Participate in the Interactive Fiction Top 50!

A difficult set of choices, I suppose, and I can’t claim my list of bests to be anything but idiosyncratic. Without any deep rationale here’s five.

Blue Chairs (Chris Klimas, 2004): A game about dreaming. And one rather deeply sad, at least by my interpretation. It goes a little off-puttingly goofy around the two-thirds point, as I recall, but the surreality of the events described supports the theme rather expertly (for the most part). One of my favorites.

The Primrose Path (Nolan Bonvouloir, 2006): Novel premise, clever writing, and some really neat mechanics makes this game stick out for me.

Chancellor (Kevin Venzke, 2005): I seem to recall some grumbling at the fake-out prologue, but the later scenes of wandering through an empty college dormitory seemed genuinely, evocatively creepy to me. It may’ve helped that I worked in very old dorm when this was released (managing a computer lab — ah, those were the days), and I could certainly imagine that place being frightening in the right circumstances.

Shade (Andrew Plotkin, 2000): Another contender for overall favorite work. (It occurs to me that I must have some predisposition toward the dreamlike. Take from that what you may.) An ingenious set of events — each on its own merely surreal — conspire to make the ultimate reveal that much more powerful. Plotkin’s a genuinely pretty good writer and the puzzles here are mercifully approachable. In my mind Shade is his best work.

Vespers (Jason Devlin, 2005): There’s a snobbish part of me that looks down on this game; the writing and especially dialogue just don’t fit the setting very well. But you know what? It’s a great piece of work nonetheless, tense, creepy, and haunting. I enjoyed this very much.

Here’s a very subjective list, which would no doubt look different tomorrow, accompanied by fragments rather than full-fledged justifications.

Enchanter – The early Infocom aesthetic at its height. Just a beautifully crafted adventure game, pitched at just the right level of difficulty.

Trinity – Still my all-time favorite work of IF, and one of the few with something to say about the times in which it was created. Today, when its historical moment has passed, it still stands as a perfect evocation of the days of the Evil Empire and The Day After. Beautiful writing, chilling imagery, yet still with intriguing puzzles. This one does well just about everything IF as a form does well.

Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It – Perhaps the most daring and unusual game Infocom ever released, this set of interconnected wordplay-based vignettes always makes me smile – both for the fun it has with language and for the sheer chutzpah of the whole thing. (But if you don’t have English as a mother tongue, stay far, far away)

Guild of Thieves – I’ve always had a huge soft spot for this sprawling old-school treasure hunt. It does nothing particularly innovative, but it does everything so well, then lathers on some great dry humor and a bunch of pretty pictures.

Timequest – Legend’s finest hour, this game sends you skipping around the world and through the centuries, solving a web of cleverly interconnected puzzles. Beautifully illustrated to boot.

t-zero – This game spoiled me for all future surrealistic games. Its world is hauntingly beautiful – rivaled in that respect only by the alternate dimension in Trinity – and slowly figuring out how everything works and why you’re there is the most sublime of pleasures. Also the best home-brewed parser I’ve ever seen.

Cosmoserve – A perfect evocation of the online world of the early 1990s, just before the World Wide Web changed everything. Should be required reading for cultural history classes of the near future.

Jigsaw – Curses is the more historically important of Graham Nelson’s two sprawling puzzlefests, but for playing I’ll take Jigsaw every time. When you aren’t wrestling with its puzzles, you’ll be surfing Wikipedia to learn more about the historical vignettes through which you travel. The reason I read Proust, and that’s enough of a recommendation right there.

Spider and Web – Still Plotkin’s finest hour, the best example of his genius for communicating story through gameplay, and for crafting puzzles that feel like artistic statements.

Aisle – While I accept them as a necessary phase in IF’s evolution, I’m not generally a big fan of the “gimmick” games that cluttered the late 1990s and early 2000s. This gimmick, however, really works. A heartbreaking portrait of loneliness.

Anchorhead – Still perhaps the most fully realized setting ever for an IF game. If it’s showing its age in a tendency to sometimes leave the player (and the plot) stuck in neutral, it’s nevertheless still a compelling experience, the most genuinely creepy game I’ve ever played.

Heroine’s Mantle – I just loved working my way through these action sequences one step at a time. Some of the pleasures of the platformer here – figuring out the right steps for success and executing them with perfect timing. And who wouldn’t like to be a superhero?

Slouching Towards Bedlam – Still perhaps the most fully realized attempt to give the player complete control of the story. Almost anything you might reasonably do is present and accounted for.

Sunset over Savannah – Another wonderful example of setting in IF. But this time it is a beautiful place that we visit, and it is described with a wistful sadness that almost makes me choke up to think about it.

Blue Lacuna – It sometimes strains a bit too hard to demonstrate its literary bona fides for my taste, but this game is nevertheless an awe-inspiring creation. Simply the largest and most ambitious work of IF ever – and its towering ambitions are largely realized.

Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom – Demonstrates that everything you thought you knew about IF design was wrong, not least that randomized combat can actually be pretty damn fun.

Aotearoa – I still can never remember how to spell it, but this game takes all the lessons of 30+ years of IF, adds a shean of beginner accessibility, and sends it off powered by the irresistible optimism of young-adult adventure novels. Plus, you get to name your pet monkey. How cool is that?

The Chinese Room – A great demonstration of the still underused educational potential of IF, this game makes you really engage with the philosophical ideas it conveys.

The Elysium Enigma – My favorite Eric Eve game, demonstrating everything he does so well: interesting setting, interesting plot, interesting puzzles. If nothing (except perhaps his still unparalleled use of the TADS 3 conversation system) stands out as amazing, the combined effect of the whole does.

Delightful Wallpaper – A minimalist Plotkin masterpiece that seems to guide you in the right direction by a sort of mental osmosis. At the end you’re left blinking and confused, as if you’ve just awoken from a dream, wondering how you figured out what to do and feeling like a bad ass for having done so.

And an honorable mention:

The Mulldoon Legacy – My apologies to Jon for not picking one his more “literary” works, but this monster just kept me tantalized, engaged, and entertained for so long that I couldn’t bear to leave it off the list.

[Changed Timezone to Timequest. Timezone, like most of Roberta Williams’s work, is of course a monument to everything you shouldn’t do as a game designer.]

Here are the nine games I feel mostly strongly about. It’s a pretty conventional list, I think. Looking over it, I wonder: did the medium peak in 1998?

Anchorhead - This out-Lovecrafts Lovecraft by a wide margin. The only horror game I’ve played which I found genuinely scary. The extended endgame is pulse-pounding.

Losing Your Grip - Powerful imagery, terrific puzzles. I came to this one via the spoof in Coke Is It!.

Planetfall - The first game I ever completed without hints, and the first game to provoke an emotional reaction from me. I was moved to submit a drawing of Floyd to the NZT for their cartoon contest (I didn’t win).

