According to Eriorg (thanks for the tip!), this year was the first year after the release of Inform 7, the natural language interactive fiction language. It saw several heavy-hitter games and the return of Plotkin and Short to IFComp.
This year had seen the release of Bronze (Short’s influential tutorial-based game using inform 7), De Baron (Gijsber’s dark Spring Thing winner about morality) and Child’s Play, Stephen Granade’s finished Introcomp game about babies. Short also released Glass, a conversational game.
Bronze and Glass may have influenced the strongly fairy-tale centered Moon-Shaped, and also possibly Madam Spider’s Web.
De Baron was a dark game with an unreliable narrator who is an anti-hero (if that’s the correct term), and there were several games that riffed on those themes this year.
Vicious Cycles, an earlier IFComp game with a time loop, may have inspired this year’s Moebius.
Floatpoint was Emily Short’s IFComp winner. Having placed 2nd in IFComp six years earlier, she used the new language Inform 7 to craft a massively detailed game. I remember playing through all of the comp games in a month before, and being startled at how much bigger and complex this game seemed than the others.
At times, it seems to burst its stuffing; the comp version has some bugs, and it’s easy to lose the overall picture amidst all the details. But it has a brilliant device involving different ‘filters’ on flashbacks, and attempts to evoke a personal moral choice in the ending in the same way that De Baron and Slouching Towards Bedlam do, but, I think, to lesser effect.
I remember hearing that several people criticized Short, an already well-known author, for entering the comp again, but I don’t recall hearing that about Plotkin (who entered this year and won miss congeniality) or Paul O Brian (who entered several times and won twice), or even Ryan Veeder or Lynnea Glasser, both of whom entered after winning.
The Primrose Path had the advantages of being well-written, with one especially inspired puzzle and some innovations in player-parser interaction. It had one of those stories that does well in the comp and poorly after: a puzzling, jumpy story that makes you feel like there’s more underneath if you just poke, giving you high ratings in the comp, but then afterwards the pieces just don’t fit, making it less successful in the long run. A New Life is also like this.
The Elysium Enigma went on to win Best Game in the XYZZY’s, a startling upset for Floatpoint that can be attributed to several factors, including the fact that much of Elysium Enigma was not visible in a single IFComp playthrough.
This game has you landing on a rural planet as an official of a sort of galactic alliance. The previous representatives caused some sort of disaster. The game includes several deeply implemented NPCs and a multiple-solution mechanic system involving gathering food, as well as many endings. The conversational NPCs, multiple endings and multiple solutions were likely influenced by Short’s work.
This is Eric Eve’s best known game, and my least favorite; it is in a way the opposite of Floatpoint. Floatpoint has fun details and a sort of boring overall story, while Elysium Enigma has a fun overall idea with some very boring sub-tasks (flying a flag, finding food, chasing off animals). Both are among the highest quality IFComp games ever entered, however.
This year featured several games by prolific authors, and not just Short and Eve.
Mike Snyder picked up yet another best game XYZZY nomination with Tales of the Travelling Swordsman, an exciting linear fantasy game with some exciting combat puzzles and cheerful storyline.
Plotkin returned to IFComp with Delightful Wallpaper. I’m not sure whether Plotkin was entering to win or not; the first half of the game is a complex, bizarre maze. Mazes have been hated by the IF community since the almost the beginning, and Hunter in Darkness was criticized for a maze, so I wonder if Plotkin just wanted to enter something really cool. If he was trying to not win, though, he did poorly, as he came in 6th place and won Miss Congeniality (similar to Inside the Facility, coming in 11th and winning Miss Congeniality; Inside the Facility also had a spare, maze-like map. Maybe IF authors like that sort of thing more than non-authors?). The second half of the game has you directly manipulating storylines in an intriguing way. If you feel like skipping the first half with a walkthrough, the second half may interest you. I feel like everyone in the IF community would love one of the halves, and which half you like says a lot about you.
Jason Devlin made his first of two (or three?) repeat entries to IFComp with Legion. Somehow his later games were never as polished, but they were always innovatinve. Legion had an alien protagonist with a bizarre viewpoint. This sort of idea would have more success later in Colaratura by Lynnea Glasser.
Strange Geometries is another game with a brilliant idea with less successful execution. It seems like a boring, standard Lovecraftian game, but has a major twist which would especially be loved by those with a geometrical bent.
Robin Johnson made his IFComp debut with Aunts and Butlers, written in a homebrew parser called Versificator. Ten years later, an improved version of this parser would win the comp in Detectiveland.
This year saw a few straight-up adaptations of short stories, which was an unusual development.
Sisyphus was one of the best-polished troll games of all time, with an excellent simulation of being Sisyphus.
Panks, Santoonie, and David Whyld continued releasing their classic style of games, although John Evans was no longer entering.
This was Eve’s first big IFComp success. With the XYZZY under his belt, he would go on to write other big games and enter IFComp twice.
Intfiction.org was started this year, before the comp, by Mike Snyder.
Floatpoint had great, commisioned cover art (whether for the comp or after, I don’t know). The next year, Mike Roberts starte IFDB, which included cover art for games. After this comp, cover art became slowly more and more important. Vespers, the previous year’s winner, had no cover art.
(Note: I wrote this without internet, sending it through my phone, so it may be lower quality today).