The 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition – its 22nd year – opens on 1 October. There will then be a six-week judging period closing on 15 November, and the winners announced shortly after that.
The last time I entered in the IFComp was ten years ago, with Aunts and Butlers. The competition has changed since then, both in terms of its official rules and, from what I can gather, some of the community’s attitudes around it.
For the first time, the rather unusual “gag rule”, which forbade authors from talking about their games, has been lifted. Some people are worried this will make it a self-promotion competition, but I think the rule change is a good thing. When I entered Aunts and Butlers I wasn’t even supposed to tell my friends I’d made a game. It was also a very unusual rule for a competition, which put off outsiders and has sometimes led to some unfortunate misunderstandings. I also believe it reinforced, or even celebrated, the insularity of the IF community. And it made even less sense for web-based games (which included almost no IF at the time.)
So I can tell you that I am indeed entering the competition, with another choice/parser hybrid game using an improved version of the Draculaland engine, called Detectiveland. This is a comic puzzler in the hardboiled detective/noir genre, in which you play a struggling private investigator trying to make a living and fight crime in Prohibition-era New Losago.
I’m not allowed to canvass for votes, and that’s not what I’m doing: visit the competition; there’ll be 50+ other games too. Play them, judge them [if you have time to play at least five] – review them, if that’s your thing – and give high scores to the ones you enjoy.
Another rule change, which has been in effect for a few years now, is that authors are allowed to update our games during the judging period, with an understanding that this is intended for bugfixes rather than new content. This I could really, really have done with in the case of Aunts and Butlers – at the last minute I made a change to the interface that, unknown to me, made the game effectively unplayable in the Safari browser. That, plus the even poorer reputation of ‘homebrew’ systems at the time (which meant most Safari users didn’t bother trying another browser), probably cost me several places in the ranking, even though I found out about the bug and knew how to fix it before almost anybody had actually played the game. It’s not (all) about my bitterness, but I see this change as unequivocally a good thing, including for the judges and players, who get to play better games.
(It’s been surprisingly contentious – I’ve seen some people saying it’s unfair and they’ll never enter the comp again – but the kind of competition that you can win because of other people’s bad luck isn’t the kind I want to compete in. It’d be like winning at chess because your opponent’s mobile phone rings.)
Outside of changes to the actual rules: I’ve heard that, what with the Twine revolution and explosion of new choice-based systems in the last several years, ‘homebrew’ games are a little less looked down on these days. That’s good too. The meaning of IF has broadened, and its following has broadened with it.
Honestly, I’ve written this because it’s the day before IFComp opens and I just wanted a way to pass the time. If you’ve entered, good luck! If you’re judging, be fair! If you’re an organiser, THANKS. And if you’re playing, I hope you enjoy it!