Rameses - Simultaneously one of the best and most perverse uses of the medium.

Savoir-Faire - The best pure-puzzle game ever made.

Spider and Web - Pretty much what Victor said. It always amazes me when I read bad reviews of this game. It is the most brilliantly-constructed game I have ever played, with the single best puzzle in all of IF.

Starcross - My favorite of Infocom’s library, and the game most likely to not show up on anyone else’s list. The robot mouse puzzle is one of my all-time favorites. Played it alongside my young daughter a few years ago, and she was motivated to draw a picture of rat-ants.

Sunset Over Savannah - A perfectly-made puzzle piece with terrific writing and imagery. I don’t think this one gets enough attention.

Varicella - Brutal, delicious and immensely satisfying when you finally come up with the right sequence.


All Things Devours. If the novel is the ideal vessel for conveying consciousness, interactive fiction (as a kind of game) is the ideal way to convey certain kinds of experience. All Things lets you experience what it’s like to defy the laws of physics. And in a fantastic puzzle, it gives you the opportunity to master them.

Rameses. Whose protagonist embodies the form’s limitations. The story could have been told in other media, and has been. But nowhere else can you feel it so keenly. Rameses deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award for “Best Use of Medium” – and consideration for best writing.

Nightfall. Not that love is blind; just that it’s pitch dark, and you can’t see a thing.

Babel. Expertly paced sci-fi thriller whose scenery is charged with implications. Your extrasensory awareness lets you reconstruct the story a step a time – and in a game about forbidden knowledge, your moves are no less dangerous for being retraced.

Deadline Enchanter. Torschlusspanik in the Z-Machine. Reads like a personal ad from another dimension; plays like a guided tour through the prison of self-consciousness.

Everybody Dies. Its dead-on depiction of real life is bracing; its transition to the afterlife is greatly eased by the illustrations.

The Act of Misdirection. This short supernatural tale thrusts you into the limelight, lets you find your legs, and then saws you in half.

Distress. Another tightly controlled sci-fi hellscape. Can things possibly get any worse? Well, yes, and the longer you play, the grimmer it gets. You’ll die repeatedly but, if you persevere, you’ll see your previous attempts fade into the background in a surprising and satisfying way.

Photopia. Inspiring still.

Delightful Wallpaper. The opening puzzle is so beguiling that it’s worth working out for its own sake. But when you realize – somewhere in the second act – why you’re here and what you’re doing, the mansion takes on a whole new significance. (Dual Transform steers a similar idea in a slightly different direction, but, to me, Delightful Wallpaper is the way to go.)

Hopefully the next time we do this I’ll have filled in some of my blind spots and will have no problem coming up with twenty. Already I’m inspired to take a look at everyone’s picks. I had plenty of games I felt I needed to get to; now I’ve got several I can’t wait to check out.

If you’re looking for the modern canon, I think it’s the games with over 50 reviews on IFDB, no matter how they’re rated. (And as you’ll see, three of my top whatever are in the bottom five of these games.) And I haven’t played a lot of it. Anchorhead? Just finished the first day. Infocom? Before my time. Varicella? The whole concept frightens me, because I’m terrible at puzzles. So, herewith, some favorite games of someone who should really be playing games instead of talking about them, listed in the order I type them in.

Photopia. No comment necessary.

Galatea. Ditto.

Spider and Web. This gets in practically for the framing device alone; it was one of the first games I played and way past my capacity, so I spent a lot of time just typing in the walkthrough. But still, it was amazing. And I did do some puzzle solving; in fact I almost got that one puzzle, except at the crucial moment

I forgot what meant “on” and what meant “off.”

Anyway, if not for these three I probably wouldn’t be playing IF.

Best of Three. In some ways the most satisfying game I’ve played; I went through, did what seemed natural, and what happened felt just right. Grant’s tea order is my favorite writing in IF, and when I went to look it up just now some of the parts leading up to it may have been even better. And why shouldn’t IF take on the subject matter of mainstream realistic fiction? Answer: More of it should, if it can.

Shrapnel. Real horror comes from what you do yourself, or what you have done. Another Cadre railroad game, much darker and nastier than Photopia, and effective with it. (Yeah, I like games that are about story, and also games I can finish. No apologies for that.)

The Firebird. This isn’t perfect; it has a couple bugs (one of which seemed to cancel out one of the more annoying aspects of the otter puzzle, though that sequence was the time I hit the walkthrough anyway). But it’s magical and funny and the puzzles are actually fun, and it does a good job of giving you multiple ways through the more open parts at the beginning. Also, it was a long game I could finish, and the hint it gives you for the maze is a hoot.

Blue Chairs. Art-damaged and I like it. Unapologetic about its fictional nature, about not giving you all the keys to its meaning, and about including details that point to something beyond the world of its story. We need more like this, too, so long as it’s good. (Chris Klimas has gone on to make flash games at Twofold Secret, which are highly recommended if you suck less at them than I do.)

The Act of Misdirection. Beats out “All Roads” for the linear game “what happened?” slot, partly because I have a little more intimation that what happened makes sense (even if we Cannot Comprehend Its True Form), mostly because the first scene is So Awesome. And the rest really is chilling. (No, I didn’t get the good ending.)

Rover’s Day Out. Another one that makes it on the strength of the first part. What can I say, I love winks to the fourth wall, at least when they’re done this well.

The Baron. Utterly powerful and compelling. It actually makes you think about free will and desire, and makes you feel the weight of your choices.

A New Life. This game has basically no business on this list. It’s impossibly difficult; I haven’t finished it yet, even though I’ve looked at the hints and a walkthrough and figured out a bunch of stuff for myself that wasn’t in either of them. And the reason I didn’t finish was because of what appeared to be a game-breaking bug:

I visited the dragon too soon, was told to go away and come back later, but when I came back it had disappeared.

And the hints – the hints seem like they’re some kind of performance art. At least two of them point you to puzzles that I’m pretty sure are unsolvable.

If anyone found a musical instrument, let me know.

Not to mention that you’re forced to stay in the gameplay area by the immutable force of the parser telling you you haven’t reached the ending yet. So why do I like it so much? Because it does such an amazing job of world-building. The connections you can draw between different parts of the game, even when they don’t help you solve any puzzles, give you a sense of a wider universe beyond these few objects that you can manipulate. Especially when they don’t help you solve any puzzles, in fact; it’s an escape from the airless IF world where everything has been placed there for you to use. Even the unsolvable puzzles in the hints create that impression. Plus, when I did figure something out, I felt smart.

OK, that’s a top… eleven. Not a very good number, but I reserve the right to remember something obvious that I forgot later.

Honorable mention: Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle. Come on, it’s awesome.

Well, even if this list is poor, i’m a relative newbie to IF and so the number of games I’ve played is not wide, so I will no doubt be tweaking my choices a little bit over the next month.

