History of IFComp, year by year: 2018


This year saw a resurgence in various retro movements in IF; in fact, it’s startling to see how much the interest in retro IF computing began in that year.

Adventuron was released. As the author stated, “Adventuron is unashamedly anachronistic.” It is a programming language that intentionally harkens back to the graphical text adventures that proliferated in the 80s and 90s. It also focuses on attracting new players to the base, using simple programming techniques, colorful images, and an interface designed to be accessible to children. The Text Adventure Literacy Jams were an intentional part of the Adventuron creation process, designed to provide a steady flow of games for youth to learn about IF.

Stefan Vogt, a current prominent member of the retro IF community, published his first game Hibernated in 2018. Like others in this community, his game is advertised with the number of old systems it can run on:

The game is available for Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and PCW, Spectrum +3, Spectrum Next, Commodore Amiga, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Apple 2, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Commodore 128, Mega65, MSX 1 and MSX 2, Oric, Commodore Plus/4, TI99/4a, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore PET, SAM Coupé, TRS CoCo, TRS-80 Model III, TRS-80 Model 4, Osborne 1, Kaypro II, Kaypro 4, DEC Rainbow 100, Dragon64, classic Macintosh and modern PC.

While the interactive fiction community involved in IFComp and the XZYZZY awards has always been at least somewhat backwards-looking (trying to recreate Infocom games, for instance), these newer groups see themselves as restoring the feel of 80s and 90s games without reference to any other parser games that were written in the meantime. The emphasis is often on recreating those early games as faithfully as possible. For instance, one comment on Hibernated says:

This game is really something. I remember trying to play text adventures on my Amiga over 20 years ago and I sucked at it, mainly because my english wasn’t good enough. I tried ‘Hibernated 1’ on almost all the emulators I have installed on Linux and in Linux terminal with Frotz. I have to admit that I’m very impressed with Your work. You made versions of the game for probably all the best retro computers out there. This is some serious contribution to the retro world and there’s even the web browser version. WOW!

I recommend playing this game on systems (real or emulated) that support 80 column mode like Sam Coupe with CP/M (ProDOS) or Linux terminal using Cool-Retro-Term, because green on black/phosphor fits the sci-fi atmosphere of the game.

On forums for retro gaming, people make clear distinctions between old-fashioned text adventures and modern IF, often equating the latter with choice-based fiction. For instance, here is a sequence of (lightly edited) exchanges from such a forum:

Most of that scene [referring to IFDB/IFComp] has morphed into the much lower bar to entry but much less interesting multiple choice “choose your own adventure” style interactive fiction though.

They fell out of fashion in the '90s once every major gaming platform had the audiovisual horsepower for games to sell themselves […] But they retained a dedicated fan community all through the intervening years, and they’re as popular with that crowd as they ever were; there’s modern interpreters for every major format and plenty of minor ones, and authoring tools for at least TADS and Inform.

I like to believe that they could be revived in this Alexa/Google/Siri world.

This kind of exchange is a good representative of the retro IF community; some are aware of and part of the long-lasting IFComp/XYZZY community, some are only interested in the retro stuff, some people are just new to it all. To me it feels like a community centered around making movies, where some are interested in recreating silent films as accurately as possible, film-grain and local orchestra and all, while others are making mixed-media short-form TV shows like Gumball. In general, the biggest frictions I’ve seen is when one person tries to define what is ‘real art’ or ‘real interactive fiction’, while others genuinely enjoy both kinds of IF.

As examples of people with feet in both worlds, Jack Welch released the first recorded ‘modern’ ZIL game on IFDB in 2018. ZIL is the internal language Infocom used in developing their games. Tools for writing in ZIL had been available for several years at this point, but his Speed-IF, * The Bean Stalker*, is the first listed on IFDB since the older periods. (Craverly Heights, listed on IFDB, was not originally written in ZIL, but later ported).

Another example is Linus Åkesson’s system Dialog, which, like Inform and ZIL, compiles to Infocom’s Z-machine format. His first sample game, Tethered, was moderately successful in 2018’s IFComp, and he later went on to win IFComp outright. While output of Dialog games in general has been fairly slow, it retains continued interest to this day.

Other retro-oriented games in 2018 include Illuminismo Iniziato (a sequel to the 15-year earlier Risorgimento Represso), which handily won Spring Thing that year, and the massive epic Cragne Manor.

