History of IFComp, year by year: 2011

This year is notable for The Play, a CYOA game, reaching 3rd place, as well as for the infamous hat-puzzle.


Choicescript had come on the scene in the last year or so, and it was beginning to make an impression, as the easy-to-play games began to attract bigger and bigger crowds on their own. Introcomp this year featured numerous choicescript games; while most of the experienced authors welcomed the variety, a few were firmly opposed.

Cryptozookeeper was released this year, Robb Sherwin’s massive game which he spent hundreds of hours on, including photographic images and a big soundtrack. Sherwin’s style may have influenced Ryan Veeder, and the combat may have influenced Gijsber’s Kerkerkruip.

Ryan Veeder released his first game, You’ve Got a Stew Going!. He would go on to win the competition.

The Indigo speed competition this year was a speed-IF designed to teach people a new language.

Top Games

Taco Fiction was this year’s winner, by Ryan Veeder. This game started off a sort of ‘Ryan Veeder movement’, one of the few games to greatly influence the style of many authors. Emily Short describes this style: “[A] lot of Ryan Veeder’s games don’t fall easily into either new- or old-school categories. They tend to have more story and NPC development than old-school games, while still implementing fairly lightly (so there are relatively few objects per room and an emphasis on modeling only what is necessary for the story).”

This game has you attempt, as a criminal, to rob a taco store. But Veeder is known for many fake-outs: seemingly important parts of a game turn out to be trivial, while trivial parts can be more deeply implemented than the main part. A host of humorous characters round out the game.

Six is Wade Clarke’s signature game. A prolific reviewer and author of several large games, Clarke added his own multimedia to this game, including a sound-based puzzle.

Six is a charming game, and was nominated for best game of the year in the XYZZY’s. It may have even won in 2011, but its length was split in two: you can ‘win’ the game halfway through, and then unlock a second playthrough as a different character with completely different puzzle solutions. Due to IFComp time constraints, many people probably played just the first half.

The point of the game is that you are at a costume birthday party, playing hide and seek with other kids.

The Play marked an extremely important milestone in IFComp history: the first time a CYOA game made the top three.

Many people remember controversies from later years about CYOA vs. parser, but people often forget that the IF community was very accepting of The Play before Twine ever showed up.

The Play does some things so good that it’s worth mentioning it’s structure. Unlike exploration-based or more static twine games, The Play (written in Undum) is all about strategy and management. You have four or five people whose mood and emotions you have to manage. The game injects drama by having everything start out in an already bad state.

Choices have immediate and lasting consequences as reflected in the moods. Often a choice won’t reveal its true consequences until much later.

The strategy element comes from the fact that every change has a cost. Pleasing one actor displeases another, for instance. But another interesting element is allowing the player to compromise their own principles in order to further the game. Do you allow sexism, knowing it will make the play better? It’s very effective, in a way that few CYOA games were able to be for a long time afterward (Birdland with its stats comes to mind as another good example).

Other games

Simon Christiansen continued his pattern of innovation with PataNoir, a game now being sold that features manipulable metaphors. You can take the cold ice out of a cold icy stare to make the person calmed down. It’s highly unusual and well-done.

Carolyn VanEseltine continued her pattern of well-done IFComp games with the vegetable-humor Beet the Devil.

Victor Gijsbers created what I feel is the only truly great text adventure RPG, Kerkerkruip, a randomly-generated dungeon with intense strategy. It’s been made into a graphical game since then.

Cana According to Micah is pretty much the only sincere, well-done Christian game entered into the comp. It’s just a chill game involving Jesus and John the baptist.

The Binary and Operation Extraction were other choice games; The Binary placed 11th, with a tight story about time travel. Operation Extraction proclaims at the top of the first page: ‘NO beta testers were used during the development of this game.’, and it shows as you attempt to simultaneously control 4 groups. Dead Hotel, a third game, was comazombie’s third use of their homebrew system, and the only one that’s a complete (though tiny) game.

Andrew Schultz, a notable IFComp author, made his debut with Fan Interference. Unlike his later games, this was a baseball game that was intensely simulated, with many timers, as well as costume changes and some gross but funny actions. He would later shift to wordplay games, being one of the best-known ‘genre authors’ in IF.

David Whyld toned down his usual giant games with the compact How Suzy Got Her Powers, making this a good to try if you’re interested in seeing one of his many games. It won an XYZZY nomination for best individual puzzle.

Andrew Plotkin made another IFComp return in an unusual way. This comp featured the Hat puzzle, a unique set of four entries that were secretly connected by passcodes and hidden verbs. While no one really figured it out on their own, everyone agreed it was a great idea when it was done.

Marco Innocenti kicked off the Andromeda Franchise with Andromeda Awakening. Translated from Italian, it was criticized for the spotty writing (some focused on the word ‘cyanotic’ applied to lighting), and for the manipulation-puzzle-heavy focus typical of Italian IF. Innocenti felt dismissed by reviewers, but returned triumphantly the next year with a win.

There are so many other games to mention… There are many games in IFComp history that had a great concept but so-so execution. There was a sort of taboo in early IF that each concept could only ‘be done’ once (some of this attitude lingers; I heard a reviewer recently say that the wordplay genre is essentially over after Counterfeit Monkey). Keepsake is a game with a concept that should be ‘done over’, because it’s very good.

Lynnea Glasser entered again, this time with an inhuman protagonist, which influenced her later Coloratura design. Anssi Raisanen released yet another polished Alan game. Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy released an ambitious but buggy game.


Taco Fiction opened up a new direction for several IF authors, who felt more of a freedom in what to focus on and what not to in games.

Patanoir and Kerkerkruip are still being updated and distributed/sold at this time.

The Play kicked off a 5-year trend of CYOA games winning Best Writing in the XYZZY’s, which lasted until this year with Katherine Morayati’s win.

The next year, though, would see some bitter disputes about CYOA games.


As a matter of fact, Cryptozookeeper is still on the list of games I have to play one day, so I can quite definitely say that it did not influence Kerkerkruip. :slight_smile: The ATTACK combat system was already being developed before Cryptozookeeper was released; see, e.g., my 2010 game 'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus (which, admittedly, features a very different ATTACK from that in Kerkerkruip).

I remember this Comp quite well. Calm was the first collaboration Melvin and I worked on together. Some things we had a very shaky grasp on:

  • Plotting
  • Golden path game design*
  • How to write good code**
  • Proof-reading
  • Consistency of narrative voice

Things we were great on:

  • innovative ideas
  • multiple puzzle solutions
  • scope explosion
  • atmosphere
  • Easter eggs***
  • breadth of reactivity
  • or rather, putting the most of the effort into what most players will see.
    ** all of the actions in the code are massive if-else-end-if blocks:

Check taking (this is the can't take various items rule): if the noun is the lever, try pulling the lever instead; if the noun is drinkable, try drinking the noun instead; if the noun is the drain, try prying the drain with instead; if the noun is the signpost, try raising the signpost instead; if the noun is held by an intact unlit person, say no way instead; if the noun is worn by the player, try taking off the noun instead; if the noun is the mood stabilisers and the player holds the mood stabilisers, try eating the mood stabilisers instead; if the noun is the caffeine tablets and the player holds the tablets, try eating the tablets instead; if the noun is the back, say "You're self-possessed enough to already have got your back." instead; if the noun is the vomit, say "There are depths to which you cannot sanely sink." instead; if the noun is the intact locked padlock, say "[The noun] is attached to the metal shipping container." instead; if the noun is the broken sample 101, say "You'll only cut yourself on the glass shards.[line break]" instead; if the noun is the bunch of other samples, say "These aren't the samples you're looking for." instead; if the noun is the scuffed conveyer belt, say "It's not quite aged enough to come away in your hands." instead; if the noun is the dust, say "Dust is too small to take. (And you probably already have some in your inventory)." instead; if the noun is the magazines, say "Your aim is to get away from all these dog-eared copies of Steam Enthusiasts Monthly..." instead; if the noun is the dishes, say "The joys of post-ecopocalyptic New Hayek do not include the pilfering of vast quantities of other people's [if the dishes are dirty]dirty [end if]dishes. It remains somewhat a mystery as to how you manage to carry so much in the first place." instead; if the noun is a screw and the holder of the noun is screwable, say "You'll need to unscrew [the holder of the noun] first." instead; if the noun is screwable and the noun is screwed, say "You can't take [the noun], as it's screwed to [another item]." instead; if the noun is furniture, say "Your inventory is large, but it isn't [italic type]that[roman type] large." instead; if the noun is the thick moss, say "You grasp some and it disintegrates in your hands." instead; if the noun is the mud, say "You're filthy enough already." instead; if the noun is the wild flowers, say "They're much too pretty to pick." instead; if the noun is the pebbles, say "The pebbles remaining in the wall are very securely held." instead; if the noun is the seed pod and the seed pod is in a type of soil, say "There's no need to uproot the happy plant now that it has a home." instead; if the noun is the large scaffolding, say "You'll not be able to take the scaffolding without disassembling it first." instead; if the noun is the makeshift swing and the noun is on the swing set, say "The swing is in its correct place, no need to move it now." instead; if the noun is the red-leaved plant begin; if the red leaf is on the red-leaved plant begin; now the noun is the red leaf; otherwise; say "Lest you be over-run with little leaves, it may be prudent to take one at a time." instead; end if; otherwise if the noun is the pile of tyres; if the worn tyre is in the hold begin; move the worn tyre to the player; say "You pull an old worn tyre from the pile, brushing off the grime and pulling away the plant life." instead; otherwise; say "The rest of the tyres aren't so easily accessible, and you only have a limited demand for them." instead; end if; otherwise if the noun is the ivy; if the ivy rope is off-stage and the grappling hook is off-stage begin; now the player has the ivy rope; say "You give the ivy a good tug and it come off the tree. The thickness of the ivy means it is more than suitable to be used as a rope." instead; otherwise; say "You've already taken the only free part of the ivy." instead; end if; otherwise if the noun is the weeds; now the player holds a handful of weeds; say "You tear off a few of the weeds, but most are too strong for your grasp." instead; otherwise if the noun is a large thing; if the player holds the noun begin; say "You can't take what you already have." instead; otherwise if the player holds a large thing; say "That's too big too pick up while holding [a list of large things held by the player]." instead; otherwise if motivation rating is less than three; say "It's just too much effort to pick that up right now." instead; end if; otherwise if the noun is a drink urn; if the starting-location is "North Road" and the noun is the carton begin; say "There's only a little bit of frankly suspicious looking milk in the tatty carton. Best to stick with a canteen or a bottle of water." instead; otherwise if the noun is closed; say "You don't need [the noun], just its contents to [italic type]make [if the noun is the pot]hot chocolate[otherwise if the noun is the tub]tea[otherwise if the noun is the jar]coffee[otherwise]a drink[end if][roman type]." instead; otherwise if the noun is not empty; now the noun is the first thing held by the noun; try inserting the noun into the cup instead; otherwise; say "You've run out of [if the noun is the pot]chocolate powder[otherwise if the noun is the tub]tea leaves[otherwise if the noun is the jar]coffee granules[otherwise]something[end if]." instead; end if; otherwise if the noun is a drink component; if the noun is not a liquid begin; try inserting the noun into the cup instead; otherwise if the noun is hot; try inserting the noun into the cup instead; otherwise; try inserting the noun into the saucepan instead; end if; end if.
*** the game has hundreds of actions and descriptions and puzzle solutions that all of about three players have probably seen

I think one of the first things I did in IFComp that year was try to make a cup of tea in the original version of Calm. It had me in hysterics - I mean, laughy hysterics. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think that task was meant to be a little bit hard, and so potentially aggravating to the player as per the game mechanic, but nowhere near as aggravating as it actually was.


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The trouble was, we had a very simulationist approach to the rest of the game, so when we made the tea and coffee section (initially intended just as another trade-off between stress and motivation) we implemented all the fiddly steps which, it turns out, was not a good design approach. In later versions >make tea was implemented.