Photopia -1
Heartwarming. The game makes you care.

Blue lacona -2
Such an emotional work on so many levels. I don’t think the ambition has ever been equaled on such a scale.

Make it good -3
My personal favorite IF game ever. Yeah I know that’s saying something, but I’m quite a mystery buff. Best detective IF ever, and heck, the puzzles are not straggling either.

Spider and web-4
John le carre style narrative, brilliant ideas.

Babel -5
I know a Lot of people think babel is overrated, but after playing it, I think it’s overrated to call babel overrated.

All things devours -6
The only hard puzzle game I have solved without a walkthrough. But besides my personal situation, the writing is really stylistic, and the concept is explored in such a new awing way.

Anchorhead -7
Well, I’ll admit that I don’t like the game that much, ( mainly because I suck at puzzles) but this isn’t a list of my personal favorites. I found the difficulty of the puzzles detracted from the atmosphere a little bit, but all things considered, the writing is superb. I’ve never been in such suspense before, and the world was crafted with such a lifelike feel.

The blind house -8
Disturbing, but so unique in the games I’ve played

Legion -9
Hmmm… Maybe the most controversial game on my list. I thought though that the plot was so well explored, and really never tried before.

Worlds apart -10
Although not quite up there with Photopia and blue lacona on an emotional scale, it delivers high on the scale.

In my opinion the best Infocom games:

A mind forever voyaging

Well, let’s have a look at some of the ones I did not pick:
Varicella- this is a game I loathe more than any other game I have played. I played it a million times before I used a walkthrough, and the fact of the matter is, I found the puzzles pointless and ‘guess the author’ style.

Shade- Gosh you don’t know how much I wanted to put this on the list. One of my favorites but it doesn’t quite add up in the ‘best’ category.

Blue chairs- Uh… I didn’t get this game until somebody told me it was an allegory to dante’s divine comedy. Then I looked for similarities and it made even less sense.

I’m sure I’ve missed the most obvious choices, but hey.

  • All Hope Abandon by Eric Eve
    This is probably my favorite IF game ever. The integration of setting and theme in this game is very evocative, and several moments in the game really inspired me.
  • A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzky
    One of only two Infocom games that I’ve won, and playing this game was a satisfying experience. It’s very well paced.
  • August by Matt Fendahleen
    Perhaps the least ambitious great game ever, but I feel that it’s still a great game. I love the classic high fantasy style. It pulls off being both a serious fantasy and a romance, two genres that I think are rarely portrayed convincingly in IF.
  • The Bible Retold: Following a Star by Justin Morgan
    One of the best-spirited comedies in IF, with great NPCs and historical interest. It’s the kind of comedy that doesn’t devalue its own characters or story just to be funny. Also a very well-designed game.
  • Blighted Isle by Eric Eve
    A great combination of a traditional map with many puzzles but great story and characterization. This game has the most fun and interactive NPCs I have ever seen. Well, with the possible exception of…
  • Blue Lacuna by Aaron Reed
    The main NPC wasn’t even my favorite part, even though he is awesome. This is probably the only IF I’ve ever played that I could imagine written as a prose, printed novel.
  • Distress by Mike Snyder
    The game has some cool meta techniques that I liked, with an exciting setting that seemed fuller than the short game actually was.
  • Floatpoint by Emily Short
    One of the most professional of the many science fiction games, in my opinion. One of the most interesting games I’ve ever played.
  • The King of Shreds and Patches by Jimmy Maher
    I never finished this game, because I found myself in an unwinnable state in the endgame and didn’t have the motivation to replay. That frustration aside, the portrayal of historical London is awesome… and the characters you meet… and the things the you can do…
  • Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home by Andrew Plotkin
    I like the austere mystery.
  • On Optimism by Tim Lane
    This competition entry is my favorite relatively unknown game. I’ve always thought that the reviewers have missing a theme that seemed pretty plain to me when I first played, and I’ve wonder ever since if that theme was really there.
  • Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin
    I still remember the thrills.
  • So Far by Andrew Plotkin
    This game captivated by young imagination and showed me the emotional potential of IF.
  • Theatre by Brendon Wyber
    A well-designed puzzlefest. My favorite of the horror genre. It’s takes itself just seriously enough. This was the very first game that I ever began to play, although I completed Wearing the Claw first.
  • Whom the Telling Changed by Aaron Reed
    My favorite Spring Thing game. I really like the mystery of the pseudo-prehistoric.
  • Wearing the Claw Paul O’Brian
    A delightful, humble fantasy. All in all, this is probably my favorite IF story, and it’s a very fun playing experience as well. The very first IF game I ever finished, when I was either 11 or 12 years old.

Judging by which games I tend to play over and over, they’re mostly Infocom games, except for Adventure. So:

A Mind Forever Voyaging
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Zork I
Zork Zero.

That being said, I also love a few games I’ve only played once or twice–but plan to play again:

For a Change
Lost Pig
The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet
Once and Future
Winter Wonderland (the one by Laura Knauth)

and a special mention for:

Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die!

I’ll play! Thanks, Victor, for getting this started.

Caveat: my IF involvement has been minimal for the past several years, so this is going to be heavily weighted toward older games. (In particular, I suspect, from what I’ve read, that Blue Lacuna, Chancellor, Make it Good, Everybody Dies, Cryptozookeeper, Deadline Enchanter, Distress, King of Shreds and Patches, Alabaster, First Things First, and Floatpoint would at least be strong candidates for this list, had I played them. And I have no good excuse for never having finished Bad Machine.) Hopefully that will be balanced out by newbies who never got around to playing older stuff.

My 20, in roughly this order:

