Exploring the 'Best Games': Being Andrew Plotkin

I think it’s amusing that the first 5 winners of the XYZZY Best Games were Andrew Plotkin, Adam Cadre, Andrew Plotkin, Adam Cadre, and then Being Andrew Plotkin by J. Robinson Wheeler.

This winner is unusual in many ways. It was the first IFCOMP game to win best game. It is one of only 4 games that won XYZZY but did not win IFCOMP (the others being The Elysium Enigma, Blue Chairs and Birdland). It was written in a single month, between September 1 and October 1. It is far more linear and shorter than any previous Best Game.

It came out in a year of very strong games, including Shrapnel and LASH, as well as the games that beat it in IFCOMP (Kaged and Metamorphoses), not to mention the most famous game from the late year, Galatea. It was entered anonymously in IFCOMP 2000 and was written to copy Adam Cadre’s style. Emily Short herself may have had a lot to do with its XYZZY win, as she started an impassioned raif discussion mentioning how much the game impacted here with the author then going on to explain the creation process.

Anyway, let’s get on to the good stuff.

==Strong PCS and multiple viewpoints==

BAP (being andrew plotkin) is remarkable for having 4 NPCs: the humans Peter and Valerie, the robot Melvin, and Zarf (Andrew Plotkin) himself. The game has all four PCs describe each other and a single office room in hilariously different ways. The robot PC has a highly unusual programming languages style thought process that is brilliant.

The frequent shifting of PCs is/was quite unusual, especially with different viewpoints on the same locations (I’m trying something like it for my ifcomp game, but it’s very tedious to program). Photopia did multiple PCS, but each PC was in a different situation.


This game has a vibrant setting outside of the purposely drab first room. The author is not afraid to borrow liberally, as all good authors do. So we have elements borrowed from Being John Malkovich (like to the magic door and the inside of Zarf’s brain) together with some of Zarf and Infocom’s most evocative settings (like the caves from Hunter in Darkness, the Roc’s Nest from Spellbreaker, etc.

As mentioned before, the same room is described many times by different PCS, allowing the drab office room to evolve into something much greater. The fast-paced, goofy-but-literary style of writing helps the setting as well, such as when you are falling into the hedges and the game describes it as blurs of color.

==In-jokes/Knowing the community==

Emily Short’s essay on BAP was subtitled ‘The Power of the In Joke’, mentioning how being personally referenced in the game affected her. The author stated how he tried to get specific IFMUD (the main IF chat room at the time) participants to get excited by their game.

The game strongly references the first two scenes of So Far and its difficultly level, the interrogation scenes and ending of Spider and Web, the cave in A Change in the Weather, the stack overflow possibility in Lists and Lists, multiple parts of Hunter in Darkness, and a scene from Plotkin’s teenage Infocom knockoff, Inhumane. It also references Spellbreaker and Enchanter in important ways. There are references to Zarf’s employment at Red Hat, the IFMUD itself, and to Adam Cadre’s NPC focused, cynical style.


I mentioned in the last few essays how Best Games tend to have a lot of depth. This game frequently doesn’t have tailored responses to actions, and puts linear constraints on you.

Where it does have depth is in other areas. The conversation selections really let you shape the two main characters. In a style that presages Choice of Games, you can choose your tone, your relationship style, etc. And some of it is, I believe, tracked by the game. Whether it is tracked or not, it gives an illusion of choice to a remarkable degree

The depth of implementation also shows up in the multiple PC descriptions and responses, as well as in the neat programming tricks (like the recursion) and in the multiple things you can do with the tools Zarf gathers.

Finally, the game is ‘deep’ in the number of references to past games it packs in. There are so many, like the breaths of fresh air from So Far, the glaring white light from Spider and Web, and so on. The references in the game are packed so tight that you can discover new ones months or years after first playing.


Being Andrew Plotkin shows that there is no universal formula for a Best Game. Written in a month, linear, short, it broke parts of the pattern of XYZZY Best Games before it. However, it still had strong writing, great characterization of PCS and NPCS, a compelling story, and depth. These continue to be the hallmarks of Best Games.