Emily Short has been picking out gems from the 2016 IFComp (the annual interactive fiction competition) as part of her IF Only column so you might well have already played the winners BUT! the official final rankings for the contest have now been released. So, drumroll...
Detectiveland by Robin Johnson got the top ranking - it's a noir setting with a number of different cases to solve (one is called A Study In Squid). It turns out I've not played any of the top three so I'll put an excerpt from Emily's assessment for each of them instead of rushing through them now.
1. Detectiveland by Robin Johnson
This one sounds like a quirky noir. Noir isn't something which naturally appeals to me so I think I passed over it when perusing the initial IFComp listings this year in favour of the more experimental bits and pieces. That said, I've heard really good things about the interface so I do want to give it a spin on that basis alone, plus I do love a good mystery. Emily says:
"Silly, noir-themed goodness that never takes itself terribly seriously. The presentation captures some of the appeal of a parser, but with the accessibility of a choice-based game. If you enjoy the style of user interface, you might also like Draculaland, Johnson's similarly designed vampire adventure."
2. Color The Truth by Brian Rushton
This one is another mystery - a murder mystery this time, with a conversation-based solution. What you're doing is talking to suspects and catching them in lies, or marking out discrepancies in their stories in order to work out what actually happened. I've just started playing this one. Murder mysteries are catnip to me, although I find parser-based interfaces frustrating. Actually, that said this one has been okay so far, and there's a hint system, if you get stuck. Emily says:
"The game keeps a topic inventory for the player that tracks everything you've learned so far. When it seems as though two conversation topics have a bearing on each other, you can actually LINK one topic TO another, crafting a third line of inquiry when you discover some point of contradiction between things you've been told. (In this respect, the mechanic is a bit reminiscent of Contradiction, minus the incredible hammy acting.)
When you've caught someone in a lie, they'll give a new version of their statement, which you play through again. By the time the game is over, you'll have played through the events of the murder multiple times from the perspectives of each of the major characters. It's a pretty effective way of letting the player pull together evidence and conflicting information."
3. Cactus Blue Motel by Astrid Dalmady
This one is a post-graduation road trip set somewhere between New Mexico and Arizona. To me it sounds coming-of-agey and then you get to a mystery destination (in this case the Cactus Blue Motel). From the description, I'm thinking of those late-teen mystery stories like you get in Young Adult fiction, or in games like Oxenfree. Emily says:
"After an evening of driving and low-key disagreement about the music, you and your friends wind up someplace not far off the Hotel California: run-down, kitschy, apparently empty, but actually holding on to the spirits of passers-by who needed a break from their regular lives over the course of many years. The descriptions beautifully capture the desert, the neon, the leftover decor from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Trying to figure out what is going on at the hotel means you have to confront what's going on in your own life as well."
Of the top three, I'd say Color The Truth and Cactus Blue Motel appeal to me, but there are also a few further down the list I didn't get round to yet and which I've earmarked for my next coffee break or quiet evening. Stone Harbor is about a boardwalk psychic so that's on my list, Fair is about judging a science fair so that's piqued my interest, and The Little Lifeform That Could seems to be about evolution but also hats.