1996 Was a great year for the comp, with the number of games more than doubling and the types of games diversifying extensively.
As I discussed last time, So Far and A Change in the Weather were major influences in this year’s comp. Of Forms Unkown, for instance, says that is an attempt by the author to write a game like So Far.
The top 3 games are all heavily story focused, telling stories through puzzles. Other strongly story-based games include ‘Kissing the Buddha’s Feet’, ‘Wearing of the Claw’, ‘Ralph’, and ‘In the End’. The author of Reverberations mentioned his concern for plot in his game development: ‘As a matter of fact, I began the game with only a rough idea of a story and two characters (one main character and one NPC) to go in it. As I coded up the characters and their locale, I gradually realized that the story didn’t fit them at all. So I turned the plot around and wound up in a completely different genre. And, as I wrote more interaction between them, the puzzles sort of snapped into place around the story.’ (The author is Russell Glasser, who I believe is Lynnea Glasser’s husband).
The first place game, though, has a bit more unusual of a history.
The top games this year were:
1st place The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet by Graham Nelson
2nd place Tapestry by Daniel Ravipinto
3rd place Delusions by C. E. Forman
I can’t currently find where this was discussed, but it seems that The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet was actually written by Graham Nelson as an enticement to the original Infocom implementors, showing them how a great Zork-like could be written in Inform; after this, Kevin Wilson helped Marc Blank and Kevin G. Wilson write Zork: Undiscovered Underground in Inform, so it must have worked. This game was way too long for the competition, but good.
Tapestry was a very influential game, as it had 3 independent branches through the game, and was mostly ‘puzzleless’ (to an extent), and there are several threads in RAIF comparing the two. Its emphasis on moral decisions was also highly unusual for the time. However, it was criticized for being too over-dramatic, and too text heavy.
Delusions was a massive game, and actually one of the first text adventures I ever played. It involves a nested web of VR worlds, and is very plot-and-puzzle heavy. The next year, there were several VR games, so I wonder if it had an influence.
Other notable games
Kissing the Buddha’s Feet was the first in a long series of IFComp games featuring multiple well-crafted, independent NPCs. Later such games would include Sting of the Wasp, Broken Legs, and Vespers.
Lists and Lists was the first of Andrew Plotkin’s re-entries, and (as many of them were) was not intended to win. It was a sort of joke, implementing the programming language LISP when the z-machine was originally lisp based. It remains one of the most well-known games from that year.
Aayela was a short ‘set piece’, maybe the first IFComp game of its time, where the whole game is designed around one aspect of IF. In this case, it’s playing in the darkness, and using your other senses.
This comp had the first non-Inform/Tads games, and they’re a mixed bag. The Land Beyond the Picket Fence is a great game, with its own parser. It’s like a small, sillier version of Trinity, with multiple puzzle solutions, a tight game map, and fun experiments to be done.
My First Stupid Game and Don’t Be Late didn’t do as well. My First Stupid Game was the first ‘stupid game’, purposely crude games that are poorly programmed (for a more modern instance, see Toiletworld, which shares some of the themes of My First Stupid Game). Don’t be Late was an inoffensive but poorly parsed game about making it to your friend’s house to play IFComp games, the first of many IFComp games to directly reference IFComp.
In The End was an important precursor to games like Photopia. In the word of one reviewer, it had “no compass directions, very little inventory, no “winning” in the conventional sense, and, most importantly, no puzzles.” It was a depressing but well-written game. As you can see from this and Tapestry, puzzleless story-focused games were not invented by Photopia at all; instead, Photopia was the most successful of such games.
Finally, this year saw the rise of Rybread Celsius, whom you can read more about at https://sub-q.com/the-works-of-rybread-celsius-a-critical-reassessment/.
This year saw IFComp really come into its own. It set the trend of having homebrew games, purposely bad games, and self-referential games. Tapestry had a long-term effect on the idea of puzzleless games, branching games, and games with moral decisions.