ADRIFT 2010 Summer Comp

This competition has recently ended. Its results are posted on IFWiki and the ADRIFT Forum for any interested. The competition consisted of 7 games (1 of which was disqualified) and received 5 votes. So, the question floating around the ADRIFT Forum at the moment is… in a competition with 7 games that allowed authors to vote, why didn’t we only see 5 votes?

Information on the competition was available on IFWiki, the #ADRIFT bulletin board on ifMUD, and IFDB. Many 'DRIFTers were also personally encouraged to vote, but obviously even few of them participated. We’d like to encourage more participation from our own members in ADRIFT Competitions as well as the wider community. Is there a way to do that? What do you think it requires? Or, on a more personal level, when you see a competition, what brings you out to vote in it? How do you make that decision?

When I see a competition, my first instinct is to head in the opposite direction … When I’m looking for a game to play in the little free time I have, I want to play something that can genuinely claim to be worth the time and effort. I suggest that the best games of the last few years have been ones that people have worked on outside of competitions: Blue Lacuna and Make It Good, for example. We do see some good games in the IFComp, but I don’t have the time these days to plough through them all - I prefer to play the best half-dozen or so afterwards. The Introcomp often has interesting entries, but then that’s something slightly different, and at least all entries are, by definition, short.

From my perspective as someone outside the Adrift community, it seems to have lots of little competitions that encourage a number of games from beginners that are, to be frank, pretty bad. While encouraging beginners is in itself a laudable goal, I don’t particularly want to spend my time playing the results.

I have less and less time, so I concentrate on individual games that hit some sweet spot in terms of my own interests (the blurb offers a cool story hook, appealing setting, or interesting gameplay style) or sound like they’ll have merits worth knowing about (major works by any author, any work by authors I’m a fan of, experimental pieces with surprising gimmicks).

A competition is a bigger time commitment with less guarantee of specific value. I do enjoy playing things that a lot of other people are playing and talking about at the same time, because that feeds into the community spirit. But that’s hard to capture: the main IF comp consistently offers that. Few of the others do.

Where it’s a case of trying something in order to help the authors/community by providing feedback, I try to concentrate that where it seems most likely that the feedback will be valuable. Introcomp games are sometimes a bit frustrating, but the time commitment is low, and the potential to provide useful feedback for a WIP is an incentive. Lots of other comps fall somewhere in the middle; I tend to like Spring Thing because, typically, people submit items they’ve put a major effort into.

ADRIFT comps fall at the wrong end of the spectrum for me. In the past, I’ve generally found them a struggle to play because of interpreter incompatibilities; the games are often of uneven quality with few standouts; and then the authors resent being told, “hey, this wasn’t that great, because the limitations of the ADRIFT parser got in the way (again).”

So I tend to place these games in the same category with un-beta’ed games in the main IF Comp: the authors are trying to do something different from what I’m trying to do with IF. More power to them if they enjoy writing these games, and if I hear rave reviews for a game on IFDB, say, then sure, I may try it. But I don’t have a lot of incentive to go through all the entries myself.

I didn’t know about it. I don’t hang out at any of the places listed.

I’m not sure I’d have time to play and vote - I feel obligated to play all or almost all the games on offer before voting, and put actual time/energy into it. Since after more than two games, it can be hard to remember first impressions and such, that means taking notes, writing out impressions before/during/after, etc. I didn’t even get that done for IntroComp, and that was a few short games.

I haven’t had much contact with ADRIFT, but what I have had has been discouraging. It absolutely could be poor luck, but I’m less likely to buck the trend without some reason. If I’m judging an offering, I feel like I should be giving it more time to shine than I would off a randomly downloaded offering off the IFDB.

I’m not really in the community enough to speak to what might help, but what would encourage me:

  • Seeing recommendations on other people’s blogs. If Sarah or Emily or Pissy Little Sausages encourages me to go play a thing, I’ll try it out.
  • If I hear comments about a particular game, or the author otherwise seems to be doing things that interest me (ie posts frequently on storytelling techniques or whatnot), I’ll be more likely to check out the work.

The above don’t help you much, except to recommend to reviewers and authors to get their blogs (if they have them) posted to planet-if. An ADRIFT-review blog might make interesting reading. Of course, this doesn’t really help with the comp so much as individual entries. For the comp - a pithy list of offerings with good tag-lines might help. So might talking about the comp in spaces I hang out in. (This sounds sort of snide, but I don’t mean it that way - I just am not really part of the groups you advertised to.) Make postings here, or on the rec.arts group.

