I'm mostly not concerned with historical value or authorship here (hence why I list three games by Emily Short, and don't list Advent
). If there's any organization to this, it's that I tried to pick the best representatives of a variety of different genres. E.g. Ad Verbum
is good, but not (IMHO) as good as Counterfeit Monkey
. The King of Shreds and Patches
is good, but not (IMHO) as good as Anchorhead
In alphabetical order, with some scattered comments:80 DaysAnchorhead
There was one experience that convinced me that Anchorhead
was a true masterpiece. Some years back, I had two college classes back-to-back in the same building, leaving me with a fifteen-minute gap. This particular day, I spent it playing Anchorhead
. Class #2 came and went, and I walked out of the building - and was genuinely surprised to discover that it was sunny. Fifteen minutes of Anchorhead
had left such an impression on me that I fully expected it to be windy and raining.
It's dark. It's disturbing. It's hard. But it's just so, so well done.Blue LacunaCity of Secrets
This is not a perfect game. The pacing doesn't always work, with anticlimaxes, lulls, and a mostly non-interactive ending that came sooner than I expected. The conversation system (a menu/keyword hybrid first used in Pytho's Mask
) has many strong points, but is sometimes confusing. Parts of the map are implemented more deeply than others. A few times, I was left wandering around trying to trigger an event without really knowing what I was supposed to be doing.
But despite all its flaws, it's a masterpiece from one of the greatest masters of the craft, and probably my all-time personal favorite.
Part of this is that it's the kind of game I've always wanted
to play: a big, long, richly-implemented, open-world, story-oriented adventure tale, set in a vaguely antiquated world both fantastic and familiar, and filled with interesting characters and philosophical questions. The writing is beautiful, and the implementation is rock-solid and creates the feel of a world you could actually live in. The plot, while occasionally weak and predictable, has flashes of brilliance (such as when you first realize who the motionless passersby are). It's conciously beginner-friendly and visually appealing.
But also, more than any other single IF work, City of Secrets
left a lasting mark on me. It greatly influenced the way I think about open-world, story-oriented IF design, and (directly or indirectly) inspired a lot of technical and thematic elements of my current WIP. One particularly beautiful passage now hangs on my wall: Queen Rine's Meditation Upon Passion
It's fantastic. Go play it.Coloratura
Lynnea Glasser's Creatures Such As We
is also excellent, but I prefer Coloratura
. It starts with a unique and compelling concept, and then does everything right to present it as deeply and richly as possible.Counterfeit MonkeyThe
definitive wordplay game - a brilliant mechanic wrapped up in a rich and interesting story, then liberally slathered with comedy. I still think the Umlaut Punch is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
It's not flawless; a combination of writing style, design, and setting sometimes made the landscape feel oddly empty to me, a constant reminder that the game world existed only to support a specific set of puzzles. But it's so perfect in every other way that I'm almost afraid to complain.
The Goon Show wrote:
Eccles: I can see a manhole cover right above us.Curses!
Seagoon: Shine the beam of this candle on it. I'll push it off. Eccles! Stand on my shoulders and pull me up!
Eccles: Ok... (strained) I'd like to see them do this on television.
Carl Muckenhoupt described Curses!
as "a good example of what you get when a whole lot of people sit down and discuss game design for several years while one person listens and takes notes." A lot more has been said about game design since then, and player tastes have evolved, but Curses!
is still a masterpiece of Infocom-style thought, and a treat to explore.Endless, NamelessHadean Lands
The definitive "new-school" puzzlefest. Something special happens when you take someone with extraordinary programming and design talent and give him several years to weave together a whole collection of Good Ideas into a cohesive whole. As in, something so special that it required custom software just to keep track of the puzzle structure.Kerkerkruip
of the IF world, in a lot of different ways. An extremely polished, well-thought-out, and replayable game that's still being regularly updated after several years. Not everyone likes roguelikes, but if you do, you'll love Kerkerkruip
.Lost PigMake It GoodMulldoon Legacy
If Counterfeit Monkey
is the definitive wordplay game, and Hadean Lands
is the definitive new-school puzzlefest, then Mulldoon Legacy
is the definitive old
-school puzzlefest. The sheer volume and variety of puzzles is staggering, even without considering their setting and backstory.PhotopiaSavoir-Faire
Like Counterfeit Monkey
, this is an Emily Short piece that places a brilliant central puzzle mechanic in a rich and stylized game world loaded with atmosphere and backstory. The setting and play style give it a decidedly more "classic" feel than Counterfeit Monkey
Emily Short put a lot of thought into designing and writing Savoir-Faire
(for example, intentionally picking color names that also suggest a physical texture), and it shows. A truly great example of a rock-solid game built around a single mechanic.Spider and Web
There's not much to say about this except that (a) it's an uncommonly solid and clever puzzle game, (b) it's hard, and (c) for the love of all that is pink and fluffy, DO NOT READ ANY SPOILERS. If you can make it all the way through on your own, the moment of realization when you figure out what's going on is genius.