History of IFComp, year by year: 1998

This was one of the smallest of all comps, but had a fairly good turnout.

It’s hard to pick out any specific influences from previous years. The Textfyre adventure 12-pack had been released earlier in the year on april fools, with ‘demos’ for essentially impossible games. One such game used all of the color possibilities of the z-machine.

The Edifice’s language puzzle inspired some similar puzzles this year.

HTML TADS had been released that year, allowing graphics and sound in-game for the first time.

Finally, Anchorhead and Spider and Web had been released earlier that year (in February and in March, respectively). This was the first IFComp to feature a Lovecraftian horror game, so I believe that Anchorhead was an influence.

Top games

Of course Photopia is the big standout here, one of the most played and best regarded games of all time, with 419 ratings (the highest) at IFDB currently, and in top 4 of highest rated on ifdb.

Photopia is often credited for leading the way for puzzleless fiction, or for story-based fiction. However, we’ve seen that that’s not quite true; it’s not even the first successful puzzle-less game, as Tapestry had very mild puzzles (for the time period) and was story focused. 1998 itself saw two other puzzle-light games uninfluenced by Photopia (Human Resource Stories and Persistence of Memory).

I think that the innovations in Photopia came from other areas. Adam Cadre has a background in film, and though I can’t find the source now, I recall reading something where he mentioned being inspired by Citizen Kane. Whether that’s true or not, Photopia uses several of the cinematic techniques that Citizen Kane does:

  1. It tells a fragmented story from a variety of time periods (something which was not really done before).

  2. The point of view is never the protagonist (Allie or Kane); you learn about them through the eyes of others.

  3. Both games deal with strong underlying themes of unrealized potential, which is laid out in the opening scene but only becomes clear over time (Rosebud vs 2 frat guys).

The fragmented storytelling and multiple protagonists were unique contributions that affected future games.

To me, Photopia had another major lasting influence: Cadre made text into art. Photopia carefully selects the size and length of each paragraph; the spacing, the punctuation, are all combined to create text art. Quote boxes and colors are used judiciously, and the Violet scene is especially cinematic, using text animations. Screens are paused and cleared, and even the menu system seems chosen to provide a sort of aesthetic beauty, with the different options lengths’ being carefully chosen (notice how the longer ones are generally on the top, and that the conversation ending options are generally shorter).

This had a major influence on future games. About half or more of future winners used graphics (like Detectiveland or Winter Wonderland or both Earth and Sky Winners) or text animations and text art (like Slouching Towards Bedlam and Taco Fiction).

Finally, Photopia increased the bar for quality of games. Cadre claims to have spent 15 hours a day for 6 weeks on the game, about 630 hours.

Muse was remarkable for being a very literary game. You play in first person as a middle-aged man caught up with feelings for a younger woman in a Victorian time. The amount of polish here was high, and this was the first period piece to be entered into IFComp. Christopher Huang would go on to have several successful games, and to publish books.

The Plant Michael Robert’s game (the author of TADS and owner of IFDB). This was a really big game. Robert’s games are interesting; the first, Ditch Day Drifter, was well-loved but very bare and spare by today’s standards. His latest game, Return to Ditch Day, is enormously rich and polished.

This game is in between. It seems to have it all: an interesting language puzzle likely influenced by The Edifice; an NPC that follows you everywhere; animals, walking guards, beautiful set pieces.

And, in fact, the game did well in a year with stiff competition. But a lot of the edges show in the game, particularly in the NPC whose presence seems less and less necessary as you go along and whose comments are recycled quickly. However, this is one of the best ‘long games’ ever entered into the comp (with One Eye Open and Risorgimento Represso being the others that come to mind).

Other games

Michael Gentry released his second-most famous game the same year he did Anchorhead. Little Blue Men was the first really good ‘office game’. It most likely did poorer in the comp due to its slow-burn reveals of a bizarre conspiracy behind a dysfunctional office, but it is now a classic.

Arrival was the first game to use HTML TADS to include graphics, a trend which would pick up the next two years.

Mother Loose was the first really good Fairy Tale based game, where you wander around Mother Goose tales.

Enlightenment is a still-popular comedic one room anti-game, where you have to get rid of all the light sources you gathered as an adventurer in a Zork-type world.

Several good authors continued their development in this period, with Laura Knauth’s Trapped in a One Room Dilly, Jason Dyer’s Persistence of Memory (the second Hugo game in IFComp history), and Sam Barlow’s The City.

I Didn’t Know You Could Yodel was the longest and likely the most offensive game entered into the comp up to that point. It’s absolutely huge, and contains both misogyny and rampant racism (meet Injun Joe and the Italian chef who adds ‘o’ to everything, exactly like the mexican you meet later), as well as a plot motivation of rampant explosive diarrhea.

Human Resources Stories may partially account for the unpopularity of hyperlink games later on. The author, put off by the reviews and placement of their 1997 game CASK, wrote a bitter CYOA game about applying for a job and interviewing where one wrong answer gets you fired. The XYZZY response was about as long as the rest of the game put together. Some people liked the experiment, but the tone turned many people off.


Photopia was of course the most influential game. Many people tried to figure out what made it work and copy pieces of it, whether the text graphics (Winter Wonderland), the fragmented narrative (Kaged and All Roads), or the heartwrenching story (like A Moment of Hope or Jane). Others focused on taking non-interactivity to the extreme (Exhibition and Beal Street)

After Arrival, HTML TADS games increased in popularity, going from 4th place this year, to 3rd the next, to 1st in 2000.


Also, it was Textfire. The Y in Textfyre is what I did to make it different for a company name.

Ha, I thought of mentioning Cattus Atrox, but I didn’t know what you’d think of it. I think it can be fully summarized these two reviews:

First, by Paul o Brian, a one-star review:

" In my opinion, this warning does not tell the whole truth. I’d like to replace it with this warning: "This work of IF contains strong language, violence, and sexual descriptions. It also contains no plot, no characterization, and no puzzles to speak of. It consists of horrifying situations with no apparent logic behind them, graphic descriptions of gratuitous violence, and incident after incident that is unsolvable without prior knowledge (i.e. save-and-restore “puzzles”.) Its world is only fully implemented enough to serve these goals. In a winning session, you will beat an animal to death, watch 3 people be literally torn apart, and strangle a friendly housecat. If you like slasher movies, this is the IF game for you. It is not intended for children or anyone with a distaste for such things."

Second, by Adam Cadre, a 4-star review:

"So while the prose is less than masterful, the syntax for some required commands is often weird, and the ending is silly and over the top, Cattus Atrox gets high marks for grabbing me by the collar and yanking me out of detached-observer mode. This game stuck with me. "

Cattus Atrox is a game that anyone who plays it will remember forever. And who can ask for more than that?

I was a very different person and writer 19 years ago. It is what it is.

David, I actually meant what I wrote as a compliment. Paul o Brian had some pet issues he really disagreed with, but Adam Cadre looked at the core mechanics.

I think Cattus Atrox was really innovative. I put the two quotes above as an attempt to encourage people to try it out.

You personally have done quite a bit for IFComp with games and donations; I received a prize from you one year!

I guess in response to Paul’s review, the story was inspired by a very realistic nightmare I had of being eaten alive by a male lion. Nightmare’s are never organized and understandable and you often die over and over in them before you decide to wake up. In a sense, that was what I was trying to convey.

I have always been proud of the Cadre review.

I blame the ending on Christopher Huang (loosely and jokingly) who was testing it and thought the ending was boring (you died horribly and there was no escape or winning version, so I embellished probably way too much).