  1. Spider and Web. Not much to add to what’s been said above, and elsewhere. The single best marriage of puzzle and story to date, in my view. and while the central device has been used in static fiction, its effect is magnified by interactivity.
  2. Trinity. Strong puzzles, engaging story, and one particular moment that (arguably) introduced the idea of the player’s complicity in the plot.
  3. Varicella. Viciously difficult, but well worth the many playthroughs it takes to finish. Perhaps the most fitting ending in all of IF.
  4. Spellbreaker. Evocative mood, difficult-but-fair puzzles.
  5. Anchorhead. Mood builds gradually, and the writing is appropriately restrained; the puzzles are designed in a way that, for the most part, draws out the plot but doesn’t bring it to a halt. (The endgame, with some tight timing required, is an exception, but not egregiously so.) Well-designed storytelling that can be enjoyed even by those who don’t care for Lovecraft.
  6. So Far. More a mood piece than a narrative, but the mood is effectively done, and the puzzles, while sometimes cruel, are worth noodling over.
  7. Zork III. The best puzzles of the trilogy (setting aside the timed event that makes the game unforeseeably unwinnable), the most consistently done atmosphere, and a sly subversion of the treasure hunt.
  8. Worlds Apart. My memories of this one have grown slightly fuzzy, I confess, but I do remember extraordinarily deep worldbuilding, several well-drawn characters, and puzzles that serve rather than impede the plot.
  9. Slouching Toward Bedlam. Not sure moral choice in IF has been done better.
  10. Metamorphoses. Notable for the depth of its implementation–in particular, there are devices that can transmute objects into different substances, and the game does a remarkable job of accommodating all the possibilities–and for the indirect way the story is told.
  11. Losing Your Grip. It may not be the only IF game that centers on exploration of the protagonist’s own mind, but it’s the only one I know of that’s done it well. Not perfectly–I’ve never managed to make sense of some of it–but on the whole it rewards close analysis.
  12. Augmented Fourth. Somewhat underdiscussed on the IF scene, this one deserves to be better-known; it’s a witty sendup of/homage to the fantasy genre with not-too-hard puzzles and some genuinely hilarious prose. The opening scene, where the narrator is being tossed into a pit and mocked by some not-too-bright guards, is particularly good.
  13. Lost Pig. The every-response-is-implemented game par excellence, and many, many laugh-out-loud moments.
  14. Sunset Over Savannah. Another mood piece, beautifully written, with difficult but well-hinted puzzles.
  15. Shadow in the Cathedral. Linear, but takes advantages of the strength of linearity–a strong sense that the puzzle-solving is driving the plot–without making the player feel railroaded. Well-told story, with some very good puzzles and some nice tense moments.
  16. Wishbringer. The first, to my knowledge, and the best IF game to deploy the nightmare-version-of-familiar-landscape approach. Lots of multiple-solution puzzles at a time when that wasn’t common. The puzzles are kid-oriented, but there’s plenty of sly humor.
  17. Jigsaw. Some of the puzzles are, in my view, flat-out unfair. But many are just right, and the scope and thoroughness of the thing keeps this among my faves.
  18. Small World. Another mostly forgotten game, this one from the 1996 competition. Clever, tricky-but-logical puzzles, and a very funny NPC.
  19. Shade. Some touchy event triggers, but still the best mess-with-your-head IF I can think of.
  20. Infidel. Lots of clever mechanical puzzles, and an ending that left me slackjawed.

Honorable mentions: Savoir Faire, Christminster, Delusions, Enchanter, City of Secrets, All Things Devours, Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, Mulldoon Legacy, Dreamhold, Curses, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Galatea, Hunter, in Darkness, Change in the Weather, Suspended, Bronze, The Gostak, Ad Verbum, Moonlit Tower, Fear, Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me!, Babel, Zero Sum Game, Janitor, Lurking Horror, Rameses, Rematch, Little Blue Men, Plundered Hearts, For a Change, A Day for Soft Food, A Bear’s Night Out, Goose, Egg, Badger, Blighted Isle, Kissing the Buddha’s Feet, Lydia’s Heart, Violet, Maiden of the Moonlight, Ballyhoo, Djinni Chronicles, Inevitable, LASH, Pytho’s Mask, The Weapon, Insight, All Hope Abandon, The Edifice, Scavenger, Heroes, Child’s Play

Victor asked for a list of favorites, but I wonder if there’s value in considering what IF we think is objectively the “best,” rather than our subjective faves. My view, for what it’s worth, is that IF is usually “best” when it most successfully merges story and puzzle, as this medium can do that better than any other. I.e., puzzles that are fully motivated by the plot and organic to the story, not set pieces or “say, here’s a locked door, I will stop at nothing to unlock it” types–and advance the narrative rather than putting it on hold. Vividly drawn characters and settings are important too, but a novel can, I think, convey those just as well as IF can. (Admittedly, interactivity makes a difference in how one experiences characters and settings, but I don’t think we’re at the point where IF can clearly depict either better than static fiction can.)

Of course, the quality of the story matters too; a flawless game about going to the mailbox wouldn’t make my list. Telling a story that matters is important–and the way it’s told is just as important. The other way this medium improves on static fiction is finding ways to make the player’s role in driving the story give it additional power–complicity, in other words–and games that effectively use IF’s unique storytelling force should also be considered among the “best.” Relatively few games make much of this, but those that do are, in my view, particularly noteworthy.

For myself, I’d put most of my 20 faves above among the “best” in this sense as well, but not all. As fond as I am of Spellbreaker, for example, I can’t dispute that the plot is mostly absent, and it doesn’t motivate the puzzle-solving except in the most general sense. Trinity is better in that regard, but still has long stretches where there’s no obvious connection between the puzzle-solving and your ultimate goal. Smaller, more focused games like Child’s Play, Delusions, Djinni Chronicles, and Change in the Weather integrate the puzzles and story much more tightly. And while Trinity has a “complicity” moment, it’s just one moment; other games like Heroes and Bad Machine have done more with that idea.

(Sadly, I lack the time to replay all of my faves to reassess how successful they are on these metrics; I remember what I enjoyed about them, but not necessarily how well they motivate their puzzle-solving, say.)

Or am I just overthinking this?


Nice to take a trip down nostalgia avenue… I wonder if I can get these into order? No, probably not.

  1. Curses - While I don’t think I would ever really recommend this to anyone else, I had such an enjoyable time playing it that it has to be top of my list. I don’t think anyone has topped Graham here for his ability to turn interactivity into a conversation between player and game, with the successful solver providing the punch-line to so many jokes and having so many moments of real, intuitive insight. The puzzle of the romantic poetry book and the hedge maze are gems, that no-one would be allowed to get away with in the “real” world of games. Magnificent.

  2. So Far - Plotkin has always had a wizard-like ability to turn code into world; so that even though So Far is brutally difficult and so easy to break, it never feels inert. From the (unnecessary?) pole-licking to the monster-fight in the arena, So Far felt like a living breathing world in which I was the ghost, drifting from place to place. And the ending of this was alive. Wonderful – but again, very hard, and very hard to truly recommend!

  3. The Witness - Of all the Infocom games, this one was my favourite, because I actually found clues, I actually followed them up, formed hypotheses and eventually cracked the case. It took a lot of replay and a fair amount of luck, and when I played Deadline later I found it impossible, unforgiving, and over-wrought. But The Witness seemed just right to me - simple enough to be accessible, responsive enough to provide a narrative. A great game.

  4. Rimworld - (I think was the name.) In the early days of the internet, a few text adventures floated around, that have been largely lost. This one was a standard collection of plastic-purple-squares and plastic-purple-slots, but back when I played it, there were no walkthroughs, no forums, and no authors emails; so I wandered, alone and without help, through an empty alien world, and every discovery was my own. Games will never feel like that again.

  5. Ribbons - one of the Art Show pieces, full of connections that might or might not be meaningful. This one was great for me because it made me realise, finally, that interactivity is what happens inside the player’s head, and that what happens in the game-code to enable this interactivity is merely academic.

