Rover's Day Out

Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman (2009)

The first game that I had a chance to play this year was Rover's Day Out, and after playing Snake Time! last year I thought this had something to do with dogs. I guess I should've read the blurb, because it turned out to be a really great science-fiction game.

The premise behind the game is cool. You play a virtual program (referred to as the ACU) in a simulation that has a deeper impact than it seems at first. Also, in order to operate the ACU you use a simple interpreter creating a nice explanation for the IF parser. Then there are the two programmers that wrote the simulation. They imbue it with life as they wisecrack about some of the stuff you do, giving the beginning of the game a great tone as you go through a lot of repetitive actions.

This piece uses the same play area over and over again, waking up in an apartment, but I don't think that the authors used any of the strengths here to their advantage. Like in A Mind Forever Voyaging the simulation gets darker as the story progresses, maybe this one could degrade because of the photon state of the Flosix/OS. That way little things could be different and it wouldn't feel like you're stuck in the exact same area, doing the same things over and over again.

The game finally opens up in the second act, giving the player a chance to move around and see a few more things, but the goals here aren't clear at all. You actually change characters, but a lot of stuff isn't explained. I didn't even know I had changed until doing a few things and then looking at myself. There weren't any hints here like I had become accustomed to in the first part. Lost, I turned to the walkthrough. What I found there the game should've dispensed -- piecemealed maybe, but it was essential to play. Something needs to help smooth over that transition, with a proper amount of hinting towards what needs to be done next.

One thing I had a lot of problems with was the plunger puzzle. It's in some weird position that has to be random each time, because when I followed the walkthrough to try and solve it, the directions didn't work. I played around with it, tried a few things and got it to work, but after solving it I didn't really know what I had done. Then after running through the simulation a few more times I figured it out, but I'm thinking that better clueing would've have helped out here too. The objective just wasn't clear enough.

I scored this game a 9. I feel the writing is wonderful with few blemishes, and the implementation is rock solid. I think that some of the puzzles and a few others things could have been better clued, but besides that, I found this a great game that is a must play for Comp '09. I expect it to place in the top 5.