This comp looks very different from the others on the ifcomp.org page, because every game was given artwork by J Robinson Wheeler (http://raddial.com/puzzler/comp03_drawings.html), although some went with other artwork later.
This year saw the release of Short’s City of Secrets, a very ambitious game, and my favorite of her early works. It’s large city with a somewhat alternate present/future remind me a bit of Slouching Toward’s Bedlam’s later alternate London.
Narcolepsy was Adam Cadre’s last release for 10 years. It had three completely different pathways, which was another feature that Bedlam had. This may be an example of parallel development.
Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus was also released, in between two years of IFComps won by superheroes.
To Hell in a Hamper and Insight were also released this year.
Slouching Towards Bedlam is the total package. There is a difference to me between games that I personally love and games that are great. Bedlam isn’t on my top 10 or top 20 list, but it is iconic. It is the first game to completely dominate the scoring (since data is available); the distribution of scores is concave up and increasing.
When I think of IF, I think of Bedlam; it represents ‘this is why IF is interesting’. Again, I’m not saying it’s the most fun to play, but it carefully rewrites every parser response to produce an effect difficult to do in any other medium; as Emily Short points out, Bedlam ‘really offers free will for the player in a context where the choice actually matters to the story’; the setting is original (even for Steampunk games; there are no robotic corsets or dirigibles here); and it addresses the use of the parser and of parser commands in an innovative way.
The game is not without flaws; even when I first played it, I thought the last portion was sketchily implemented. But it represents an enormous achievement, and I would put it with Violet (a game that I actually hate to play) on any required reading list for IF.
Risorgimento Represso is the game I think of when I think of ‘big games in IFComp’. This thing is huge, a kind of Zorkian game involving yogurt cups, chemistry, a rebellion, and an odorous hiding place for glasses. Much too long for the competition, it still took 2nd place.
Scavenger is reminiscent of Moments out of Time, from the past year. You have to pick various equipment before going out to a secret base in a post-apocalyptic world, where you sneak past agents and discover new technologies.
I realized that I have neglected to mention Anssi Räisänen. This author has put out several ALAN games over the years, essentially being the face of the format. Their games are all likable, but not especially suited for the comp; they’re best played when not in a rush, slowly over time, thinking through the puzzles or riddles. Sardoria was their game this Comp, and it has you defeating guards and locked doors through careful thought and consideration. They also released a game this Spring Thing that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Aaron Reed, of Blue Lacuna fame, made his debut with co-author Chad Barb. Their game Gourmet had a great setting and wonderful participatory humor puzzles. It was a tad bit too difficult, though.
Mike Sousa’s solo game, the Recruit, had clever in-jokes about IF itself, including one of the best puzzles I’ve seen, the purple room (it won the XYZZY for that year, I believe).
David Whyld made his debut with Sophie’s Adventure, a massive Adrift game packed with whacky characters, pop culture references, big conversation menus, and plenty of bugs. He would be one of the most prolific authors ever, in and out of IFComp.
Papillon, of Desert Heat and Triune (and apparently now visual novel) fame entered Sweet Dreams, the first graphical adventure in the comp. It’s fun, but the pathfinding is poor. If anyone figures out how to beat the ogre, let me know.
No Room is the only Inform game I know of that has a map consisting of 0 rooms, using a weird feature of Inform programming.
Slouching Towards Bedlam upped the game for rewriting parser messages and establishing a voice; Vespers, Violet, and Lost Pig all pulled similar tricks later on.
Vespers had moral choices and multiple paths, like Bedlam, as well.
David Whyld would go on to write many, many more adventures, as would Aaron Reed.
The next year would see the grand finale of Paul o Brian, and the rise to fame of Chris Klimas, the later author of Twine.