History of IFComp, year by year: 2019


This year was dominated by returning authors.

  • Of the top 10 games, all but one were written by repeat authors. Of the top 20, 16 were by repeat authors.
  • This was only the second time in IFComp history that someone had won first place twice (Steph Cherrywell with the game Zozzled here and Brain Guzzlers from Beyond in 2015).
  • 7 of the top ten had entered at least three times.

Even outside of the top 20, many games were by experienced authors coming back from hiatus or long-time enterers. Such authors include Robb Sherwin, Marshall Tenner Winter, Andrew Schultz, Ade McTavish (who entered the 4th game in a series), Katie Benson, Luke Jones, Bez, etc. Viktor Sobol, one of the most prolific players on IFDB with around 900 games rated, entered for the first time with a short, charming game.

This was a transitional year, with a lot of things either just having come out the year before (like the retro wave discussed in the previous article) or coming out the next year or after IFComp (like AI Dungeon). The intfiction forum switched over to Discourse from its previous software, and the very first Narrascope was held.

Some notable games outside of IFComp in 2019 included:

  • Heaven’s Vault, an ambitious graphical game by Inkle where you translate an unknown language
  • The Missing Ring, a twine mystery game in Spring Thing that has proven reliably popular over the years.
  • Crème de la Crème by Hannah Powell-Smith, a large Choicescript game about an elite private school that proved extremely popular in the Choicescript community, and eventually tied for the Best Game XYZZY award.
  • Ryan Veeder’s Authentic Fly Fishing, a mystery game where all your saves are stored online and certain changes only occur when you haven’t been playing for a while, making it impossible to speedrun. This required significant work on the backend of Inform/javascript and was part of a small trend of ‘fancy Inform effects’ that extended into the first half of the 2020’s (so far).

Top Games


This game by Steph Cherrywell puts you in the role of an alcoholic flapper during prohibition who’s trying to get a stiff drink at a hotel. Unfortunately, ghosts have gotten rid of all the good stuff, so you have to go around and drink them all up to get what you want.

Steph Cherrywell had previously won IFComp in 2015 with the hit game Brain Guzzler’s from Beyond. Like that game (and their Parsercomp winner Chlorophyll), Zozzled is packed with vibrant and unusual characters with a consistent theme (in this case, prohibition/mobster era).

This game exemplifies the classic IFComp winner: around 2 hours of content, maybe more; easy to complete; funny; character-focused; unique narrator voice.


Turandot is written by Victor Gijsbers, who had been influential in the early 2000’s IF community before taking a hiatus. His game the previous year, Terminal Interface for Models RCM301-303, had been fairly well received. But this new game was Choicescript, a departure from his previous parser modus operandi. It is currently the highest rated Choicescript game on IFDB.

This game is a spin on Puccini’s incomplete and sometimes controversial opera Turandot. Just as in that story, a young man falls in love with the cold queen Turandot and has to pass challenges to win her love.

It has its own unique voice, though, very self-aware of both itself and genre conventions, such as a reference to Emily Short’s Savoir-Faire. It is explicitly open and casual about sexual experiences, and uses choices mostly not to change the narrative but to express the main character’s personality. More often than not, the choices serve to either contrast what can not be done (by greying out an option) or that all choices are equally meaningless in the face of infatuation by having them all be variations of one bad idea.

Chuk and the Arena

This was the most successful ‘puzzle-focused Twine’ games up to this point. The author, Agnieszka Trzaska, had already released a couple big puzzly twine games, and went on to release many others.

This one features a small, weak alien who must enter a gladiatorial arena in order to win a chance to save his people’s moon. His greatest features are his wits and his ability to change colors on demand.

There are a wide cast of interesting characters and plenty of visual appeal in the multicolored links themselves. As has been common for high-placing Twine games, this is a visually appealing and interesting game. It’s an interesting thing that visual appeal seems weighted so heavily in Twine games but not in parser games. It may be due to a hidden variable; maybe people who win tend to be people who work hard on their games, and Twine games have better tools to allow audio/visual variations than parser games do, so they end up tinkering with those. It’s not a hard and fast rule; Animalia from the previous year had little styling.

Other Games

I should preface this by saying that this year has so many games that I absolutely love by authors whose work I admire. I could easily list 40 games here, so I’m selecting games mostly based on how unusual they are, influential in some way, or even just random guessing about what people like might to read about.


This ADRIFT game won the Golden Banana of Discord award and placed very highly. It’s an ambitious and entertaining game making use of menus and lists. Using procedural generation, it presents a large universe with distinct cultures where you can gather technology, allies, secrets, etc. and win in one of several different victory conditions.

ADRIFT games have often scored poorly in the past of IFComp, but this game attracted a lot of fans, contributing to the Golden Banana.


This game is interesting in that it has, well, sex and murder, and placed very highly. Now, Turandot has both of those things as well and placed even higher, but it was more subtle in its advertising. I believe one thing that strongly helped robotsexpartymurder place as highly as it did is the fact that it has multiple levels of explicitness that can be selected. Catering to multiple audiences this way is pretty clever, in my opinion.

Pas de Deux

This is a fascinating and unusual game. You are provided with an orchestra score (as a PDF ‘feelie’), and the parser game consists of getting the attention of the correct orchestra members at the correct moments. Just examining an orchestra member is enough to get them to act.

There is a bit of puzzle here, but otherwise this is almost more like a turn-based rhythm game than anything else. This is in stark contrast to the author’s previous game, Tethered, which was a classic-style adventure game. The next year, he found the ‘Goldilocks zone’ and wrote an IFComp-winning game: The Impossible Bottle.

