Saucers of Mud

November 10, 2009

IFComp: Rover’s Day Out and Grounded in Space

Filed under: IFComp — matt w @ 11:13 pm
Tags:

This is the last of my IFComp reviews before I write a couple of wrap-up posts! Unless I feel inspired go back to one of the games I’ve skipped and write up a review of it, which isn’t going to happen. These are text-adventure games, arty to various degrees, meant to be be judged in under two hours of play. The games can be found here. My reviews will be categorized under “IFComp.”

This is a joint review of “Rover’s Day Out,” which can be downloaded here, and “Grounded in Space,” which can be downloaded here and might be playable online here if you’ve got the right plug-ins, which I apparently don’t. (When I click on the link my browser asks if I want to download something.)

If you want to download these games and play them, you’ll need an interpreter. Some things about interpreters can be found here. I use Zoom for the Mac when I’m not playing online, and in fact the other big Mac interpreter, Spatterlight, doesn’t work for Rover’s Day Out.

So I’m reviewing these together, partly because I want to finish my reviews, but also partly because they have some thematic similarities. Some of which go back to my rant about how I like games that teach you to play them. The very short version is that Rover’s Day Out does a fantastic job of that, and you should play it (though not everyone liked it as much as I did); and Grounded in Space doesn’t do such a great job of that, and I eventually found myself hitting the walkthrough in a big way, and didn’t feel like it was my fault.

About Rover’s Day Out; most of what I have to say will be spoily, and will be accordingly under the spoiler space. But let’s just say, this is a game in which you wake up in your bedroom and go through a completely unremarkable morning routine, multiple times. And it made me like it. (Though I’m more likely to like it than many other people, because I like doing things in IF that I know how to do. I can get into doing mundane things if there’s something to see while you do them. I enjoyed playing viviscape even though it’s unfinished, in that there isn’t really any gameplay or story, just scenery.

[BTW if you’re interested in Sophie Houlden’s work you should try Linear RPG, which is funny, or Boxgame, which is a way cool mindtwisty jump-and-explore-and-have-gravity-change-on-you game which incidentally is great at teaching you to play it, to the extent that I never had to look at instructions to see what the different elements did. And if you want a jump-and-explore game that’s finished and has a story, play Nevermore 3, which is cute and beautiful and charming and has an aardvark-like creature saying “Too right, mate.” [UPDATE: And whose game engine is by Sophie Houlden, probably the same engine from Viviscape, which is probably why the one reminded me of the other. Huh.]]

Rover’s Day Out also has some very funny meta-commentary about IF in it. Which I won’t spoil even in the spoiler section, but I think the very banality of what you’re doing there helped the commentary get its purchase.

Grounded in Space, while it shows promise in a lot of ways, has the problem that its long introductory sequence doesn’t teach you what you ought to be doing. Now, before I go on, I should say that this game was primed to get an unfair reception from me in many ways. It was the last game I played, when I was a little burned out on the competition; and I played it mostly because I had heard there was one particularly annoying puzzle and wanted to see what it was like. That puzzle — well, parts of it weren’t better than I expected, and I’ll have more to say about that below the spoiler space, but it took me a lot of effort just to get there, partly because some of what went before it took too much trial and error. And then the puzzle seemed to come out of the blue. I got the impression that the author had a couple of neat puzzles in mind, but put too much other stuff around it — so that by the time you’d chewed through the crust, as it were, it was hard to tell what the filling tasted like.
S
P
O
I
L
E
R
So here’s what Rover’s Day Out does, and I really think you should at least start playing it before reading on, because it’s a cool effect to realize what it’s up to, and the opening at least isn’t difficult to play through at all. You’re a woman going through her daily routine; but you’re also an AI guiding a spaceship through a landing. The actions in your routine correspond to steps in the process of landing the spaceship. And you have to do the banal routine several times, because eventually you’ll have to do it with various kinds of mangled feedback, and then think about what’s actually going on.

Now, I actually did hit a point of frustration in this game — at a certain point, the action shifts, and you have to do a lot of things you haven’t practiced. And maybe it’s just me, but at that point I didn’t really have a clear enough sense of what it was I could do to do anything besides thrash around. Perhaps I should’ve been paying closer attention to the status messages at the beginning, but that would’ve broken the flow of my gameplay at the time. Here the lack of a hint system really hurt — I hope the authors are planning to add one later (and honestly, it’s no surprise if they didn’t have time). Also at one point I got the default message “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” when it totally was. (Jenni had a great line about how it always is, you just aren’t using the right verb, but I can’t find it right now. Sorry! I thought it was in your review of this game.)

That said, at the end of the game there was a great moment when I could use what I’d learned to solve the final puzzle. So in the end it had taught me to play. Also, the frustrating moment came after I’d been playing for two hours or so, which means that (a) it doesn’t get counted in my final score for the game, and (b) the game gets full marks for keeping me enthralled for the two hours.

In short, basically I agree with Jeremy. Wait, I really can’t say “in short” unless I’m agreeing with Emily, can I? Yes, I realize I’m in no position to make last-name jokes.

