History of IFComp, year by year: 2017

This is a continuation of my previous series, History of IFComp, year by year, which stopped at 2016. It’s been most of a decade since I last wrote the series, so if there’s anything you’d like me to change or update to this post, or if something is lacking, please let me know!

The continuation of this series has been made possible through support by the IFTF, and each post will include attribution to that effect.

Overall, 2017 was one of the best IFComps of all time. If you browse IFDB by ‘Highest Rated’, over all games on the database, currently 4 of the top 20 are IFComp 2017 games: The Wizard Sniffer, Eat Me, Will Not Let Me Go, and A Beauty Cold and Austere.


The year before this one had been particularly weak for traditional parser games; in fact, 2016 was the first year that a choice-based game won (the hybrid choice-parser game Detectiveland). Those parser games that did place highly were often unusual or experimental (like Hanon Ondricek’s Fair).

My hypothesis is that this is correlated to the strong parser showing in 2017; either 2016 was slower because so many people were working on long, complex games that wouldn’t be done for another year; or people saw a power vacuum in 2016 and decided to fill it in 2017. Or, of course, it could be coincidence.

Meanwhile, choice based games had been steadily diversifying and growing, with games like Seedship by John Ayliff (a micromanagement colony game) and Lost in Time by Gerardo Adesso (an incredibly long and complex puzzle game) published earlier in the year exemplifying the growing segment of puzzle-based Choice games.

Despite the dramatic political events in 2017 in the United States and some other areas of the world, little of real-world events seem to have leaked into the themes for IFComp, except for Mike Sousa’s game Fake News.

One clear influence on the comp was Bobby and Bonnie by @xavid, which included a graphical map. This same concept was used in their IFComp game Future Threads.

Finally, one of the biggest releases of the year was Bob Bate’s game Thaumistry, which was a commercial parser release and one of the most successful recent commercial parser games. However, it released right in the middle of IFComp; at the time, I certainly felt that that that was a bad idea, as it had more competition at that time of the year than any other, but it has sold reasonably well since then (by my standards).

This was also the first year for the Colossal Fund, which provided fairly significant cash prizes to 2/3 of the games each year.

Top Games

Wizard Sniffer

At the time of writing, Wizard Sniffer is the 7th most popular game on IFDB of all time.

This is a limited parser game that constrains you by casting you in the role of…a pig. You can sniff things, and occasionally carry things, but the majority of the game consists in getting others to do things for you.

The Wizard Sniffer excels in its description of characters. As a humor game, it grossly exaggerates the personalities of others, from the shy eldritch horror to the overbearing hero to the thoughtful squire.

The limited parser allowed the author to place all of the complexity into the NPCs, many of whom are autonomous and react dynamically to situations around them. Limited parser had already had great success in previous years (with games like Midnight, Swordfight by Chandler Groover and Superluminal Vagrant Twin by C.E.J. Pacian picking up many accolades in the preceding years. The Wizard Sniffer was a natural evolution of the limited parser idea, and is one of its strongest examples.

Finally, this game also had strong LGBTQ themes, including both gay and trans characters. While there have been LGBTQ authors in the IF Community from the very beginning, the advent of Twine and Anna Anthropy and Porpentine had created a large influx of more authors who explored gender and sexuality in their works. While there had been controversy in previous years (such as with Gamergate in 2014), by 2017 things had settled down considerably in the IF community.

Eat Me

This was another limited parser game, and has ended up being one that has been recommended to many others to draw them into IF Games.

Chandler Groover was at his height in the IF Competition world here. He had previously performed very well in various IFComps, Ectocomps, and Spring Things, and produced a celebrated body of work. After this game, his work largely was channeled into two separate categories: highly experimental, and professional.

In strong contrast to Groover’s earlier work, which featured unusual directional systems and eschewed traditional parser puzzles, this game features NESW movement, a large map, and classic-style puzzles, with one special caveat: EAT is the only real action you need, outside of movement.

The game is gruesome, even grotesque, but in the same way that Grimm’s Fairy Tales are gruesome. You have been cursed to have endless hunger that cannot be satisfied. Imprisoned within a dungeon, you have to eat your way through a castle made of food filled with a variety of food-based people until you confront the one who imprisoned you.


This game uses a custom system designed by Liza Daly called Windrift.

