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About the Story
An adventure with time-travelling teapots!
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Roger’s Day Off wants to be a lark. A parser-choice hybrid, it has an entertainingly zany premise (use a time machine to do some historical tourism and collect a series of MacGuffins disguised as a tea service – the time machine is also a teapot, with a TARDISy bigger-on-the-inside thing going on) and puzzle-focused gameplay that doesn’t take its characters or situations too seriously. Add a fun authorial voice with some jokes that actually land – there’s a Cloak of Darkness riff that made me chuckle – and competently-done 3d images to liven things up, and you’d think it has all the ingredients it needs to realize its ambitions.
Sadly, though, I did not manage to have a good time with Roger’s Day Off. Some of this is due to awkwardness in the bespoke system, an underdeveloped world, and the way the heretofore-lackadaisical plot comes to the fore in the endgame. But largely it’s because the puzzles feel like they’re trying to check off as many of the crimes itemized in Ron Gilbert’s Why Adventure Games Suck essay as possible. There are instant deaths – including many puzzles that require dying to get the info you need to progress – puzzles that require out of game knowledge, and puzzles that seem to either throw logic out the window, or somehow invert it. Fortunately there are easily-accessible hints, and I can see a player getting some enjoyment out of the stronger parts of the game by using them early and often, but attempting to play the game straight was for me an exercise in frustration.
I’m going to be spoilery with examples of the kinds of puzzle shenanigans the game gets up to, so fair warning if despite everything you do want to try to flail your way through. Here are some of the worst offenders:
* At one point you meet a character – the concierge in a hotel – who asks your name. If you don’t lie and tell her your uncle’s name instead of your own, you’ll hit a game over (see, later on you find out she’s an undercover time police agent, and your time machine is registered under his name).
* Later on in that same 1920s sequence, there’s a drinking game where you need to maintain your faculties as long as possible and the solution is to drink the highest-alcohol stuff first, which is uh not my experience of how this works.
* Once you succeed in the drinking game, you make friends with a time criminal and have to try to get access to some contraband; you do this by suggesting he hide it anywhere except his boots (like, you need to click every other dialogue option and leave that one un-lawnmowered), and then he’ll hide it in his boots.
* Speaking of dialogue, almost the entire pirate ship sequence is a long conversation where just about every node has one good option and the rest instafail you, with no clear signposting on what strategies will work (OK, there’s one inventory puzzle that’s kind of fun).
* In the far future sequence, there’s a puzzle involving finding a FORTRAN bug – though at least the game has the courtesy to provide a link to a forum thread explaining the bug and providing the fix, making this puzzle either forbiddingly hard or completely trivial.
There are a few good puzzles in here – some inventory-based ones require you to do some present-day shopping and share the largesse with folks in history, which is entertaining. But for the most part it feels like progress requires either reading the authors’ minds or being OK with a whole whole lot of trial and error gameplay that’s at odds with the breezy vibe the game seems to be going for.
I found the game’s custom-designed system exacerbated these issues, since it’s fiddly enough to make repetition annoying. In principle I like hybrids between choice and parser approaches, since they can offer convenience and prompting via the choices while providing scope for exploration and surprise via the parser side of things. This one – dubbed “Strand” – mostly managed to do that, but there’s some sand in the gears. For one thing, the parser side of things feels underdeveloped, with very few pieces of scenery or places where poking around is rewarded, or even possible. On the flip side, though, most puzzles require typing commands that aren’t listed as options, so you can’t play just with the mouse. I also ran into some performance issues that slowed things down and made precise clicking harder, and had to manually scroll the game window down after most actions because the automatic scroll-down happened before the images loaded and pushed the last pieces of text off-screen.
All this frustration is a shame, because the range of settings provides some fun variety, and the gentle, idiosyncratically British humor on display in the opening is something I really enjoy (it’s in the same ballpark as Christopher Merriner’s games, which I love). Occasionally the it’s-all-just-a-laugh approach to worldbuilding feels a bit too slapdash – in the section where you travel to Assyria, which is basically ancient Iraq, you’re introduced to Sultana (erm) Nefertiti (double erm) who tasks you with killing a monster (erms again) who goes by Anubis (erm, hopefully not the real one?), and if forced to name a single element the disparate times and places have in common, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with something other than “ladies with pneumatic boobs” – but on the whole it’s pleasant to do some historical tourism and enjoy the jokes. If only the puzzles had been just as low-key!
A time-travel romp through multiple eras, modelled on Magnetic Scrolls games. And, like those games, the puzzles suffer from a degree of broken logic and inconsistency. It does have a useful hint system: be aware you can type "help" multiple times for more detailed hints. The (overly busy) UI presents a a multiple-choice interface, but also a text prompt, as well also clickable in-line hyperlinks and (overly big) images. Often, the command you need is not presented as a choice, so you will need to type at the text prompt at times. Story-wise, this is some wacky, absurd stuff, but well aware of it's own utter ridiculousness, and pretty fun as a result. There are more exclamation marks in this game than in every other Spring Thing entry put together! Contains plenty of hot chicks promising to "reward" the PC, like a porn game, but without any follow-through so it ends up closer to a very tame Leisure Suit Larry. A sequel is teased at the end: I think I'm on board.
This game uses the Strand engine, which is the same engine (or a related one) used to put the Magnetic Scrolls games on the web. It features a parser but most interactions are through choices. The majority of non-choice interactions are typing the name of an object to give or WAITing. It features numerous images as well. For me, the images were larger than the screen size, requiring some scrolling that obscured some of the text.
This game reminds me of Steve Meretzky games, like Leather Goddesses of Phobos or his later graphical games. You play as a nerdy programmer who runs into tons of women, all of whom look like 'sexy' Halloween costumes (sexy pirate, sexy robot, etc.). There are references to sexbots and wanting to kiss the nerdy programmer, so it has a lot of that 'nerd gets the girls' vibe from 80's and 90's films and games. It has a shop called '9/11'instead of '7/11', which, I thought, 'Is that a September 11 reference?', but I thought probably not. But then the clerk there is named Abdul, which could be a pretty weird Sep. 11 reference, a stereotype about shop owners, or just a coincidence.
Gameplay consists of warping to different time periods and solving puzzles that are mostly about puzzling out patterns through trial and error. There are a lot of combinations and the puzzles seem designed to take some time, and I ended up using the walkthrough fairly soon.
The themes and messages didn't really gel with me, and I would have preferred a little smaller pictures to give the text more room. I appreciate the technical design that went into the game and can imagine several people who I think would enjoy it significantly.
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