  6. Shrapnel - bonkers, devastating, and Cadre at the height of his powers, creating a seamless experience bristling with meaning and consequence. This game for me marked the absolute heyday of the indie community; when games were quick, dirty, but wickedly effective.

  7. Spider and Web - this almost doesn’t feature because, in truth, I didn’t enjoy playing one little bit. But the twist was fantastic, and the conversation system instructive, inspiring and, oh, yeah, really cool.

  8. Lost Pig - Lost Pig was great.

  9. LASH - I like all of Paul’s work, but this one felt the most solidly built and meaningfully executed.

  10. The Weapon - great sci-fi story, with a tight design and great pacing.

  11. Starcross - a masterpiece of puzzle design on a budget.

  12. Christminister - this one seems to get forgotten about, but looking back I feel like Rees’ invented an entire genre of pacing here: the game is so graceful in ensuring that your scope is always small enough to be playable, but your involvement just gets deeper and deeper. I like to think of The Shadow in the Cathedral as something of a design homage.

  13. Plundered Hearts - while not as tightly designed as some of its successors, PH managed to tell a real story and not let its puzzles get in the way, and that was a novelty in the Infocom games. And it was a great romp.

Honourable mentions: Deep Space Drifter, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, 9:05, Dangerous Curves, Slouching Towards Bedlam.

  • Adventureland: Sentimental. I keep going back. (I never played texty games until the 90s, but I used to watch my friend Kenny playing this).
  • Beyond Zork: My favorite of the Zork-branded games and the game I’ve completed more times than any other.
  • Leather Goddesses of Phobos: My favorite Infocom title and the game I’ve re-started more times than any other.
  • Plundered Hearts: My first real okay-gonna-sit-down-and-play-one-of-these-for-real games, hooked me with style.
  • Eric the Unready: My favorite non-Infocom commercial-era game, and on some days maybe my favorite work of IF overall.
  • Galatea: Even though that statue is a sourpuss.
  • Aisle: Makes me almost want to make my own gimmick game.
  • Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis: Modern game voted Most Likely To Make Me Jealous.
  • The King of Shreds and Patches: My very favorite Lovecraftian game. Plus it’s even now blazing new trails.
  • Lost Pig: I bust a gut.
  • The Shadow in the Cathedral: Textfyre, I’m sorry I doubted you (but it was Toresal’s fault).
  • Dragon Adventure: My favorite aimed-at-younger-folks game. Good for me, too.
  • Yes, Another Game with a Dragon!: Modern retro done so right it discourages me from trying.
  • I-0: I keep finding new angles and loving them all.
  • Rameses: Embodied all my modern-IF prejudices and still impressed the heck out of me. So, yeah.
  • Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom: As previously mentioned, this game demonstrates that everything I thought I knew about IF design was wrong.

In no particular order:

1 Savoir Faire, Emily Short. The best example of a very powerful design approach: concoct an interaction mechanic that is distinctive and engaging, that can be applied widely and modified into variations and otherwise elaborated upon, then build that mechanic deeply into your world, character and themes. It’s also got some immensely satisfying aesthetics. Its main flaw is that the difficulty curve is a little steep at the lower end; like a lot of people, I bounced off the opening section on my first attempt.

2 Spider and Web, Andrew Plotkin. This is the game that made me realise that text adventures could be literate, clever things. Yeah, That Puzzle is a doozy, but that never impressed me as much as the handling of the frame-story.

3 Varicella, Adam Cadre. What Cadre does best is to take really vicious nastiness and transpose it into a funny, larger-than-life, almost slapstick format without taking the edge off. Mechanically, it’s excruciatingly hard, the basic assumptions of the world make an unsatisfying ending inevitable, and it’s in sore need of multiple solutions.

4 Alabaster, Emily Short et al. If this didn’t exist then Galatea would have this spot. It’s the deepest conversational IF to date, it’s appropriately sinister, but at the same time it has that satisfying, Bujold-like feel of a conversation between two thoroughly reasonable people. Since this is a work of many hands, the tone is a little uneven in parts, but overall it’s excellent.

5 Violet, Jeremy Freese. One of the games that I have a dismissive reflex about, but which becomes a lot more impressive when I sit down and think about it. It has an extremely firm grasp on a lot of the things that IF does better than any medium: a world teeming with enticing and evocative objects, constraints on interaction defining the protagonist, play as a dialogue with the narrator. It doesn’t advance IF design in the slightest, but it employs established techniques to their limits.

6 Photopia, Adam Cadre. Shocking choice, I know. And yeah, a lot of this is because the balls-out cheap emotional manipulation worked. It’s still a brilliantly orchestrated sequence. The heart of it is not really about untimely death; it’s about distance, about the other person being necessarily just out of reach.

7 The Baron, Victor Gijsbers. Moral-question IF is extraordinarily difficult to pull off, and this is the best example that I know of. Takes the standard philosophy approach of interrogating a question by repeatedly reframing it, but does so in a way that works as a dramatic story. Wrenching even if you’re expecting the carpet to be pulled away.

8 Cryptozookeeper, Robb Sherwin. It didn’t strike me as strongly as did Fallacy of Dawn, but a lot of that was because I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Fallacy. It’s a night journey, sprawling and random and rich and dark and cheesy, it makes no sense in a huge number of ways, it has a heart of gold and a mind in the gutter, it’s Americana at its best. The usual things to talk about are Robb’s weirdly excellent prose, vibrant NPCs and off-the-wall imagination.

9 Anchorhead, Michael Gentry. A masterpiece of pacing and atmospherics. When I first played it I hadn’t read anything from the Lovecraft mythos, so my estimation of how it matches up is unreliable; my feeling is that it’s as good as anything in the mythos, although this isn’t an incredibly high bar. As with most Lovecraft, the climax doesn’t live up to the buildup, but it scarcely matters.

10 Worlds Apart, Suzanne Britton. A touch too new-agey for my tastes, and you get the distinct feeling that it’s not a complete story in its own right but rather an excerpt from something much larger. Nonetheless, strong, well-integrated puzzle design, strong setting, and an amnesia device that serves to help explore the character rather than an excuse to avoid doing so.

11 Bad Machine, Dan Shiovitz: fiendishly difficult, probably incomprehensible to anybody without a little programming background. About a decade since I played it, so possibly I’m viewing it through the rosy mists of nostalgia. Huge amounts of learning by death, though it could hardly be otherwise. Still: dark, atmospheric, clever puzzle mechanics.

12 Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis, Adam Thornton. Again, I had a dismissive reflex about this when I first played it, but it grew steadily on me. Much of this is because the process of appreciating IF isn’t a fixed, author-reader experience; much of the fun of Mentula lay in looking up the references, reading the code, talking and thinking about it, reading other people’s reactions and analysis, and (ahem) drawing fanart and writing cheap rip-offs. Mentula invites this sort of thing by being self-indulgent and allusive, publishing its code (bringing the player closer to the authorial process), and using an open, fantastic-voyage structure.

