IF Discussion Club this month is looking at the incentive systems and formal infrastructure in the IF community: competitions, anthologies, and shows. But as there’s a lot of material out there, I wanted to preface that discussion by providing a little bit of an overview to some of the things I’m aware of.
Consequently, I contacted a number of people who have put together one of these events, and asked them to give me an overview of their thinking: what were they trying to do? Why? How did their goals change, and how well did it all work? I got a lot of response: many thanks to all those who took the time to write detailed responses.
I did not try to capture and describe things that were primarily about presenting a single IF work to the public (e.g., read-alouds of Lost Pig) or talks or demos of IF creation system (such as talks about how to use Inform 7 or intro-to-Twine workshops). I also didn’t attempt to cover sites that do/did on-going curation, such as IFDB, Baf’s Guide, freeindiegam.es, or Forest Ambassador, whether or not those were IF-exclusive.
Even without those restrictions, I’m sure there are a number of things that I left out. There are many general-purpose game jams that sometimes turn out to include IF entrants, which would be impossible to track down thoroughly. I didn’t try to cover all of the themed minicomps of the past decade and a half, because there have been so many. ifwiki lists 44 standalones of varying degrees of seriousness and specificity — including ToasterComp (12 entries) and BreadComp (0 entries). There are also people I wanted to contact but couldn’t reach, and there are also doubtless events I’m not aware of.
If you know of projects that are not discussed here but you have some insight into how they’re run, please feel free to add information in the comments.
This gets long! So there’s a table of contents.
IF Comp: annual competition for games playable for 2 hours or less (1995-)
First Ever (And Maybe The Only) Interactive Fiction Mini-Competition: a comp for games submitted with source code (1998)
Adventure Blaster: a Win95 executable providing a nice front end to 10 IF games (1998)
Speed-IF: sporadic very short IF game jams, typically running 2 hours (1998-)
The Textfire Twelve-Pack: an April Fools’ joke anthology (1998)
IF Art Show: juried competition for puzzleless, experiential IF (1999-2007)
SmoochieComp: reviewed minicomp/anthology of romance IF (2001)
LOTECHComp: a comp for CYOA-style rather than parser-based works (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006)
Introcomp: annual comp for introductory, unfinished pieces (2002-)
Spring Thing: annual comp for long-form IF (2002-)
FrenchComp: annual French language IF competition (2005-)
Mystery House Taken Over: a kit allowing present and future participants to remix the classic Sierra game Mystery House (2005)
NaNoRenO: NaNoWriMo-style month-long jam for visual novels (2005-)
Electronic Literature Collection: an anthology project of the Electronic Literature Organization (2006, 2011)
Commonplace Book Project: a museum show of HP Lovecraft-related games (2007)
Cover Art Drive: a drive to create cover art for existing games, which authors could then accept or reject (2008)
Windhammer Prize: annual competition for short gamebooks (2008-)
New Year Speed-IF: annual jam for games written around new year (2008-)
Cute, Light, and Fluffy Project: an anthology for Ren’Py visual novels (2009)
Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7: an IF-specific competition run by casual games site Jay Is Games (2010)
TWIFcomp: a comp for games whose source, not counting white space, ran to 140 char (2010)
Indigo New Language Speed-IF: a game jam for people writing with tools they hadn’t used before (2011)
IF Demo Fair: one-off show for demonstration pieces (2011)
Adversity Comp: minicomp for visual novels, working with provided assets (2012)
Cover Stories: a minicomp in which people wrote games to match cover art that had been submitted (2012)
Apollo 18+20: a tribute anthology to the TMBG album Apollo 18, with one game per song track (2012)
Andromeda Legacy Competition: competition for works set in the shared Andromeda universe (2012, 2013)
World of the Season: a competition for StoryNexus worlds, judged by a Failbetter-appointed panel (2012, 2013)
Future Voices: an anthology of work written in inklewriter and published as an inkle app (2012)
WordPlay: ongoing Toronto-based festival including a showcase of text games (2013-)
inky path: a literary magazine for interactive fiction (2013-2014)
ShuffleComp: music-focused minicomp (2014)
Storybundle’s Video Game Bundle 3.0: a bundle of work about games, including some IF (2014)
Seltani Age Jam: a jam for new ages for the multiplayer hypertext space Seltani (2014)
Lights Out, Please: a Twine anthology of horror by marginalized authors (2014)
Fear of Twine: on-line show for selected Twine works (2014)
Interactive Fiction Fund: edited IF series (2015-)
Videogames For Humans: a book-format collection of Twine walkthroughs with commentary by assorted critics (2015)
ParserComp: competition focused on parser games specifically (2015)
Conclusions: recurring themes and concepts from all this input
What it is: the longest-running competition in the parser IF community, the annual IF competition just celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014. It was begun by G. Kevin Wilson and continued by David Dyte; then Stephen Granade took over and was its dominant force for most of the years it ran. The comp has just newly passed into the hands of Jason McIntosh, who gave the website and the rules a bit of an overhaul and a new look for 2014.
