IFComp 2020 Conclusions

And that’s a wrap! There were 104 entries, initially. One was disqualified for having been released previously. Three were one game in disguise. And there’s one I wasn’t allowed to vote on because I had beta-tested it. That left a nice round 100 games for me to judge, and I actually managed to judge them all, and post about half of them. I didn’t say this before, because I wanted the freedom to change my mind if it didn’t work well, but I had a system for this: I’d play two items from my randomized list, and then choose one of them to write about before proceeding to the next two. I actually think taking them in pairs like this helped me to choose votes, but I also think that the sheer size of the list meant that my standards drifted over the span of it. But that’s why we randomize.

Some notable trends observed this year: Multiple games where you play as a disembodied spirit. Multiple games that don’t have a player character in the conventional sense at all. An unusual amount of Asian representation compared to previous Comps. More serial killer stories than I’d like. Two games where you gradually discover evidence that you’re a vampire, which struck me as a funny coincidence considering how different those two games are otherwise. Several games based on semi-abstract card-game-like rule systems, replacing the player freedom of a full-on parser and the authorial freedom of hypertext with a small but consistent set of actions, where the player spends the first half of the game figuring out the rules and the second half applying them to optimize numbers. It’s worth noting that this experience is basically what the first text adventures were like before we all got used to their conventions.

One trend I find particularly interesting is the number of games that use Twine, or another choice-based interface, to make old-school adventure games based around puzzles, inventory, and free exploration of multiple rooms. It’s not a combination I would have expected to be popular. I always sort of thought that this specific form of description and interaction, the “medium-sized dry goods” model, ubiquitous in games but not particularly in non-interactive fiction, is a product of the underlying technology in ways that don’t really apply to Twine. But apparently people like that model enough to go to some effort to produce it in places where it’s neither necessary nor automatic. And when you see what they’re doing with the combination, it has clear advantages! Eliminating the parser helps to keep the interactivity focused on the meaningful and contextually appropriate. It’s clearly still an area where the basics are still being experimented with, though.

I haven’t more than glanced at other people’s reviews yet, so I don’t have a good sense of what the winner will be. My own top-rated games were Academic Pursuits and The Impossible Bottle, but Pursuits is far more accessible, so that’s my guess. The main thing limiting it is that it’s shorter than Comp-winners tend to be. A Rope of Chalk and A Murder in Fairyland are also strong contenders. Anyway, we’ll have answers soon enough. My prediction for the Golden Banana of Discord (the unofficial award for the game whose ratings have the highest standard deviation) is either Amazing Quest or You Will Thank Me as Fast as You Thank a Werewolf, both of which I expect to be polarizing.

I’ve spent a substantial chunk of this year judging this Comp and neglecting other projects to do it. I will very likely skip next year, especially if growth trends continue and it winds up in the neighborhood of 120 entries. Maybe I’ll blog the Spring Thing instead. That’s still relatively small.

No Comments

Leave a reply