H     
MASTEMA     
  H   C     
  E   K     
  D   E     
 TEMPTRESS  
  V     C   
 MILLIONAIRE
  L     M   

I finally caught up with her as the in-game clock struck midnight. Just afterward, I wrote:

There’s no way Nightfall won’t take first. It’s finally Eric Eve’s year — for he’s finally written a truly classic game. You dive into a deserted city, nonetheless alive with sounds and possibility, littered with epigrammatic clues, holding in its many shadows the ghosts of your shared history. The game suspends so much of the grunt work of exploration, remembers so well what you’ve seen and done, that it almost solves itself, only asking you, at the end, to recognize the solution.

Any game that can successfully map the player’s ignorance to some aspect of the player character — here, his infatuation — deserves attention. I may have been wrong about first place, but Nightfall remains my favorite.

Here are some micro-reviews of the other entries:

Piracy comes together where most games crumble. Ignore the space pirates and the pedestrian writing and the post-prologue overload, and concentrate on the mission: you have to move through a giant machine, setting it up for the big explosion. The missing link between ’80s sci-fi text adventures and Delightful Wallpaper?

Snack Time: The formula in Child’s Play not to your liking? Too much gristle in Lost Pig? Here, try this.

Opening Night: After high jinks involving a banana peel and a bucket of paste; after an egregious reference to Yog-Sothoth; after what I thought were careless anachronisms; after an environment that seemed to shift as the puzzles required: I didn’t expect that kind of ending. What I took for a haphazard comedy was actually a noble attempt at something else.

April in Paris: The City of Light, where old puzzles go to retire.

A Date with Death: First-draft cartoon fantasy. Is Whyld showing signs of fatigue?

Despite the off-putting ABOUT text, I made a sincere effort to get into Berrost’s Challenge. I drew a good map, made notes about conspicuous obstacles and potentially useful items, and kept the clues in mind. I felt I was doing the game a great kindness by not rejecting it out of hand, and was repaid in kind for my condescension: killed, eaten, crushed, poisoned, and pulped again by its collection of hazards.

Cry Wolf asks, “Wouldn’t it be worth the fear of losing yourself, of changing into something different, just to feel something so strongly?” Yes, yes, yes — and that the game fades out before you get the chance is its biggest disappointment.

Escape from the Underworld: How do Trevor and Julian stand Hell’s parser?

Buried in Shoes: a morality play (insert quarter). Recommended to new-media acolytes and people who like to be asked how they feel.

Grief: A new low for post-traumatic fantasy worlds.

Trein’s plot, puzzles, setting, and characters are cliched to the max, but I give it credit for actually having plot, puzzles, setting, and characters.

Channel Surfing: Would-be media commentary that paints as grim a picture of current IF.

Ananachronist: The odd flash of humor makes me feel guilty for scoring this one so low, but it does lots of things wrong: obscuring what sounds like a neat time-travel puzzle beneath mathematical jargon and fantasy stylings; further distancing the player by unintentional indirection, rooms that don’t matter, and needlessly locked doors; presenting the game in untested, unedited form, with run-time errors and grammatical hiccups; and failing to lead the player into or through the game-world.

A Martian Odyssey: An early sci-fi classic ruined in adaptation.

We supersede this review of Lair of the Cybercow to bring you a note from the organizer: playing it with anything but version 3.9 of the official interpreter will introduce bugs. Heartening to know it might not be that bad.

Freedom: Laughably shallow treatment of a potentially interesting subject.