13 Moonlit Tower, Yoon Ha Lee. Overwriting that works, rich symbolism and aesthetics-of-objects, a story more suggested than told.

14 Slouching Towards Bedlam, Daniel Ravipinto & Star Foster. Like Savoir Faire, this starts out slowly: when I played it in-comp I got the sense that something good was waiting in the wings, but didn’t manage to actually get to it. But on the second attempt, somewhat later, it really opened up. Probably the best, most deeply engaged steampunk I’ve seen. By which I mean that it’s genuinely interested in both the artistic tropes and the technology of the era, rather than treating it as a stylish gloss.

15 The Edifice, Lucian Smith. As anthropology it’s honestly pretty crap – nobody seriously thinks that horses went from wild to riding animals at a single bound – but it works as a stirring allegory, it has well-integrated puzzles.

16 Vespers, Jason Devlin. The best 9:05 Twist game I know, and a nasty little subversion of metagaming. And I’m all in favour of medieval fiction being bleak and horrible.

17 City of Secrets, Emily Short. I tend to underrate this one, partly because I tested it and partly because Emily has very mixed feelings about it. But even though the underlying story design has some problems, it’s full of beautiful details, the setting’s well-conceived and there are a lot of individual sequences that are very good indeed.

18 Gun Mute, C.E.J. Pacian. The interaction gimmick is really very effective, but this also does a lot of very strong, economical things with setting, characterisation and NPC interaction. It helps that I grew up on 2000 AD.

19 Blue Lacuna, Aaron Reed; 20 Make It Good, Jon Ingold. Both works that I know damn well deserve a spot on this list, even if I haven’t finished them and am not in a position to make a complete judgement.

Things that occurred to me while compiling these:

a) We really need to get better at endings. (I think this is a general problem with computer games.)

b) It’s really hard to think of genuinely good games that don’t seem totally obvious. Genuinely good IF games pretty much always make it into the canon? Which means that if you want to talk about interesting games outside the conventional greats, you pretty much have to deal with things that are mostly broken.

c) I am really not very good at articulating what I like about games.

d) The ones I was sure about cut off after sixteen entries; after that there were probably a dozen games that I think deserve to be on the list, but I couldn’t really distinguish between.

e) man, we are really not good at doing things that aren’t F/SF.

I should preface this by noting that my taste in games and puzzles seems to be somewhat out of the mainstream; the reason I like a game and include it here may reflect that. That said…

In no particular order:

The Gostak (Carl Muckenhoupt): I got turned on to this as a ‘knock-on effect’ of a discussion of linguistics, language learning, and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. In IRC. Don’t ask. The story isn’t much, the setting isn’t much; what makes it interesting is the process of discovering how that world works, and (for me) thinking about the thought processes involved in such discovery.

Ad Verbum (Nick Montfort): Again, not much story or setting there; it was more fascinating to solve the wordplay puzzles, which are quite different in style than those in Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail Of It. I’m also an ex-programmer, so part of it is wishing I could see the source for it, and admiring a jewel from a distance.

Adventure (William Crowther and Don Woods, subsequently modified by et alia): At this point, mostly nostalgia (it is the granddaddy of them all…), even when playing variants like HUGECAVE. It’s been years since I played an implementation that was limited to two words (VERB NOUN) for input, yet I still find myself slipping back into that ‘mode’ (GET BIRD. WAVE WAND. DROP KEYS. FILL BOTTLE. et cetera) when I play a variant of this.

Suveh Nux (David Fisher): Although different from Carl Muckenhoupt’s The Gostak, it draws me for much the same reason.

A Mind Forever Voyaging (Steve Meretzky): A fascinating premise, a well-done story. It really draws me in, every time I play it. Maybe someday I’ll finish/solve it.

> by @ (Aaron Reed): Admiration at such a minimalist game. Anything else one can say about it says more about the sayer than about the game. Which may well be part of the attraction.

Balances (Graham Nelson): Just because of its simplicity and the connection with Spellbreaker (which I never solved). A bit of relaxing fun every time I return.

Thinking this through, it’s depressing how few of the games considered “great” I’ve either not played, or barely touched. As such, I can only really come at this from the perspective of “which games did I play lots of and really stuck with me,” so some of them might not be all that “great”…

The Hobbit (Melbourne House): No, I never finished it; spent hours on end carrying people around on my shoulders, or having them carry me around on their shoulders; the parser here was pretty amazing. Probably the game that most made me want to make something similar.

Agatha’s Folly (Linda Wright): The other “good” Spectrum adventure game that stuck with me - the first part at least (I wasn’t as enamoured of the second half) is a very dense “examine absolutely everything” puzzler with plenty of storyline buried in there.

Honourable mention probably goes to “Bulbo and the Lizard King” (John Wilson), which I’ll admit wasn’t very good, but the only other Spectrum-era adventure that I clearly remember chunks of.

Curses (Graham Nelson): It’s a sprawling mess of a puzzler, but somehow better than Jigsaw - it never felt unfair, and I kept coming back to it to try and finish it.

The Legend Lives (David Baggett): Another sprawling game with puzzles that didn’t feel all that unfair, and a well realised setting (okay, a setting that was mostly a futuristic update from four prior games but it mostly stood on its own).

Lists And Lists (Andrew Plotkin): Okay, what’s this doing here? You could read it as a stand-in for Spider And Web, which I never finished but otherwise quite liked, but on its own merits, it actually does a good job of teaching something.

Anchorhead (Michael Gentry): Ah, that’s better - good story, great setting, well drawn characters, puzzles that mostly weren’t headscratchingly impossible.

Photopia (Adam Cadre): Lack of interaction didn’t bother me in the slightest in this one. Touching and well written.

Lost Pig (Admiral Jota): Hey, look, I have played a relatively recent game! Brilliant, just brilliant. Great characterisation, good writing, and very witty.

Well. That was short. To be fair, there are lots of other games I liked, but none that have stuck quite like these have. I could probably add honourable mentions for Humbug (Graham Cluley), Christminster (Garath Rees), Uncle Zebulon’s Will (Magnus Olsson), Galatea (Emily Short) and Spider And Web (Andrew Plotkin), but they didn’t quite have the same memorable impact that the list above.


Wonderful/terrible places to visit: Slouching Towards Bedlam, Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home, 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery.

Pioneering explorations of complicity and player/PC relationships: 9:05, De Baron, LASH, Rameses, Spider and Web.

Glorious experiments: Aisle, Shrapnel, The Gostak, Ad Verbum.

Deliciously surreal: Blue Chairs, Shade.

