One of the biggest games of the year had been I-0, a game with a very strongly characterized protagonist and numerous conversations. Whether it was an influence on the comp or not, this year had a significant improvement in the number of deeply implemented characters, whether PCs or NPCs. Deep PCs included the magical secret agent dwarf in The Lost Spellmaker, the teddy bear in A Bear’s Night Out, the tourist in Sunset over Savannah, and Madame L’Estrange in her eponymous game. Great NPCs included the infamous Stranger from The Edifice, the girl from Glowgrass, and the well-regarded Bob from She’s Got a Thing for a Spring.
Also, I felt like Delusions from 1996 lead to a proliferation of games including virtual reality; Sins Against Mimesis and Glowgrass include VR segments, while A New Day, Sylenius Mysterium (by Delusions’ author) and VirtuaTech are primarily about VR.
The top three games were The Edifice, Babel, and Glowgrass.
The Edifice had a nicely delineated 3-act structure, after the prologue. You are exploring an edifice, and each level leads to a part of human history. The game had a very good simulationist aspect in two of the levels, with things like fire needing both tinder and heavy logs, weapons needing sharpening and training, and horses need breaking in.
But the big draw here was the language puzzle, one of those puzzles that can only be done well in a text adventure (unless voice recognition gets better). A stranger has the key to saving your son, but you can’t talk to him. By pointing and showing various objects and parroting things back to him, you can communicate. This is still regarded as one of the best puzzles of all time. One advantage of this type of puzzle is that the player immediately knows what they need to do, and can focus their attention on learning the rules of a system instead of trying to figure out what the puzzles is.
Babel is the most-rated TADS game on IFDB, and because it was packaged as a windows executable for years, it was downloaded about ten times more than the most popular Inform games back in the late 90’s.
Babel was very influential. It is a game about waking with amnesia on a cold, metal floor, wearing a hospital gown in a lab. Amnesia wasn’t exactly new, but it was certainly more popular after Babel, as were laboratory games. In fact, there were no amnesia games and only one lab game (Delusions) before Babel.
Ian Finley went on to write several influential games. He was very young at this time, somewhere between 15 and 17, I believe.
Glowgrass is still fondly remembered by many people; I’ve actually seen it come up in discussions recently. You are a futuristic archaeologist exploring the ‘ancients’ who are essentially us. The archaeologist is bewildered by things like a frisbee and a lawn. The feel is more adventure and melancholy than goofy though, and has some pretty sobering moments, as well as a good plot twist.
This competition was the best showing TADS ever had. Babel, Glowgrass, Sunset over Savannah, and She’s Got A Thing for a Spring were all ‘canonical games’ for years.
Sunset over Savannah casts the player as a businessperson of sorts on a vacation at a beach. The essential goal of the game is to experience the joy and wonder of the natural world. The game tracks the player’s mood as they go from stuffy to fun. This game has the distinction of being the highest-rated game on the SPAG magazine scoreboard for several years (higher than infocom games, curses, and others).
She’s Got a Thing for a Spring was similarly about a woman exploring nature. You are wandering around a natural park, getting ready for a romantic hot spring picnic with your husband, and encountering wildlife and Bob. Bob was an extremely well-developed NPC, with numerous topics and independent actions.
Other notable games include Sins Against Mimesis, an ‘in-joke’ game about IFMud and the IF Community in general, a genre which became more popular later on. It is based on the essay, Sins Against Mimesis, and features a real-life critic of IF as the bad guy, as well as having the seven deadly sins represented by IF games.
Laura Knauth had her first game in this comp, Travels in the Land of Erden. She had an almost textbook progression of games. This, her first game, was far too large, ambitious, and underimplemented. Her next game, a one-room puzzle game, was the opposite, and her third game won the comp. I’ll mention her more later.
The first Hugo game was entered: Down, by Kent Tessman. Hugo was never very popular, but several great authors chose to make it their system of choice, and the Hugo games with their executables were among the most downloaded for many years.
Just a small note: The Obscene Quest of Dr. Aardvarkbarf is not, actually, obscene.
Aunt Nancy’s House was the first game in the comp (and not the last) to just be an implementation of a relative’s house, with no other story atttached.
The Tempest was Graham Nelson’s attempt to turn Shakespeare into an IF game. I feel like its failure (due to it being very hard to know what’s going on) made serious authors less likely to try an adaptation in the future. However, this was a particularly hard text to adapt, as the poetic meter made it very difficult to pick up clues from the environment.
The four great TADS games are probably this game’s biggest legacy.
Many games after The Edifice tried similar language puzzles, including 1998’s The Plant and, of course, The Gostak.
As I said before, amnesia and lab games became more popular after Babel.
The next comp, though, is one remembered as being highly influential, overshadowing those that came before.