My personal top 5:
1. “Dual Transform” by “Nigel Smith” (Andrew Plotkin)
2. “Lurid Dreams” by Torgrim Mellum Stene
3. “Critical Breach” by Grey
4. “Fragile Shells” by Stephen Granade
5. “The Usher” by Branden Rishel and Daphne Gabrieli
…though it’s hard to compare, say, “Fragile Shells” and “Lurid Dreams.” “Fragile Shells” is a solid puzzler with a story that’s nicely integrated but incidental; “Lurid Dreams” has a couple of interesting puzzles (well, one of them is very cool), but is pretty much all about the story. I ranked “Critical Breach” and “Lurid Dreams” higher than “Fragile Shells” because of their emotional impact, but if you want a smooth-playing game for your downtime then you’ll want to go for “Fragile Shells.” Not an insult at all — downtime games are wonderful things.
Emily says she’d like to think she’d have recognized “Dual Transform” as Andrew’s work even if she hadn’t known in advance, because of the way it fits into his themes. I recognized it as his work because there was no way in hell it could’ve been the work of a first-time author. (Though it did differ from his other work in that I could solve most of the problems. I needed the hints to get out of the theater in “So Far.”)
Games that got incompletes: “Roofed,” “Party Foul,” “Ka.” Didn’t finish, would kind of like to have. “Party Foul” at least might well deserve a top 5 spot.
Other games that probably deserved to rank higher: “Hoosegow,” “Monday 16:30.” With “Monday 16:30,” as I said in my review, the complaint was basically that I didn’t like some of the jokes, and that’s really no reason. “Hoosegow” was a good puzzler that just frustrated me enormously, partly because I got stuck in a bug that had me going around in circles for a long time and that broke the hint system — I think it took something like 720 turns for me to finish, I was seriously afraid of running out of time and getting hanged. Though part of the issue was that the bug arose when I messed up a series of actions that I had to perform repeatedly — the business required for each attempt at fubbgvat gur fabbmroreel naljurer was almost as annoying as the pig and surfboard in A Flustered Duck. OK, I guess I’ve explained why I didn’t rank it higher, though the authors can console themselves for any nasty things I said with their first-place finish (and also that I really liked Rover’s Day Out, which also won its comp — these guys are like the Tiger Woods of IF competitions, hopefully without the cocktail waitresses).
Some more stats:
I believe only 5 of the 30 games are what I’d describe as strict one-room games: there’s one location in the Inform world model, you can’t get magicked from one location to another, and either you never use a directional command (other than perhaps “in” and “out” for containers within the room) or as soon as you successfully use such a command you win. That’s probably fine; single rooms can be restricting, and having different rooms helps break up the objects required for puzzles.
On the Bechdel-test front, I think there are three games that have conversations between two women, and two more that have conversations between two women if a PC of indeterminate gender is female; and fourteen games that have conversations between men, with four more that may have conversations depending on the gender of the PC. I’m counting AIs as gendered if they obviously have a gender (which may be indeterminate!), and I’m counting letters and other forms of written communication as conversations. But not stabbings. I may have got this wrong, though.
Anyway, on the whole the competition was heartening; a lot of interesting stuff from newcomers, and the overall level of inventiveness was a lot higher than I expected even if the overall level of technical and linguistic polish was not always quite so high. I’d expected a lot of fairly banal puzzlers without much narrative ambition, particularly given the theme of the competition — I enjoy escape-the-room games a lot, but most of them are just collections of puzzles (or sometimes cleverly thematically unified puzzles) that don’t even try to make narrative sense. The authors on the whole seemed to be trying for something more. I’d like to see a lot of them work toward more polished, easier to play games that keep the charm of their efforts. Beta test, and copy edit!
On that theme, something that should be both encouraging and intimidating to aspiring authors (like, maybe, me) is the bug in “Hoosegow.” These guys won the last comp, they won this comp, they beta-tested the game pretty thoroughly, and the game they submitted still had a reasonably severe bug in it. Encouraging: Everyone’s game has bugs, and the bugs in your game don’t mean that you’re a worthless programmer. Intimidating: Everyone’s game has bugs, which means your game has bugs, which means you’ll have to get them out. As I said, beta test.
And again, I really liked the format that made it easier for players to comment and for authors to do corrections on the fly. I think it might be nice to have an ongoing testing lab that worked like that.