Waiting for the Day Train by Dee Cooke (2021)

The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

I would have expected a game with this much crack to be a little more amped up than this.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

I want to save the day! Literally.

My Verdict:

It’s a dreamy, artistic triumph with a few nonfatal flaws.

Game Information

Game Type: Adventuron

Author Info: Dee Cooke is a British text adventurer, writer, and editor. She has written a number of Adventuron games which can be played on Itch.io . She blogs at Spirit of Dee, tweets on Twitter, and posts photos and art to her Instagram .

Download and Online Play Link: https://dee-cooke.itch.io/waiting-for-the-day-train

Other Games By This Author: Barry Basic and the Quick Escape, Goblin Decathlon, The Cave of Hoarding, and more!

Introductions are vitally important in interactive fiction, perhaps even too much so. Players count on the opening text to set the vibe and give a glimpse of the story that is about to unfold. I’m certainly guilty of discounting and dismissing games too early when they failed to grab my attention right from the start — it’s just easier to quit a game when your expectations haven’t been raised yet. On the other hand, when a game has a great introduction it’s tough to set it aside even if the rest of the game doesn’t quite measure up to the start.

Waiting for the Day Train absolutely nails its intro. The first thing you see in the game is moody, original art and thrilling, enigmatic text that tells you about a world ruled by angry spirits who seem strangely obsessed with keeping you from catching the day train. Is it all punctuated by mysterious, evocative background music? Of course it is! It’s honestly one of the most artistic and immediately involving game introductions I’ve ever seen. I knew right away that this was the 2021 ParserComp game I wanted to review first. The intro was seriously just that good.

In practice, Waiting for the Day Train is a game with two distinct moods. The verbose, richly drawn intro gives way to a sparse, more traditional text adventure that involves familiar activities like mucking about with rocks and sticking your hand into possibly moist, gaping crevices. I know little of day train despising spirits, but rocks and crevices are my jam. I won’t lie and say I didn’t feel a little disappointed at the game’s sudden change in approach because the beginning was so intriguing, but I think I can understand what Dee Cooke was going for. This work doesn’t tell a story so much as it evokes one. As a player, you know you need to get on the day train and avoid the spirits. It is revealed along the way that this is the last time anyone in this area will see the day…it’s going to be eternal night from here on out. Why? I haven’t the foggiest and it isn’t explained anywhere, but it does underscore the fact that getting on the day train is indeed a damned good idea. It would be cool to know the whole story of just what is going on, but if Dee revealed everything the game wouldn’t feel as mysterious and dreamlike as it does now. Though I generally prefer complete stories to mysterious fragments, Waiting for the Day Train works as a beautiful, intriguing art piece which doesn’t even try to offer us all the answers. You’ll have to fill in parts of the story yourself, but that’s not always such a bad thing. The way the game transitions between moods is quite well done. Drawings give way to photos; the music changes; the paragraphs shrink.

This game incorporates a clock which starts at 10:30 AM and ends at 12 PM when the day train arrives. It’s a short game: some actions take multiple game minutes, and each play session won’t take much longer than fifteen minutes in real time. If, unlike me, you actually know what you’re doing, you can reach the end game quite quickly with a lot of time left to spare. Otherwise, the limited amount of time you have to solve the game gives it most of its difficulty. I have to confess to not being a huge fan of move limits and timers. I’m someone who likes to play IF at a leisurely pace that gives me plenty of time to look at everything and mess around. That’s what makes game worlds seem vivid and real to me. So, as you can predict, my first couple playthroughs ended with me running out of time. Damnable clock! I freely admit I shrank under the time pressure…I think I even had a Varicella flashback at one point complete with all the night sweats and projectile diarrhea that necessarily entails. Ultimately after a number of attempts and a fair bit of save scumming, I did muddle through, and in retrospect I wouldn’t call the puzzles exactly difficult. Unintuitive to me at places, sure, but not objectively difficult. One I found tricky mostly because I had tried the winning solution in a different (incorrect) place and it hadn’t worked there for reasons that still don’t entirely make sense to me. Perhaps the lesson is just that location is extremely important. That’s certainly something I’ve found to be true during my sundry adventures in public nudity. For instance, at art museums you can pretend to be a statue while at mosques everyone (and I do mean everyone) seems to be quite angry and unappreciative all the time. It’s the subtle distinctions between similar places that always throw me off, but clearly location is very important.

