2015 Interactive Fiction Top 50 - the Results

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!

That is a seriously cool overview.

It is, isn’t it? A not-so-cool statistic: I played only half (exactly 25) of these games to completion.

Authors with most games in the top 50

Emily Short	 6
Adam Cadre	 4
Porpentine	 4
Andrew Plotkin 	 3
Jon Ingold       3
Lynnea Glasser	 2
Victor Gijsbers	 2
Graham Nelson	 2
Brian Moriarty	 2
C. E. J. Pacian	 2
Steve Meretzky	 2

Authors whose top-50-games got most votes

(Note: I didn’t count the votes for games that did not make the top 50. That would involve associating authors with over 200 games, which would take me too much time.)

Emily Short	45
Adam Cadre	41
Andrew Plotkin	34
Porpentine	21
Jon Ingold	19
Victor Gijsbers	16
Lynnea Glasser	15
Michael Gentry	14
Admiral Jota	13
Steve Meretzky	12

So we can unambiguously conclude that Emily Short is the most popular interactive fiction author! :slight_smile:

I claim 3, or at least 2.333, for 80 Days. :wink:

Top 50 sorted by year of release

(The formatting is a bit ugly, sorry for that.)

Zork I	1980
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy	1984
A Mind Forever Voyaging	1985
Wishbringer	1985
Trinity	1986
Curses	1993
Jigsaw	1995
Babel	1997
Photopia	1998
Spider and Web	1998
Anchorhead	1998
Varicella	1999
Worlds apart	1999
For a Change	1999
Aisle	1999
Shade	2000
Metamorphoses	2000
Shrapnel	2000
Fail-Safe	2000
Rameses	2000
Ad Verbum	2000
Galatea	2000
Savoir-Faire	2002
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
Violet	2008
Gun Mute	2008
The King of Shreds and Patches	2009
Make it Good	2009
Rover's Day Out	2009
Walker & Silhouette	2009
Kerkerkruip	2011
Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis	2011
Counterfeit Monkey	2012
Bee	2012
Endless, Nameless	2012
Howling Dogs	2012
Coloratura	2013
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.

You’ll get it! But go and edit the IFDB page of 80 days and add you name, or it isn’t real. (You are now officially a more popular IF author than I am. :wink: )

Very nice! I’m looking forward to working my way through unplayed titles. Thanks for organizing the list (again) Victor!

Uh, I now feel a bit sheepish about having tweeted the result list. It was before the additional comments showed up, I swear!

Is the lack of older games more of a lack of nostalgia or a lack of having played them in the first place? The commercial games in particular are hard to get access to these days.

Even not including that, I’m guessing the years 1987-1994 or so are pretty nebulous for most modern IF people.

This list is neato. Thanks for organizing this Victor! It’s clear an update was needed.

Distinction without a difference? Seems as though - unless one is Borges - one can’t be nostalgic for something one doesn’t know about.

Thanks for doing this, Victor!

  1. 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.

  2. 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.)

  3. 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.

You can play the 30th Anniversary edition of Hitchhiker’s for free at the BBC radio website here.

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.

At least, that’s my guess.

Not of a fan of The Quill, eh?

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.