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.)

Under the Sea: The Treasure of the Santa Tortosa by Heike Borchers (2019)

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

I think Heike once read an Aquaman comic and thought to herself, “Woah, this guy’s superpower is that he can talk to fish! This is the coolest superhero of all time!” She is the only person in history to have ever had this reaction to an Aquaman comic.

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

There’s treasure, exploration, friendship, puzzles, humor, and even romance to be found here. What more could an IF player ask for?

My Verdict:

I should probably resent this game for being a thinly conceived vehicle for unrelated and somewhat randomly chosen classic puzzles, but it’s so charming and fun I don’t even care. It turns out spending my life not interacting with sea creatures has left a huge void in my heart that I only now realize I must fill. Thanks, Heike!

Game Information

Game Type: Inform (Glulx)

Author Info: Heike Borchers appears to be a first time IF author of whom there is little public knowledge. Cynical voices might point at this game which is both well-designed and well-informed in IF history and argue it must be the work of a seasoned hand writing under a nom de plume, but I’ll refuse to believe this until the bitter, bitter end. To me, Heike will always be some German chick who digs IF and just started writing her own games in 2019. I welcome her to our community with open arms. By the way, do you think Dave Ahl Jr will ever write another game?

Download Link: https://ifcomp.org/play/2076/download

The 2019 Interactive Fiction Competition will not exactly go down as the most family friendly iteration in IFComp’s more than two decade history. Considering just the first four comp games I played this year, the first game featured recreational marijuana use, the second a dead fat guy, the third a dead cat, and the fourth a murderous protagonist. This is exactly the sort of material I’d want any hypothetical children of mine to be exposed to as early as possible, but I can understand why some parents might want to shelter their kids a little longer or at least keep them from falling under the influence of the sick sort of people who still write interactive fiction in 2019. Under the Sea stands out in contrast to the rest of the field as it is exactly the sort of game parents should want their kids to play. It has no death, violence, drugs, or sex. It’s innocent. It’s charming. It has puzzles which require some thought in order to solve but which eager young minds would be capable of solving. It even teaches sound moral values.

Even better, Under the Sea is also the kind of game you could describe in an overly excited tone of voice in order to get an 8 or 38 year old interested in playing it. You’re an adventurer! You’re seeking treasure! It’s buried under the sea! You’ve got to talk to fish in order to find it! There’s a bear! And an octopus too! Even I’m getting excited just typing this out. This isn’t the most intellectual game in the world, but it’s easy to approach and easy to relate to. I don’t know about you, but the only answer I have to the questions “Do you want to find some treasure?” and “Do you want to talk to fish?” is HELL YES.

Treasure hunting games don’t always have much of a moral compass. The whole pursuit is rooted in avarice, after all, and the trail of dead dungeon dwellers we adventurers typically leave in our wake while in pursuit of the shiny is only rarely considered. Under the Sea isn’t heavy-handed in its approach to morality, but it forces the player to choose what kind of adventurer he or she wishes to be. You can be a lying braggart or a kindly truth-teller. You can choose love over money or money over love. There are consequences to every choice, but none are severe or extreme. I loved the fact that I, a bitter old man whose sole guiding moral principle is to not eat people unless very hungry, got the ending with Keira and found myself nominated for an important adventuring honor on my first playthrough. That’s the best ending, I think, and it’s a good illustration that doing good can indeed feel good, particularly when you’re doing good in a text adventure and thus are not subject to all the bullshit people come up with in real life that can sometimes leaves no good deed unpunished. Under the Sea has struck a powerful blow for virtue and it deserves praise for that. On the other hand, I kind of liked the ending where I ended up dirty, stinking rich too even though it was less warm and fuzzy. Avarice is…good? “Awesome” would have more of a ring to it, I suppose.

The game Under the Sea most reminds me of is an AGT classic called Dragons In Chocolate Land by Eclipse. Both games feature a number of animals you must interact with, and both games have a whimsical feel to them. Eclipse, though, seems to have been much more serious about worldbuilding. She created about as realistic a game world that uses chocolate as a building material and is inhabited by dragons as she could, and her animals tend to act more like real animals, albeit animals with generally kind dispositions. Under the Sea in contrast never feels as convincing. The fish and the octopus act more like people than animals. While it’s fun to interact with the sea creatures, you know they’re there mostly to act cutesy and give you extremely unlikely puzzles to solve. You just have to accept that this world you’ve found yourself in has a fish that’s into Morse code and an octopus who likes devious word games. At times, the pretense can wear a little thin and the game can start to feel like a collection of disconnected puzzles.

That said, I mostly enjoyed the puzzles in the game. They all make sense and will be mostly familiar to veteran IF players. I have to admit when I ran into the Morse code puzzle, my first reaction was, “Oh HELL no!” Then I realized that I knew exactly how to solve this and had in fact done this kind of thing before. So I solved it and I felt smart. That’s a good puzzle. The other puzzles I found either straightforward or I solved them on my third attempt. That’s true even for the final puzzle which I recognized as a familiar logic puzzle but couldn’t remember how to solve it for the life of me. So I guessed and solved it on my third attempt. Then the octopus asked me how I solved the puzzle and I guessed the answer he wanted to that on my third attempt. Yeah, I guessed the answer to the puzzle question designed specifically to prevent guessing. It was both my finest and my least finest hour. I really felt like an idiot when I looked up the puzzle online and was reminded of the actual trick to solving it.

One thing that makes this game more difficult than it needs to be is that the parser responsiveness is poor and exact command matches are too frequently required. For example, the game’s parser will understand “say thanks” but not allow you to use thank as a verb. There should definitely be more synonyms implemented and perhaps some more guidance to show players how they should word their commands. The most extreme parser failure I noticed occurred in the opening scene. At this point, you’ve already been told that there’s a treasure map buried somewhere on the island you’ve landed on. You’re on an island and there’s a shovel. It’s pretty obvious what comes next, right? IT’S DIGGING TIME! The only problem is seemingly only one command will do what you want it to do, and every other reasonable command you try will lead to the generic message “I only understood you as far as wanting to dig.” The first time I played through this game I just walked past the scene and found the treasure without the map because I just assumed the map wasn’t actually implemented. It’s not a big game world so you don’t really need a map, but this still bugged me enough that I replayed the game and kept trying until I found that one command that actually did work. It made sense, and I probably would have come up with it long before if only the game had asked me, “Where on the island do you want to dig?” when I tried to “dig island,” “dig in ground,” or “dig for map.” I just needed a little feedback to show me I was on the right track. Is that so wrong?

If you can forgive the overly strict parser and enjoy solving puzzles, you’ll likely find Under the Sea a charming and fun game to play. It’s not a world-beater by any means, but it’s a pleasant diversion and offers a nice escape from more serious competition fare.

Simple Rating: 6/10

Complicated Rating: 28/50

Story: 6/10

Writing: 7/10

Playability: 6/10 (This is a generally well-implemented game with no serious bugs, but the poor parser responsiveness makes it a much less pleasant playing experience.)

Puzzle Quality: 6/10

Parser Responsiveness: 3/10