Organizer/spokesperson: Stephen Granade, Jason McIntosh.
When I started out, I was mainly a reactive organizer. When I took over, the comp had been running for four years — an eternity! I wanted to keep it going like it had when Kevin Wilson and David Dyte had organized the competition.
Slowly my focus shifted from maintaining the competition to making it a tool for outreach. I began sending press releases to general videogame news sites like Blue’s News. I tried to make it as easy to get and play the games as possible. I began putting together OS-specific installer packages for people who wanted to try the games but didn’t already have interpreters installed, so they could run interactive fiction as easily as they could any other game they installed. As web play became a possibility, we began offering online play directly on the competition website.
(A lot of this was thanks to the hard work of Dan Shiovitz and Mark Musante, I should add. For instance, web play was something Dan made possible.)
I also tried to make the competition open and inclusive. I always saw the competition as a chance for authors to play with the with the form, and push hard on the boundaries of what we consider interactive fiction. If I took a heavy hand in deciding what was or wasn’t IF, I ran the risk of squashing some interesting experiments. Instead I tried to let the community experience the entries and decide collectively if it was or wasn’t interactive fiction. I think the discussions about the entries, especially the more unusual ones, were some of the big successes of the competition.
My biggest challenge was balancing the original competitive and in-group nature of IFComp with my growing desire for it to be a chance to get interactive fiction in the hands of people who weren’t part of the core community. The IFComp got more attention than most any other thing our community did, and I wanted to take advantage of that. There were two big problems with how IFComp was structured, though.
The first was the “no discussion” rule. Originally people playing the games didn’t talk about the games until after the judging period was over. That meant that the only times anyone outside our community (or in!) heard about the comp was at the beginning, and then right at the end, when judges and players released a huge flood of reviews. Those reviews were fun to read, but it stifled discussion because there were so many reviews happening all at once. And as social media became more prevalent, I wanted to take advantage of it as a way of boosting IFComp’s visibility. So I changed the rules to allow judges to post reviews and discuss the games during the six-week judging period.
The second was the “no updates” rule. From the beginning, authors entered their games, and everyone judged the games as they were originally entered. Authors couldn’t update their games to fix bugs, improve gameplay, or address players’ comments. This had two bad knock-on effects. The first was that people outside the community who only knew about the IFComp, and were unlikely to judge the games, would play games that weren’t as good as they could be. The second is that authors had no real incentive to improve their games, as they couldn’t release an updated game until after the comp, when they were often tired of the entire competition. So I let authors update their games during the competition, but left the original version available for judges who only wanted to judge authors’ first effort.
I didn’t make either change lightly. It took a lot of thought and discussion with others before I fiddled with those two rules. Letting judges discuss entries and authors update games were my most controversial decisions about the competition, moreso than any game I disqualified or votes I had to throw out. The changes lessened the pure competition aspect of IFComp, and were huge breaks from the competition’s tradition. But I’m pleased with the result: the community around IFComp is stronger for having discussions and reviews happening in real time, and letting authors update games has resulted in final versions of games that are much stronger than they otherwise would have been.
I’m also pleased that, during my tenure, the nature of entries changed and expanded. I was excited to see the growth in non-parser entries because it meant that we were reaching authors who in past years wouldn’t have been in the community. I’m also glad that Jason McIntosh, who took over the comp for me, tackled the last big item on my wishlist that I never took care of: allowing transformative works in the competition. Remixes, mashups, and fanfic are vital creative movements on the internet, and I’m glad that IFComp can encompass those movements as well.
Jason McIntosh wrote up a response so massive that he gave it its own blog post on his blog, but here are a few excerpts:
I immediately knew that I wanted to update both the appearance and the basic attitude of the ifcomp.org website. By the end of 2013, the site, originally programmed by Stephen Granade and maintained by Dan Shiovitz, both benefitted from and suffered under 15 years of gradual code-accretion, in the manner of countless other long-lived software projects. The software’s roots reaching back nearly all the way to the IFComp’s origins in the 1990s meant that it made many functional assumptions about interactive fiction, its authors, and its players that that no longer proved universally applicable by the mid-2010s.
His goals included
Let the website exist as a permanent and year-round museum about the IFComp and a gallery of all its past entries
Link to — and, when necessary, create — modern interactive fiction resources, and keep these links and resources up to date
Weaken the no-copyrighted-anything rule
Provide explicit guidelines to authors and judges
Apply a modern design sitewide that looks equally great on both huge desktop monitors and tiny phone screens
Make it easier than ever for judges to play and rate the games
Design robust, modular, tested software that I won’t mind revisiting and revising year after year
…but there’s a great deal more to read (about these and other points) over at his site.
First Ever (And Maybe The Only) Interactive Fiction Mini-Competition
What it is: a first mini-comp in which authors were asked to submit games along with their source code, focusing on a particular premise provided by the organizer. The games and source overview page is still on internet archive. Contrary to the comp’s title, the minicomp soon became a popular format for IF events, and it was followed in fairly short order by ChickenComp (June 1998; 19 entries), and then DragonComp (2000; 7 entries), DinoComp (2000, 14 entries), Manos Comp (2000; 1 entry), and ToasterComp (August-September 2000; 12 entries). However, these themed minicomps usually went for a relatively simple theme, whereas the First Ever posed a pretty demanding premise:
Your rich relative has recently died, leaving behind a wacky will. He has left the entirety of the estate to the relative who wins a scavenger hunt. The game should begin as the will is read and the lists of objects and their values are handed out.