I haven’t played a lot of Adventuron games before this, but I was favorably impressed with Dee’s implementation here. The parser even handled a four word input at one point like a champ. A lack of synonyms is my main parser-related complaint. For instance, the row of stones can’t be referred to as ROW — CROSS ROW won’t work and X ROW gives a generic description different from X STONES. At another point in the game, there are at least three reasonable verbs that would do all pretty much the same thing, but only one works. The most confusing parser mishap occurs at the stone outcrop. You get different descriptions if you type X STONE or X OUTCROP, but only one description tells you about something very important in the room which I found a little odd. One thing Adventuron clearly handles very well is multimedia. The music, sound effects, and pictures are all flawlessly incorporated into the game and play a big part in making it memorable. You might notice that Dee has two versions of the game available: both are played in the browser like all Adventuron games, but one can be downloaded for offline play. The big difference is the offline version doesn’t have the photos or background music that the online version does. The offline version has all the drawings (plus a placeholder drawing instead of the photos) and some cool retro sound effects. I recommend you play them both like I did. I’m glad Dee offers both versions since online games that use external resources tend to break over time. We’re going to want Waiting for the Day Train to live forever so we need that offline version!

Simple Rating: 7/10

Complicated Rating

Story:: 6/10

Writing: 7/10

Playability: 7/10

Puzzle Quality: 5/10

Parser Responsiveness: 6/10

Special Ratings For This Game:

Art: 8/10 (Sure, it’s a text adventure, but the bleak, otherworldly, and consistently intriguing art is one of my favorite aspects of the game.)

Mean Mother Trucker by Bitter Karella (2021)

The Little Ugly, Evil Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

You’d be bitter if you were annexed by Russia too. I still feel pretty salty myself about Putin seizing my right toe in a daring nighttime raid last year. Fuckin’ Putin. He doesn’t even really need it because it’s way too big for his childlike body.

The Little Nice, Handsome Guy On My Shoulder’s Verdict:

I enjoyed the nontraditional romance, the diversity, and the inclusion, but I’m worried about the armadillos and the over-caffeinated pup. Won’t someone please think of the armadillos?

My Verdict:

It captures the seedy atmosphere of a truck stop perfectly and has great characters, but the game design and the parser need a little work to say the least.

Game Information

Game Type: Inform (Glulx)

Author Info: Bitter Karella is a text adventure writer and artist who frequently enters games into the Interactive Fiction Competition, Spring Thing, and Ectocomp and has multiple IF Comp top ten finishes under his belt. He describes herself on Twitter as a genderfluid transvestite goblin himbo who uses both masculine and feminine pronouns. Millennials, amirite? If you guessed this means I’ll be using both sets of pronouns to refer to our intrepid author in an extremely confusing manner throughout this review, you are correct, sir! You can check out Bitter Karella’s games and art over at her itch.io.

Download Link: https://www.springthing.net/2021/stories/MeanMotherTrucker/MeanMotherTrucker.zip

Other Games By This Author: Poppet, The Curious Incident at Blackrock Township, Santa Carcossa Nights, and many more.

In Mean Mother Trucker, you play a mean mother trucker named Ester who is preparing to navigate her big rig down the treacherous Devil’s Taint, a particularly hazardous mountain road. You’ve arrived in the small town of Desecration, a one horse, zero armadillo, one diner, one gas station, and one convenience store town. Desecration has everything a trucker needs to get back on the road, but it’s also home to someone who’s very special to you: Flo, a waitress at the local diner. You might be a tough, three hundred pound trucker, but underneath the fat and muscle lies a sensitive heart that still yearns for love despite three failed marriages. Are you a bad enough dudette to finally win Flo’s heart and convince her to run away with you?

MMT does a bunch of things very well. It does a fantastic job of capturing the seedy but not entirely unfriendly atmosphere of a truck stop — Desecration is technically a tiny town, but it feels more like an oversized truck stop. The characters are memorable and lots of fun to interact with. Helpfully, they tend to be gossipy so you can pretty much ask any character about any other character among other topics and get useful information. An interesting cross section of people inhabit Desecration, including a prostitute with a sweet tooth, a lean hitchhiker who hates the local police, and a religious but extremely horny biker gang. The love story is light and charming, and Bitter Karella is an entertaining writer with an excellent sense of humor.

