Rover’s Day Out: a review of IF Comp reviews

Well, it seems in my review, I wasn’t entirely fair to this game.  That was not deliberate:  I wasn’t playing the whole thing.

The game is happening on two levels, and apparently you’re informed of the second level stuff through the status bar.  Which, I was just about to write, doesn’t appear on my screen:  but I see just now that it does.  At the top of the window, up with all the old text that I’ve already read.

*I* don’t know… maybe I should replay this in the interest of fairness.  But I just typed in a few commands to work out the Mystery of the Vanishing Status Bar, and Oooohhhhh, Gooooddd the morning routine!

Maybe my problem is that I don’t have a morning routine.  Sometimes I fire up my laptop; sometimes I put on some clothes and go outside.  Certainly I don’t have a breakfast cereal commercial morning routine like this game portrays.  And isn’t the interesting thing about playing a ship AI the weirdness of getting into an alien, strangely-embodied consciousness?

Anyway, I’m not willing to go through the Morning Routine again; I’m burned out on it.  But I will add to my review that I missed the status bar, which was a vital piece of the game.

My objections to the game design still stand, though: I clearly don’t *need* the status bar, as I was able to get through the first two iterations of The Morning Routine without it — so it’s not giving me feedback in any meaningful way.  At least not during the interminable tutorial.  In fact, I just realized:  the reason I don’t like this game is that it’s yet another gauntlet, with forced actions and a stop-go play structure.

(Jeremy’s reply to my first _Rover_ review seems to hint that he thinks I’m hostile to the game.  I’m not, exactly; I’d be fine with it doing well in the Comp.  I just don’t want to deal with it.)

So, on to other people’s reviews:

Several people mention being delighted that this game allowed you to take a crap.  Required it, in fact.  Several mention liking the interaction between Janet and David — which is odd to me, because you’re not playing either of them.  So it’s a purely non-interactive interaction between two NPCs that you can’t inflence in any way.  Well, some people liked it.

Some of our geekier friends liked the fact that you could do UNIX commands.  (But didn’t we get the Blue Screen of Death early on?)  A few people were disappointed they couldn’t screw the other dog, either because it wasn’t implemented or because they couldn’t convey the idea to the parser — it’s not clear which.  (I confess to a little curiosity about what would happen if your dog-PC that was really a robotic space car managed to impregnante another robotic space car.  [“Free to a good home…” –?])

People who didn’t like it didn’t like The Morning Routine.  There were two main complaints:  One, too much repetition.  Two, no agency.  And also in there people sometimes said, hey, waking up and taking a dump and a shower isn’t that entertaining in real life.  Why am I micro-managing my way through someone else’s morning routine?

But most people really liked it.  A lot.  It’s startling to me.

I’m not seeing much of a pattern in the positive reports, largely because people enthuse but they don’t talk much about *why* they like the game.  Particularly, many of the reviews I’m finding are of the written-while-playing variety.  They don’t tend to be very analytical.

But this comment from Pissy Little is revealing:

I really liked the conceit of all the jargony technical stuff being reduced to simple everyday domestic business that anyone could understand.

–I wonder if this isn’t a kind of LCD effect, where people who don’t generally like science fiction (a preference against which is also mentioned quite a bit) suddenly find they can relate.  If so, the authors have found a kind of anti-technobabble, a small yellow leechlike Rosetta Stone that allows sci-fi to become meaningful to people who don’t have the inclination to parse out the difference between Niven and Geordi LaForge.

A symbol is a physicalization of an abstract process or an invisible state of affairs.  In a sense, then, _Rover’s Day Out_ uses an elaborate and dynamic symbol — the morning routine — to bring home to people the abstractions of a difficult-to-relate-to circumstances and logic surrounding fictional space travel.

I think that’s great, even though I didn’t personally enjoy the game.

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Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 10:38 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. After you get the BSOD (which I thought was clever), they talk about rewriting the system to run on a Unix variant. So, yes, that makes sense. I liked the Janet/David comments too; sure they weren’t interactive, just part of the responses to your reaching some point in-game, but they were fun.

    I thought the game was incredibly cleverly developed, but not good. I think halfway through somebody should’ve thought ‘you know what? this isn’t working’ – but with all that work already done, who’s going to take that decision.

    I also had a gripe with the puzzles in the end section you didn’t get to; maybe because I suck, but they could have made you do more of the necessary actions back in the ‘virtual world’ part so that you had a better idea what was possible.

    Playing with the system in this way is, I suppose, sometimes worthwhile, but I actually prefer games that don’t try to be so clever in that way. Where you’re reading a straightfoward story and reacting to it and taking part in it. Having to figure out how a virtual world relates to a real world so you can use virtual world actions to make real things happen – maybe that’s something you can only do in interactive fiction, maybe it makes for difficult puzzles, but I didn’t find it particularly fun.

    Or to go back to the Janet/David comments: when you were playing the game entirely in the virtual world, with just those comments to link you to the real-world actions, that was fine by me as an interesting concept (even if the premise was ridiculous). When the game starts giving you real-world descriptions but you still have to type virtual-world actions? Maybe big, maybe clever, not fun.

  2. I can’t entirely agree with the strength of your sentiment. I personally disliked the game; I played _Beta Tester_ for longer, which is remarkable, because _Beta Tester_ is probably a troll entry.

    But, a great number of people *liked* _Rover’s Day_, and the question is, why?

    Evaluating the game as good or bad, as substantial or lacking, as well-crafted or broken, are all important and valuable points of criticism. But these are not the aims of these reviews of reviews. The aim here is to look broadly at patterns of response, and to glean what it is about the games’ construction that causes people to respond in those patterns.

    In that way, I hope to get a better handle on what people value in games, which would ideally help people to write better games. And so, while I value everyone’s opinion of a game, it’s necessary for this project that I value everyone’s opinion *equally*. Including my own.

    _Rover_ is a game I thoroughly didn’t enjoy, but a lot of people did. Since a lot of people liked it, it must be a good game, albeit not to my taste. Since it’s a good game, I can’t agree with criticism as strong as yours.

    The question is, what is _Rover’s Day_ doing that reaches people? — Because when we understand that, we will be better able to reach people ourselves.


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