History of IFComp, year by year: 2001

Many regarded this as a very weak comp, but it has a huge number of experiments. It seems like comps often alternated between well-regarded, mainstream games and experimental games that didn’t receive recognition until later.


This year had a major, one-room game collaboration called Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle. It’s wacky, genre bending scenes reminded me of the game Fusillade entered later this year.

Smoochie Comp ran earlier in the year, a vaguely romance-themed comp that spawned Pytho’s Mask (showcasing a new conversation system by Emily Short) Voices (about Joan of Arc) and The Tale of the Kissing Bandit (a cute little game). Short entered an IFComp game based on Pytho’s conversational system.

As mentioned last time, the success of HTML TADS with Kaged prompted many more HTML TADS games this year.

Adam Cadre’s former games continued to be influential; All Roads and Heroes both owe a bit to Photopia’s non-linear narrative and multiple protagonists. Film at Eleven was directly inspired by I-0.

Several other big games were released in 2001 (including Textfire Golf and First Things First), but it’s hard to trace any influence here.

Top games

The first game was All Roads, Jon Ingold’s most popular game on IFDB, as well as the first game to win both IFComp and XYZZY.

In this game, you play a character in Renaissance Venice who experiences unusual shifts in perspective.

This game is mostly linear, with only one real puzzle at the beginning. But as many have pointed out, it has a huge meta-puzzle: trying to unravel what exactly is going on. And unlike many other games (such as Kaged), there actually is a right answer, which makes it much more satisfying once you puzzle it out.

Moments out of Time has the distinction of being Adam Cadre’s favorite IF game. It had an innovative gameplay mechanic which I haven’t really seen used since: you make a temporal jump to explore a house after selecting some equipment. As you explore the historic house, you learn new things depending on what equipment you brought and on your timing. Multiple playthroughs are needed to learn the whole story, and it is you who must piece it together. It’s the exact opposite of linear gameplay.

Heroes is probably the most dungeon-and-dragons-like game I’ve seen entered in IFComp, which is good for me because I love dungeons and dragons. You can take one of five roles based on classic DnD archetypes, and play through the same scenario with different tactics and perspectives.

It was panned a bit at the time of release because there had been so many very, very awful DnD-esque games before that it was hard to trust this one.

Other games

Robb Sherwin and Mike Sousa had an excellent collaboration with the almost hallucinogenic No Time to Squeal, ranging from a serious world to an unborn fantasy. Sousa would collaborate with Jon Ingold next year.

Vicious Cycles was the best-placing time loop game up to this point, so it’s worth checking out if you like that type of game.

Emily Short entered Best of Three, a conversation-only game. It had an extremely innovative conversational design, but some people were turned off by the characters.

Paul O Brian, dedicated comp reviewer, wrote his second comp game: Earth and Sky. Criticized for being too short, he went on to write two sequels, each winning their comps, and earning him the distinction of being the only person to win twice.

Papillon, author of last year’s Desert Heat, wrote Triune, which is one of the few games I’ve seen that deal with cis womanhood and women’s issues.

Carma was a really unusual game, essentially an interactive webcomic about punctuation. It was highly linear, and had cartoon graphics with word bubbles and so forth.

Quite a few people said Fine Tuned would have been the best game of the comp, with wonderful participatory humor and tight writing, but it was very buggy.

A Night Guest was an illustrated, interactive poem about a brawl with the devil.

The Gostak was released this year, an immensely divisive game. Its author was baf, founder of baf’s guide, and he currently works for Telltale Games. In the Gostak, everything is written in proper English, but with madeup nouns, verbs and adjectives. The concept comes from an old linguistic sentence stating ‘the gostak distims the doshes’.

Most people try this game, get the idea, and give up. It took me years to beat it; I finally realized that you just use the in-game hint menus, which are also in the bizarre language. In fact, I don’t know if you can beat it any other way. It makes the game much more manageable while preserving the original puzzle.

A. de Niro released her first game, the Isolato Incident. Their later game, Deadline Enchanter, was one of the first game to really open up my eyes to ‘this is what interactive fiction can really be’. Because I never hear about this earlier game, I figured it was inferior, but in fact it is just as good as Deadline Enchanter, with a similar feel. Gargoyle will play this game, I think.

You are Here was an advertisement for a concurrently running stage play about a MUD.

Begegnung am fluss was the first foreign language game entered in the comp. I enjoyed it, running it in DOSBOX. It’s very small, and had some guess the verb issues, but had well-done puzzle-based combat and conversation.

Mystery Manor was one of the first ADRIFT games entered into the comp (there were two the year before and two this year). These first fives ADRIFT games were uniformly bad, with a lot of missing synonyms and other types of bugs. The same thing happened with the first Quest games later entered into the comp, and the first Alan games entered earlier. I wonder if the popularity of a platform depends on the quality of the initial games released; although it could all just be from the quality of the platform itself.


Jon Ingold had already been well-known for Mulldoon Legacy and other games, but winning IFComp and XYZZY in one year established him firmly as a well-known author.

The innocuous Earth and Sky game entered this year came to have a much bigger influence through its sequels over the next few years.

This was also the last comp to feature 50 games until 2015. Over the next few years, many authors migrated ‘out of the system’. Suzanne Britton had already moved on around now; Adam Cadre’s last game was in 2003; Paul O Brian would stop reviewing after the release of his last game in 2004. Although 2001 was still early, it was the beginning of a massive ‘changing of the guard’ that lasted for several years. I feel like a similar ‘changing of the guard’ may be happening now, with long-time IF competitions like Ectocomp and Introcomp changing hands, and IFTF forming. Interestingly, some of the people who ‘aged out’ in the early 2000’s are now coming back to interactive fiction, often to introduce their children to it.

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