Playing IF can be a significant time-sink, especially for a comp. Why is this particular group of games worth it? That could be gameplay, social aspects, encouraging new writers, really good writing, unusual genres - any number of things. If the particular comp doesn’t seem to have any of that, then maybe it needs to be tweaked or redesigned. The social part of IF-comp is pretty inspiring - I played all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally because I was anticipating reviews from others. And in some cases, I was very grateful. (I never would have chosen Earl Grey out of a line-up of games - the concept/tag/title didn’t appeal to me at all.)

I missed the competition since I don’t check those sites. If it’s not on the IF blogs, raif, or intfiction, I am not likely to hear about it. You should start a blog and plug your releases on that. The Ascot and Yon Astounding Castle! were easily in the top half of last year’s IF Comp entries, at least by my reckoning.

The ADRIFT focus is off-putting since I have the feeling that the games don’t work very well under Gargoyle / SCARE, or perhaps in general. The line between poor coding and poor interpreter support can be blurry, but I can’t recall a single bug report from an ADRIFT author in two years of working on the project.

That adds to my impression that those authors do not care very much about the player experience, certainly not on platforms other than Windows where it’s SCARE or nothing. For example, one game on the competition page includes this cheerful notice at the beginning:

When I read that, I figure why bother?

I have the sense that the ADRIFT community is excited about the forthcoming version 5. What would be exciting to me is someone taking over SCARE and making it the reference ADRIFT implementation. Then you could put those disclaimers to rest. The expected value of Windows-only interpreter code has got to be nearly zero at this point.

I’m in the same boat as Ben, if possibly on a lower deck. I didn’t hear about the competitions, and might have been interested – but I didn’t hear about it, and don’t have the software to run it on my Mac. There seemed to be a Zoom plugin that claimed to run ADRIFT games, but when I tried it (your games from the IFComp looked interesting) it didn’t work. I guess I can download Spatterlight if I really want to run ADRIFT games? But what would really get me to try them out is a Parchment-like online terp.

(BTW, the IFWiki entry for SCARE gives a dead link for its homepage.)

Agreed: I just didn’t hear about it. I personally don’t have negative associations with ADRIFT, but that may be because the only ADRIFT games I’ve knowingly* played were The Ascot and Yon Astounding Castle!, and there certainly weren’t quality issues there.

Anyway, perhaps next week (after my deadline for costuming people for Burning Man is past, oh goodness) I will take a look at this Comp’s games.

*I open everything with Spatterlight, and it pretty much all works, so I don’t actually tend to notice what system a game was made in. Actually, Cryptozookeeper didn’t exactly work well – the text and background colors were the same in the command line, which made it pretty hard to type – but I did at least get the gist of it.

Do a lot of IFers go to Burning Man? Whenever someone tells me they’re going, I recommend that they play Shade… but I never thought to ask if Zarf has been there…

Not this year but yes, yes indeed. Maybe we should start Camp Zork in 2011?

I wonder if basing the comp around the platform is a factor: there’s nothing about “ADRIFT games” (or “TADS games” or whatever) that generates interest except to people invested in that language. I expect this was why the IF Comp got rid of its “Best z-code Game” and “Best TADS game” categories long ago-- usually the language used is not a very interesting part of the final product.

Presumably the ADRIFT competitions are meant to help promote ADRIFT, of course, so this may not be a very useful thought. But perhaps if the energy were spent on organizing a comp with a more attention-grabbing theme, friendly to ADRIFT entries but open to entries in other languages, there would be more interest from both authors and players.

I will quickly point out that I am not going myself (I am whatever the opposite of outdoorsy is, and not a fan of crowds), just making clothes for people who are. And yes, I’ve pointed my BM-going friends at Shade, especially when one of them was complaining that he couldn’t find his ticket.

Never been to Burning Man. I hate camping. I know. I’m sorry.

I’ve never done any caving, either. (Real caving, I mean. I’ve been in plenty of the done-up-for-tourists caves.) I get claustrophobic when the world is piled up above my head. Maybe you could have guessed that from Hunter.

