Today is the start of the 15th annual Interactive Fiction Competition. Yes interactive fiction, aka, text adventures. Get ye flask and all that rot. There’s a large community that are making some really interesting work. There’s also a lot of amateurish crap. The comp is the big event of the year. It’s were genius and crap mix it up, rough it out, and like the thunderdomes of yore, only the best survive. I haven’t judged a comp in about 5 years. This year’s different. This year I have a blog to fill.
Today: Rover’s Day Out
Spoilers after the jump.
I’m playing through the entries in random order, but I did peruse the titles before starting, and… well… they really didn’t fill me with much hope. Nothing stood out and there seems to be a lot of generic treasure hunts this year. One entry, Rover’s Day Out, suggested a game where you play as a dog, chasing cats, and looking for food. Didn’t sound appealing. Lesson learned. Never judge a piece of interactive fiction by its title. This game is nothing like what I had in mind.
In the future, colonists on Mars have succeeded from Earth. One of Earth’s deep space probes has crashed on a nearby planet and contains information about alien life. Nearby being 34 light years away. Both planets have claimed the probe and so it’s a race to see who can get there first. Mars has developed a hyperdrive that can make the trip quickly but no biological matter can survive the jump. So they’ve created an AI to run the ship. Due to the time constraint they weren’t able to program it with all the knowledge to operate on a technical level. Instead they’ve created a simulation based on the mind of its creator, Janice. By running though Janice’s morning routine (getting up, eating breakfast, showering) the AI is actually performing operations on the ship. You play as this AI. The rover of the title is Janice’s dog who, in the simulation is a dalmatian, is a planetary ROVER robot tasked with retrieving the probe.
Of course none of this is explained to you. The great strength of the writing is that thought you’re dropped in the middle of this confusing situation it never feels confused. I was able to work out the backstory and setting fairly quickly. Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman have done an excellent job with hinting the truth but never outright explaining it. Games set in an apartments, strangely, is one IF’s sub-genres. It’s really nice to see a game that subverts this setting.
If the game has a fault it’s that things tend to get railroaded at the end. I felt the final solution was a little too obvious (though the documentation states that there others) and the last conflict too scripted without the freedom of the rest of the game. The ending didn’t live up to the rest either, though I was very happy to have completed the task. The ending also promises a sequel and I would be happy to see more stories in this setting.
I didn’t come across any bugs or errors. The game was very well polished and the situation very engaging. The writing was clever with a few stand out lines. My favorite was “Meanwhile, you slowly stand up, recapitulating millions of years of evolution in a few seconds.” Nice. Rover also gets bonus points for being the only game where typing “poop” is required to win. I hope the rest of the games live up to this strong start. I know they won’t, but here’s wishing.