Liza was (and is) a longtime IF veteran, with games dating back to 1996. Highlights include My Dinner with Andre, an XYZZY nominee for best puzzles; Pick up the Phone Booth and Aisle, where she was one author in a very large collaboration; and First Draft of the Revolution, a game she co-wrote with Emily Short and which directly inspired Chris Klimas to add cycling links to Twine. (I believe Liza mostly did tech work; her blog indicates that she commissioned Emily Short). She also serves on the IFTF board of directors, founded IFMUD, and served as one of the engineering directors for the Democratic National Committee during the 2020 election.

Harmonia itself is three different things:

  1. A startlingly good demonstration of IF technology and design. This game has it all: nice margins, fonts, font size, a variety of images, scrawled notes in a margin with lines that look hand-drawn, etc. I’ve personally looked to it as a source of inspiration in any project where I’ve worked on CSS or HTML.
  2. A story/almost academic analysis about utopian narratives in 1800s communities, with tons of resources for readers to find those stories if they so desire. I say ‘almost’ academic not because this isn’t academic (it’s very well cited) but because it’s presented as a fictional narrative and has fictional elements. But this seems like the kind of material that would be appropriate for a digital humanities professor to have on her CV.
  3. A science fiction choice-based narrative with some mild internal branching and two big branches at the end. The science-fiction is spot on, more like HG Wells or similar period authors (maybe even Mark Twain?) than later writers like Asimov or Herbert. Some reviews have complained that it is linear but on replaying it for this essay I realized that there are numerous places where you can get different scenes based on your choices.

Overall, this was a very solid effort, unique in many ways and at the peak of its craftsmanship in many others.

Other Notable Games

Will Not Let Me Go

This Twine game, which came in 4th place, has had a lasting impact on the IF community, placing in the Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition) and Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2023 edition), winning an XYZZY award, and being mentioned frequently on the intfiction forum when recommendations for Twine games come up.

This is a sad fictional story about Alzheimer’s. You play as a man named Fred Strickland who has Alzheimer’s, and you see the struggles from his point of view.

Besides nice styling, graphics, and well-chosen text animations, the game’s most interesting feature is its use of interactivity to simulate Alzheimer’s. Word choices get replaced as you forget how to say certain things. Certain choice cause continuity jumps to indicate forgetting things. Images are displayed blurred to represent bad eyesight. It’s very effective.

One small thing that I really appreciated was a subtle progress meter that displays at the top of the game once the prologue is over. Especially in large choice games it can be hard to get an idea of how much time you should budget for the game, so the progress indicator definitely helps!

A Beauty Cold and Austere

This is another game which has ended up having a long-lasting influence in the community. This was a first effort by Mike Spivey, who was my boss at the time this came out (he wrote it before we met; we were both math academics, and met on the forums. I mentioned he was looking for a position, and there was an opening at his school for a low level position, so I submitted my application and the committee liked it).

This game is classic Infocom-style adventure with some areas very reminiscent of Graham Nelson’s Curses (especially the Greek areas of both games), but with a highly unusual setting: math.

That’s right, just math. The game takes place on the number line, and has you travelling to infinity, proving theorems (through puzzles), solving systems of linear differential equations, and more.

Given that there are surprisingly many mathematicians in the IF community, this was a big hit.

Queer in Public

One of the most unusual entries in this year’s IFComp was Bez’s game Queer in Public. Bez had entered short fictional stories in previous comps, but this game was something new: a non-fiction, autobiographical essay, with links serving merely to organize the text.

While it placed low in the competition, it has come up several times since then in different conversations regarding the boundaries of ‘what is IF?’ or about the existence of religious interactive fiction. To me, it serves as an important landmark in the IF canon marking the boundaries of what people have currently explored. It won the Golden Banana Award, given to the IFComp game with highest standard deviation for the year.

Since then, Bez has gone on to make several more games, both of the fictional category (including the XYZZY-nominated Lore Distance Relationship), but also non-fictional essays, of which the most accessible and (in my own opinion) most successful in communicating his intent is My Pseudo-Dementia Exhibition from the 2023 IFComp, an interactive museum piece with images, music, and a compelling personal narrative. In addition, there was a direct sequel to Queer in Public, titled How to Survive Religious Trauma

Word of the Day

This is one of the largest Inform games ever written, at more than 200K words. It doesn’t reach the heights of games like Blue Lacuna, but it is surprisingly big for an IFComp game. Most of the text is background information on the characters, species and politics in this space thriller game.