There is one final disturbing unintended implication, which I’m going to put below another spoiler space after I talk some about Grounded in Space.

As I said, I had picked up that there was a geometry puzzle people didn’t like, and I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten about what Victor said, which is that there were also non-interactive cutscenes and guess-the-verb sequences. In particular, I thought the opening (which basically consists of eight mandatory z’s) didn’t add anything. It could have been been done better as a flashback from the space deck — “Grounded! In SPACE! Just because I shot my rocket at my mom’s garden!”

You know, when I put it that way, I really think Conrad is onto something in the interpretation he puts forth in Victor’s comments. Anyway. (Incidentally I didn’t have a problem with the plot not making sense — we’re talking space swashbuckling, not sense!)

Then there’s some interaction with the computer, which is actually reasonably effective at teaching you how to use it. But. The mining sequence is pretty frustrating. I think this must have been a miscalculation on the author’s part; I get the idea that it wasn’t supposed to be so hard to finish the mining sequence, but I tried a lot of different formulations before “prime probe” worked at one step, and I gather that I may have been the only person who actually guessed that verb without hitting the walkthrough. A problem is that, though it’s cool to integrate the help into the game as the computer, the computer doesn’t give you enough help. It didn’t feel like that should’ve been a big puzzle; the PC wasn’t going to go off without knowing how to start the mining process, or learn it from the computer.

The conversation with the pirate was also frustrating — from the walkthrough it seemed like the author expected you to hit topics in a certain order, but when I didn’t hit the topics in that order it seemed as though the conversation went wobbly. Maybe it’d be better to keep the conversation shorter — maybe have him volunteer information about the Wildsmiths instead of having you ask, so there were only one or two topics. And so it might be clearer that there was no way to get him not to come after you.

Then it seemed as though there was a timed death puzzle — have I mentioned that I hate timed death puzzles? — where, well, I wasn’t sure what I could do to avert it. (I tried putting on the spacesuit and ejecting, and got locked in by the punishment protocol. Hmph.) And I honestly have no idea how you avert it. Is it that, once you reach the engine room, the timer stops? It certainly needs to, given how fiddly the engine room puzzle is, but I’m not sure why it does, and I’m not sure how I know that I need to get to the engine room. It’s very very possible that I missed a clue there. [UPDATE: Looking around, it seems to me that approximately nobody else had the same problem as I did: once the pirate decided to shoot at me, I had no idea where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do. So I probably missed a clue.]

The geometry puzzle — I did want to like it. And I had a reasonable time figuring out the way to solve it with four reflectors. Only then did I see that the fourth reflector was offline and I had to start over. And here, well, maybe it isn’t the kind of puzzle you can portray in IF. The reflectors weren’t pictured in the illustration and couldn’t be inspected directly, which made it hard to envision exactly where they were or what angle they need to be at. Also, if a beam starts out going east and reflects off to the south-west and then to the east again, in a Z pattern, I’d describe it as being reflected at a 45 degree angle twice, because each adjacent pair of rays forms a 45 degree angle. But I think the game describes the ray as reflected at a 225 degree angle and then at a 0 degree angle, because it takes east as an absolute 0 degree angle and measures all distances from there. Which is probably easier to code, but also confusing.

Oh, and “third dial” should be implemented as a way of referring to the third dial, which is so described in the text; I had to do a little guessing to get “angle dial” or “theta dial.” [UPDATE: Also, though I understand if this isn’t what the author wants, I think it might be nice to leave the reflectors set up in the position that would work if the fourth reflector were working, and have the fourth reflector be broken instead of offline. That’d have helped me envision how the reflectors work from the beginning. Plus it would make sense from a plot point — the engine is down because the fourth reflector is broken, but the rest are in place.

All this made implementing the solution overly fiddly. With a bit of help from the walkthrough I figured out the solution I needed; then I spent so much time trying to figure out the correct angles, and being confused by the reflection problem I mentioned, that eventually I decided I’d just be happier following the walkthrough the rest of the way. I’ve probably carped too much here, but I think the game had trouble with its ambitions. Interactive conversation sequences are hard to program effectively, and having to do an open-ended conversation and an open-ended get-to-the-right-location-before-you-die before getting to the puzzles that (I think) the author really cared about drained most of the patience I had stored up for the game. He should definitely keep doing IF, but maybe try something a little simpler.
S
I
L
L
Y

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

S
P
A
C
E
In Rover’s Day Out, if you get the good ending, the head of Marscorp or whatever it’s called is going to be someone who doesn’t wash her hands after she poops. Gross.

Advertisements

1 Comment »

  1. […] raised in the course of the Comp. Links go to my reviews. I’ll explain the scale below. Rover’s Day Out: 10 Resonance: 9 Byzantine Perspective: 9 The Duel in the Snow: 8 Interface: 8 The Duel that […]

    Pingback by IFComp Scores « Saucers of Mud — November 12, 2009 @ 6:37 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: