I’m happy to announce the results of the 2015 edition of the Interactive Fiction top 50. This time, it will really be a top 50, since there were precisely 50 games that got 4 votes or more. (In 2011, there were 48 games with 3 votes or more. See the old results here.)
First place – 19 votes
Photopia, Adam Cadre (1998)
Second place – 17 votes
Spider and Web, Andrew Plotkin (1998)
Third place – 16 votes
Counterfeit Monkey, Emily Short (2012)
Fourth place – 14 votes
Anchorhead, Michael Gentry (1998)
Fifth place – 13 votes
Lost Pig, Admiral Jota (2007)
Sixth place – 11 votes
Coloratura, Lynnea Glasser (2013)
Seventh place – 10 votes
Slouching towards Bedlam, Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto (2003)
Varicella, Adam Cadre (1999)
Ninth place – 9 votes
The Baron, Victor Gijsbers (2006)
Shade, Andrew Plotkin (2000)
Eleventh place – 8 votes
Blue Lacuna, Aaron A. Reed (2008)
Hadean Lands, Andrew Plotkin (2014)
Thirteenth place – 7 votes
80 days, inkle, Meg Jayanth & Jon Ingold (2014)
Babel, Ian Finley (1997)
Kerkerkruip, Victor Gijsbers et al. (2011 - present)
The King of Shreds and Patches, Jimmy Maher (2009)
Make it Good, Jon Ingold (2009)
Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis, Adam Thornton (2011)
A Mind Forever Voyaging, Steve Meretzky (1985)
Savoir-Faire, Emily Short (2002)
their angelical understanding, Porpentine (2013)
Violet, Jeremy Freese (2008)
Twenty-third place – 6 votes
Bee, Emily Short (2012)
City of Secrets, Emily Short (2003)
Endless, Nameless, Adam Cadre (2012)
Horse Master, Tom McHenry (2013)
Jigsaw, Graham Nelson (1995)
Metamorphoses, Emily Short (2000)
Shrapnel, Adam Cadre (2000)
Wishbringer, Brian Moriarty (1985)
Worlds Apart, Suzanne Britton (1999)
Thirty-second place – 5 votes
Fail-safe, Jon Ingold (2000)
For a Change, Dan Schmidt (1999)
Gun Mute, C. E. J. Pacian (2008)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams & Steve Meretzky (1984)
Rameses, Stephen Bond (2000)
Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, S. John Ross (2007)
Trinity, Brian Moriarty (1986)
Ultra Business Tycoon III, Porpentine (2013)
With those we love alive, Porpentine & Brenda Neotenomie (2014)
Fourty-first place – 4 votes
Ad Verbum, Nick Montfort (2000)
Aisle, Sam Barlow (1999)
All things devours, half sick of shadows (2004)
Creatures Such as We, Lynnea Glasser (2014)
Curses, Graham Nelson (1994)
Galatea, Emily Short (2000)
Howling Dogs, Porpentine (2012)
Rover’s Day Out, Jack Welch & Ben Collins-Sussman (2009)
Walker & Silhouette, C. E. J. Pacian (2009)
Zork I, Marc Blank and Dave Lebling (1980)
I’m planning to post some cool statistics later; but one thing we can easily see is that no fewer than 12 (about one quarter) of the games in the top 50 were written since the last IF Top 50. This proves two things that we of course already knew: (1) IF is alive, (2) I waited too long with organising this edition!
Zork I 1980
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 1984
A Mind Forever Voyaging 1985
Spider and Web 1998
Worlds apart 1999
For a Change 1999
Ad Verbum 2000
Slouching towards Bedlam 2003
City of Secrets 2003
All things devours 2004
The Baron 2006
Lost Pig 2007
Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom 2007
Blue Lacuna 2008
Gun Mute 2008
The King of Shreds and Patches 2009
Make it Good 2009
Rover's Day Out 2009
Walker & Silhouette 2009
Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis 2011
Counterfeit Monkey 2012
Endless, Nameless 2012
Howling Dogs 2012
their angelical understanding 2013
Horse Master 2013
Ultra Business Tycoon III 2013
Hadean Lands 2014
80 Days 2014
With those we love alive 2014
Creatures Such as We 2014
One result of this poll is that we now know that nostalgia no longer plays an important role in the IF community. There are only five games from the commercial era in the top 50. A full 35 games (70%) were published in 2000 or later.