Well-crafted: The Warbler’s Nest, Delightful Wallpaper, All Things Devours, Gun Mute, Anchorhead.

commercial classics:
zork - first text adventure to hook me
moonmist - infocom’s most playable and accessible
a mind forever voyaging - infocom’s best narrative
arthur - infocom’s best puzzlefest
gateway - a complete multimedia experience
eric the unready - funniest commercial game ever

modern era:
varicella - great writing, great pc
vespers - best competition winner
anchorhead - best horror
pascal’s wager - most replayable
bolivia by night - educational & entertaining
rendition - best political
textfire golf - best z-code abuse
city of secrets - best implementation
stiffy mckane the undiscovered country - funniest free game ever
hoist sail for the heliopause and home - most elegant structure

Hi, All,

Here’s one more stab at a list of the top twenty IF stories. It was pretty hard to get the list pared down sufficiently, and I ended up giving myself a new rule—no more than one story per author. Without this rule, Andrew Plotkin, Emily Short, and Brian Moriarty would have appeared more than once.

Brendan Desilets

  1. Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin—Remember when we thought that Andrew Plotkin’s stories were brilliant, but awfully difficult? This story let us concentrate on the brilliance.
  2. Bronze by Emily Short—A fine plot, engaging characters, and an understated, Gothic setting. The best “worked example” ever.
  3. A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzsky—Absolutely compelling. Required reading for Tea Party members :wink:
  4. Wishbringer by Brian Moriarty—A gentle adventure for people of all ages. The ending may bring a tear to your eye.
  5. Arthur: the Quest for Excalibur by Bob Bates—A worthy addition to the Arthurian legends. More historically observant than most.
  6. “Photopia” by Adam Cadre—Remarkably original and unforgettably sad.
  7. The Firebird by Bonnie Montgomery—Very funny retelling of a classic tale.
  8. Suspect by Dave Lebling—A surprising mystery that hasn’t lost its charm.
  9. Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter by Michael Gentry—Very interactive and engaging story. The ending is a bit weak, but I’m surely looking forward to the sequel.
  10. 1893: a World’s Fair Mystery by Peter Napstad—Before The Devil in the White City, there was 1893: a World’s Fair Mystery, with its amazingly detailed evoking of one of the most important events in the history of popular culture.
  11. “Lost Pig” by Admiral Jota—This story implements everything, and it’s all funny.
  12. “The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet” by Graham Nelson—A master at work, short form.
    13. LASH by Paul O’Brian—A serious and creative use of the medium.
  13. Lost New York by Neil deMause—History and adventure, with a bit of nostalgia.
  14. Christminster by Gareth Reese—Alchemy, mystery, and a British college, too.
  15. Moon-Shaped by Jason Ermer—Truly spooky.
  16. Once and Future by G. Kevin Wilson—An exciting time-travel story, with King Arthur, JFK, and Vietnam.
  17. “The Warbler’s Nest” by Jason McIntosh—There are lots of effective IF horror tales, but few are as subtly frightening as this one.
  18. Bonehead by Sean M. Shore—Baseball, failure, and triumph.
  19. Worlds Apart by Suzanne Britton—A fully-realized fantasy adventure.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the depth of experience with modern IF that many of the longer-term vets do, so I’m probably missing several games that would otherwise take a spot on my list.

My top 10 (in the order I thought of them):

A Mind Forever Voyaging: The game that woke me up to the potential of IF. From the lavish backstory in the feelies to the moving, nonlinear, experiential gameplay, I considered this game for years the archetype of a perfect gaming experience.

Spider and Web: Outstanding mechanics and storytelling combined to produce an experience that challenges – at times frustrates – but ultimately satisfies.

Photopia: Compelling story from start to finish, told with power and heart. Yes, I cried.

The Baron: Somewhat didactic, and confusing at times, it is also powerful and affecting, with a an impact that lasts for weeks.

Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom: A surprise gem, the polish and attention to detail makes this gamer’s walk down memory lane a fantastic retro-themed exemplar of how form can be liberating in IF.

LASH: Somewhat flawed in execution towards the end, it still packs a tremendous punch and illustrates the power of IF to spur character identification.

Savoir-Faire: Emily had all cylinders firing on this one: great writing, setting, plot, puzzles, topped off by a brilliant magic system.

The Gostak: I’ve never actually gotten through this, but it’s the game I keep telling myself I have to solve next. Fascinating concept and thorough execution (from what I can see so far).

Lost Pig: The more I write IF the more I appreciate the amazing level of technical polish that went into this. Great writing and characters and imaginative puzzles make this a modern classic.

Blue Lacuna: Again, I haven’t fully finished this one, but several hours in was enough for me to know that it deserves a spot on my top 10. The sheer scope and ambition of Blue Lacuna would be plenty, but the amazing technical innovation really cements it for me.

I enjoy voting. But like most Americans, I hate leaving the house, so I just use an absentee ballot. I have accepted the fact that my votes will just be thrown into a garbage heap of tires and inexplicably bruised organic bananas because 99% of absentee voters are in the military and vote the opposite of how I do. But when I figured out I didn’t have to drive to vote in this thread and that Mike Snyder spambans anyone from registering with a .mil address, it became extremely appealing.

I have been out of the loop as a player for a few years, so this list will look like it was written in mid-2006. (For instance, George Bush invades someone between picks 13 and 14.) I wasn’t going to post it because it’s unfair to all the authors making great games in the current day. The world probably doesn’t need another multi-Zork list. I’m currently playing Savoir-Faire, so I am so far behind the times, I might as well be playing games from the actual 18th French Century. I don’t want to discourage anyone doing new things, but this happens anytime there’s an IF list – the last few years of text games are almost completely ignored. But while players are behind, word does eventually get out.

  1. Zork I: The Great Underground Empire by Infocom. The first truly great video game that was ever created.

  2. Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz by Infocom. To this day there’s, what, fewer than a dozen video game sequels that were legitimately as good as the first one?

  3. Knight Orc by Level 9. They ended up making a MMORPG with characters taking the place of logged-in users. Virtually everyone is reprehensible, there’s a ton of emergent gameplay and it really does feel like you got dumped into an unfriendly world, left with only your wits. This sense of community should be what on-line roleplaying games are trying to achieve, instead of bitcoin-based libertarianism and goblin-slobbing.

  4. I-0 by Adam Cadre. Laugh-out-loud funny, with that sense of being able to go anywhere and do anything that I really love in IF.