The player should be able to attempt various different paths:
Egotistical (The player tries to win the hunt for themselves.)
Cooperative (The player finds another relative (or group of relatives) and makes a deal with them to try to win together.)
Altruistic (The player attains objects and gives them to some other relative so they can win instead.)
Subversive (The player tries to thwart others attempts to obtain objects.)
How far the player can get along any of the above paths and how easy it is to switch from path to path is up to the author. (There may only be one path available, but the player should at least be able to try the others.) Ideally, the NPCs would be able to choose any of the above paths as well, but you only get a month to do this, so maybe not. Also note that genre and setting are not set here–feel free to place your game whenever and wherever you like.
Extra Credit: For a bonus point or two, include something from the now sadly-defunct Silly Game. There are potential locations, objects, and characters you can use here, also obtainable from ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/mini-comp/sillygame.zip, which contains three html files with the three lists). Be sure to give credit where credit is due.
The premise was riffing on an assignment that was part of the syllabus for this class, specifically the Twonky Island assignment which resulted in a number of finished games.
Organizer/spokesperson: Lucian Smith
I had completely forgotten that the genesis for the idea was a class!
What became pretty obvious pretty early on was that my premise was entirely too complicated. I was trying to push things forward in terms of craft, and I pushed a little too hard. So, I adjusted and announced the ‘micro-comp’, whose rules were, in their entirety: “Mini-comp premise too complex for you? Write up just a scene or two from a (hypothetical) game based on that premise. No scene is too small!” Most entries hovered somewhere between those two poles.
Even before the mini-comp was done, Adam Cadre announced a simpler competition: the ‘Chicken Comp’, where the entire premise was ‘a chicken crossing a road’. That turned out to be much more popular, and I even submitted my own game, partly to make sure that everyone knew that we were all experimenting, and there were no hard feelings or anything like that. From there, we eventually evolved to Speed IF’s (again deriving from conversations on ifMUD), which I again participated in a time or two, and which were a lot of fun.
What it is: a pleasant front end, designed for Win95, for playing 10 selected IF games. It was intended to be a friendly introduction to the medium for new players who might not know where to get files and interpreters.
Organizer/spokesperson: Eric O’Dell
I have no current contact information for Eric, but his original announcement post explains a fair amount:
For those who have not seen it yet, Adventure Blaster (AB) is a user-friendly Win95 front-end to WinFrotz/WinTADS and ten well-reviewed games, including:
Theatre, by Brendon Wyber
Wearing the Claw, by Paul O’Brian
The Lesson of the Tortoise, by G. Kevin Wilson
The Underoos that Ate New York, by G. Kevin Wilson
Babel, by Ian Finley
The Edifice, by Lucian P. Smith
Kissing the Buddha’s Feet, by Leon Lin
Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin
So Far, by Andrew Plotkin
Losing Your Grip, by Stephen Granade
AB comes with a self-extracting automated installer, a nifty front end, the WinFrotz and WinTADS compilers, the aforementioned ten games, and an extensive help system which includes descriptions and reviews of all the games, hints, walkthroughs, and solutions where available, an introductory tutorial by Mike Roberts, and several FAQs and additional help for users who want to find out how to play the rest of the games at GMD and elsewhere.
The current version of AB is specifically aimed at novices who have never played IF, or who haven’t played any IF since the old days. This is, IMHO, a great tool for introducing your IF-impaired friends to the medium. Feel free to distribute it wherever you like.
There were some subsequent discussions about building an Adventure Blaster 2.0, but they didn’t come to anything. In 2004, Dave Cornelson put together a compilation CD that was intended to have a similar use, this time containing a much larger selection of games; as it became more plausible to do on-line play, easy entrypoints increasingly moved to the web. The People’s Republic of IF, for instance, maintains a page of handpicked suggested IF, and in some sense the whole of IFDB serves as a curation device (though on such an epic scale as to be outside the reach of this article).
What it is: sporadic very short IF game jams. These are usually announced on ifMUD and propose a whimsical theme; authors then have two hours to compose their games (though it’s common for people to run a bit overtime). There is no official judging mechanism and Speed-IF games are not always systematically archived. ifwiki lists 78 Speed-IF events at the time of writing; Speed-IF events were initially numbered, but as people lost track of the current number, they started to be named things like “Speed-IF y=1/x”.
Some Speed-IF concepts have even spun off into special events or recurring competitions of their own, with “Speed-IF” carrying a lot of the connotations of “game jam” in the wider indie environment. Eventually several spin-off concepts also came along with different game jam durations attached: 24 Hours of Inform (24 non-continuous hours allowed, run 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009) and IF Marathon (48 hours of creation allowed, 2002, 1 entry).
