One interesting pattern over the years is that the top 3-5 games have frequently held one or two games which are quite a bit shorter or less interactive than the others, but which showcase some impressive sound or images.
A closely related pattern is that games that were already fully fleshed out but had cool multimedia on top of their base story have won the comp several times (about 7/22 comps).
This is one instance where my research contradicted what I had previously thought. I had imagined that there was a trend where the multimedia games had not aged as well as nonmultimedia games, and that they were played less as a whole, and received fewer xyzzy awards. But quite a few of them are still popular, and many received several nominations.
These summaries get less specific over time, because it just became a bit more common.
-Arrival, or Attack of the B-Movie Cliches by Stephen Granade was the first HTML TADS game, which allowed for both sound and images. The images in this case were crayon drawings of aliens with a few other props, and the sound was music. This game was somewhat longer than most ‘tech demos’, although at least one reviewer found it fairly short. Most of the big reviewers that I looked at (Paul O’ Brian, Suzanne Britton, etc.) gave this game an 8 or a 9. However, there was a divide between those with HTML interpreters and those without.
For instance, this review with a score of 6 doesn’t mention sound: “The problem with THE ARRIVAL, though, is not that there is anything wrong with it–it is well programmed and humorous–but
that there is nothing outstanding about it. Nothing about the game made me say, ‘Wow, that was neat,’ or presented a new twist on an old standby. Perfectly competent, but in the end, not memorable.” Another review of 6 said “My interpreter cannot display the pics or sounds, so those were not included in my assessment.”
-Honorable mention: Photopia. Photopia was the first z-machine to really work the colors.
-Six Stories: This is the quintessential ‘tech demo’ game. It took HTML TADS and had an animated logo, textured backdrops, and voice-narrated slideshows replacing a lot of the text. It also used a lot of brand-new TADS features that made the game super user-friendly (like its large number of implicit actions).
-Winter Wonderland: This game was the winner. It used a ton of colors, a graphical compass rose, and really, really pretty text art.
-Exhibition: This was another HTML TADS game which had portraits of the characters, a graphical intro, and music for each character.
-Kaged: This game, which won the comp, used haunting music and non-sequitur images to enhance a long and fully fleshed-out story.
-Moments out of time: This game, which took 2nd, had a complicated menu system (in the version I just replayed, it was accessed with Function keys, but I swear I remember a version that had 4 simultaneous windows open). It also had music, using the Z6 format.
-Earth and Sky 2: This game used comic-style 'BIFF’s and 'BAM’s.
-Earth and Sky 3: This game uses the same style of graphics as the second Earth and Sky.
-Honorable mention: Blue Chairs. This game had a cool, trippy text effect.
-Beyond: This game is fully illustrated with gorgeous hand-drawn pictures, as well as a cool styling.
-Everybody dies: This short game made brilliant use of graphics, making them an integral but puzzling part of the story. As one reviewer said: “Everybody Dies does none of those things. Most of the illustrations (stylized drawings, by the excellent Michael Cho) replace the text during certain dreamlike sequences. They accomplish something that text could not. They present metaphor, rather than exposition. They hint at something elusive, subjective, even spiritual, without being treacly or heavyhanded. They make the shape of the narrative clearer, because their internal logic tells the player when the story is still unfolding and when things are drawing towards an end. It is impossible to imagine the same story being nearly so effective without them – and they could not have been recast as words.”
-Six: This excellent game uses music and sound effects, as well as some graphics. Many of the puzzles are sound-based (or at least give additional clues with sound).
-Guilded Youth: This was the first (and so far, the only) full-scale Vorple game. It has music, text effects, images and animations. It took third.
-With Those We Love Alive: This Twine game uses music.
-Brain Guzzlers from Beyond: This game made extensive use of images. In particular, it used them for portraits, and it also debuted a cool conversation menu.
-Map: This game made use of an adaptable map, an image that changed over time.
-Birdland: This game uses character portraits.
-Detectiveland: This game uses an innovative new system with music, sound effects, and character portraits. Many reviewers noted these characteristics favorably.
-Stone Harbor: This game made clever use of header images.
From these examples, it seems like multimedia-enhanced games can do very well in the competition, even if 1 or 2 of the usual things players look for aren’t there (for instance, Six Stories, Everybody Dies, and Guilded Youth are all much shorter than most top 5 Ifcomp games).
Finally, copying just the multimedia aspect isn’t enough. After Kaged won in 2000, the next year’s comp had 5 or more HTML TADS entries with sound and/or graphics and little else, and these did poorly.