Advice for IFComp Entrants

This was originally posted to

These are some tips for entering the competition in general. I have plenty
more I could say about actually writing the game, but I’m even less an
expert there. :slight_smile:

  1. When you get your game beta tested (and it’s a given that you intend to),
    have them run transcripts. Not everything that can go wrong in your game is
    going to look wrong to players. Or they’ll forgot to mention it.

  2. When you get yoru game beta tested, try to pick up a couple testers that
    are familiar with Interactive Fiction. In the past, I’ve recruited testers
    who like text adventures, but aren’t really familiar with what most players
    are going to expect. Newbie testers will let a lot of things slide that comp
    judges won’t, and having experienced people help you is a great asset.

  3. Remember that people are judging your game. The seven hundred hours you
    spent writing it will only count for something to a very small number of
    them. Even the winners get criticized by some. Brace yourself for the worst.

  4. If you’re in a crunch, aim smaller. What I’ve found is that judges tend
    to like games that push or exceed the two-hour rule, but they look more
    favorably on a well-written short game than on a sparse one that’s longer.
    Writing a well-implemented longer game is by no means trivial. If you intend
    to do so, and you haven’t already started, then either (a) it’s already too
    late, or (b) you better be working on it twelve hours a day until the end of

  5. Entering your game into the IFComp can be the greatest way for a new
    author (perhaps even an established one) to get exposure. What I’ve seen is
    that your game is likely to get far more play in six weeks than it would
    otherwise get it six years. But, see tip #3.

  6. Some people win or rank really highly (and I mean, like top 5) in their
    first time out. Most don’t. Many are probably discouraged from ever writing
    IF again, because the feedback you get can be brutal. Consider any ranking
    in the top half great, and in the top 10 amazing.

  7. Play games from prior competitions. I’d suggest playing the winner,
    another game or two from the top ten, and a couple from the bottom half,
    just to see what works and what doesn’t. You might consider playing the
    competition version of games that have been updated, if you really want to
    see that product that people were judging.

  8. Don’t write your game in a programming language that isn’t specificially
    structured for Interactive Fiction. Judges – especially those already
    familiar with IF – will be biased against them before they even start. I’ve
    done it both ways now. It’s worth planning ahead and learning an IF
    language, than to spend that much effort trying to home-brew an engine that
    will probably only serve to cripple your game anyway.

  9. Play the other entries, when voting begins. You can’t vote, but you can
    review and share the experience with your peers. Plus, it might take your
    mind off the dreadful 6-week wait, where nothing is being said publicly
    about your own game.

  10. Calculate your risks. Judges – especially the ones trying to beat the
    deadline and play all entries – are likely to get cranky and burnt out
    toward the end. Your game may be played toward the end. If you don’t have to
    make things difficult for players, then don’t. Two hours isn’t much time to
    solve a difficult game. Experimental games can work in the IFComp, but
    they can just as easily fall flat.

  11. In addition to playing prior games, read the reviews from prior years. A
    large number of last year’s reviews have been collected at the IF Wiki here: … n#Reviews.
    Often, what advice the reviewers give can help you spot pitfalls in your own
    WIP, especially if you see a recurring complaint about a particular game.

  12. Be original. A generic setting can work if it has a point, and if the
    story is interesting and well-told. A familiar theme can work if it’s
    unexpected or uncommon to interactive fiction. If your setting seems
    generic, isn’t told in an entertaining way, and is of a theme that’s
    overused already, consider it three strikes against you.

  13. Have a story, not just a collection of arbitrary puzzles. In keeping
    with that, try to make the puzzles as non-arbitrary as you can (assuming
    your “game” will even have puzzles, which isn’t absolutely necessary).

  14. Avoid long text dumps. And if your cutscenes can be interactive, they
    might be better off to be. You can’t make everything interactive, but believe
    me, judges tend to frown on a “text dump” that is more than a couple long

Jason Devlin, last year’s winner, also added:

  1. When you get your game beta tested (and it’s a given that you intend
    to), have them run transcripts. Not everything that can go wrong in your
    game is going to look wrong to players. Or they’ll forgot to mention it.

Transcripts are great, but annotated transcripts are even better. If your
betatesters don’t mind, ask them to put specific points in as they play the
game. Usually it works to just type the comments as a command prefaced by
“@@” (or some other suitably rare combination) for easy searching. This
let’s them make simple notes as they’re going and also let’s you see exactly
what the problem is.


