "ls" and then "cd engineering" actually worked. That was awesome; now if only "nano [file name]" has been a synonym of "examine [object]"...

Still, I am deeply ambiguous about this game. Its originality, polish, technical competence, and evident enthusiasm are good, but the gameplay is incredibly frustrating.

I already vented my irritation at having to go through the motions of waking, showering, eating, feeding roger and going to the toilet not just once, or twice, but, if I counted correctly, four times. Why? That stuff isn't fun in real life (well, showering is), it is less fun in an interactive fiction, and is even less fun when I have to do it again and again. And again.

Then there is the sequence where I play Rover. This too proved an excercise in frustration, as I spent dozens of turns interacting with a female dog, getting more and more encouraging messages... but in the end, I could find no way to achieve any result. The walkthrough didn't help me here either.

Once I had brought the bone, I tuned into the Unix-interface. As I said, this was amusing; but it was also another opportunity for frustration. You have no idea how many times I have seen stuff like "You don't see that here, but you do remember...". Why is this not simply implemented as synonyms? More parser errors does not equal more fun, and in the end I found it all more disorienting than fun.

The worst part, though, was the docking sequence. I am expected to keep the invaders at bay as long as possible, by finding different ways to stop the ship from docking and to kill the droids. But five factors combine to make this, at least for me, absolutely impossible:
  1. The parser problems I already talked about. I am disoriented by my environment and cannot interact with it easily. This does not encourage me to fiddle with things and try to find solutions.
  2. I have no idea to what real actions the imagined actions translate. What happens when I press "shampoo", or when I put water in the water bowl? I have seen the descriptions, yes, but I cannot visualise what is going on and do not know if, for instance, shampoo is something that would prevent docking. No idea at all. This makes it impossible for me to judge the possible sequences of cause and effect.
  3. The game describes what is going on in the ship in technical terms that I do not know how to map onto the ship as I know it. The droid is doing all kinds of things, with all kinds of effects, but I have no idea what is going on. At best I knew where the drone was; but what was happening? Nope.
  4. There are no hints. Really, in this polished game, the authors did not provide hints. Why not?
  5. The walkthrough doesn't help here. It gives you one method for each, and for the rest you are on your own.
Result: as the game was telling me that things got worse and worse, I was in a disoriented state, with no idea what was going on and no idea what I could do about it or what I could even try to do about it. Very, very frustrating. And implementation problems didn't help here:
>put egg in bottle
That can't contain things.

>put egg in pan
You put the heavy helium sphere into the magnetic bottle.
In the end, I just typed "z" a lot until I got to the end, where you get to talk your way through what appeared to be an entirely linear conversation.

At least I managed to solve the final puzzle at the first attempt.

So, I see a lot of good things about this game. There is some real innovation going on here. The different levels are well done. The story isn't too good, but the delivery makes up for it. An impressive game.

On the other hand, I was first bored, then frustrated, then disoriented, then even more frustrated. Most of the time, I did not have a good (or even an interesting) time.

How to weigh these things against each other? I'll have to sleep on that.

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