Except for a few standout games, this was in a sense the worst IFComp showing; there were only 24 games, the lowest since the first comp; this is the only comp in the 8 year period from 2003 to 2010 not to produce the XYZZY Best Game Winner; ordering all IFComp games on IFDB by number of ratings, you don’t see any games from this comp until page 3, behind every single other comp except for this year’s, and Cactus Blue Motel is due to overtake them in a month or two.
Outside of the comp, this was a great year for Interactive Fiction. Blue Lacuna, Aaron Reed’s massive epic, was finally released.
Alabaster, Emily Short’s largest game in years and a collaboration with many authors, was released.
Make it Good, perhaps Jon Ingold’s best solo game, a dark murder mystery, was released.
Jimmy Maher’s The King of Shreds and Patches, a huge Lovecraftian thriller, was released.
Pacian’s Walker and Silhouette and Dead Like Ants were released, cementing their style.
Fallen London was released.
The Shadow in the Cathedral, a beautiful commercial steampunk game (about Anchorhead sized), was released.
The previous comp had seen 3 incredibly complex and detailed games.
How many IFComp games were affected by the previous games? Judging from the number of games, I wonder if a lot of authors either folded under the pressure or waited a year to release their games (2010 had a good crop of games).
Fortunately, the top 2 or 3 games were still high quality (and a few others).
Rover’s Day Out is a two-world kind of game, one of my favorite categories of games. In this game, you simultaneously play a woman in an apartment who cooks, uses the bathroom, and walks the dog; while also playing an artificial intelligence piloting a spaceship, using the former actions as a metaphor.
The authors really know how to program a game in detail; their later Pogoman Go has well over 100000 words of code (maybe 200000? I don’t know). This game is similarly detailed, with secret UNIX commands, cutscenes, and a clever combat system with multiple resolutions.
Broken Legs by Sarah Morayati is a rare example of a Varicella-like done right. With a very well-characterized protagonist (who many reviewers commented favorably on), you have to take a down a crowd of independent NPCS one at a time. It is brutally difficult, so hard that I don’t know if anyone has beat it without a walkthru, but it is also deeply entertaining.
Snowquest was one of Eve’s poorest games, but it’s not quite his fault. He was experimenting with the Z8 format, a smaller format than glulx, after hearing for the past few years that his IFComp games were too big. What he wrote ended up feeling like a regular Eric Eve game, but incomplete.
The game story is complex, with dream interludes and multiple shifts in viewpoint (another two worlds game). You are on an epic quest to recover an ancient book of wisdom from a cavern. A golden thread runs through the game, tying it together (literally, in some cases).
I have to mention GATOR-ON, which, despite a very long randomized maze sequence in the opening, is interesting as perhaps the only Super Sentai/Power Rangers/Voltron type game I’ve seen.
A surprising number of games were just short Zork-like games with no real story (zork, buried chaos; the Grand Quest; Spelunker’s Quest; Trap Cave). Trap Cave in particular is mostly in German; the author had to halt translation partway through.
The Ascot, released at the time in Adrift but now ported to Choicescript, is a fairly light game, but has one brilliant puzzle.
Byzantine Perspective and Grounded in Space are both very smoothly coded games featuring one important puzzle each.
The Duel in the Snow is the only game I’ve seen to imitate the great Russian authors like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.
Early Grey was a wordplay game like Ad Verbum or the later Counterfeit Monkey, but somewhat underclued.
The Duel that Spanned the Ages was actually a pretty great hard Sci Fi game that allows you to wear a giant mech suit and wreak a bit of havoc, as well as setting up machine gun traps.
I might as well mention Resonance as a big, city-based game with a science fiction plot and many NPCs.
While this comp itself was pretty thin, it spawned some good authors. Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman went on to win the Jay is Games one-room competition the next year against heavyweights like Plotkin and Granade.
Morayati has gone on to make numerous innovative games, being nominated for Best Use of Innovation and Best Use of Writing in both 2015 and 2016 (as well as Best Implementation in 2015). She won Best Use of Innovation in 2015; the results of the 2016 XYZZY’s are due later today.
Eric Eve’s new responsibilities at work prevented him from making further games.
Matt Wigdahl went on to win IFcomp and the XYZZY’s next year, as we will see.