Voting in the IF Comp is concluded for this year, so before we get the actual results, here are the works of interactive fiction that I’d encourage people to play.
This year I didn’t really have a single clear favourite – there’s a whole bunch of games which I think are solid in many ways and exceptional in some, but nothing where I felt ‘this game is a big deal and it obviously ought to win.’ (I don’t have a strong sense of ‘this game is a solid crowd-pleaser and is obviously likely to win’, either.) I’m going to list my recommendations in order of how much of a sense of doom it is likely to impart to its audience.
Bogeyman: Childhood horror. It’s a lot to deal with – there’s some good content warnings, I highly recommend checking them out first – but it’s strongly-handled. Play if: you like it when horror isn’t shy about its analogies to real-world monstrosity. Doom rating: 9/10 indications of antemortem trauma.
Dead Man’s Fiesta: A careful balance of the funny and the existentially bleak. A Sad Feels Game about grieving and feeling inauthentic, with sparky enough writing to avoid a sense of navel-gazing. Play if: you’ve ever lost someone and didn’t get the emotions you felt you ought to. Doom rating: 7/10 futile attempts at catharsis.
Six Silver Bullets: You’re a spy with amnesia and everyone’s out to get you, probably. Cruel, paranoid, confusing, epic, dreamlike in a way that few games accomplish. You’ll have to wrestle the parser a little, and it’s rather bigger than a two-hour game. Play if: you’re willing to put in a lot of effort to unravel an ever-shifting mystery. Doom rating: 7/10 black lodges.
Devotionalia: Strong evocation of mood and atmosphere; well-suggested weird-fiction world, with strong overtones of Sunless Sea. I suggest headphones; it’s not a huge game but you won’t want to hurry it. Play if: you’ve ever loaded Sunless Sea just to sit on your boat and soak up the gloom. Doom rating: 6/10 uncaring snake gods, although this is despair that you’re expected to savour like a very small glass of very expensive wine.
The Master of the Land: Political intrigues, family drama and revolutionary rumblings in an early-C19th Ruritania. Some elements are a little rough, but it’s a complex world with a lot going on in it. Play if: you like big parties and you’re OK with not succeeding at every task you’re presented with. Doom rating: 5/10 panic attacks.
Animalia: Dysfunctional team dynamics among woodland creatures piloting a facsimile of a ritually murdered child. Less grim than that sounds. Funny, ridiculous, lots of variation, occasionally macabre. Play if: you like plots about inept, squabbling people executing ludicrous plans. Doom rating: 3/10 changelings.
Ürs: ‘It’s Watership Down but in the ruins of an ancient space civilization.’ Well, OK, it’s a whole lot less brutal than Watership Down, and has more mysterious-machine buttons to press. Gorgeous art – some of the best I’ve seen in any IF – lifts the whole thing. Play if: you’re the kind of jerk who bothers your friends and family by waving illustrated books at them and saying ‘just fucking look at this, it is fucking unreal how good this is.’ Doom rating: 2/10 extinction-level events.
Alias ‘The Magpie’: Farcical, trope-heavy jewel-theft caper in a country manor. Wear stupid disguises, spread chaos and destruction, snark at the decor. Play if: you’re in the mood for something silly and light-hearted and gently puzzly, but you’d also like to smash up a rich guy’s house. Doom rating: 0/10 dreadful bothers.