This is a game that I wrote as an experiment. I had noticed that most highly-rated IFComp parser games in past years were long, non-repetitive, and bug-free, regardless of their genre. I hypothesized that any long, non-repetitive and bug-free game could post highly, even if the story wasn’t well thought out.

So I spent a single day mapping out a minimalist game with as little text as possible. I then tested it thoroughly to remove bugs.

The experiment had mixed results; the game had some positive reviews, but placed in the middle, so it does seem that games need more than just filler.

Chinese games

In 2017 a representative of Qiaobooks, a Chinese IF site (which now seems to have gone under), contacted several people (including me) asking for help in translating some of their games and entering them into IFComp.

Three of those games were entered: Murder in the Fog, Fifth Sunday, and Living Puppet. Those of us who helped didn’t perform the translations, just tried working the resulting text into more idiomatic language, but I found myself not very good at the task.

The games placed pretty low (most were short and had long pieces of text interspersed with few choices, which went against the grain of trends at the time), and it hasn’t been repeated since then, but I thought the cultural exchange was fun.

Run of the place

This was a bizarre game. Someone took procedurally generated text, placed it in a plain text file, and wrote a system that would slowly print it on the screen one letter at a time. Was it a troll, or an experiment? We may never know.

The Unofficial Sea-Monkey(R) Simulation

This Twine game had a lot in common with Porpentine’s work, especially her game Ultra Business Tycoon III, but also had its own unique slant. It uses a sea monkey ‘simulation’ as the main focus of the game while the true story plays out in the background.

The name may be familiar; BJ Best went on to be on of the most successful recent IF authors, with works including the IFComp-winning game And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One.


This Twine game has you use only emojis to communicate. The game itself uses text, but all your responses are emojis (controlled using a drag and drop interface) which you have to try and guess the correct meaning of.

Impact of the competition:

This competition solidly placed limited parser games as a well-established genre. Previous games had been breakout hits where limited parser was a novelty (like Lime Ergot and Superluminal Vagrant Twine), but by this point it was clear how limited parser games could play out and their quality.

One lower-placing game, The Dragon Will Tell Your Future Now, directly inspired a remix/sequel by a different author the next year, called Re:Dragon.

Made with the support of the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation


/me adds a few things to their IFDB wishlist.

Ooh, is this a microgrant?


Yeah! This is the taxpayer’s donors money hard at work!


I replayed Harmonia recently and its structure is quite an odd choice from an experienced author, I thought. The overall story is linear except for the one big choice at the end, but there are several places where you get conversations with totally different NPCs based on which choice you make. But the choices aren’t signalled at all, either before choosing or after, so you don’t know whether your choice affected anything, and they’re so infrequent you assume everything is “click to unfold a margin note” and half the time you don’t know you’re even making a choice until after it’s too late. And there’s not really enough variation to be worth another playthrough even if you did know about it, though they do add some nice alternate perspectives and fullness to the story and it’s too bad to miss them.

Interesting demonstration of choices being so smooth so they become invisible though…


That’s a good analysis, I had a similar experience with not realizing some choices were important until they disappeared.

I thought (for everyone) I might as well mention Chandler Groover’s patreon:

I’m part of it, and he’s shared at least one substantial twine game on there that’s actually really cool. If you liked Eat Me and his other games and want more of his fiction to exist, that’s a good place to go.


Digging through past IF Comp entries and I find Eat Me reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Beauty Cold and Austere reminds me of Night at the Museum.

Edit: Dancing with Fear reminds me of Ojuel’s 2023 entry Barcerolle in Giallo.

Thanks for the review of IFComp 2017! Hoping to see more of such reviews in the future!


Welcome back! I missed this series.


I have visited the link to your entry and I can see… this is amazing! There is a lot of very interesting ideas there. I am going to link it to the IF Spanish Discord Servers.


Yay, excited to see this series continue (and you getting recompense to do so!) When I was getting back into IF after being away from the community for the better part of a decade, your writeups were really helpful for getting a sense of what I missed, so it’ll be nice to expand the resource back to the present.


I really like this. That’s I can say.