IF Comp 2009: Overview

What follows the break will be a discussion of which games I liked best overall this year, and a couple of other comments on the competition. This is necessarily very lightly spoilery.

But first, I would like to tell you about pie. Pie is delicious. Pumpkin pie is especially delicious. People in many parts of the world do not eat pumpkin pie, but they are really missing out. Pumpkin pie filling has a complex spicy flavor and aroma, with cinnamon and sometimes nutmeg. It is all smooth and silky in texture, with a glossy upper surface which, incidentally, is an excellent receptacle of whipped cream. Then you have the crust, which should be pleasantly flaky. Unlike other kinds of pie, pumpkin pie is hardly ever too sweet or too tart, and it does not leave tiny seeds or skin or fibers stuck between your teeth. Though the best pumpkin pie is homemade, you can also get some very nice frozen or store-baked pumpkin pies. Finally, if you don’t finish the whole pumpkin pie at dessert, you can have some more for breakfast the next morning. It is just as delicious before noon.

(And that should just about do it for the RSS feed.)

The short list of my favorites this comp:

  • Rover’s Day Out. Spunky and inventive, with lots of polish and enough freedom in the late game that the hard things aren’t too hard. I particularly liked the characters, and the way the game managed to make its complicated premise seem reasonable and comprehensible.
  • Broken Legs. Lots of attitude, a novel setting and puzzles, plenty of NPC action and interaction. Kudos on the coding. I only wish I’d been able to solve much of it myself.
  • Duel that Spanned the Ages. Gorier than I usually like, but I had to respect this entry for its solidity and several memorably creepy moments.
  • Byzantine Perspective. Other people had trouble with working out the puzzle premise. I didn’t, though, so I can only speak for myself: this was a unique concept well excuted, in a fairly unusual setting, and it didn’t outstay its welcome. I found it very satisfying to solve. Would have scored it even higher than I did (which was fairly high) had there been more and the more had been equally entertaining; but I’m not sure how much further this particular puzzle would stretch, so possibly the author was right to keep it simple.
  • Duel in the Snow. I welcomed the setting, the humorous responses to some questions, and the numerous anecdotes told by the chief NPC. I wish I understood more about what happened in the story, though.

Contextual comments.

Every year people gripe about the comp, to the effect that the best games are not as good as the best games of past years, or there’s more bad stuff, or there are too many games, or too few.

On the too-few-gems front: I thought the top few games were solidly crafted and cool, but not as earth-shaking as the top games in some past years. But you know, that’s true most of the time. There are a handful of comp-winners that did something jaw-droppingly new — Photopia, Slouching Towards Bedlam, maybe Vespers — but quite often the things that place high are strong applications of existing design ideas and technical methods. Which is fine. The top games here showed real effort and ambition and achieved some cool things.

On the too-much-garbage front, this comp felt fine to me. That may or may not be thanks to my own play decisions. I’m content with my decision to skip unbeta’d games. I ran into no games that were of the quality that usually earns a 1 or 2 from me, so I didn’t assign any such scores. That made the whole comp a less exasperating experience than it is some years.

On the comp size as a whole: this year the mere publication of the game list provoked a minor flurry of discussion of What It Means that the number of games is so low… and, well, yes, it is nontrivially smaller than usual. I’m sure some people will regard this as a reason to panic. I don’t — indeed, people for years have lamented that the comp dominates the year’s releases unhealthily and swings output towards short games with broad appeal. By contrast, this year we’ve seen a number of big, ambitious games released in other months, some of which have done fascinating, novel, and difficult things. Honestly, I’d be delighted to see more years like 2009. The top games of this comp join a larger pool of existing excellent work, and the XYZZY roster this year should be awesome.

So… yeah. Some really fun stuff in this collection, and indeed I found quite a bit to like in most of the games I tried. Thanks again to the authors, the beta-testers, and the organizers for their efforts.

8 thoughts on “IF Comp 2009: Overview”

  1. Hello Emily.

    I was looking for a review of Condemned on your site, but then I read that you decided to skip all games without beta-testers.

    This game is surely good, maybe even touching, something you shouldn’t skip (well of course it’s not without its own flaws). I haven’t encountered any annoying bugs, it’s very playable; I’m pretty sure it *was* tested. It’s just that it doesn’t have any credits info — not even the author’s name or alias.

    1. The thing about my existing criterion is that it’s easy to apply and reasonably unambiguous; if I change it to “games that say they’re beta-tested, or that someone else thought were okay, or that I heard via the grapevine got some testing,” it gets more difficult to be consistent.

  2. Condemned was beta-tested; someone has said they were a tester. I suspect Emily is being deliberate in separating out games that actually credit their testers with games for which the existence of beta-testing is “discovered”, with the idea that the latter are probably not going to be as good as the former.

  3. I think — well, not to try to read Emily’s mind, but if you’re trying to establish a norm that games should be beta-tested, there’s no way to enforce the norm unless the games actually say they’ve been beta-tested. Also it seems nice to actually credit the beta-testers. (Leaving out the credits info reminds me of the academic practice of deleting the footnote that contains the acknowledgments for the purposes of blind review, but that doesn’t seem necessary in IF.)

    1. While I wouldn’t mind if in future all comp games were tested and had credits, I’m not trying to “enforce a norm” here. I’m trying to do two things:

      1. Reduce my own unhappiness while playing comp games. Last year, the majority of games that wasted my time were untested. This year, much less of my comp-playing time felt like a waste. I am content with this result.

      2. Avoid writing unfavorable reviews of games that were never intended to match my preferences in the first place. If the author wasn’t aiming to write the kind of game I am interested in playing, then there’s not much point in attempting constructive criticism.

  4. Since you’re not “enforcing a norm”… :)

    Two of the games you didn’t play are actually worth playing: The Ascot (an ADRIFT game) and Beta Tester (an Inform 7 game that doesn’t list — ironically enough — beta testers, but that is in reasonably good shape despite this.) Neither are dramatic leaps forward in the art of IF, but both are cleverly silly, genuinely funny games that made me laugh out loud more than once, and for that both stand with my favorites so far.

    The other games you skipped mostly fall victim to the usual problems of general ADRIFT crappiness and lack of testing and polishing.

    That said, I’m getting toward the end of my own play list now, and it’s not been a bad year overall. Nothing has utterly blown me away, but the Complete Wastes of Time number no more than three or four so far. I suspect my average score will end up considerably higher than last year.

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