One of the most popular games on IFDB over the years, often appearing at the top of polls and frequently (but not uniformly or unanimously) regarded as the best IF of all time is Anchorhead. Released in 1998, it received a reworking and new illustrations as part of a 2018 re-release.

Simultaneously, authors Jenni Polodna and Ryan Veeder decided to host a kind of game/jam collaborative workshop where anyone who wanted to could sign on to create one parser room for a tribute to Anchorhead. While they had anticipated something fairly small, approximately 80 authors joined, making it the largest IF collaboration I am aware of. IFDB had to have special code added just to collapse the list of names, as it took up so much space on everyone’s pages.

Cragne Manor turned out to be a patchwork masterpiece, with some areas that are nail-bitingly frustrated or somewhat underimplemented, and others that are some of the best work of their respective authors. It is a massive game, and the effort that went into it surely changed the face of that year’s IFComp, as many talented authors spent time on Cragne Manor instead of IFComp games.

There were other, more minor influences in 2018. Several IFComp games reference censorship and political oppression; many games were clearly influenced by 2017 IFComp games (Bogeyman’s author cites Eat Me as, not an influence, but an inspiration to keep going, for instance). Erstwhile was partially inspired by some mechanics in past games, including Color the Truth, and went on to be a game itself frequently cited and discussed when mystery games come up. Finally, Jack Welch, mentioned earlier, released an IFComp game En Garde which was heavily influenced by the French community’s use of Vorple in this time period.

Finally, this was Jacqueline Ashwell’s first year as organizer, stepping in after Jason McIntosh, who led the comp from 2014 to 2017.

Top Games of 2018

Alias, the Magpie

This game introduced one of the most beloved characters of recent IF: the Magpie, a gentleman English thief modelled after Charles Lytton from The Pink Panther.

In keeping with the Retro theme for 2018, this game took 11 years to write. According to the author:

For the first few years, it was one of those projects that I would pick up, tinker with for a few weeks, and put down again. For a long while, it seemed as though it would never get off the starting blocks, but gradually, like the proverbial snowball, it grew and gathered momentum.

Then, last August, I quite suddenly lost my mum to undiagnosed secondary breast cancer. This put life into perspective for me, and I realised that what I really loved doing was writing and creating IF in particular. It had been a source of deep regret for me that I had not released a brand new game for 8 years, and I decided to do something about it. I threw myself into the game, and over the next year poured hundreds of hours into getting it finished. After listening to the sound of the Spring Thing deadline whoosh past, I set my sights on IF Comp.

This game features the main character, the Magpie, intent on stealing from a rich aristocratic British family. It makes extensive use of various disguises to further the plot and to change the available interactions with other characters.

Notably, it also uses a lot of slapstick humor, which can be difficult to pull off in IF due to pacing issues inherent in interactive media. But the author put a great deal of work into making the game non-linear and to put the humor into the puzzles. As he says in his postmortem, “An idea I had very early on […] was that the actions the player takes should have unexpected consequences, and in fact, work better than expected.” And it seems to have worked; reviewers cited its humor and engaging characters.


Who would have thought that, for two years in a row, the second place game of IFComp would prominently feature child cannibalism?

Bogeyman is a dark Twine game about a child who is kidnapped by the eponymous Bogeyman. Transported to a strange land, they have to fight to survive while working with (and sometimes against) other captured children.

As is a common theme in the decade or so since Twine came out, successful Twine games often have more and more elaborate presentations. This isn’t always true (as we’ll see in the third place winner), but it certainly is true that Bogeyman is very visually appealing. Rather than resorting to slowly printed timed text, Bogeyman achieves a ponderous pace by having only short pieces of text on each screen and a very brief fade out between passages. Centered text adds to a feeling of uneasiness and the choice of colors and mild mouse-over animations, as well as fixed-letter spacing for the villain, make for a rich visual experience.

The game is mostly linear, but presents choices in an appealing way (with a four-corner grid), and the concept of being constrained fits into the game’s overall themes, which include child abuse and resistance to absolute authority.


Most Twine authors early on encounter a dillema about complexity. If you have a lot of branching, then each branch requires a lot of effort. If you don’t have a lot of branching, the game feels inconsequential.

Most authors get around this by ‘branch and bottleneck’ structures (where choices make real differences but later collapse to only a few possibilities, then repeats), ‘storylet’ structures (where little pieces of scenes and dialogue are written and a code determines what the best storylet for the current situation is), or ‘delayed effects/stats’ structures (where everything you do pushes numbers up or down and later numbers depend on them). These simplified structures are chosen because no rational person would ever make a ton of branches that were each very long.

