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.
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).
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.