Organizer/spokesperson: Various, but originated with Dave Cornelson.
Speed-IF, man it’s been 16 years since we started those. But I remember. I had worked on Cattus Atrox for a month straight to get it into the 98 IF Comp. After doing all that coding I was sort of in “5th gear” and had trouble winding down. So that enthusiasm led to an ifMUD call to write some IF together. I thought of the MadLib process and I think it was supposed to be an hour at first, but then we went to two hours, even though it actually took longer. I think Chris Huang was the only one that finished the first one. The style obviously was something mudders were fond of and so it’s carried through to today. I think overall it’s an excellent way to get your IF “chops” back in order or to push yourself to learn new things. The results have varied wildly with some good content coming out of it, but I think the collaboration, camaraderie, and simple fun are the most important aspects. Speed-IF has really not changed since those first two or three efforts. We somehow naturally decided on two hours, mad lib style. I don’t think we had any other rules.
I doubt anyone remembers the IFLibrary Competition which went directly up against Adam Cadre’s Spring Thing way back in those days. I was frustrated with some of the IF Comp rules, specifically the quality of the lower tier games not being weeded out in some formal process, but mostly that I think judging should be open and we should be able to discuss games freely in all mediums. So I think I had one, maybe two IFLibrary competitions, but then I let it go. Spring Thing has survived.
I think the IF Comp has gotten better and has alleviated the quality concerns I used to have. I still don’t like the closed judging. I would like to see more collaboration between IF authors. So a competition that forced you to submit a game with two or more authors would be cool…or forcing each pair of authors to be one established, one newbie. Sort of like a Mentor’s Competition or something.
I’d also like to see more UI competition. Let’s push the boundaries of the user experience and make that a primary voting point in a competition.
The Textfire Twelve-Pack
What it is: an anthology of more than twelve joke “demos” purportedly representing the forthcoming lineup of a new company called Textfire. The demos were designed to hint at terrible gameplay experiences: for instance, in Pumping!, you take on the role of a heart.
The name of Textfire had a long afterlife, used by Adam Cadre’s Textfire Golf and in the promotional materials for Savoir-Faire, before Textfyre took over the name in all earnestness.
The anthology may also have served as something of an inspiration for the IF Arcade collection put together the next year by Adam Cadre, which featured 17 IF adaptations of classic arcade games. Both of these collections were put together in private by a selected group of people and then sprung on the rest of the community, in contrast with, for instance, the Apollo 18+20 project (see below), which solicited open participation.
Organizer/spokesperson: Cody Sandifer
IF Art Show
What it is: a juried competition for experiential, often puzzleless IF pieces; it accepted entries in “Landscape”, “Portrait”, and “Still Life” categories. Pieces went through a judgment period and then were released alongside their reviews.
I have a strong personal affection for the IF Art Show, since my first real release was written for the Portrait category. I also really liked the juried aspect: people selected for the juries tended to go into more thoughtful depth than IF Comp reviewers always did.
Organizer/spokesperson: Marnie Parker
In the “concept” section of her website, Marnie writes:
The rules of the IF (Interactive Fiction) Art Show are specifically designed to try to exclude traditional “game elements” from entries/exhibits. They also try to lift any narrative frame (plot) as much as possible.
What is left? Art. Experience for experience’s sake. Interactivity for interactivity’s sake. Non-goal (basically) directed interactivity.
Games are very much about solving puzzles, racking up points and winning. Many also focus heavily on plot, relying on the F part of IF to be interesting.
So the rules restrict puzzles and plot, to try to remove the game point of IF.
What, then, is the point of IF Art? The question might as well be… What is the point of any art? Or… What is Art?
What it is: a competition for games in a CYOA rather than parser-based style, at a time when this was fairly uncommon in the IF community.
Organizer/spokesperson: Mark Silcox, Roberto Grassi
What it is: despite the “comp” name, this was really a reviewed anthology of short games about love and romance, run near Valentine’s Day.
Organizer/spokesperson: Emily Short
I ran this comp because I was trying to encourage IF in a genre that was pretty underpopulated at the time, and I basically wanted there to be more games in genres that I wanted to play, and to provide some alternatives to the very heavy emphasis on SF and epic fantasy. I was also interested in NPC interactions, especially when it came to romantic relationships, and wanted to see what might come out of this. I borrowed the IF Art Show method of having a panel of people who had agreed in advance to review all the games, hoping that guaranteed feedback would be an incentive for people to enter. At the time there was a lot of concern about games being released without feedback, and I’d had a good experience with the IF Art Show approach to reviews. In contrast with the IF Art Show, we weren’t picking winners, just writing up responses.
Because there were so few people who seemed interested in getting involved, we also were pretty gentle about conflict of interest issues — both J. Robinson Wheeler (on the reviewing panel) and I (actually organizing the comp) submitted games. But it wasn’t really a competition with prizes or even a designated winner, so this seemed like less of a concern at the time.
