Rover’s Day Out review

This game is incredibly well programmed; it’s based on an interesting premise; but the authors forgot to make it fun, and I couldn’t get into it.

After the second agonizing time stepping an NPC through her morning routine — going potty, showering, cooking breakfast — in the most mind-numbing, deliberately unclued, guess-the-word fashion, when I was told from the walkthrough I’d have to do it yet again I stopped playing.

There’s all kinds of interesting stuff going on.  You’re accidentally eavesdropping on two other NPCs, who are talking about you.  But you can’t communicate with them, the tasks are forced, it’s chock full o’ mind-numbingly petty-yet-vitally-important, there’s no room to do anything other than the one thing the authors want you to do, and so I say for the second time this Comp:  What do you need me there for?

It’s not interactive.  I don’t have a say in it.

From the walkthrough, it looked like it got pretty interesting further on down the line.  And I’ve been holding off writing this review to see if I’d be willing to restore my saved game and go through THE MORNING ROUTINE yet again.  But I haven’t been.

–And it’s really too bad, because this appears to be one of the best *programmed* games in Comp 09.  And it’s really clever.  It has an interesting premise and, later on, a plot.  But I was at it for — hmm, I figured just as I’m writing this I’d sneak a peek into my saved file to see how long I’d been at it and I got, “Restore failed.” 

I think I was at it for 45 minutes, and I was still stuck in that goddamned morning routine.  *And* then the authors wanted me to do it yet a third time.  And I hasten to add that the morning routine isn’t interesting or fun in any way.  The most you can say is that it’s detailed — Oh, Boy, is it detailed! — and you get a different running commentary from the peanut gallery every time.  But oooohhhhh Goooooooooooddddddddd is it dull.

If you imagine a robot going through a morning routine — brush your teeth, all that — that you had to tell to move every individual limb and body part, that you were giving commands to by remote, that gave you unhelpful and on occasion misleading error messages, and that would refuse to do what you said if you didn’t give it the right commands — you have _Rover’s Day Out_, or at least the part of it that I saw.

Apparently this is a tutorial, with the idea that you use your toilet-flushing, dog-feeding, tooth-brushing skills later.  And that part may be really cool; I don’t know.

The lesson to take away from this is that your game is always happening *now*.  Just as you can’t tell a joke where you keep saying, “but wait, this next part you’re really going to love–“, and, “it gets really good in a minute–“, neither can you expect your players to stick around while you make them suffer through forced action after forced action.  Especially *unclued* forced action.

I think I’m a fairly patient player, but not when the authors are just making me jump through hoops.  The game has to be fun, or at least rewarding in some way, and it has to be fun *now.*

And also, the authors lost out on the chance to engage the player at an emotional level by making it transparently about a robot.  (Or something similar to a robot; I’m trying to keep this non-spoilerific).  We all know the computer can act like a robot.  It’s not interesting or meaningful.  If you get it to act like a human, even just a bit, then you’re on to something.

There was no sense of urgency or importance to what I was doing.  I resented being forced.  There was no story, just bits of exposition.  Certainly no conflict.  Two people who weren’t me started a love affair that I had nothing to do with.

In one way, I can relate to this game, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d do as a kid to make my morning routine more interesting.  “See, I’m not really brushing my teeth — I’m really destroying Cavity Creeps!”  Never actually had that one.  As you can see, I’ve lost the trick of making them.

But this game doesn’t make brushing one’s teeth interesting; rather, it makes combatting Cavity Creeps dull.

So, so far as I can tell, technically very well done, and certainly well thought-out in its premises and internal logic.  But there’s a terrible game design flaw, where the authors neglected to take into account the activity of the player’s intelligence.  (And emotions, for that matter.)  The reason guess-the-word puzzles are awful is that the player *understands* what is going on — in his mind the puzzle is done — but the game won’t let him move on until he phrases it “right.”

Puzzles, I think, ought really to test the player’s comprehension of something, and test it fairly, and once it’s established the player gets it, the game should move on.  Conversely, failure to solve the puzzle correctly should result in behavior that ends up being a hint.  Bad solutions should fail *interestingly.*

The authors here want to teach you something, but they’re going to do it all in one contiguous whack.  Failure simply fails to move the whack forward, and at the end, they say, “Hmm, do you have it yet?  Let’s do it all again!”

The proper way to design this game would have been to make failure interesting.  If you don’t rinse off after shampooing your hair, you get shampoo in your eyes and you stagger around blindly for the towel.  (If only there was a towel.)  If you leave your bod soaped up, you slip on the tile floor and fall on your butt.  If you don’t dry off, your flight suit-PJs stick to your body and leave you feeling oogie.

And then the player can tinker with every one.  Or ignore them and skip ahead to get his ass kicked when the plot happens.

I’d like to give a similar example about setting up fail-interestingly feedback loops around the player regarding emotional attachment, but I haven’t figured that one out yet.  If you have any ideas, email me, or post below.  But there are the old standbys of giving the PC interesting goals, an intriguing world-view, at least one emotional contradiction, and describing her (it) with vivid prose.

So:  _Rover_ is an excellently programmed, interestingly premised, poorly designed game that I found difficult, tedious, and unrewarding.  I’m impressed by the engineering, but let down by the product.  I think this game might actually do middlingly-well in the Comp — some folks just like good engineering, and this is *very* well engineered — and I would be glad to see that.  I’m just not going to play through that goddamn morning routine again.

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Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. If I were an IF bookie, I’d have this game at better than even money for being the winner. But, what do I know?

  2. Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

  3. Note: I revise my thoughts on this game somewhat here: http://wp.me/py3Iu-hL, after going through others’ reviews of the game.

  4. I read many of your blog posts. Good Job and very informative.

    Keep it up!

    Regards
    Tom


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