Ester herself is an interesting protagonist and the reason the game got the Best LGBT Characters ribbon in Spring Thing 2021. That may not be as prestigious as it sounds because Spring Thing gives out a lot of ribbons each year, including Best Lil Fluffy Wuffy Dog in 2021, but I thought Bitter Karella took an interesting approach to developing his main character. We find out Ester is transgender only in passing — you’ll see a reference to her dead name in the truck paperwork if you happen to examine it (it’s not needed to solve any puzzle) and a reference to hormone therapy if you try to enter a men’s restroom. It’s not made a big deal of in any way. The game’s not about transitioning or discrimination. There’s no angst to be found here, and the author isn’t heavy-handed or preachy at any point. Ester just is who she is…and fundamentally, she’s just a person. You don’t need to be an activist or an ally to enjoy the game or the character. You don’t even need to know the lingo — I personally didn’t even realize I could accurately be called “cishet” until I visited Bitter Karella’s Twitter feed. I think that’s pronounced “cis…het” rather than shishet seashells by the seashore, but I’m not completely sure. Hey, I’m still learning here. One thing that is for sure, I’m never going to start writing slash fan fiction based on a text adventure character before I’ve actually finished the game and learned all the details of a character’s backstory again. Something always seems to go wrong whenever I try. You see, I was going to include a story about Ester in my upcoming anthology entitled “Large, Leather, Cis Lesbian Goddesses of Phobos”, but now she doesn’t fit the theme and people hate it when the theme is not fitted properly. Luckily, I’ve still got one story about Rosie O’Donnell and five stories about Ruby Rose that begin with her consuming millions of bags of Doritos in a relatively short time frame to fall back on.

Unfortunately, Mean Mother Trucker doesn’t have a very flexible parser and it has some game design quirks that are likely to annoy you despite the game’s charm. Part of the problem is that Bitter Karella seems to have deliberately sought to implement a very limited set of verbs. There were situations in the game where I wanted to use verbs like buy and pour but couldn’t because the author wanted me to use the verb put in those situations: put money in machine, put water on ground, etc. It’s good to allow for those inputs since some users will try them, but I strongly prefer a parser that lets me be more precise and conversational. What’s next…a game with no eat command, but you can “put cheese in mouth” or “put teeth in cheese”? I’m already fearful that IF is going to be secretly taken over by AI as is, but if our human authors are going to start sounding like AIs of their own volition we really have no chance at all to resist the machines. It could be the game was rushed because there is a noticeable lack of synonyms throughout the game. You get a cup of coffee at one point, but you can’t refer to it as a cup. Your quarter can’t be referred to as a coin. These aren’t huge issues, but in practice they force you to repeat commands and add friction to the playing experience. What’s even worse is that sometimes commands seem like they’re giving you reasonable responses when they aren’t so you won’t realize what you really need to do is word the command differently. For instance, there’s something you have to shove in the game. If you push the object instead of shoving it, the game tells you, “Nothing obvious happens” and, indeed, nothing obvious does happen. To be fair, the description of the object mentions shoving it rather than pushing it so there’s a hint on what to do, but it’s still bad game design. When it comes to the item you have to buy without using the command buy, you might see a couple of confusing messages. If you do try to buy it, you’re told, “Nothing is on sale.” As if we’re supposed to wait until Black Friday or something to make the purchase. If you try to just get the item (thief!!), you’re told, “You can’t carry that” which is a terrible error message for this situation. It might make the player think the item can’t be picked up or that he or she is already carrying too many items. Sadly, this game won’t win any awards for playability any time soon.

The puzzles tend to be more fanciful and whimsical than strictly logical in keeping with the light theme. Sometimes the game has to guide you through the final and often least sensible step which isn’t ideal, but it helps a game which already has a lot of friction go a little smoother. My least favorite puzzle is decidedly the one in which you must first find a tool to pick up another item which you can’t get with just your bare hands. I can’t tell you how many ways I tried to pick up that thing with the tool until I finally decided to just try to pick it up directly again. And, sure enough, if you have the tool in your inventory you can indeed just get the item. It’s terrible game design again because the solution makes it seem like you’re not using the tool which isn’t even mentioned.

So Mean Mother Trucker certainly does have its flaws and can’t be called a great game in its present form. It will probably irritate you on your first playthrough, but once you know what you need to do it’s much easier to appreciate all the things it does do well. When you’re busy parser wrassling, you don’t always see the quality dialogue or take in the atmosphere. Having played the game twice now, I can say with confidence that Bitter Karella is in the perfect position to easily improve her games. If he were just to take the testing up a notch, that alone would probably have solved most of the issues I had with this game. I think that’s a better place to be in than, say, the position Matt Barringer found himself in shortly after the release of Detective. Matt needed to find a way to make literally everything about his game better whereas Karella just needs to do some damn testing.

My final thought might be disturbing for some viewers, but it’s been bothering me for a while. I’ve played just two Bitter Karella games: this one and Poppet. The two games don’t have a lot in common except they both feature a dead animal you suddenly find just lying in a room. Seriously, what the fuck is up with that? They’re not animals you know or anything, but it’s still upsetting and Mean Mother Trucker isn’t even supposed to be horror. I’m guessing you don’t want to look inside the chest freezer Bitter Karella has in his basement under any circumstances.

Simple Rating: 6/10

Complicated Rating: 25/50

Story: 7/10

Writing: 7/10

Playability: 3/10

Puzzle Quality: 5/10

Parser Responsiveness: 3/10