Ectocomp in itself is so a miracle that I can’t believe the category La petite mort, for games done very quickly (4 hours or less, 3 hours in the past), is so popular, even on par with Le grand Guignol.
That is you, Anglo-IF-community, who love ECTOCOMP and La petite mort soooo much, that every year you achieve the feat of producing a lot of games in such constraints.
The category is not that popular in Spanish. Most years we struggle to produce 1, 2, or 3 in it…
When I drop the topic in the Spanish community, sometimes it is approached with doubt: how this is possible?
So, yeah, tell me, how, do you, Petite Morts practitioners approach the feat? How do you organize yourselves? Do you seek any particular kind of inspiration that is proper for the dire restrictions? Do you plan very ahead of the 4-hour limit? Or just you abandon yourselves to the inexorable passing of time?
I plan something really simple (a one or two puzzle game) that I know I can code in about half an hour and then make a list of small ‘nice to have’ features. I code the basic idea and as many extras as I can within the first three hours, which leaves half an hour for fixing/adding anything that comes up in testing and half an hour for whipping up some very simple graphics.
I actually really like the challenge of it. Every other game I make ends up taking hundreds of hours because I’m so horribly prone to scope creep and overambition. The four-hour limit is a real breath of fresh air in comparison - you never lose motivation or excitement for the project.
Hoping to finish a Grand Guignol for this year but very tempted to do another Petite Mort as well just because I enjoyed the last two so much!
Planning ahead is definitely the most important step, for sure! The more you plan, the easier it is to execute. Also make it as simple as possible and as small as possible (cut, cut, and cut again).
Also, re-using code from other projects (like a template or custom macro). Since I know how they work/look, there is less time needed to figure stuff you and run the clock.
A final point, using the clock smartly Working in small chunks of time (5-10min here and there), rather than trying to do the whole 4h (though it is possible!).
I try to do as much outside the four hours as possible! Planning doesn’t count against the time limit, so I try to get the specification worked out before I ever set my metaphorical pencil (keyboard) to the metaphorical paper (Inform IDE). I spent a lot of last October going on long walks with family and friends, brainstorming puzzles that could fit the rooms of a Clue game board.
Also, working on extensions doesn’t count against the time limit, as long as they’re not things specific to your game. Late in the competition last year I wanted to add a simple tutorial for my non-parser-playing friends, but didn’t have much time left. I found Zarf had made an Integrated Tutorial extension to do exactly that, and I spent some time updating it to the latest Inform version—which didn’t count against the limit, since it was a general extension rather than something specifically for my entry. The only part that counted against my limit was incorporating it into the game and writing the actual tutorial text.
I think this depends on how you as an individual work most effectively. I wouldn’t get anything done in 5-10 minute chunks; for me, the beginning of a writing/coding session is always slow going and I do better once I’ve picked up some momentum. So I prefer to block out at least an hour at a time. Doing all 4 hours at once wouldn’t be ideal, but it would still be better for me than trying to do it in very short bursts. But it’s definitely important to know what’s likely to work best for you in this regard.
Anyway, yeah, I think the most important thing is planning, and, as part of that, picking a manageable scope for both the story and the technical complexity and sticking to it.
Oh definitely, the time chunks size will depend on the person. I know I write more in short time frames than long ones, before I get distracted or start to procrastinate
When I came up with ECTOCOMP way back in 2007, Speed-IF was a much more of a thing. ECTOCOMP originally had a three hour time limit, but the Speed-IF minicomps, run from the IFMUD between 1998 and 2014 had an even stricter two hour limit! As to how people manage it, I have no idea! I have only entered ECTOCOMP once, during the pre-Grand Guignol 3 hour era, and I remember it being really tough. I tried again the following year and didn’t finish in time. I take my hat off to anyone who can come up with a game in 4 hours; there have been some amazing entries in both categories over the years.
I think the only way I could get it done in that time frame, as I did with origin of love, is to write poetry. It takes a lot more simmering around ambiently and collecting interesting grist for the mental mill ahead of time, but I can write poetry quite quickly: when I make Bitsy games, the process takes me about 3-4 hours from drafting the writing to implementing the simple animated objects. (Basically all of my Bitsies, save for one exception, are poems.)
Poetry undergoes far more editing than I subject my prose to, but because of the much shorter wordcounts, it’s still way more efficient than trying to write a short story. (Shorter pieces I find incredibly difficult to write. Concise phrasing has never been my strong suit. Two thousand words is about how long I aim for each chapter of my fanfictions to be, and they’re more or less self contained works. Takes me way longer than I’d like to admit to draft those.)
Part of that is also just having an extensive mental library of favourite phrases and words to build off of, and challenging myself consistently to write quickly in particular contexts- I like to reply to my roleplay partners (collaborative writing) ASAP so that they have something to look forward to, and because I’m invested in seeing where they take the story in their response. I usually fall back on a couple of tried and true favourites when I’m stuck- crumbling churches, sultry confessionals, cruel Canadian winters, consumption as worship, etc.