Except this author was not rational. This is just a really, really big Twine game. It has a ton of branches and each branch is really big.

You play in this as a group of animals who have just sacrificed a human child to the forest god and realize they might get caught. So, as one would naturally do, you built a child-robot that is a replica of the original and pilot it with several animals. The animals you pick give significantly different dialogue in game. As a sample choice in the game, you have this:

“The Head will be responsible for vocal communication, socialisation, fraternisation, and situational and tactical analysis. They will serve as the commander of the operation, and as such will be most responsible for successful reintegration.”

"With the gravity and responsibility of such a position in mind, we have chosen…

“Horseradish, an owl with impeccable linguistic and communicative faculties.”
“Chunks, a magpie who has spent significant time amongst humans, and is known for their forthrightness and cunning.”
“Sprinkles, a finch known for their affability and friendliness.”

Interestingly, the author of this game also entered a game 14 years prior, in the 2004 IFComp, called Blink. So this, too, fits into our retro theme.

Other notable games

This year had quite a few games that I feel are notable, so some will inevitably be missed. I’ll try to focus on those that haven’t been mentioned before or which fit naturally into an overall narrative for IFComp.


This was Agnieszka Trzaska (or ‘agat’)'s first IFComp entry, and presaged things to come. It is a Twine game that has the structure of a parser, with inventory, a world map, and many physical interactions. You play as an astronaut blinded in a devastating accident on a mining station in space.

This author later went on to produce many highly-regarded Twine games with this kind of puzzle-heavy approach, eventually receiving nominations (and winning) the Best Puzzles XYZZY award.

Cannery Vale

This is one of my top 10 favorite IF games of all time. I don’t know whether it has influenced future authors very much or ties in with past games, but I’m plugging it here purely out of personal interest.

Hanon Ondricek wrote this game under a pseudonym using the AXMA story engine, a lesser-known engine commonly used in non-English IF communities. It includes some real time events as well as pop-up boxes, etc.

It’s a very surreal game, with multiple layers of fiction, as you play an author who writes a novel and dreams of the novel. Contradictions and nightmares abound until the truth is revealed in a big climax.

Terminal Interface for Models RCM301-303

In yet another retro-themed event, Victor Gijsbers, an author who was very influential in the early 2000s due to his thought-provoking games and literary-style reviews, made his return to writing after 6 years. Though not an especially long absence, the return to writing was accompanied with a return to community interaction, which has persisted to the present day.

This game takes a fun turn on the player/PC interaction by putting you into a giant mech that has been disconnected from its viewscreen. All information about the outside world is provided by radio communication with a verbose friend named Lemmy.

Various retro games

Diddlebucker, Bullhockey, Flowers of Mysteria and Birmingham IV were all intentional callbacks to old fashioned IF. Diddlebucker is set in 1987 and uses Infocom-style box art, while Bullhockey says in its about section:

I’ve played the Infocom Games. They have worked to define, indelibly, my picture of what an IF should be. If these things put you off, that’s unfortunate to me. In my mind, an IF should be challenging, and these things are a part of the challenge. When I am making a game, or even playing one, I sometimes like to ask myself ‘Would it be worth the $20 that I used to spend to play an Infocom title??’.

Flowers of Mysteria includes the tagline ‘An old-fashioned text adventure’.

Finally, Birmingham IV was originally written in 1988 and later ported to Inform.


I regret that I don’t have the space to cover even more games without overwhelming this post, but this comp did spawn many good things. Besides Agnieszka, other authors that premiered during this IFComp and went on to bigger things include:

  • Pseudavid with the complex Twine game Master of the Land. Although he had entered Ectocomp the year before, this was his first IFComp game, a complex Twine game. He went on to make many popular and complex games in Twine and other systems.
  • Grim Baccaris with the rich-looking game Devotionalia, under the name G. Grimoire. Besides other visually appealing Twine games, Grim went on to release ‘The Twine Grimoire’, a two-volume guide to writing and using CSS in Twine, which has been very helpful to many people.
  • Linus Åkesson, as mentioned earlier, released Tethered, a game heavily involving a rope/cable and mountain climbing. He went on to win IFComp later.

Alias, The Magpie received a sequel/tribute game as a prize offered by me. That game was The Magpie Takes the Train, released two years later in 2020.

The second and third-place authors teamed up to make an IF podcast called Verb Your Enthusiasm, which covered some later competitions.

Made with the support of the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation