Interactive fiction itself
On the one hand, 2010 was not like 2009 -- nothing came out that I loved as much as Blue Lacuna, Make it Good, The King of Shreds and Patches and (to a lesser extent, because it was so much shorter) Alabaster. On the other hand, we did see a large number of good games. For evidence, just look at the IF Comp: places 14 to 16 are Leadlight, Gigantomania and Under, in Erebus, each of which is really good. Thirteen games placed above them. And many good games appeared outside of the competition.
What were the highlights of 2010? The following list will be an eclectic mixture of games that everyone loved, games that I loved, and games that I think have not received enough attention.
- Looking at the XYZZY awards, one might get the impression that the only game to matter this year is Aotearoa. Of course that is not true, but it is very fine game: a boy's adventure story with great animal NPCs and so much polish you can shave in it. (I voted for it in the categories Best NPCs and Best Setting.)
- Hoosegow is a puzzle game that jumps into Wild Western absurdism with two spurred, stinking boots, and thrives. The puzzles are a bit too 'classic' for my taste, but there is some excellent help material that will get you through -- which it totally worth the effort. (I voted for it in the categories Best Writing and Best Implementation.)
- Rogue of the Multiverse is a wild ride that takes us from standard exploration to a weird abstract mini-game, and then continues with action sequences, romantic plot twists, and anything else it can throw at us in the space of an hour. Not necessarily deep, but fun, and it's crowning glory is Dr. Sliss, who is this year's Violet. (I voted for it in Best Game, Best Individual NPC and Best Use of Innovation, though I'll admit the latter category didn't contain any of the games I wanted to voted for.)
- Want to see the perfect escape-the-locked-room game? Look no further than Fragile Shells. It doesn't transcend the genre, it doesn't expand it or give it a twist; but it certainly perfects it. (I voted for it in the category Best Puzzles.)
- Perhaps this year's largest game was One Eye Open: the splatter horror wasn't exactly to my taste, but it is easy to like this game for its ambition and the care lavished on it. Up there with the cream of the crop.
- Gris et Jaune: this evidently unfinished competition game had a better setting and story than anything else that came out this year. The bizarre and yet believable protagonist; the odd mix of the mundane and the magical; the detailed attention to its source material; the suspenseful plot -- Jason Devlin, you must bring us another release of the piece! Please? (I voted for the game in the Best Story category.)
- Breaking many of the received maxims of IF design is seldom a good idea, but Gigantomania made it work often enough to astound me. Its failing are as obvious as its successes, but if there is any 2010 IF game that we must think about as designers, this is it. Sitting behind my computer with a chess board, playing out the Pearl of Wijk aan Zee, even as I was navigating through the mind of Stalin... it was an experience I have not yet understood. (I'm planning to write a SPAG Specifics about this game; but no promises.)
- Finally, Being There was hardly a game at all, but it was one of the most joyous pieces I have ever come across. Or, as I said in my IFDB review: this is a game where when you see a soccer goal, you can type "play soccer" and the game responds with: "You play soccer with an invisible ball... you score!" How cool is that?
This list does not include the weird white-space piece of Adam Thornton: I played a short part of it and almost died laughing, but I am under the impression that there will be a more full and official release in the future. If I'm wrong, I'll have to revisit it.
Then, we have the list of shame, which is the list of potentially good games that I have not yet played. This list was quite long a week or three ago, but I managed to play through quite a number of games as the second round XYZZY deadline came nearer. Right now, the only game I know I still have to play is Mite; and perhaps I need to spend some more time on Following a Star and getting someone to give me a walkthrough for Allein mit Kai. I'm probably missing out on some other games simply because they haven't come to my attention.
In other news, this years has seen the usual gradual improvement of the authoring tools and interpreters. I am pretty excited about GLIMMR, which I haven't explored yet but looks very cool on paper.
2010 also saw the German IF scene get a huge boost, with a website, newsletter and Inform 7 translation all being made or improved; and quite a number of German games were released. That's good news, because the scene did seem to have died a few years ago.
Interactive fiction and me
After three years of not releasing anything, 2010 was a relatively productive year for me. I released three games (The Art of Fugue, The Game Formerly known as Hidden Nazi Mode, 'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus), an update for Figaro, and the Inform ATTACK extension with extensive documentation. This is not fully satisfactory for me, since none of those games were the "real thing", if you understand what I mean -- the first is not really IF (since it contains no fiction), the second is a rather slight game originally made to make a debating point, and the third was mostly a test and experiment. The "real thing" still lies in the future. But getting the extension out, experimenting, and getting some of my more tangential ideas out of my mind by getting them into code, well... that's all bound to help, right?
(And I did finish my PhD thesis, so that may count for something. After months of delays that I could do nothing about, it has now finally been sent to the committee. I also finished some non-interactive fiction I was working on. But still... I always feel like I could be so much more productive... and it never really happens.)
Interactive fiction and you
So, what were your highlights of 2010? Feel free to put them in the comments or write them down on your own blog (in which case you might want to post a link in the comments). I'd love to hear from you -- not in the last place because this may help me find out which games or developments I overlooked.