Any chance you’ve compiled, or are compiling, a list of the games that got less than four votes? It would be interesting to see what didn’t quite make the cut.
I’ve played 39 of the 50. Anyone played all 50? I’d very much like to play the rest, though, alas, I own none of the devices that would run 80 Days. (Also, for those who missed the '80s, many of the Infocom games are now available in the Lost Treasures of Infocom IPhone app–though not Hitchhiker’s; I don’t know of any way to get that legally.)
1998 was quite a year–three of the top four. And 14 of the 50 were released between 1998 and 2000. I think all of those choices are strong on the merits, but it’s possible that the nostalgia has just been transferred/updated to a different era.
I’ve played 45/50 to completion, and started but not finished each of the others. (I never did hack my way all the way through All things devours, but given how much I enjoyed Fifteen Minutes, I should probably give it another try.)
I consider a “nostalgia pick” to be the “rose-colored glasses” variety – that is, it gets picked because it is what one grew up with but not necessarily because of a fair comparison of quality. It is possible someone might be familiar with most of the work from that time but consider it rubbish compared to modern improvements.
Let me rephrase.
I guess what I’m trying to say if there’s actual historical amnesia going on, that’s a problem. But maybe the amount of quality work pre-1995 is really that short a list.
Complicated question. I don’t think it’s quite as short as this might suggest. Much of the pre-1995 era is mostly forgotten by the current IF community–to a large extent, deservedly, but not in all cases. For instance, the Magnetic Scrolls games are fondly remembered by those who played them (not me), but none of them cracked this list. Ditto the Phoenix/Topologika games (I played Sangraal and gave up on a few others pretty quickly), Legend, and Level 9. (One Mag Scrolls game, Guild of Thieves, and one Legend game, Eric the Unready, made the 2011 list.) Others from that era include the Synapse games (notably Mindwheel) and Activision’s Portal. Infocom has five titles on this list (out of the 35 they released), which is not a bad showing; there are other Infocom games that are in this general class, but it’s not a crime that they’re not here.
Since IF went (mostly) freeware in 1994-95 or thereabouts and games started becoming available by FTP/HTTP, a lot more IF has been written than was previously out there. Whether the signal-to-noise ratio has gone up or down relative to the 1980s and early 1990s, when there were some amateur games, almost uniformly bad (the tools available weren’t so hot), and a fair amount of commercial stuff, better than the amateur games but still, in a lot of cases, not very good (tools, ditto), is virtually impossible to say unless you’re so incredibly voracious in your IF playing that you can claim to have tried the bulk of games from both eras. But the volume of more recent efforts is greater, the tools are much better, much of the earlier stuff is no longer accessible, and as a result there’s a bias toward the recent that outweighs the nostalgia factor.
TADS first came out 1988, although the games didn’t start rolling until the early 90s.
I probably have a stronger claim to “trying the bulk of games from both eras” than most (I have played every Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls, most of Synapse, most of Phoenix, some Level 9, a whole bunch of other more obscure games) but I still feel like I’m lacking enough to really answer that. Not enough Quill and Eamon games for one thing-- speaking of amateur tools available at the time. Plus, I’ve yet to even touch Knight Orc (which is allegedly Level 9’s masterpiece).
I think a lot of the problem with old games is that you really had to be there and played them at the time to appreciate them, and if you’re playing them 20 or 30 years after they were first released it’s hard to understand all the fuss kicked up over them. I’ve always considered The Hobbit to be a truly amazing game but I never played Zork at all when it was first released and when I tried it about 10 years ago, I wasn’t that impressed with it.
Obviously, there are selection effects going on. Many people will never have played the Infocom games, which means that they don’t stand a fair chance of getting elected; let alone the games by more obscure companies.
But what I meant by my comment about nostalgia is that the days are over (and probably have been over for a while) when writing interactive fiction was primarily seen as a way to recapture the qualities of a golden age. It is evident that the current community no longer thinks of the commercial era as a golden age. And I’m pretty sure – not from this list, but from knowing the community in general – that there is not now and has not ever been a widespread idea that we have to recapture another golden age, e.g., the late nineties.