In 2001, I entered the IF Competition for the first time since 1996. My entry, Earth And Sky, was inspired by the Marvel comics I’ve loved since age six, and was entered under the Marvelicious pseudonym “Lee Kirby”. The previous year, I’d written a long and very heavy non-competition game called LASH: Local Asynchronous Satellite Hookup, which was partly about the antebellum South of the U.S., and had me reading many a slave narrative for research. After that, I wanted to write something lighter and more fun, and I’d never yet played superhero IF that I found really satisfying, so I wanted to make some.
Earth And Sky was also intended as the first episode in a series of games, and I would end up entering the other two episodes into the Comp as well, but that’s a topic for a later time. The game took 8th place — oddly, the same exact ranking as my 1996 entry, Wearing The Claw. Of course, while I was writing these reviews, I didn’t know that, so as I had in 1996, I played the games partly with an eye toward checking out my competition as well as the competition.
Weirdly, this was also the first and only Comp where I didn’t review the winner, because I’d been a beta tester for it. Jon Ingold‘s excellent All Roads took the top prize that year, and I was happy to have contributed a little to it. It’s strange collecting the reviews now though, and knowing that this site won’t contain a review of the 2001 winner. (Well, not anytime soon anyway. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back around to reviewing it?) The other game I skipped was called Begegnung am Fluss, which I couldn’t play due to my total inability to read German.
I do have the ability to read English, much to the disadvantage of many 2001 games. My patience for terrible writing decreased steadily throughout the competition, and I didn’t really start with that much. At one point, I started fantasizing about getting points every time I spotted an error, which I imagined would award me a score of “524,000 points out of a possible 200, earning me the rank of Gibbering Grammarian.” The Gibbering Grammarian found himself giving lessons on things like the use of definite vs. indefinite articles, and creating a special label for what I called “NASTY FOUL IT’S/ITS ERRORS”. I was inspired by the Vile Zero Error From Hell, a particularly nasty way of crashing the Z-machine, since NFIEs tended to have the same effect on my brain and mood.
Similarly, I really turned into Mr. Cranky around implementation issues, and in particular non-standard development systems. Just as bad were the games that applied outmoded ideas to modern systems, as I’d really had it with mazes, inventory limits, and so forth. But despite my grumpiness and anxiety about my own game, I still found much to delight me in this year’s competition, and just as much to intrigue me and push my thoughts forward about the medium itself. As in 1996, I hardly minded losing to such stellar work.
One more thing: in the fall of 2001, the shadow of 9/11 loomed large. It was a bizarre time to be an American. One unfortunate game ran afoul of this circumstance by presenting a sympathetic portrayal of terrorists. Another year, I might have had a different reaction, but in October of 2001, it just didn’t work for me.
I posted my reviews for the 2001 IF Competition games on November 16, 2001.