A Year on IFDB: The games that have stayed with me

Recommendations by Spike

About a year ago I discovered post-AGT interactive fiction. Since then I've played a lot of great IF games. This list consists of the ones that have stuck with me the most. They're not necessarily the ones I rated the highest immediately after playing them, but they're the ones I continue to go back to mentally when I think about IF I've played in the past year.

Games are listed in the order in which I played them.

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1. Curses
by Graham Nelson
Average member rating: (129 ratings)

Spike says:

I love, love this game. A large, sprawling, unfair-at-times, intelligent, witty puzzlefest... this is the game that convinced me to give modern IF a serious try.

2. Scroll Thief
by Daniel M. Stelzer
Average member rating: (13 ratings)

Spike says:

Using text commands to modify and master a game world is arguably what parser IF is all about. Infocom's Enchanter series, with its one-word spells, effectively distills this viewpoint to its essence. The games in this series were also some of the most fun games Infocom ever made.

Scroll Thief is a worthy successor to the Enchanter series. Set in the same world and using many of the same spells, it nevertheless manages to implement new challenges, such as spellcasting at a distance. Several of the puzzles are quite clever, too.

3. The Chinese Room, by Harry Josephine Giles and Joey Jones (2007)
Average member rating: (34 ratings)
Spike says:

This is the game that convinced me that it was possible to write a piece of IF that seriously explored an area of human thought while simultaneously being fun to play. I probably would have written A Beauty Cold and Austere anyway, but there's nothing like a successful proof-of-concept for giving you confidence in what you're attempting.

I should add that I've played The Chinese Room twice - once early in the process of writing ABCA and once after finishing ABCA. I'd say I was more impressed with The Chinese Room the second time, since by then I understood much better how difficult it is to create a piece of IF that is challenging but fair, entertaining, and solidly grounded in a field of knowledge.

4. All Hope Abandon
by Eric Eve
Average member rating: (36 ratings)

Spike says:

In this game the PC takes a journey through hell - a strangely empty hell, thanks to the consequences of recent trends in New Testament scholarship. From the via Antiqua vs. via Moderna choice early in the game to the chess match with Pilate near the end... this game contains some of the most powerful imagery I've seen in IF.

5. Aisle
by Sam Barlow
Average member rating: (323 ratings)

Spike says:

My favorite IF games are generally long puzzlefests. Aisle is almost the perfect antithesis of that. And I wasn't that impressed with it at first. So you make one move, and the game ends. O.K...

But that one move gave me a hint as to the PC's backstory, and I wanted to learn more. So I replayed the game several times, trying other options and slowly uncovering what had happened to the PC.

Until one time I tried something different - and discovered that the PC's backstory was not what I thought it was. Pursuing that line of thinking completely turned around my sense not only of the PC's past but of the game itself. It even had me questioning the very concept of memory, as well as the narratives we use to make sense of our lives.

6. Counterfeit Monkey
by Emily Short
Average member rating: (237 ratings)

Spike says:

A lot of the games I played while writing A Beauty Cold and Austere I played because I was trying to understand how IF had changed since the early 90s. After I finished Counterfeit Monkey my wife asked me what I had gotten out of it. My response: "a massive inferiority complex." I was only partly joking.

Counterfeit Monkey has been so deservedly praised that there's not much new I can add. Of course, it's a fantastic wordplay game. It's my go-to IF game recommendation.

Also, I love the sequence with the umlaut puncher. That's the kind of absolutely brilliant sequence that can only work in IF.

7. Superluminal Vagrant Twin
by C.E.J. Pacian
Average member rating: (121 ratings)

Spike says:

Superluminal Vagrant Twin was more sheer fun than any other IF game I've played. There was always something new and interesting to try. SVT succeeds wonderfully at achieving that elusive goal of continually challenging the player while providing a high reward-to-frustration ratio. A very well-designed game.

8. The Wizard Sniffer
by Buster Hudson
Average member rating: (133 ratings)

Spike says:

I don't remember ever laughing as much playing an IF game as I did with The Wizard Sniffer. I called it "comedic genius" in my IFDB review, but The Wizard Sniffer also has depth and a heart that elevates it beyond the slapstick comedy that it does so well. I would go on, but CMG's IFDB review of The Wizard Sniffer says it better than I could.

9. The Wand
by Arthur DiBianca
Average member rating: (58 ratings)

Spike says:

As puzzle games go, it doesn't get much better than The Wand. In addition to clever puzzles, this game features a single, simple mechanic (color combinations on the titular wand) that nevertheless produces a huge number of possible spell effects for the player. The game also uses a stripped-down parser that focuses the player's experience on the puzzle solving.

The game is fun, too. For two nights running during IFComp 2017 I turned off my computer after playing The Wand only to realize I should have gone to bed two hours earlier.

Finally, if you've played The Wand and found it fairly short, you should know that there's a lot more to it than there appears to be at first. I suggest playing it a second time, armed with the knowledge you've gained from the first play.

10. Inside the Facility
by Arthur DiBianca
Average member rating: (59 ratings)

Spike says:

After playing The Wand I was eager to give Arthur DiBianca's puzzle game from the previous IFComp a try. I wasn't disappointed. I'm amazed at the number and complexity of puzzles in Inside the Facility, which, after all, only allows commands related to movement and waiting.

11. The Dreamhold
by Andrew Plotkin
Average member rating: (176 ratings)

Spike says:

Fun to play because of its puzzles ranging from the simple to the very intricate, The Dreamhold also contains haunting images that have remained with me long after I finished it.

12. Kerkerkruip
by Victor Gijsbers
Average member rating: (69 ratings)

Spike says:

I've always liked RPGs, but I wouldn't have thought it would be possible to make such a good one in a text format. Kerkerkruip, unsurprisingly, also has the best replay value of any IF game I've played.

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