I’ve never stolen military secrets from a foreign power, either.

Agreed with Aaronius Lacunaius. Tool-specific and platform-specific comps are so twentieth century. Today’s sophisticated interpreters partly hide the distinction of what tool created a work, and that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t like to read a Stephen King with Wordperfect’s stamp all over it.

I hadn’t heard of that particular comp because when ADRIFT appears in a subject line, I immediately skip to the next topic. I do that with TADS, too.

I also don’t need more than two or three comps a year, if that many.

I had a wee bit of interest in TADS a few months ago when the official TADS blog posted a couple entries on Planet IF. Granted, they were dry, technical things with little connection to authoring, so the interest wasn’t much more than, “I shall read these posts.” If a new version of ADRIFT is coming, it really needs to start getting the word out now. I presume there’s an ADRIFT (I’m getting so tired of CAPITALIZED ACRONYMS) group blog that is/should be there? Where’s the posts for it going?

I notice that reassembling your memory by wearing variously colored masks is not on this list of denials.

…on-topic, Ron makes a good point; if the comp were announced on something that syndicated to planet-IF, I’d have seen it. (And since I just downloaded Spatterlight to play Yon Astounding Castle, I’d have been able to play the games, though I’d still be a lot more likely to play them online.)

Okay, I have a few bits to answer, here. I promise I’ll try to keep up with the site better in the future to avoid these God-awfully long posts…

Most ADRIFT output is based around competitions which are community-inclusive. I can’t speak for the entire community, but there does seem to be a belief that releasing games outside of competitions is a formula only for being ignored. Perhaps 2009 calls for an update to this mentality.

I should mention, though, that the definition of “beginner” may be debatable. Of entrants in this competition, the only new authors are Simply Ryan (“Just Another Day”) and Hensman Int’l (“Ba‘Roo!”-- though Hensman has released one game in ADRIFT’s IntroComp before). Other than that the authors involved in 2010’s Summer Comp all have some experience writing and publishing IF. Their visibility as experienced authors has been a problem, but that seems typical of ADRIFT authors, as does the measure of their experience. They may receive quite varied degrees of feedback (though most see little, if any), which could impact the quality of their work. FWIW, I did think there were a few good games in there, though.

I really need to make checking intfiction more of a habit, admittedly. I tend to be a bit shy about making public announcements on the internet, so I have that to overcome. But is raif the best place to post for visibility’s sake? Every time I check raif, I see pages’ worth of spam. I imagine it would be easy to get messages buried under that.

This may be true-- I haven’t tested all of the games using Gargoyle/SCARE or Zoom/Spatterlight or anything else. One goal of mine has been to encourage ADRIFT authors to release multi-platform friendly versions of their games. Tiberius Thingamus, at least, has offered two separate versions of his game in this comp, one for ADRIFT and one for Gargoyle. It would be nice to see more ADRIFT authors picking up on that trend. It would be even better if Campbell Wild were to focus on making ADRIFT more translatable, if that’s the right word. I’d really like to see a version of ADRIFT that could be adapted to Java or Flash or something for online play, without having to download an interpreter.

As far as I can tell, there is one main reason that ADRIFT games aren’t more integrated into wider community comps. There is a perception amongst ‘DRIFTers that their games stand no chance in wider competitions and will only be bashed for, as Emily mentions, the limitations of the parser and interpreter incompatibilities. Of course, if ‘DRIFTers never advance their work outside of what is too often ADRIFT’s gated community, they might never improve or even change their writing. But there probably need to be more “good” ADRIFT games out there before they get played regularly… and there need to be more games out there receiving critical attention so authors can improve so that good games could be produced regularly… seems a bit of a Catch-22, but I think it could be done.

How is probably another question, but one that’s taking a lot of consideration at the moment.

There is currently no blog for ADRIFT that I know of, though I could ask Campbell Wild about it. My own blog (with its occasionally ADRIFT-related things) hasn’t been active for a while, and probably looks like a mess. But should that change, I’ll register it with Planet IF.

Online playability without an interpreter download is my own personal pipedream for ADRIFT, though I don’t think it’s headed in that direction.

If it matters, though, I happen to know an author who would be interested in your evaluation of Yon Castle. He can be reached at tiberiusthingamus (at) yahoo (d0t) com. Are you playing the IFComp release or the Post-Comp release?

