So what am I going to do with myself now?
I hope these reviews have, at least in some ways, been occasionally useful to the authors. I mentioned at the start that I don’t really have any ‘form’ in doing reviews. It is interesting looking at and playing, in-depth, 77 games in such a short space of time. I think the competition this year has been an fascinating one. It’s had quite a lot to say about Interactive Fiction – how it’s delivered. How it engages.
I thought I would put together a few short posts about what I took away from the competition. First up : The games themselves.
The following are my personal pick of the games this year. This isn’t in any way a ‘prediction’ of where they’ll place, and I’m most definitely not saying these are the ‘best’ games in the competition. These are the games I most enjoyed.
I usually have a favorite game in all the competitions I’ve been involved in over the years. Unusually, this year, I have three. And I can’t separate them. In no particular order:
I found Alias ‘The Magpie’ to be an exceptionally well implemented and funny parser game. Humor is a difficult thing to get right – it’s so subjective, but this story of the gentleman burglar tickled my funny bone.
The delivery and implementation of Cannery Vale is extremely impressive. It’s a tightly written, complex game of an author and their creation. The way this world continues to open up is exceptional.
The Master of the Land is an important game. Developed in Twine, it delivers what feel like a real dynamic game-play experience. I found the text to be strong and the game to entirely re-playable and engaging.
So those were my personal favorites, however, I also enjoyed very much many more of the games in this competitions. Some I would recommend include:
Coming very very close to being in my personal favorites list was Devotionalia, a game I was entranced by. A meditation on faith and devotion, it is beautifully written and presented. Also, Bogeyman delivered such tightly written and affecting prose. I found this exploration of what happens to children who can’t be good genuinely unsettling.
There’s a type of parser IF that has proved successful in the comp over the years. A lighthearted and humorous romp through a genre. There were several in the competition this year. Those I most enjoyed were The Origins of Madame Time – a well implemented and funny superhero mashup, and Basilica de Sangre – a cracking little game about demonic possession, with an unusual core mechanic.
It felt like there were an unusually large amount of detective games in this years competition. I particularly liked Grimnoir, a choice based game wherein we play as an occult detective, finding monsters and righting wrongs. I also enjoyed Erstwhile – the first game I played in the competition. As a ghost, we’re on the hunt for our murderer. It did some interesting things with clue mechanics.
One of the core game types in interactive fiction is the ‘exploration quest’ – I use this term loosely. There were many games in this competition where we are presented with a map and a goal and need to navigate our way through puzzles to achieve it. In the parser world, I liked Diddlebucker! – it’s a well implemented game wherein we are uncovering treasures and riddles to win the $1 million prize. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. From the choice games, I thought Lux was really well implemented. The core conceit – this blind player being guided through the World by an AI who may or may not be reliable was very well done. In addition, the incorporation of multi-object puzzles in a Twine game was impressive.
In this category, you could also, I suppose place Urs – probably the most beautifully illustrated game in the competition. It’s also a compelling World – this world of rabbits, and the puzzle systems are well done. In addition, En Garde really pleased me. As a zombie, you can eat brains and develop a personality. Well, many personalities actually. It’s done something very cool with Inform and Vorple this game and is consistently funny.
I was very impressed with I.A.G Alpha. It’s a bespoke development that provides a meta system for, literally, changing the code of the game as you play – it’s brilliantly, flawlessly implemented with some complex and satisfying puzzles.
Retro is a thing. I like a retro game. A retro adventure. If well done, it can give you a little burst of enjoyable nostalgia. There were several implemented with bespoke parsers and delivery this year. I particularly enjoyed Flowers of Mysteria, an old-style fantasy quest game. For what it is, it felt well implemented and engaging. Speaking of retro, I found the delivery platform and text of Railways of Love to be very good. It was a really well designed and written game with a compelling atmosphere.
If you like complex puzzles and math problems, then Junior Arithmancer is definitely worth playing. I thoroughly enjoyed it – it’s successful in delivering a UI that helps the player – it has a puzzle system that gradually gets harder. Can you use the magic spells to make the numbers?
Animalia is a fascinating game. Four woodland creatures inhabit a human coat. It is a highly branching, humorous and clever game. I still haven’t managed to see all the achievements.
And last but not least, (these picks are in no particular order), a big shout out to Writers are not Strangers – a really well written and engaging piece about the relationship between the author and the reader, told through the aegis of the end of the world. It does some interesting things with reader engagement, this. More on that anon.
So those were my personal picks of the competition. Like I said at the start – these are the games I particularly enjoyed. I apologize to any authors whose games are not here – on the whole, the vast majority of the games in this competition have had love and care from the author. I have enjoyed being part of it – at least in a small way.