Have a clear focus throughout your game. You don’t have to set up the
complete plot in the introduction, but you should give the player a clear
idea of what they should be doing. Set an immediate goal, and when that’s
done, set another. They don’t have to be major, just clear. It’s one thing
as a player to know what you want to do, but be unable to do it. It’s
another thing entirely to have no idea.

Thanks for re-posting it here. [emote]Very Happy[/emote]

No problem!

One of the hardest things to get accustomed to is that some judges will completely miss the point of your game. They won’t find a humorous game funny, or they won’t take a serious story seriously. Some will complain about things that aren’t actually broken. Some will try exactly the things you didn’t anticipate, yet miss out on all the good stuff you did. The sad thing is, nobody’s wrong when judging is so subjective. If somebody says your game sucked, then it did – for that person.

The reviews can range from high praise, to helpful advice, to luke-warm criticism, to almost brutal and flippant comments… sometimes, all for the same game. It was pointed out, in the newsgroup when I first posted all this, that just writing a “safe” game doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a “good” game. That’s true. Different people consider different things “good”, but hopefully this is a recipe for pleasing a larger number of judges. It’s written, though, assuming that you’re entering a game you hope will win or place highly. If you’re going for dead least, the rules necessarily change. [emote]Smile[/emote] Or, if you just want to try out an experiment in an arena that assures you of a lot of feedback, that’s a different goal as well. For that, risks are a lot easier to justify.

After reading the somewhat brutal reviews from last year, I know that when they finally roll in this year, I will get brutalized. However, since this will be my first game ever, I know they will all contain helpful information.

Also, I know there are those out there who do respectfully review every attempt, and since my spelling and grammar is decent, I won’t get savaged TOO badly.

Anyway, I’m just interested in seeing what people think about my IF, and this is the best way to get feedback.

I love IFComp season – from working on an entry (when time permits), to playing all the others, to reviewing and discussing after the results are announced. It’s always fun, even though some of the feedback is negative.

I always try to be helpful when I review IFComp games – even the ones I don’t like. Usually, I find something good in all of them. At least, I try to. I’ve written reviews for every game, for the past two years: 2004 and 2005.

I read your reviews, and they are all helpful to the authors, I’m sure. I also enjoyed Distress, I rated it the best game of last year’s comp [emote]Smile[/emote]

Really? Thanks!! I saw the same thing from at least one other reviewer, Rob Menke. It’s always cool when people enjoy what you’ve written. I’m only just now getting to a point where I’m writing competent IF. Some of my stuff from years past was all but unplayable. [emote]:)[/emote]

You say this will be your first year in the IFComp? It’s cool that the comp always draws in new people, year after year. Some of the best talent surfaces that way. Take Jason Devlin – an amazing 4th place showing the first time out (two years ago) and a well-deserved win last year. This glut of short games is one of my favorite parts of the year. [emote]:)[/emote]

I can only dream that my game will live up to Jason’s or anyone else’s for that matter, but I’m doing my best on it.

I was going to enter last year with a different game but Inform 6 was just kicking my butt and I didn’t feel like screwing with it anymore. With Inform 7, I feel much more able to actually DO what I want to do.

One of these days, I’d like to broaden my knowledge of other IF languages. I’ve peeked at TADS briefly. Inform 7 might be interesting.

Good luck with your IFComp entry!!!

Cool! I’ve been studying Hugo on and off since Kent released version 3, even though I’d likely use TADS 2 to write something for the Comp. I hope to release something in Hugo someday, even if it’s not for the IF Comp.(That’s partly the reason why I’m working on that CHM manual for Hugo.)

Good luck on your IF Comp entry as well, Wanaselja!


Another year, another IFComp, and I’m bringing this post of various tips back to the top. [emote]Smile[/emote]

Another resource for prospective IF Comp entrants is “IF Gems”, a categorised collection quotes from IF Comp reviews (by Paul O’Brian, Mike Russo, Dan Shiovitz, Duncan Stevens, Mike Snyder and others).

At the moment, there are some problems with the server where it lives on the web (, but it is also available from the IF archive: …

(The format is HTML; there are text and PDF versions in the same directory as well).

One warning: it is a bit big (about 180 printed pages) …

David Fisher

I can host a mirror of that for you, if you like.

That’s a lovely offer, but I would really prefer to keep it with the rest of the “Chateâu d’IF” web site …

Thanks for the thought!

Yay, it’s back up again now.

The web site is called Chateâu d’IF - all welcome! (It’s not-too-serious exploration of the world of Interactive Fiction):

David Fisher