Several major games were released before IFComp this year, including Savoir-Faire (Short’s alt-historical physics simulator), Lock and Key (Cadre’s reversal of an escape game) and Peter Nepstad’s massive 1893: A World’s Fair.
Many games this year seemed to feature a sort of ‘dark, grim journey’ (for instance, one reviewer called Photograph “irredeemably fatalistic.”). I wonder if this was a response to All Road’s relatively dark, story-focused gameplay.
Obviously, the last year’s Earth and Sky was an influence for its own author, who went on to win.
Also, without previous collaboration, three games this year had a giant squid (the top 2 games, as well as Tookie’s Song). This became almost a byword in the community (What will be this year’s Giant Squid?), shorthand for the bizarre coincidences in IFComp games (In 2016, 3 of the top 4 games were mystery games involving detectives, for instance).
Earth and Sky 2: In a year filled with grim games, two comedy games topped the list. This game casts you as a superhero who can smash and destroy and lift and throw things, with huge cartoon BASH and BOOMs. Chandler Groover has stated that he believes games that allow you to do silly things place better, and this game is testament to that. It’s fun to be like the hulk.
After a brief intro, you play a super strong hero trapped on a tiny planetoid, where you gain your bearings via massive jumps. There is a menu-based conversation system and a whole backstory. The author would go on to write a sequel in 2004 which would also win.
Til death make a monkfish out of me is the second collaboration between Mike Sousa and an author, and the more successful. It has a brilliant opening involving waking up in a place you’d never want to be. This game revolves around robots and transference of the mind between different beings, all set in a lab that reminds me of a more cheerful version of the base in Sphere. The puzzles were a bit more obtuse than EAS, though, which probably led to its 2nd place finish.
Photograph is one of three games that placed in the top three over the years that involve a middle-aged middle class individual experiencing flashbacks that they can change (Tapestry and Map are the others). This game is a little hard to figure out what to do in at first, but becomes a poignant exploration of a life later on.
The Moonlit Tower is one of the most beloved games from this comp, featuring a mysterious east-asian influenced world by Yoon Ha Lee, whom I believe has found some success as an author.
Janitor is a backwards game, where you have to reset a zork-like game. It had a cool ending, but its initial interface is still confusing.
The PK Girl is Adrift’s magnum opus, with an open world, thousands of ‘tasks’, 9 endings, multiple NPCs, graphics and sound. It would be much more popular today if not for one major obstacle: its genre. It’s a male-oriented dating sim in a scifi action setting. Every girl is much more powerful than you, but wants a big strong man in charge. It’s not explicit, but its massively chauvinistic.
Out of the Study used a telescoping EXAMINE command, like Lime Ergot, for those who like the latter game.
Sun and Moon was an ARG spread out over the internet, which is, unfortunately, no longer available.
Constraints was a fascinating game, especially its ending. It has several mini-games exploring player restraint, which might be valuable reading today in the age of limited parser.
Jane was a photopia-like exploration of spouse abuse.
When Help Collides is very obtuse, but has 3 brilliant games-within-a-game that are worth looking up the codes to access.
The Granite Book does very unusual things with the parser, and player identity, and movement, and a dark story.
There are several other solid games worth playing.
Paul O Brian would go on to be the only person to win IFComp twice.
This year was a year of decline, with less entries and less votes. Next year would have even less of both; Zarf didn’t play any 2003 games.
2003, though, would be one of my favorite comps, if anything due to the cool cover art.