There was such a range of different entries that I’m not sure I could describe the result as a coherent anthology: Adam Cadre submitted (pseudonymously) a game that subverted the whole premise, while other contributions ranged from Matt Fendahleen’s conversation-heavy doomed romance August to Roger Ostrander’s light puzzle game Second Honeymoon about trying to finish a bunch of tasks for your spouse. I think if one actually wanted to produce a themed anthology that fit together well, it would take a bit more commitment and editorial shaping than this (compare Apollo 18+20, which was much tighter). But that kind of focus wasn’t really what I was going for at the time, and it was a fun project.
The title of the comp still makes me cringe a little, but oh well.
Storme Winfield ran a similar minicomp the next year, RomanceNovelComp; that ran more to overt parodies of romance novel style; in 2003 I did a SwashComp for swashbucklers.
What it is: an annual competition for just the beginnings of games. Judges are asked to vote on one criterion only: how much they want to play the rest of the game in question. The top three winners are named in a ceremony on ifMUD, while the remaining entries are unrated. There are cash prizes, on condition that the author actually completes the game in question within one year of the competition. The majority of prizes have gone unclaimed, but a few works were indeed finished in the long run.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jacqueline Lott (the competition was started by Neil DeMause, but Jacqueline has run it every year except the first)
What it is: annual competition for long-form games, initiated by Adam Cadre in 2002 and run most years since (with a hiatus in 2010). It is currently run by Aaron Reed and has recently undergone a significant set of rule changes.
Organizer/spokesperson: Adam Cadre
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
At the time (i.e., the turn of the millennium), it seemed as though the IF calendar was completely dominated by the fall comp. If you put a game in the comp, you were assured that over a hundred people would play it, and it’d even show up in the compendia of reviews that quite a few people posted to Usenet immediately upon the end of the judging period. Whereas if you released a game at any other time of year, it might come and go with little trace. As a result:
everyone aimed for the comp
almost no games would be released for eleven months, and then in October, bam, fifty all at once
since the comp had a two-hour time limit, longer games became rare
because people didn’t want to wait an extra year if their game wasn’t ready for release by the comp deadline, they’d just submit buggy and/or half-baked games
So, since it seemed like players were attracted by the opportunity to play several games at once and weigh in on their comparative merits, I decided to try starting another comp, hoping for the following results:
a new batch of games midway through the dry season
more sizeable games, as judges were given much longer to play each entry
fewer half-baked games, due to a nominal fee to encourage people to take entering the comp seriously, and a disqualification for games too buggy to play
How did your plans change over time? (For instance, did you wind up changing your goals, changing rules for participation, etc.?)
I think I upped the entry fee from $5 to $7 the second year so the prize distribution math would work out better. Other than that, I don’t recall.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
The entry fee turned out to be not nearly enough of an incentive to make people finish their games; the first year, 14 people submitted entry fees and only one person finished a game.
With respect to the current version of Spring Thing, Aaron writes:
— Make Spring Thing more differentiated from IFComp
— Make something more foundationally welcoming to broader/different groups of people. Moves such as eliminating the entry fee, the lower-pressure atmosphere from eliminating numerical rankings, relaxing constraints on commercial games or finished IntroComp entries, etc.
— Create an event for authors where all games and gamemakers are more equal, more akin to a gallery exhibition than a competition. This in part grew from tension in last year’s Thing between different maker communities who participated, much of which seemed to stem (in my interpretation) from fears that one side or the other was going to “get all the votes.” Eliminating rankings specifically is an attempt to sidestep divisiveness over what “counts” as IF or what kinds are better than others (which has uncomfortable echoes to me of divisiveness in the larger gaming community over what “counts” as a game, or what kinds of makers get to “count” as legitimate).
— At the same time, I still wanted to preserve incentives for entering (ribbons, prizes, exposure). This year’s trial will help tell if there’s enough incentive, or if there’s a drop-off in participation.
Plans Change Over Time:
– Will have a better answer to this after a year of the new Thing, but I definitely had to scale down some of my initial ambitious goals (such as letting authors and players have accounts where they could curate, say, lists of favorite games) due to amount of available time. Running the ’14 Thing was more work than I’d expected– even a small event takes a lot of effort.
– Having a set of rules that’s clear but not overwhelming. This year, as an experiment, I’ve replaced the more verbose original rules with a much shorter set of basic guidelines and etiquette requests, and declared myself a “benevolent dictator” capable of arbitrating any difficulties that arise. This approach would work less well in an event like IF Comp with both more of a reputation and more stakes on the line (i.e. cash prizes) or if I didn’t have a certain amount of pre-existing cred in the IF world, and it might not prove to be the best long-term solution. The hope is that this approach helps everyone concerned see the forest without getting hung up on the trees. (“What do you mean by this word in the rules”; “technically this person is violating rule 14,” etc.) But we’ll see.
– Infrastructure is a major challenge even for a small event like this one: web hosting and design, dealing with form submissions and voting scripts, hardening them against spammers, attackers, and abusers; managing entry information and wrangling game files, emails to participants, etc… not to mention promotion/outreach. These can all be stumbling blocks for someone wanting to put on a community event. (Not everyone has time; not everyone can design a website or afford hosting, and so on.) Having a “forum-based” event helps b/c you get the forum tools for free (posting, private messages, ban/ignore, attachments etc.) but then your circle of participants is more limited.
