Last year’s Bedlam, with its time-shifting narrative and text art descriptions, may have influenced both Blue Chairs and All Things Devours.
The Act of Misdirection and was released this year; Misdirection was the first stage magician game I remember playing, and this comp had another one (The Great Xavio).
The Dreamhold was released after the comp, I believe, and Return to Ditch Day didn’t seem to have any direct imitators (although Stack Overflow is vaguely reminiscent).
Future Boy! was released this year, a commercial game centered around a superhero, perhaps in a subconscious response to the Earth and Sky games.
Earth and Sky 3: Luminous Horizon was the grand finale of the Earth and Sky 3. It allowed you to switch between the protagonists of the 2 previous games, and several big battle sequences.
This game had been hard for Paul O Brian to write, he said, but he kept at it for the two years. He had also been running SPAG magazine for years by this point as well, and reviewing all the comp games. Earth and Sky 2 had won no XYZZY’s except best implementation, and Luminous Horizon wasn’t even nominated for Best Game. It’s interesting to read the difference between the Editor’s Messages in issue 39 and issue 40 of SPAG magazine, one right after IFComp and one right after the XYZZY’s. He would retire from SPAG editorship in Issue #41.
Blue Chairs was Chris Klimas’ biggest game, which won the Best Game XYZZY.
It’s essentially a drug-induced college version of Dante’s Inferno… sort of. I generally don’t play games with a lot of strong profanity, which this has, but I genuinely like this game; the protagonist is easy to identify with.
You take an unlabeled pill which sends you on a drug trip with some interesting text art effects. The rest of the game alternates between reality (possibly) and strange visions, with some tricky puzzles in the middle.
All Things Devours is sort of the quintessential time travel game in the IF Canon (if that exists). It casts you as a scientific researcher who must stop a bad experiment while avoiding the multiple copies of themself.
One thing that’s shown up occasionally in IFComp is the Varicella-like, an open world with many independent, nasty NPCs that you take on one at a time. Broken Legs is one example (from 2009), but this year had the Sting of the WASP by Jason Devlin, where you play a rotten socialite trying to keep her position at the top. Devlin went on to release several high-placing IFComp games, including winning in 2005.
Eric Eve released Square Circle. He was probably the most successful IFcomp author to never win, with 3 top 3 finishes, including one which won an XYZZY.
The Orion Agenda is notable for having an IFComp playthrough (which is fairly boring) and a much larger, richer playthrough which few have found or played. If you like Hard scifi, this is a real gem (and a real long gem).
Infamous internet troll Jacek Pudlo (who even now haunts intfic.com and most likely here under pseudonyms) has harrassed many people over the years, especially Adam Cadre, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin). After years of harrassment, Pudlo (or a relative, but most people assume it was Jacek) released Gamlet, a surprisingly good game about a Jewish version of Hamlet. It has some crude humor and a perhaps intentionally stupid ending, but I actually liked it. (as a side note, I named one of the NPCs in my 2016 IFComp game the slightly different name Jalcek, as a hint to their character.)
Bellclap was a remarkable game, in that you, the parser, and the PC are all different people. It wasn’t implemented very well, but the idea was clever.
While otherwise unremarkable, Blue Sky is one of the few games set in the American Southwest that isn’t a western.
This year was remarkable for several series-related purveyors of incomplete or buggy programs. Santoonie Corporation continued their string of IFComp games that would lead you on with a seemingly good game under the mess, only to intentionally leave you high and dry by not completing the game. This year’s game, Zero, has a long legal section and a foul-mouthed companion.
Paul Panks released his first game, an author famous for small untested Basic games.
John Evans released Domicile, continuing his string of brilliant, huge unfinished games.
And, finally, someone decided to continue the Pick up the Phone Booth and Die series with a game ‘designed to place in exactly second to last’.
I think this year was an upswing back in the IFComp. The next 4 years would produce top games that are still remembered fondly.
Paul o Brian departed this year, and Paul Panks arrived. Panks would be a divisive figure in the community until his untimely death.
Jason Devlin went on to write several well-regarded games.