IFComp IFComp IFComp IFComp IFComp!

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!

5 thoughts on “IFComp IFComp IFComp IFComp IFComp!”

  1. It’s interesting to read your perspectives after a long hiatus. I competed a few years in a row and am glad to see the slow opening up. I think it eventually became too hard not to allow some form of “talk about your game but don’t be a jerk.”

    One big problem I had with the gag rule and updates allowed was that I wanted to fix a bug in my program and ask on the I7 board, but that’d mean discussing the game.

    Being a pedantic chess player I’d note that it’s more like an opponent blundering in a winning position, maybe after a clever combination. But yeah. Any creative comp shouldn’t be about avoiding silly mistakes.

    1. Hmm, I wouldn’t expect a takeback of a pure blunder. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a blunder caused by a mouseslip in online chess, which many people with strict no-takeback positions will make an exception for if that’s clearly what happened? Or that time in a local league match that I went for the knight and grabbed the rook out of sheer klutziness, then was bound by the touch-move rule?

      I guess it’s to do with whether it’s a competition of creativity or technical skill, and how much weight you want to give to each of those, and how much you attribute silly bugs to bad luck versus ineptitude. But it’s been done to death.

  2. Although it’s nice that more people take an interest in IF and accessibility has increased to the general public, I am so disappointed at the “Twine explosion” and think they should not be entered alongside parser games.

    That being said, I found Detectiveland’s no-typing yet parser-ful gameplay wonderful. It’s not Twine (shudder) but its not your typical Inform game either. I was terrified at first when I was unable to type. The gameplay method grew on me from the very first room (namely the murphy bed turning into a bookcase in the “you can see” list won me over).

    Got me thinking, wow, typing takes a lot of energy! Detectiveland basically predicted my train of thought as far as topics, ways to try objects (e.g., using a crowbar to open something) without me having to guess the verb (pry? open? pull?) or type a lot of repetitive commands (ask about this, ask about that, ask about this other thing.) This would not have worked for, say, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I think a lot of parser games could benefit from this new play method.

    The only criticism I can offer is that it was a bit strange to have to jerk my eyes from left to right so often, from clicking on a choice to seeing the result in the story. Also when navigating the grid I sometimes went the wrong way by mistake because the directions are not always in the same place. Would have preferred the directions to have a static location and just not be clickable when unable to move in that direction.

    So I just want to say that Detectiveland is amazing! Aside from top-notch writing and puzzles, you have made a SIGNIFICANT contribution to IF with your novel hybrid of choice and parser. Thank you!

    P.S.:I still have not gotten all three endings, and replay value is quite high.

    1. Thanks for your kind words!

      I understand preferring the parser-style games but I still don’t think the lines are as sharp as all that. From the current comp, “16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds” in particular is a Twine game that does a good job of implementing classic parser-style puzzles in a small location-based world. There are also text-input games that feel less world-model-based and more like choice games in their storyish style – I’m thinking of “Mirror and Queen”, although it probably wouldn’t work so well if all the choices were visible. I do find it hard to rate Twine games on the same scale as parser games – how can I say one is better than another, if they’re not trying to do the same thing? – but I’d also find it hard to rate Lost Pig against Photopia, or Vampire at Macdonalds against Cactus Blue Motel.

      Glad you liked Detectiveland! The problem of having to move your eyes between the right and left pane is one that several people have commented on, and I’ve yet to come up with much of a solution. On portrait screens, the panes render one above the other instead, but it has its own problems if there’s a lot going on. I plan to release the engine on an open-source licence some time after the comp closes, so maybe someone else can solve it…

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