Of the countless worlds and wonders that hold our fascination, few of them have captured, and in turn, galvanized our imaginations so much as that cold, black maw yawning on us from above: space. And why shouldn't it? It's fathomless, it begets over a billion hypothetical realities and counting, and it alone bears the emptiness required to entertain guests as brilliant as stars. The prospect of exploring all that nothingness is a bit daunting, raising some interesting questions that were at one time considered the purview of science fiction writers. Thankfully, there's now a work of interactive fiction that's got some of the answers: Rover's Day Out, Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman's winning entry in this year's IF Comp 2009.
The narrative begins with an itsy-bitsy clue that not all will be as it seems, followed by your character waking up in a fairly unadorned abode. From there, it's up to you as to what you do and how you go about it, because I can't say too much here without spoiling details. Know that your entire interactive fiction arsenal will be necessary (LOOK, EXAMINE, etc.) in order to proceed; some other unorthodox commands are useful for flavor information, but the nature of the orders you're expected to give are rarely too out of the ordinary.
Something that will quickly become quite apparent is the strange dialogue overlapping your actions, comments being made on your every move. Who are these strange watchers, and what could be their purpose? Why is it they seem to take interest in your performance of the most mundane tasks? And why do they consistently use really, really big words? Answers to all of these questions, as well as some of those loftier ones about space exploration will be answered, not to mention a couple others if you're lucky.
Analysis: Right off the bat, it's clear the writers aren't a couple of science-fiction lightweights. The more tidbits you find on the setting, the more you realize these guys did their homework (or read their Asimov, anyway). The superscience here all holds up quite well, and while sometimes it can get a little lost in the outlandish jargon that starts getting thrown around (particularly in the endgame section), the technology of it all begins to make sense the more you play.
And play you must, for I shall warn you now: the game will seem redundant at the start, once you figure out what you have to do and start the wheels turning. There's a decent chunk of the game where you'll be retracing steps and re-enacting commands, but please, ye faithful i-fictioneers, be patient! Things really get interesting the deeper you let yourself get drawn in, and there's plot turns and twists aplenty for an adventure that's relatively short.
Well, okay, the scope of the game isn't gigantic, as in someone with a walkthrough in front of them could shotgun through it at a quick clip, but some of the puzzles might require some good old-fashioned trial and error, while others are time-dependent and others happen in the midst of tension-wrought scenes. That's right, no resting on your haunches for you. This is a piece of interactive fiction that'll force you to think on the fly, think in terms you may not be familiar with, and do a whole lot of thinking in general. Truly, a worthy top contender of this year's competition.
Download Rover's Day Out (Mac/Windows/Linux, 1.7MB, free)
To play this game, you'll need both the game file and an interpreter. Download Rover's Day Out from the Interactive Fiction Archive followed by an interpreter for your OS: Gargoyle for Windows, Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.