2014 was a year of real experimentation in IF. The top 5 IFComp games used 5 different game formats, including Inform, Choicescript, Quest, home-grown, and Twine. People were trying all sorts of new things.
This experimentation also produced some of the very best games ever in different formats. Andrew Plotkin released Hadean Lands, the Kickstarter-funded parser game that some said was a commercial game better than the original Infocom games, and the first commercial parser game of that size in years. I’ve played it, and it really is great, a truly compelling game.
Choice of Games released Choice of Robots, which is still their best game, as far as I can tell. Most choicescript games have to sacrifice plot and characterization for customizability or vice versa, but Choice of Robots avoids this. Every choice you pick, whether insane warmonger or unemployed tinkered feels fleshed out, like the author anticipated this path specifically and built the game around it. I’ve played it perhaps a dozen times, and it always feels fresh.
Why am I talking about these other games? Just to show that 80 Days beat some incredibly strong competition to win the XYZZY Best Game. So what’s so good about it? What does it do right?
80 Days has you travel around the earth by rotating a globe with dozens of cities on it and selecting routes. Story events occur between cities and in cities. You can buy items in markets and sell them later
Where the depth comes in is in the pure amount of stories and the way they can connect. There is enough material here to play and replay and replay many times over. There are murder mysteries, romances, bank robberies, revolutions, wars, and monsters. There are wonders of science and technology.
And the research is good. The steam punk setting let’s them get away with any inconsistencies in the plot, but the research was still there. I’m mormon, and I’ve read a lot about 19th century Utah, and so I was interested in how they would approach it. It was startlingly well-researched and respectful; it wasn’t exactly accurate to what I had read, but it had enough material that I could tell they had worked hard on it. And this is just 1% of the whole game; it all must have taken a great deal of time.
I believe that it was this huge depth that gave this game an edge over Hadean Lands and Choice of Robots.
You and your travelling companion have a compelling relationship in the game where you have strong motivations to please him mechanics-wise, but storywise you are frequently drawn into conflict with each other by your character’s stated interest and goals. You both like adventure, but he likes a slightly different flavor of adventure from you.
Other characters are memorable, including love interests, scientists, semi-mythological characters, and so on. You can meet people in Germany and see them months later in South America, or spend several days on a journey with them.
You have to appreciate a setting that has a giant Taj Mahal walking on mechanical legs. The steam punk setting allows the authors to ‘correct’ historical injustices and to combine real life events with steampunk. Each culture has its own types of transportation, it’s own kind of mechanical contraptions. These can get very interesting in places like Haiti or the North Pole.
80 Days beat fierce competition to win the 2014 XYZZY awards. It’s strong writing, characterization and setting were boosted by its huge open-world depth to victory.
I personally prefer Hadean Lands and Choice of Robots, but I enjoyed 80 Days, was glad I purchased it, and I admire the craftmanship that went in it.