Hard Puzzle 4 : The Ballad of Bob and Cheryl

This game series has an interesting history. Ade McTavish, the author, had had several successful games, from the 2nd-place IFComp game Map to the massive and highly-regarded audiovisual game Worldsmith.

Then he released a game called Hard Puzzle whose only point was to be really hard. Unfairly so, even. People were encouraged to not spoil the ending once they had solved it. I learned the ending from decompiling (using the program glulx-strings).

More Hard Puzzle games were released, specifically designed so that decompiling was not useful.

This particular game was much more complex than any of the others. ‘Decompiling’ is actually part of the gameplay! There are numerous ‘bugs’ that are actually features you have to take advantage of. The game extends beyond a single program onto a different website and a pdf, like an ARG.

It’s pretty clever, but also obtuse; given that, and the ‘4’ in the title potentially scaring off new players, this game suffered a bit in the ratings.


Besides the many returning authors we had this year, a lot of future successful/prolific authors got their start in this comp.

This was Olaf Nowacki’s first IFComp, who has gone on to have many popular games in both English and German. Pace Smith, author of Limerick Heist, went on to write a few other well-received limerick games and to help with vetting IFComp games. Jac Colvin, who had several previous games not entered in comps, entered Each-uisge, and went on to do well in several other future comps. Damon Wakes made his first IFComp entry, and went on to make several comedic games, both in parser as well as choice, as well as some more serious games.

Throughout my writing of this essay, I felt like I missed some essential points. Please suggest any additions or corrections you would like for the year 2019!

Made with the support of the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation


This was the first Comp I played through after being out of the community for a while (I think the previous one was 2007? So a bit of a gap!) I’d definitely agree that there were a lot of highlights, and it was really exciting seeing the wide range of what IF had become.

Another game that really stood out for me was Language Arts – I guess on some theories it’s not “really” IF since it’s a Zachlike programming puzzle game, but it’s all about rearranging letters, has an entertaining story sitting alongside the puzzles, and most importantly is super fun and well done. It just missed out on the Golden Banana, too (it was number two, stddev 2.32 vs. Skybreak!'s 2.37)

I don’t envy you having to write up the juggernaut that was 2020…


I got to spend a week at Steph Cherrywell’s place last year, and for anyone who hasn’t met Steph, they’re just as witty and delightful in real life as when you read their work. I hope fans of their IF work will also turn out for their new YA novel coming next year, Unboxing Libby!


Thanks, an interesting read :slight_smile:

Unlike the author’s later game “Lost Coastlines”, I don’t think “Skybreak!” uses any procedural generation but outcomes are often randomized.


It seemed that the new generation of IF authors had not arrived yet. The Neo-Interactives had yet to crack the scene. This was also the 25th anniversary of IFComp, so naturally there were going to be plenty of returning authors. Everyone wanted to celebrate this anniversary. There were also some newcomers who would later become veterans themselves a few years later, though none of the Neo-Interactives made this list.

They were, off the top of my head:
Steph Cherrywell (Zozzled)
Victor Gijsbers (Turandot)
Agnieszka Trzaska (Chuck and the Arena)
Mike Spivey (Sugarlawn)
Hanon Ondricek (Robotexpartymurder)
Astrid Dalmady (Night Guard, Morning Star)
Bitter Karella (Poppet)
Arthur DiBianca (Skies Above)
B F Lindsay (Frenemies, Gone Out for Gruyere)
Robin Johnson (Pirateship)
Pseudavid (The Good People)
Andrew Schultz (Very Vile Fairy File)
Peter M. J. Gross (Truck Quest)
Linus Akesson (Pas De Deux)
Robb Sherwin (Enceladus)
Marshal Tenner Winter (Clusterflux)
Jac Colvin (from CoG) (Each-uisge)
Amy Clare Fontaine (from CoG) (Break Stuff)
Caleb Wilson (Four Eccentrics)
Ade McTavish (Hard Puzzle 4)
Damon L. Wakes (Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir)
Viktor Sobol (Out)
Pace Smith (Limerick Heist)
Doug Egan (Roads Not Taken)
Paul Michael Winters (House on Sycamore Lane)
Olaf Nowacki (Jon Doe Wildcard Nucleus)
Kenneth Pedersen (Treasure Hunt in the Amazon)
Luke A. Jones (Citizen of Nowhere)
Katie Benson (Flygskam Simulator)
Naomi Norbez (Eldritch Everyday)
Akheon (Fat Fair)
Larry Horsfield (Call of the Shaman)

The first time someone won more than one IFComp was the author of Earth and Sky. Nobody has managed to win IFComp in back-to-back years, and nobody has yet to have a IFComp three-peat (win in in three different years). It’s not a curse- it’s extremely hard to accomplish this feat, given that every year there is at least one new author who throws their hat into the ring. Moreover, over the years, IFComp stuff has only increased in quality.

This would be a longer-than usual transition period between generations. This was made longer thanks to COVID- which made next year’s comp extra large, since people had more time to write, so large it was and is still the biggest IFComp to date. Oh yes, Narrascope also began in 2019, and intfiction forum started running on Discourse, following CoG forum’s lead.

Let’s just say Language Arts was the author’s attempt to fully flesh out the concepts that Mathbrush had originally planned for in Fridgetopia for the TinyUtopias Jam.

This one, my first Choicescript game I completed playing, served as the basis for Maverick Hunter. That in turn served as the basis for what eventually became Welcome to Hellwaters.

That’s all I can say for now. Since 2019 was the 25th anniversary of the IFComp, I’m expecting something similar to happen for the 30th anniversary which is … this year.


I’m very much looking forward to the writeups for IFComp 2020 and 2021 for exactly this reason. For various reasons these two years attracted a bunch of new people and were really formative to what the community looks like today.


I agree. Extremely excited.