What it is: a mostly-yearly competition for French-language IF games, organized by the French IF forum. Due to the small size of the community, the same people both contribute and vote.
Organizer/spokesperson: Hugo Labrande, Eric Forgeot
Eric responds to my questions:
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
You can see the original thread on our forum there. We were very enthusiastic in those time! :)
I’d say the first motivation was to encourage us, and me in particular, to create a whole game and complete its development. It was a success because we managed to made it, and we had more contestants than expected (5 instead of only 2).
On the other hand, we didn’t manage to get much more participants in the future, as you can see there.
About the rules, we didn’t change them much, because they were quite liberals from the start: we suggested topics and anonymous participations, but it wasn’t compulsory.
We tried to reach other “communities” (such as CYOA), but it didn’t worked much (we occasionaly gained one or two participants but not many more)
We also did a few speedif, which were quite a success, we managed to gain more participants (among people registered on our forum, and also sometimes elsewhere) and we had great moments chatting on IRC:
http://ifiction.free.fr/index.php?id=jeux_speedif (but it’s not sorted by events)
We also gathered sometimes for tracking bugs in our games.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
We didn’t have much challenge, as it remains quite informal, with few participants, we can delay (we always delay!) or cancel some events if necessary.
I guess there’s no official organizer, in the sense that there is not one person setting the rules and the deadlines, etc. It just kind of happens: usually someone will start a thread some time after the previous one, saying “we need a theme! who has one?” (the theme is optional – in the past, it’s been general things like “the sky”, “female protagonist”, “the wind”, etc.). A few people will usually volunteer a theme, and say whether they’re considering entering the Comp; we usually say “same deadline as last year”, and off we go.
The same kind of goes for other events: we did a few SpeedIFs a few years ago (err… 2007, already??), and they all happened like “who wants to? who’s available next Sunday, or how about the one after that? Let’s meet on IRC at 10am”. This summer we did a “debugging sprint” (play games for 2 hours and submit bug reports), and it happened the same way.
I guess I should mention at that point that when I say “we”, it’s half a dozen active authors and a couple of others; so we have to find something that works for everyone. Like this year, 4 people are planning on entering games, but 2 of them said they might not finish them in time, so we pushed the deadline to Feb 1st.
The hard thing about this Comp is that it is pretty vulnerable, because of the low number of authors ; we ended up cancelling it in 2010 and in 2012 because nobody (or just one person) had a game. There are a lot of things that can come up, other projects, other deadlines, lack of motivation ; it’s hard, because there are so few authors and the Comp depends on them, but at the same time, do you really have the energy/time/ideas to make at least one game a year, every year? I don’t know how other people feel, but there might be a kind of pressure on authors to create something if they want to keep the community alive. Another interesting thing is that since 2006 and JB’s Ekphrasis (and it might actually be the only example ever), all the games have either been 1/ first attempts, 2/ speedIF creations, or 3/ comp entries; to put it another way, there is hardly any game that just comes out for the sake of it. One could think that maybe authors save their games for the Comp, or maybe it’s that they wouldn’t create anything if there wasn’t an event, and they need the deadline and the nudge to commit to IF. I personally feel like those events are what keeps our community alive!
The advantage of an event is that there is motivation to do something along with others, and have your game played by whoever votes or participates. And, let’s be honest, there has definitely been cases where a game comes out and only 2 people on the forum play it.  This also applies to comps : I think it was the comp 2011 had 5 entrants and 3 voters, all of whom were entrants who reviewed the other people’s games (that’s a Comp Winner and a Miss Congeniality all in one!).
However, things have gotten a bit better last year, with 7 votes, and Jack Welsh reviewing the games on his blog, which everyone appreciated! Hopefully this year we can get more votes; Andrew Schultz actually gave us a great idea yesterday that we should publish walkthroughs systematically, to help players (and especially those who feel like their French may not be good enough). I’m trying to find ways to get more people to play (and/or discover) our games ; I opened our Twitter account a few months ago, been trying to find forums online with people who might be interested in trying it out, writing walkthroughs, etc. Nobody has really been communicating actively, I think, and nobody really knows how to do it either; communication is definitely something we can improve, and is vital if we want to keep a good community with motivated authors.
: That’s what happened for Ekphrasis : JB spent 2 years coding that game, 3 people beta-tested the first part, one of them kept playing afterwards and reached the end of the game, and that’s it for our community (you and a few others in the English-speaking world did more than we did, sadly). And in the end, a few months later, he decided it wasn’t really worth it and quit IF (he since made Out There, a mobile game with CYOA elements which is quite successful).
Mystery House Taken Over
What it is: a kit allowing participants to remix the original Sierra game Mystery House, which had been released into public domain. Mystery House was reimplemented in Glulx; a small group of authors were invited to revise the game however they wished as part of the initial release. The project was funded by a grant from Turbulence, which supplied some financial backing for the organizers and the initial set of participants.
