This year began to feel a bit different, among the top entries, than other years. There was more of an emphasis on characterization, on plot, and on the smoothness of everything.
Some of that may have been influenced by Pacian’s very successful Gun Mute, a cinematic sort of sci-fi cowboy shoot-em-up.
Doug Egan won Spring Thing with Pascal’s Wager, and play-die-repeat game involving various gods. The IFComp game Grief reminded me of it in a few ways.
Violet is one of those massively popular games that came out of IFComp, with the sixth highest number of ratings on IFDB out of all games and the 2nd highest average rating of all IFComp games (after lost pig).
You play as a doctoral student whose girlfriend has issued an ultimatum: write 1000 words, or she’s gone.
The whole game is written with the parser as the girlfriend, Violet. A one-room game, it contains numerous scripted background events, has the standard responses and help menu completely rewritten, has a destructive rather than collective tendency, allows for multiple player genders, etc.
I personally found the game very stressful when I played it, as I was finishing my dissertation. But this game has probably maxed out the expectations for parser characterization.
Nightfall is my favorite Eric Eve game, and his most successful in IFComp. You play in a really big city that has been evacuated, trying to find information on your former love and stopping a terrorist plot.
When I first played this game, I thought it was old-school, but old-school games aren’t like this either. It’s just Eric Eve-school: multiple simultaneous goals, a big grid-like map, simple individual puzzles. It could easily have won in earlier years, but it was up against one of the most successful games ever; I don’t know if any game has won IFComp as handily as Violet did.
Jim Munroe had entered years earlier with Punk Points, but now did much higher with this game. This game is radically different from previous IF games. It uses graphics not as flavor (like Kaged) or puzzle components (like Sweet Dreams); instead, the graphics are cut scenes whose interpretation is left up to the player. Puzzling out their meaning is part of the meta-puzzle of the game.
This is a teenage supernatural-ish drama where, in fact, everybody dies… sometimes. It reminds me of the era of Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles; this game is nothing like those, but reminds me of a movie someone could have made back then.
There was another CYOA controversy this year with Project Delta, which used a DOS-like menu system that allows multiple choices like Twine but also a few other commands like Inventory and so on. It was a very short demo, and the author was very proud of their system, and their ended up being a huge fight about it, further increasing negative attitudes towards CYOA games. (Actually, looking over it, this game didn’t cause the controversy; the author’s next game in 2009 caused it).
Riverside was one of the trolliest troll games I’ve seen. It is an absolutely normal game, fairly boring but not bad, and then…I really think the authors just ran out of time and decided to just troll everyone instead of entering the game later.
Afflicted begins with a very unusual setting: you are in a disgusting diner, and you are a health inspector trying to fail them in as many ways as possible. The game changes dramatically, but it’s still interesting.
Simon Christiansen entered again this year, beginning his slide towards unusual games. Grief has you replaying an event over and over trying to stop it. It’s topic (parenthood) is fairly unusual in IF.
Berrost’s challenge is a game that could have been entered in 1995. It’s interesting that some genres are always popular among writers.
Buried in Shoes deals with the holocaust in a short, surreal way.
Violet is permanently engrained in the IF community’s consciousness as an example of extreme characterization. It also makes one room games more popular.
Jim Munroe would go on a quest to make parser games more visually accessible, with the graphics-heavy Guilded Youth following. Eventually, he would develop Texture, which is parser-like but more accessible.
Simon Christiansen went on to write some very innovative games, which we’ll get to later.
These top three games represent a super high level of polish, and a great achievement in characterization, geography, and cinematic style, respectively. They set such a high bar that, I think, intimidated authors, or made them take a long time, as the next year was (with a few exceptions) one of the worst IFComp showings ever.