Yeah, this used to be waaaayyyy more common. Afaik, Ectocomp is the only reliably annual venue that still has Speed-IF anymore. The last other reliably annual venue for Speed-IF was the New Years Speed IF event that died in 2018 due to an inability to find a new organizer. Everything else has been one-offs or discontinued.
I’d be interested in seeing a resurgence in these events, tbh. There’s something freeing about not having an opportunity for scope creep. Also, taking part in Speed-IF builds those mental muscles for rapidly prototyping an idea you might have for a larger game.
One other selling point-it is failure-free: I hit a snag trying to make a petit mort work and failed the time limit. Next year I picked it up again like “oh, THAT’S what I was doing wrong!” and had it working for Grand Guignol the next year. My Ectocomp game took five hours to create with a year’s break between hours three and four…
Very unique to me, but I’ve streamed myself making both petit mort games I’ve made. I think I took a break half way through each time, but just maximising pressure by having the time limit and people watching and doing it all in one evening kind of creates a pressure cooker effect for me. So adrenaline rush is my answer, I suppose.
Since only the time taken coding is counted, I like to go work out and think up ideas and rattle them around in my mind. Anything to distract me from the “energetic” athletic club music. So the time is spread out a lot & I generally have a 5 minute timer to do X amount of code. I’ll often think about writing the code quickly before writing it down, too.
It gets very exhausting to have to marshal my energy that way, though. That’s why I have a grand guignol entry planned this year.
I do it badly, and with lots of really foul language at my computer, and in the 2 years I’ve done it, I didn’t do either of my ideas justice in 4 hours. I don’t have @Draconis’s coding superpowers.
I feel like you and my spouse would hit it off, ngl.
As another petite mort newbie, I’m curious if people usually get outside testers; trying to decide whether I want to plan for that or not (it’s a Twine game, so not essential, but still always nice…)
Last year I had 4 minutes left when I sent mine to a tester, and they identified like 20 problems, and I fixed about 3 of them in 4 minutes. So if you can save enough time to actually tackle anything your testers find, that’s awesome. But that 4 hours goes faster than any other 4 hours I have ever experienced.
All of my La Petite Mort games are written in ChoiceScript, which is structurally straightforward and very easy to work with, so I don’t have to worry about doing any complex programming. Also, ChoiceScript has extremely robust testing tools. So I spend a lot of time thinking about the game before I touch the editor, and that makes the actual writing straightforward, although somewhat rushed.
When I planned my games I also planned to make them extremely short, with possible places to expand later on, and then it turned out both times that I had only a little extra time to expand them and my idea of extremely short is just about how much I can do in four hours.
Both times I wrote a first draft straight through and stopped 2/3 of the way through. Then I spent the last 1/3 editing and bugfixing.
I have no idea.
I haven’t used INFORM in 13 years but wanted to enter the 2023 EctoComp and I cannot gauge how long I spent writing my game.
Well over 90% of my time was spent fighting the language and trying to do things I once did easily.
And when I estimated mayyybe I had done four hours of working code, I honestly had no way to know.
So at that point I just figured I would make it a fuller, more robust game with details I might never have done for the four hour version.
So I also would love to know how to do it in four hours.
If I took weeks of real-time to write it and maybe put 16 hours in, can I just type the code in a new file and say that it took me four hours?
I get that this is about attempting to be honest with yourself and that there are no stopwatch police involved… but as a first-time EctoComper I want to do this honestly.
VERY Interested in reading all responses to this thread.
Agree with others, I think planning is the key. I brainstorm an idea and try to have an outline in my head of what I want to write prior to starting. I also try to where possible divide things up into essential and non-essential options/story scenes so I can drop sections if I’ve been over ambitious, or if I have time go back to write them in. I also think it can help to write in a limited scope- so pick one event or one day, rather than trying to write a larger period of time. (Or at least that helps me as you can drop the reader into an event and just have to background that and reduce scope creep).
I usually write in choicescript because that’s the coding I’m quickest and most familiar with and has a fast handy bug detector that picks up most game breaking things, so I think picking a format you’ve made games in a few times before helps so you’re not having to stop and work out how to code things and less likely to make mistakes causing bugs that need squashing.
I also find writing a little non-interactive speed story or two with prompts can help get into the mindset (heaps of prompts out there including entire reddits, don’t have to publish them anywhere if not happy with them, just practice writing fast with a preset story idea.)
I really do like the idea of speed games. They have a different feel to them (both writing and reading) and help you to practice what is actually essential to the game to get it to work. (You hope a least !) It’s not a large commitment in time so I think anyone wondering whether to try it can just go for it and see how it pans out. Having the ticking clock helps kill procrastination and just get something done so it can be surprising how much of a game you can get completed in a short time frame. Sometimes they’re not perfect (I know one of mine really could have used a stat rebalance to make it a bit harder due to needing to leave a scene out but I ran out of time), but no one is going to expect a speed written game to be as polished as one that’s been worked on for months + either.