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About my 2000 IF Competition Reviews

By 2000, the Comp had become the center of the IF community, for good and for ill. The good: artistic achievement continued to explode outward in every dimension. Comp00 delivered a bumper crop of stunners. I rated 7 (of 51) games a 9.0 or above, more 9.x scores than I’ve given any set of comp entries before or since. Those games came up with delightful variations on the Infocom themes, haunting new versions of old cliches like the one-room game, and writing that was simply fantastic. October of 2000 was an awesome time to be an interactive fiction fan, as your hard drive could suddenly fill up with one incredible experience after another.

Even the games that weren’t roaring successes were often bold experiments. This was the year of the breathtaking attempt, like Ad Verbum‘s astonishing linguistic gymnastics, Being Andrew Plotkin‘s POV shenanigans, or, gods help us, a full text adventure recreation of, and expansion on, Return To Zork. There was comedy (very hard to do well in IF), there was dada, there was brilliant subversion. There was even a game that tried to reverse the roles of the player and the writer! This year also saw the first comp entries by future winners (and all-around rock stars) Emily Short and Jon Ingold.

Basically, because the IF Comp had acquired a reputation for producing excellent games, it garnered a lot of attention, and because it garnered a lot of attention, people kept funneling their best work toward it. This attention economy had a dark side, though, which is that people also began to exploit the focus and feedback that the Comp generated. We’d seen some of this before, but the trend really accelerated in 2000, as people threw in “games” that were really more like pamphlets, or protests, or proselytization.

Combine with this the fact that there were no less than fifty-three games entered, to be judged over a six-week period. I reviewed 51 of those games, skipping over Happy Ever After and Infil-Traitor, which had known bugs required recompilation before the games were viable.

Consequently, my patience strained and then snapped when I was presented with games that weren’t really games at all, but rather (as I viewed them) abuses of my time, purchased with the general good will of the IF Competition’s overall reputation. In addition, I had (and have) zero time for obnoxious snipes at development systems or community members, disguised as comedy. Homebrewed games continued to bedevil me, and there was a new development system on the scene (ADRIFT) whose UI was cool, but whose parser was not up to snuff. And oy, do I ever want people to learn the difference between its and it’s.

Deadline misery was entirely self-created, though. Looking back, I’m rather astonished that I played 51 games and wrote 51 reviews in the course of six weeks. It’s easy to see why I stopped doing that once I became a parent. It’s harder to see how I ever did it at all.

I originally posted my reviews for the 2000 IF Competition games on November 16, 2000.

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