Having played through all but one of the xyzzy Best Games, I’ve found some general patterns. These aren’t an easy formula for success, but just something these games have in common.
The two biggest factors they have in common are:
- Great storytelling, and
- Deep and compelling mechanics.
I’ll talk about these in a bit. What are some things that don’t matter?
- Size. Unlike IFCOMP size doesn’t matter here. 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery, World’s Apart, Anchorhead, Muldoon Legacy, The King of Shreds and Patches, Lydia’s Heart, Finding Martin, Risorgimento Represso, and Scroll Thief are all games that were well done and much longer than the winners of the year they came out. If it were just total content, these games would win.
- Difficulty. So Far was nasty, while I-0 was relatively puzzleless. Counterfeit Monkey and Coloratura are puzzle games, while Birdland and 80 Days are puzzles light.
- Genre. Just about every genre is represented.
Let’s talk about the good.
Great storytelling in Best Games is carried out in several ways. In So Far and Slouching Towards Bedlam, for instance, the setting carries much of the story. Exploration reveals more of the backstory, and you feel wonder at the bizarre and alien worlds they devise.
Lost Pig and Violet focus on characters and their relationships. Not much actually happens plot wise, but you get to know a few people in intimate detail, learning about their past their personality, their goals.
All Roads, Vespers, Spider and Web and Savoir Faire encourage you to unravel a mystery, slowly spooling out a story in an interesting and compelling way.
These are only examples; Every game combines different elements here. Birdland does all of these.
One thing is true about all Best Games: their stories stick with you for a long long time.
==Depth and compelling mechanics==
In contrast to the Best Games, many IFCOMP winners are very good, but standard adventures where you have the regular pick-up-some-items and roam around Zork-like structure, with nothing superbly innovative or deep (this is not bad; I love many of these games, like Winter Wonderland and Kaged).
The Best Games, though, all have interesting and compelling mechanics. The tools in Spider and Web, the stats and branches in Birdland, the wordplay in Counterfeit Monkey, the newbie-friendly feature in Blue Lacuna and Aotearoa, and so on.
And they all have depth, whether the background events that last forever in Violet or the gnome in Lost Pig, or the extensive dictionary in Counterfeit monkey. Extreme Depth is vital for Best Games.
It shouldn’t be surprising that storytelling and mechanics are the core elements of a best game; After all, they are what makes it ‘fiction’ and 'interactive. But the voting patterns are not the same as for IFCOMP and ifdb ratings, where longer games are strongly favored. Overall, it was fun writing this series, and thanks for reading along.