(I jumped a few years back to another IFComp. This is 2009’s winner. Rover’s Day Out - Details (ifdb.org))
(warning: while I do not spoil any specific puzzles, this review talks about the underlying weirdness, for lack of a better word, of the game)
The start of this game threw me into a wholly unexpected situation. From the (quickly skimmed) blurb I had taken away that Rover’s Day Out would be a space adventure of sorts. Instead I got dropped in a fairly generic “my crappy apartment” intro. Complete with an annoying alarm clock waking me up!
That is… Until I started noticing things…
Most obviously, who are those people talking about me as if I were in another room. Am I? I sure can’t seem to talk to them or interact with them in any way.
And… What’s happening with the status bar? I’m used to glancing up there for confirmation of which room I’m in. This is different though… Some kind of technobabble straight from Enterprise’s ship’s computer. It’s responding to the boring around-the-house chores I’m doing though…
Wait… There are those voices again, talking about me in the bathroom. One’s being a prude about looking at me. But no-one’s here…
And then the whole thing collapses when I tried to turn on the dryer.
Rover’s Day Out is a 2009 game. It feels older though. This kind of confusing layering of player/PC personas reminds me a lot of the turn of the century experiments with the specifics of the IF medium.
The author uses the an AI-simulation to create a rift between the PC’s perception, which consists of a simulated recreation of the morning ritual of one of the designers, and the engineers/designers who judge the AI-protagonist’s performance from outside, in the real world.
During the game, the player shifts somewhere between these levels of perception and knowledge. From being confronted with a domestic breakfast situation, I quickly latched on to the simulation context through cues from the game. My knowledge becomes greater than that of my PC. The commands I give still need to be approriate in the PC’s perceived reality however. This produces an alienating feeling of both inhabiting the PC and hovering above it. When the simulation-protocols are partially lifted during the endgame, this alienation is enhanced by an even greater disconnect between PC-perception and valid commands.
The fact that I, the player, am able to overhear the engineers talking about my, the PC’s, performance broadens the gap even more, even while I’m consciously striving to bridge that gap and stay connected with my PC.
There are a few points where the partial overlap between player and PC is less than perfectly recognized in the game’s responses, and sometimes I had a hard time discerning just what level of reality the description I was reading was about. Once I fully grokked the one-on-one relation between simulated and real objects though, the puzzles clicked quite easily and elegantly.
Confusing in a very good way. Must play.