As far as we know.

Now I have been tempted to provide my personal views on Burning Man:

I think it’s something I would have liked 10 or 15 years ago, if I’d known folks who were going. I’m not against camping, but I’ve reached a point in my life where the desert (much as it is portrayed in Shade) represents an enemy of life. Camping is one thing, where you could theoretically get everything you need from your immediate environment. But the desert is not like that.

If I go to the desert, it’s more likely to be for something like the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon in Death Valley. (Not that I think I could ever run it, but maybe I would crew for somebody who did). Unlike Burning Man, which to me is like tempting Death while staying safely out of its reach, Badwater is like running directly into Death’s jaws with your middle finger extended.

I think you’ve already figured out the solution to that problem, Duncan. Do you best and shoot for the main IFComp. If you don’t push your limits, you won’t achieve anything. Your games did well in last year’s Comp – I certainly came away thinking that ADRIFT was a viable platform for IF, and I’d never played an ADRIFT title before IFComp '09. Heck, the IFComp seems to get a raw windows EXE-based game or two every year, and they still get played and rated. As long as ADRIFT authors do the basic finish and testing work required to ensure their titles run on standard interpreter packs like Gargoyle, etc. I don’t see why they can’t compete in the wider world like everyone else does.

As far as parser issues, I wouldn’t know about that. It may be that Inform and TADS provide better implementation of basic parsing mechanics out of the box. But speaking only for myself: I may have strong opinions on my chosen tools as an implementor, but as a player the only thing that matters to me is the quality of the finished product I’m playing. If a game fails to recognize standard, simple syntax or gives me problems with recognizing legitimate input, it’s flawed and deserves the criticism it gets regardless of whether it was written in Inform, TADS, or ADRIFT. Those problems are always correctable with enough testing and attention to detail.

Adrift’s parser issues are issues. It’s not clear to me that they can always be fixed by authors. If authors want public feedback on their game, they should probably expect some negative feedback based on the player experience, and the parser could be part of that.

I wonder if someone would consider a regular review blog with a policy of gentle reviewing, and a comment policy to match. I’d make games by relatively new authors a focus, irregardless of platform. You could either target the blog toward the authors (constructive criticism) or players. I would read such a thing, although my own review tastes as a player run to a little more bald-faced analysis. That might give authors a safe space to stay, and some hook for the players. If authors didn’t want to read harsher criticism, they could still get feedback from reviews and comments. I think games would have a higher likelihood of getting played if there was already someone playing. (Ironic, but there you go.)

Wider circulation will help with Adrift’s reputation, just because its quirks will become more anticipated.

Other than that - yeah, enter games in the comp that are polished to a mirror shine.

One thing that I think might be useful, for new authors in general and for ADRIFT authors concerned about the reception of the games, is a regular comp run like the JayIsGames comp – encouraging new authors, providing quick feedback forms, and (most importantly) allowing rolling updates. That way, if a game has an issue that’s caught by a player early, the author can patch it, rather than having it spoil everyone’s experience of the game.

Of course the JIG comp was z-code only, but it could be made cross-platform (though online-playable games will still get more feedback – yeah, I’m a bit of a broken record here).

What is it that distinguishes the Gargoyle version from the regular one? Separate releases to work around interpreter bugs are an ugly business for all concerned. If there’s something straightforward that can be done to fix SCARE, let me know and I will fix it.

I did find one bug in “Pirate’s Plunder”, though I don’t know whether the interpreter is to blame:

If you type “dig” on the beach more than once, it replays the ghost ship event text, even if the ghost ship has been destroyed. If you do it after moving the chest to the totem area, the chest disappears and the game is left in an unwinnable state.

Risking the terrible wrath of the IF people, I must say that it’s getting just a little tiresome to keep reading bad reviews of Adrift games where the parser is blamed.
Adrift and its parser problem has been around for at least 10 years now. I would think that we all know the limitations, and whether we like them or not, they’re there.
I can understand that new players will complain about not being able to this or that, or getting a strange response in this or that situation, but seeing veteran players and reviewers constantly drawing the “bad parser” card is incredible.
We all know that the Adrift parser has problems, and that the player can’t: “take the red ball and place it inside the other object I stole from the old lady down the road” [emote];)[/emote] So work around it when you play, and judge the game for the game, and not for what developer system it’s made from.