How large is too large?

As I work on my messterpiece, aiming at being ready for IFComp '22, it is becoming clear that not only is it too large for IFComp, it’s probably just too large, period. I now have some rough statistics, but even providing them might run afoul of the Comp rules or at least warn people away from trying the game while judging, so for now I’ll skip that bit.

The general question is, when is a parser game too large? Assuming it has a full set of built-in hints (which I will certainly include), how many players really want to tackle a game that will take several evenings to play through?


I do.

Without a doubt.

However much I can enjoy games that last an hour or two, three, four, I typically enjoy BIG games more. (Worlds Apart, Finding Martin, Shadow in the Cathedral, your own Lydia’s Heart…)

BIG games give me the opportunity to really settle in, to inhabit a gameworld and engage with it (and its characters and story and puzzles) on a much more profound level.

Note: I also carry a brick to the library. Any books that don’t measure up are automatically rejected.


I think that the writing and gameplay can last as long as they can hold a player’s interest. I realize that is a rather weasel-ish answer, but in general art can sustain whatever attention it earns.

I do think that competitions favor certain types of games. But what can you do? I don’t think that creators should feel limited to making competitive games. It may also be true that audiences generally prefer shorter games, but it’s ok to make something that isn’t for everybody.

I am curious about the stats, though I understand why you wouldn’t want to publish them.


This will be larger than “Lydia’s Heart.” Maybe less than twice as large, I’m not sure. My map for “Lydia” includes about 70 rooms, of which maybe 10 are just passageways from here to somewhere else. The new game will have more than 100 rooms, again with maybe 15 that are just passageways.


That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

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I love big games. But probably not everyone does. You could release them as a Part A and a Part B, with a cliffhanger at the end of A. There’s no reason not to put both in IFComp.

I’ve never seen anyone do this in IF other than for sequels, but I know that when I’m reading an IF or novel series, I like having that end to Book 1 and then cracking open Book 2.

Has anyone done such a thing before? If so, how did that work out?


It could be done by having Part 1 issue you a password when you finish it. Part 2 could then require that you enter the password to begin playing. Players could share the password with one another, of course. A more significant problem would be inventory management. The way I’ve structured this game, there’s quite a lot of inventory, some of which can be acquired long before it’s needed. If Part 1 tells the player, “No, you’re not finished. You still need to acquire five items,” that breaks the mimesis, and not in a good way. (I have included one flagrantly mimesis-breaking bit in the game, not gonna say what it is.)


I don’t know that there’s much marginal utility in optimizing for appeal within a niche audience. Just make what you believe in.


If putting it in IFComp I’d definitely recommend that you give an estimated play time. Even if it’s extremely long. Because many judges will want to work out how practically to judge as many games as possible in the time available. And while knowing a game is long will deter some players at least people can make a fair decision about whether to play it and when will be most practical for them.

It’s also vital that your game is adequately play tested as a parser game. Make sure you allow plenty of time for this, especially given it’s a longer game. Your playtesters can help estimate the play time, which can be difficult for an author to assess.

Alternatively release it outside IF Comp. And promote it well.


It worked out pretty well for Zork! Though I have to say, I know they broke the full mainframe game into three pieces for commercial release, but I’m not sure how they dealt with the structural issues around inventory Jim flags – I’m guessing they must have moved a bunch of stuff around when they chunked the world out, and each was big enough that didn’t wind up simplifying things too much, but that’s easier to do in a fantasy world vs. a more realistic one where players will have stronger expectations about what they might find in a given place, and how different locations are likely to be connected to each other.

This makes a lot sense to me – given the realities of the contemporary IF scene, I personally find it more rewarding to try to make games that really resonate strongly with like, a couple dozen people, vs. one that 100 people might weakly enjoy (and even those numbers might be overoptimistic!)


The estimated play time is, “How fast can you type? Are you hoping to avoid using the built-in hints? If not, how clever are you?” I’m not being snarky here, not really. Forming a valid estimate would be difficult.

