I have now reviewed all the comp games I am going to review, though some of the reviews have yet to be published. Most recent years I’ve done an end-of-comp roundup (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007) in which I talk about standout games, as well as some trends I noticed arising from the competition. This year by request I’m doing that early, even though there are still a bunch of reviews still to come out. It is little lighter on trend analysis than previously, but then one of this year’s main features was having a little of everything, and being less easily summarized.
It might seem a little late in the calendar year to do a half-year roundup of interactive fiction, but in fact the end of September is typically the turning point of the year: after summer is over but just before the release of the annual IF Comp games.
First, a general Don’t Miss category. This is personal and doubtless incomplete, but:
Best of. On IFDB, stalwart reviewer MathBrush has a list of 2015’s best IF releases so far. It’s a very good list, with a variety of parser and choice-based IF to look at. I might also add Caelyn Sandel’s Bloom series, Porpentine and Brenda Neotenomie’s Neon Haze, and Vajra Chandrasekera’s Snake Game.
Other standouts for me have been Her Story (my review, followup thoughts), Lifeline, Sunset, Below, and Arcadia. Some of these I enjoyed, some I thought were interesting, and some seemed likely to have a strong impact on future work (and I’ve unpacked some of that later in this post). They’re all worth knowing about.
And this is a little outside the standard IF fold, but I enjoyed the FMV graphical adventure Contradiction a lot more than I expected to.
An undercelebrated resource in walkthroughs: David Welbourn has been building a steady supply of high-quality parser IF walkthroughs, supported by his Patreon. When I say “high-quality”, I mean that they’re divided into sections for easier use, provide maps and commentary, and frequently include discussion of how you’re meant to figure out a particular puzzle. Often David will go out of his way to document interesting side aspects of the game in question. These walkthroughs make games accessible that might have been too hard to get through or demanded too big a time commitment before, and they provide a useful resource for people writing up games later (whether in an academic context or not). It’s often fun to read through after you’ve finished a game and find out what you missed.
Here are his walkthroughs for a few games that I remember enjoying but thought were a bit overlooked by the community at large (sometimes because they were challenging): Muggle Studies, Adventurer’s Consumer Guide, Katana. Or perhaps you’ll like Firebird, which did make a bit of a splash in 1998 when it came out, but doesn’t get a lot of discussion now. And style points for providing a walkthrough of Everything We Do Is Games.
Digital Antiquarian. Jimmy Maher’s blog about the history of interactive fiction (and related games) through the 1980s is consistently compelling. He approaches the work from many angles — the history of the companies and individuals writing the software, the state of the industry, the themes and design of the games themselves. Superb. I occasionally call out links in my link roundups each month, but every post is worth reading.
Sub-Q Magazine. I am so excited about this that I go around annoyingly telling people about it at the drop of a hat — which is also why I’ve used a screenshot of Sub-Q’s current lineup at the top of this post. Sub-Q is an online magazine for interactive fiction. It pays authors, which gets into another 2015 trend that I’ll talk about in a minute, but what excites me even more is the editorial discipline and mission of the site. The first two months of Sub-Q have featured well-chosen reprints, new work from established and rising IF authors, and interactive pieces solicited from speculative fiction authors who haven’t previously worked in IF. Moreover, that work comes from all over the world and represents a variety of cultural perspectives. The currently running story is a wonderfully vivid piece of Nigerian fantasy. This doesn’t happen by accident, but only as a result of dedicated editorial work.
New works come out with cover art and blurbs. The site runs author interviews and tool coverage as well, in between stories. It is great, seriously, filling an important unfilled space in this field. As recently as my 2014 retrospective post, people were speculating about whether something like this would even be possible. I will be really really sad if it winds up having to shut down due to lack of subscription. If I were an eccentric IF-loving billionaire, one of my first moves would be to make sure Sub-Q was fully funded.
After the fold, more thoughts on specific trends and developments.