  5. Jinxter by Magnetic Scrolls. I only played this game after Michael Bywater made in appearance in the comments of that forum post where Andy Baio published internal Infocom e-mails without asking anyone if that was OK. This really is one of the funniest games ever made. The author’s challenge in Jinxter seemed to be to give a payoff for every single response the parser gave the player. (I’ve never written a proper review, so excuse me going into depth here.) When I was mid-way through the last game I made, I’ll confess that having to come up with so much text for mundane items was starting to become a chore. How many ways can a man describe a desk? Then I played Jinxter. Jinxter was like one of those personal trainers who yell at you. It made me realize what a gift it is to have the attention of a player. What an opportunity. It made me comprehend the rare series of events that need to occur for someone to even begin playing one’s text game in this age and if I didn’t respect that, and attempt to make every line of text as good as I could, I should just give up. Bywater doesn’t give up anywhere in Jinxter. He’s a force of nature here.

(But it’s below I-0 because no hawt chix go topless.)

  1. Narcolepsy by Adam Cadre. Full review here.

  2. Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin. Loved how smart I felt when I got inside the building, and the jarring shift that happens next. I never got tired of having the interrogator tell me that I couldn’t have possibly done what I did, seeing how what I did resulted in me squicking out. That – along with V.A.T.S. in Fallout 3 and take-downs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution – is one of those unique mechanics that I never ended up getting tired of.

  3. Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls by Legend. A wise man once pointed out to me that after A Mind Forever Voyaging, an artistic triumph that fared poorly financially, Steve Mertezky did “sex game, then sequel.” Sure, but after those two games he came up with what I believe is the most entertaining game of his career. S101 was meticulously plotted with a master of his craft leveraging his years of experience for a great story as well as game. There is a certain pleasure to someone experienced kicking ass in their creative years with such confidence. But at the same time, there was a lot of room for exploration within the game’s college campus. You could chose whether or not you went to class or not, and it was better to actually go! Amazing. S101 also holds the distinction of being the only game whose walkthrough of commands has ever made me laugh.

  4. Fail-Safe by Jon Ingold. I’ve read some other reviews that indicate that other players had a difficult time navigating things, but this didn’t happen in my case. I’m awful at seeing the trick in movies, books and games, so my brain was perfectly pudgy and ululating to be so magnificently tricked by a game like Fail-Safe.

  5. The Circuit’s Edge by Westwood Associates. I used to say this was my favorite book done by my favorite video game company. Then I got older and understood that the Infocom label was being used, though nobody at Infocom proper worked on it. The chief gameplay mechanic of this is just so amazingly brilliant: you can add microchips to your brain and instantly have a new personality or new abilities. This is dead-set sexy for video games. Like, argh, THIS should have been the genre that took over the world, and shooting people in the face with WWII weapons while having the word “of” in the title should have been marginalized. Fantastic soundtrack, graphics that don’t look too dated, random combat you can control to some degree via the microchip thing and the writing of (or in the style of) George Alec Effinger.

NOTE: One of the worst moments of my life was when I was carrying a lot more weight than I am now, and I went into Circuit’s Edge and accidentally had the player character eat too much food in one of the shoppes. This game flat-out tells you that you feel “grossly full” and, Christ - it was one of those “self” moments where you feel sick. Both Marid Audran and me made some lifestyle changes, although his involved a lot more bareback prostitute-fucking.

  1. Photopia by Adam Cadre. I don’t have anything special to add, but here’s the reason why Adam is my favorite IF author: he has this way of either anticipating what players are going to type, thus making the parser seemless, like how Richard Bartle describes YOUR dragon in Get Lamp, or else he hypnotizes me by writing so well that I don’t try to get cute and awkwardly type stuff, struggling to make things work. I’ll play in a single setting any IF that manages to make the parser something I barely have to pay attention to.

  2. Savoir-Faire by Emily Short. I am still playing this, but the humor and magic system really compliment each other. I feel the same way about most games with magic as people today feel about zombie games: there’s too many, and they suck right in their very reason for being. SF is an exception, like, say, Left 4 Dead 2. But really, the whole illusion with text games is that you can type anything into that prompt. So I like how Savoir-Faire, through the linking of objects, now has everything in play as a possible object that can pay off later. That, to me, is better world-building than a magic system where you find spell books or gain them via levels.

  3. Suspended by Infocom. More for the amazing interface and unique way of looking at Interactive Fiction. Truly set up like a game more than anything else, and I think there was even points, in the form of human lives lost, in the game? I don’t remember exactly, but in my defense, I figured the bots were remembering everything for me. Features one of the few player characters I feel I could beat up.

  4. Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country by One of the Bruces. My appreciation of this one is similar to Mentula Macanus, but I got more of the references in this one. I think I reviewed it on Trotting Krips back in the day. I think the only video game designer in the world whose games I’ve completely finished is Bruce. The moral of the story is: to be a successful author, develop an atmosphere where people feel that if they don’t finish your work, they’ll wind up with a mishmash of weird genitals sent through the post.

  5. A Mind Forever Voyaging by Infocom. There is one thing I really like about this game: Mertezky wanted to write a game because he hated Reagan, and that’s great. More text games need to tell me who they’re pissed off at. Another guy at Infocom, and I want to say it was Lebling, was like, “That’s fine, as long as there’s nobody stopping me from doing a pro-Republican game in the future.” (Paraphrased.) I mention this only because in our current political climate, everyone involved in such an exchange at almost any place of employment would be dead via the in-fighting, and that re-includes Reagan.

  6. Guilty Bastards by Kent Tessman. I liked this when I originally played it, because I was trapped in the mind of Kent Tessman, who is wry, clever, witty and fun. I then savaged this game’s source as I tried to make things work in my Hugo games, and gained a greater appreciation for it and all the stuff I missed. It was very inspirational - I learned it was OK if you have stuff in a game that all players don’t see. Some people will, and those people will appreciate it.

  7. Guild of Thieves by Magnetic Scrolls. I like to think this is what Zork IV would have been like, if Zork IV didn’t become Enchanter and was instead developed 15 years later. Funny, hates the player, gives you an entire world to solve puzzles in and has stunning graphics. Flack and I showed this one on the Amiga during the Oklahoma Video Game Expo, and some frigging reprobate had the unmitigated audacity to write, “>this game sucks” when we weren’t looking. Whoever that person was: YOU suck.

  8. At Wit’s End by Mike Sousa. I used to like that, with everything that happens in this game, the Red Sox winning the World Series was still the least believable. Then they won twice and took to scoring like 25 runs a game against the Blue Jays. Therefore this is downgraded to #18 to signify the 18 years since the Jays have last been to the playoffs.

  9. Rameses by Stephen Bond. Having a text game that basically doesn’t let you change anything is such a good idea – but it also didn’t occur to me what was going on until I finished playing it and went “HEY, WHAT THE.” This is because I am very stupid. But this game takes an enormous chance by giving us a charismatic player character that we have no real reason to care for. It’s that level of guts that made me adore the game so much.

  10. Annoyotron by Ben Parrish. Because, well. OK. It’s here because I can type several thousand words about the best genre in the world and it doesn’t change that, to the rest of the populace, they imagine these games we love so much to be exactly like this one.