2005 is around the midpoint of the competition. How much had it changed? There is definitely more of an emphasis on setting and characters now than the early comps, which (outside of a few like Plotkin or Ravipinto) generally featured labs, Zorkian worlds, spaceships, etc.
There was also a bigger emphasis on cinematic techniques in storytelling, like the passage of time in Vespers or the disjointed narrative in Beyond.
Otherwise, there is not a marked increase in quality between, say, the top games of Comp96 and Comp05; it’s more of a shift in direction.
This was a grim year, even before the comp. All Hope Abandon, Eric Eve’s offering in a year he skipped the comp, is set in Hell. Whom the Telling Changed by Aaron Reed and Plotkin’s Dreamhold from the end of 2004 were also serious works. Only Conan Kills Everything (a hilarious short game) lightened up the mood.
Whatever the reason, this was a grim, grim comp. The top three games feature cults, satan and satanism, ennui and decay. Lower games involve killing a man twice, fighting rampant sexism, torture, government funded eugenics, relationship drama, violent zombies, dead children, and so on.
Perhaps they were influenced by 2005’s crop of dark films like Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Perhaps movies and games were both influenced by the war in Iraq, which was becoming less and less popular as the American missed its recruiting target by the widest margin in decades.
Vespers is the game that made me quit IF. In 2010, I remembered the game Zork from my dad showing it to me as a kid, so I searched for it on the iPad and found Frotz. I played Curses! and An Act of Murder and loved them, and searched for other games and found Delusions and Deadline Enchanter.
The reason I enjoy reading so much is that I really project myself onto a character, and try to imagine being them. Vespers, included with Frotz, is not the kind of game you want to project yourself into. This is a dark game, with dark actions implemented. I tried, in character, eating a certain unwholesome discovery in the basement, and the game allowed it, which made me feel sick (this ties into the whole complicity discussion about why IF can be more effective than other mediums). That’s why I haven’t played any Robb Sherwin games besides Squeal; he’s such a good author that it’s too easy to identify with his intense worlds. Anyway, I quit IF, only to pick it up again in 2015 when I remembered Anchorhead.
Back to Vespers. This game casts you as a father of a monastery that is hit by the plague and slowly going mad. It features several in-game days of gameplay, active NPCs, timely boxed quotes and very well-written parser responses.
This is the first (and only, I think) comp where 2nd and 3rd places were a tie.
Beyond used hand-drawn graphics to illustrate a big game switching back and forth between the soul of an unborn child and the detective trying to solve the death of its mother.
This game was big, illustrated, and had a puzzle that won Best Individual Puzzle in the XYZZY’s.
However, the translation was a bit choppy, and some felt the game was too long for the comp.
A New Life is a game that I’ve wanted other people to play just to get their take on it. This game, plus the Primrose Path from the next year, and All Roads from 2001, have a common structure: a sort of disjointed narrative jumping back and forth in time which comes together in the end.
Except it doesn’t really come together for this game or Primrose Path, which is why I suppose no one discusses them.
This game casts you as a character in a fantasy world where gender can be changed by mental exertion (and occasionally on accident). It features a barter system and an extensive memory system. Much of the game involves you remember past incidents, including romantic ones (which are tangled up by the various genders; you begin the game in neutral gender).
This game gives the feel that their is quite a bit lurking underneath the surface, ready for the diligent adventurer to find, but it is difficult to find.
This year had one of the biggest disconnects between the main voting and Miss Congeniality. The Plague (Redux) took 22nd in the main comp and 3rd in Miss Congeniality. It is an Adrift game featuring a cinematic opening sequence about a young woman fleeing from a scene of horror, and opens up into a sort of rpg-lite where you collect money, clothing and weapons. It had a game-crashing bug in some interpreters, but should work fine in Adrift 4, available from the adrift website.
Paul Panks released two games. Ninja II was literally the same as Ninja from the previous year, with one extra NPC and command added to it. Jesus of Nazareth was a surprisingly interesting take on Jesus’ life that devolved into stupidity with Jesus’ randomly decided fistfight with a centurion.
CYOA games got a needed boost but also a kick down with two games this year: Space Horror I and FutureGame. Space Horror I was, for those who could install it, a rather enjoyable game in the style of CYOA books, with an illustration and some real puzzles. However, it had an incredibly annoying installation process that presumed access to some protected folders on the computer and was easily messed up.
Future Game was a game with 2 choices in it, a mockery of CYOA and IF in general, continuing the bad vibes against CYOA games.
Cheiron was one of the most unusual IF ever. It is a fairly realistic medical simulator where you go around a hosptial diagnosing people in precise times. It is underclued and jargon heavy, but unique.
John Evans, David Whyld and Santoonie continued releasing the same kind of games they had always released.
Mike Snyder picked up another Best Game XYZZY nomination for his short game Distress, about a spacefarer marooned on a small planet.
Tough Beans was an excellent feminist game, which was (and is) rare.
Simon Christiansen began his series of highly innovative games with Internal Vigilance. This game was not quite as innovative as his later games, but deals with the serious topic of torture.
Unforgotten has a great story if you can get past the first scene.
This comp would have the best placement by the Italian IF community up to this point, which was a boost for that community.
The next year saw a bigger game like Jesus of Nazareth: The Bible Retold, which became a series.
For whatever reason, the comp began picking up speed next year, which featured a ton of innovative games, including the return of Plotkin and Short to IFComp.