Organizer/spokesperson: Nick Montfort, with Dan Shiovitz and Emily Short
Mystery House Taken Over was an interesting project, not successful in many typical ways but good nonetheless. We got some people who were not involved with IF to be part of the initial group, and the kit was used in classroom teaching for a while after the project went online. I don’t think there were major changes to the project or challenges — except that no one made & posted games after the fact, so the project didn’t really take off in that phase.
What it is: an annual NaNoWriMo-style month-long jam for visual novels.
Organizer/spokesperson: Ren’Py forums
Georgina Bensley writes:
From my experience the VN community does not go out much for competition. Someone attempted to put together a year-end panel-judged award once a long time ago, simply to state what the ‘best’ games released in the year were, but as I recall it only made it through one set of awards before it fell apart in a mess of hurt feelings. VNsnow.com runs his own year-end awards now and has for a while, but they’re simply his own personal opinion and rules. This seems to cause less fighting, as people not interested in his opinion can just ignore him.
The biggest ‘event’ of the year in VN circles is NaNoRenO, which is non-competitive and obviously modeled after the similar novel-writing challenge. There’s a page here showing the rules and scope of the challenge ten years ago (I think that the ‘two endings’ part may have been dropped since then, since I’ve seen choiceless games in recent years). An overview of successful releases from all years can be seen in this post here. Things have really exploded in the past few years, the number of entries is jumping up and a lot of them are managing quite impressive artwork as well.
On Lemmasoft, the start of NaNoRenO means a special subforum being created for challenge projects, and most people make an initial post setting out the kind of game they plan to make, which they may or may not manage to update throughout the month. It gives everyone an idea of what to look forward to by the end, or to take bets on which games will manage to complete by deadline, since many don’t. There’s also a countdown clock added to the forum to show the approaching deadline.
Electronic Literature Collection
What it is: an occasional anthology of electronic literature of various forms, including some classic parser IF, as well as a considerable amount of hypertext and other forms of work, in order to preserve these works and make it easier to access them, especially for teaching purposes; its editors come predominantly from academic study in electronic literature. Two volumes have been released so far (volume 1, volume 2).
Organizer/spokesperson: Editors for volume 1: N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland. Editors for volume 2: Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, Brian Stefans.
The ELO’s project page describes its aims thus:
The Electronic Literature Collection is a periodical publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. Both volume 1 and volume 2 of the publication are available online; volume 1 is also available as cross-platform CD-ROM, while volume 2 is available on a USB flash drive, both in a cases appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection are offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals can share the Collection with others.
Commonplace Book Project
What it is: an organized anthology of games based on the works of HP Lovecraft, which were then exhibited at the Maison d’Ailleurs event in Switzerland. It was a cross-language collection with entries in French, English, and Spanish; several of these games were collaborations by multiple authors, as well. IFDB lists the available work.
Organizer/spokesperson: Peter Nepstad
About the French entry, Eric Forgeot writes:
It was a quite huge project, and we collaborated on a common game which was displayed in the museum (see attached files). For the occasion we learnt how to use collaborative tools such as SVN, and we also improved the French I6 libraries (and it also helped with the I7 ones).
Cover Art Drive
What it is: a drive to create cover art for a range of existing IF games, which the authors could then either accept and make official, or decline/ignore. Authors were invited to say whether they wanted cover art, but contributors were also allowed to propose art for games that had not solicited covers, as long as the author had not explicitly opted out.
All covers were displayed temporarily in a Flickr account that was then wiped at the end of the drive, so covers that weren’t selected weren’t officially retained anywhere (in order to discourage their use when authors hadn’t approved said use).
Organizer/spokesperson: Emily Short
This is a somewhat unusual one, since it aimed to produce art rather than more games. IFDB was fairly new at the time, and it had the ability to display cover art, but very few games actually had any cover art to display, which made the place look a bit barren and discouraging to newcomers. We were also at a point, just then, when indie gaming sites were starting to cover IF, but almost all of these posts wanted some sort of image to display alongside the articles, and a screenshot of parser IF is often pretty dull to look at. So it seemed like it would be great if more IF games had cover art. The problem, of course, is that the skillset that goes with making a text game doesn’t necessarily include typography, design, or drawing, so there was no guarantee that authors actually were able to make cover art for themselves. So possibly an event that helped people get cover art that they liked would help deal with this problem, give IFDB a bit of a looks upgrade, and also help establish more of a pattern towards having cover art in general.
The other motive was that I know from experience how cool it can be when someone makes an artwork inspired by your own. IF is so much work to write that we have a fairly minimal custom of anything approaching fanfic — there’s not even all that much fan IF for established fandoms, let alone fanfic of other IF: though in 1998 there was an IF Fan Fest designed to elicit this kind of material, it didn’t develop into a long-running tradition.
So I thought, or hoped, that for some authors it would be a cool boost to see that someone had enjoyed their work enough to come back and do an interpretation of it — including authors who hadn’t written anything in a few years.