I believe the rules of IFComp state (they used to) that judges are required to make their rating after 45 minutes of play, and not to change it later. Or was it 2 hours? Something like that. If that rule is still in force, then all that matters is if the author states, “Expected play time for the complete game is seriously longer than that.”

It’s 2 hours. You can get an estimate from multiple playtesters. Even a range would help. Because not giving one doesn’t help.


From The Interactive Fiction Competition

  1. Judges must base their judgment of each game on at most the first two hours of play. If a judge is still playing a game at the end of a cumulative two hours of playing time and wishes to continue playing it, the judge must rate the game and not change that rating later before continuing play. Authors may write a game of any length they desire, but should keep this rule in mind when determining the length of their entry.

It definitely does matter – speaking just for myself, I try to play and review every game in the Comp these days, which means trying to get to the end even if I have to submit my numerical rating after two hours. That can be pretty challenging to manage in the limited time-frame of the Comp, though, so having a clearer idea than just “more than two hours” is super helpful. And I know there are some judges out there who prioritize longer games so they get at least some attention, and providing a clearer estimate to them would help them, too, I think.


I’m a fan of large games—as long as they can get, and keep, me interested enough to continue playing. Both Hadean Lands and Counterfeit Monkey, for example, hooked me right away and I would have kept playing even if they were substantially longer. But even as a fan of retro games, most extensions of Adventure were too long to keep me engaged.

I suspect “extensions of Adventure” could mean different things to different people. Among its characteristics were find-X/use-X puzzles, extremely limited room descriptions, and no NPCs to speak of. Also two-word commands, but nobody tries to emulate that anymore, unless they’re rolling their own code from scratch.

If a parser game has chatty NPCs, various types of puzzles, brief scenes, and a few new or specialized commands, would you still call it an extension of Adventure? Where would you draw the line?

Sorry, I mean the games where someone took Crowther and Woods 350-point Adventure and extended it with more rooms and objects. I think David Long’s 500-point one is the one I stuck with the longest, but it still ended up feeling tedious rather than exciting so I gave it up.

I got into IF through the original 350-point Adventure, so it’s an example to me of how too much of a good thing can become less fun very quickly. The compactness of the original map was a good thing, imo.

“nobody” :slight_smile:

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I hope you’re serious about liking big games, because I’ve also got a monster that I hope is ready for Ifcomp 22… :slight_smile:


In the years I have had the time to devote to the comp I have never managed to play all of the entries before judging ends; I play the ones I can for a maximum of two hours, scoring as I go. (For this reason, I have also mostly utilized the comp’s randomizer feature to order the entries.) Having said that, I almost never play an entry for the full two hours – but not because they are short enough for me to complete. Most of the time, I stop playing not because I finished the entry, but because I am finished with the entry. Multiple spelling/grammar errors, obvious lack of beta-testing, etc. are likely to end a session much earlier than the two hour mark. Weak, trite, or unintentionally juvenile writing is also likely to get me to bail early. The same is true if I am hopelessly stuck for too long, without any type of in-game help. However, in order to comply with rule 7 (“Judges must make a good-faith effort to play, as intended, every game that they submit ratings for”), I usually give works at least twenty minutes – no matter how terrible, frustrating, or annoying I find them. If I must rage-quit before then, I simply do not record a vote for that entry.

On the other hand, if an entry captivates me long enough for my kitchen timer to go off – signifying that put-your-pencils-down moment – that entry is likely to get a good (for this judge) score. In fact, if it is a game I want to come back to to finish after judging ends, it is awarded a bonus point under my scoring rubric. The same goes for works that I have completed, but would be interested in playing again (although I do not recall a single instance of the latter case happening).

As far as the OP is concerned, I would say, “Don’t worry about it, @Jim_Aikin .” Having played “April in Paris” and been a tester on “Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret” I think your writing is strong enough and your puzzles fair enough to engage me for at least two hours. The hint system in those two games was particularly well done – a gradually increasing information-revealing menu as I recall – that made getting stuck simply a matter of battling one’s own pride. In short, I’d say go for it; I would prefer one well-crafted long entry over a dozen poorly-written, under-implemented, and boring ones.

Mike Tarbert (aka “Skinny Mike” aka @BadParser )