I wrote a post-mortem at the time, which goes into more detail about the practical aspects.
What it is: an annual prize for short gamebooks, limited to 100 sections or fewer. I’ve written about some of the recent contestants here.
Organizer/spokesperson: Wayne Densley
The Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction began in 2008 as a competition to provide a venue where authors might showcase their work and in doing so promote gamebooks in general. At the time it seemed evident to me that there were a number of talented authors within the larger gamebook community that had no effective way of promoting their work, and it seemed logical to organise a competition that would give them that opportunity. After a short period of consideration the Windhammer Prize was born.
From the introduction to the Windhammer Prize homepage the following is stated:
“The Windhammer Prize continues as a means to promote the gamebook genre, and to provide exposure within a competitive environment for aspiring gamebook authors. In particular this prize values creative and original works of gamebook fiction. The challenge given to those who wish to participate the development of a full gamebook experience whilst meeting stringent requirements regarding length and original content.”
From the beginning the competition was designed to give authors a structure within which they might develop unique works of interactive fiction, and provide a mechanism by which their books could then be reviewed and compared with other entrants. It has become a feature of the Windhammer Prize that large amounts of feedback generates as a part of the competition and all that commentary is provided to the authors at its end with their notification of results. In the main feedback is positive and constructive, however it can sometimes also be a painful process.
Over time the rules and entry guidelines have changed, mostly regarding voting and the requirements for length and content of entries. The prizes have also evolved over time and have included since 2012 commercial publication of First Prize and Merit Award winners. With this evolution I can say however, that the original goals, and the specific focus of the competition, have remained the same.
The biggest challenges in running the Windhammer Prize have been purely administrative in nature. It is no small task to develop a gamebook, even if it is only 100 sections in length, and authors who participate expect a fair and efficiently run competition that showcases their work to as broad a range of readers as possible. Over the years the running of the Prize has evolved just as much as the rules, and the success of those changes I think is reflected in how many of the authors have returned to compete.
One of the great satisfactions of running the competition has been to see how many participants have gone on to find commercial publication of their work. I do not credit the Windhammer Prize as the sole reason for their success, but I do think the exposure they found helped if only in a small way.
For the future I can see the Windhammer Prize growing into a much larger competition. The prizes will get bigger and the exposure broader as the competition establishes itself amongst a wider range of gamebook enthusiasts. It is a great deal of fun to put on and as long as authors are prepared to enter it will continue.
New Year Speed-IF
What it is: an annual game jam run at New Year with a minimum of rules. Games can be written to a theme, but need not be; they may even be things that the author had started writing already and submitted at the last minute. ClubFloyd plays through the results.
Organizer/spokesperson: Marius Müller, Juhana Leinonen
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
Jacq ran a Speed IF in 2007 in which I participated. When 2008 came around, I thought it would be nice to have a very loose event at the end of the year for small games. I personally often feel sad at the end of a year and I haven’t done any creative work. I thought others feel the same. I thought it would be a nice tradition and also a good way to start the New Clubfloyd year.
How did your plans change over time? (For instance, did you wind up changing your goals, changing rules for participation, etc.?)
The one thing I did change over time was making the rules looser and looser. One goal of the comp is to have games that are playable on Floyd the first week of January, but my main goal was not to discourage anyone who feel they have a project on the backburner, or something experimental, to finish it. The main goal was to be inclusive to anyone who wanted to participate. As the rules state, you have to try very hard to get disqualified.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
Uh, none, really. Jacq was alway cool with the Clubfloyd thing. I never got any game with malicious intent. I usually upload the games to ifdb after we’ve played them, which is a bit of work, but real challenges? Nope.
Cute, Light, and Fluffy Project
What it is: an anthology of short, “light and fluffy” visual novel stories, assembled into a single download file.
Organizer/spokesperson: shared on the Ren’Py forums; final release by King of Moé.
The initial proposal arose as part of a thread agitating for more “cute” stories:
Yes. We need more cute, innocent fluff that makes the big boys cringe.
There’s only about 4-5 titles with fluff in them that I know of, so…
MOAR catgirls, panties, ribbons, bunny suits, sparkles, happy stories, magical GIRLS, shiney things… MOE.
WHO’S WITH ME? 8D
The final release included four stories and a shared menu.
Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7
What it is: a competition for IF with an escape the room theme, sponsored by the game-review site Jay Is Games and Armor Games. JIG provided its own portal for playing the games, and offered a $1000 prize to the winner chosen by JIG winners, with $500 and $250 prizes for the next two top-placing games. In practice, there was a tie that meant the prize split was $1000/$250/$250/$250 instead. This was one of a series of gameplay design competitions run by the site, but the only one devoted to interactive fiction.
The combination of outside-the-community exposure and significant cash prizes was effective: the competition drew some 30 entries, including several that went on to be XYZZY winners later in the year. However, rumor is that it didn’t draw enough traffic to Jay Is Games to make them consider running another IF-focused comp.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jay Bibby
What it is: a game jam in which the source code of each game, not counting white space, could not run more than 140 characters. This elicited more than sixty entries, including several in Russia