How long does it usually take to write an IF game?

The type of game I’m thinking of is a parser-based adventury one, quite a bit of exploring and puzzle-solving, with a few scattered text-y scenes for plot advancement. My first game attempt is one that would probably be considered fairly big, but hopefully not extremely big. Is it ridiculous that I will probably be working on this over a year, even if I’m lucky when I get to put a whole hour in a day into it?
Just curious what a “normal” game-writer’s experience is, thanks!

That’s pretty vague. Can you compare it to an existing game, complexity-wise?

If it’s your first IF game project, there will be some learning curve, too.

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It is very difficult to answer this question, it really depends on so many things. My IFComp game “Unauthorized Termination” written in ADRIFT took about 6 months, but I knew how to use that application fairly well. On the other hand “Word of the Day” which was created in Inform7 took several years. This was because I was learning Inform and also real life kept getting in the way. Neither are particularly large games. My advice is, if it is your first game start small. Make something that works in 10 locations or less.


I tend to work on several games concurrently, so although I have fairly good records of when I started or finished a game, I couldn’t say in most cases how much of that time was spent working on the game. In alphabetical order:

  • Alias ‘The Magpie’: 11 years (on and off)
  • Escape from the Crazy Place (in all its versions): 36 years (and counting, on and off)
  • Goldilocks is a FOX!: About 9 months
  • Renegade Brainwave (original ECTOCOMP entry): 3 hours
  • Renegade Brainwave (Inform 7 remake): 2 years (on and off)
  • To Hell in a Hamper (original ADRIFT version): 3 months
  • To Hell in a Hamper (TADS 2 remake): 3 months
  • To Hell in a Hamper (Inform 7 remake): 1 year (on and off)
  • Yak Shaving for Kicks and Giggles! (original comp entry): about a week
  • Yak Shaving for Kicks and Giggles! (Inform 7 remake): about six months

I currently have five works-in-progress, one of which was begun this year, one last year, one in 2015, and one in 2010. The other is yet another remake of an older work.

I would echo Richard Otter’s advice, and start with something small. Goldilocks, my very first game, though small in terms of its map, had hundreds of puzzles and got very complex very quickly. The walkthrough is very long. I have never made another game quite as large, (though Alias ‘The Magpie’ came close,) and I doubt I will again. Making smaller games is more fun!

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Sorry, that was vague. Maybe, Unnkulia Zero? There will be 20-30 main “areas”, a few of which may be a single location, and some of which might have a half-dozen sublocations…

Thanks all for your input. I agree, in concept, starting with a small game sounds like a smart idea! I just went with the first story/puzzle concept that came to me (and I don’t really have any alternatives in mind at this point), and the size just turned out to be what it was. I’ve also put enough work into it that I don’t think I’m willing to stop and just start over with a new, “short” game (I’m holding out hope that I can enter it in this year’s IFComp, but not counting on it).
But it’s nice for me to hear that there are others out there that have “chipped away” at games for more than a year, because “real life kept getting in the way”. That sounds about right for me! Also I am one of those who is learning the language (TADS) while also trying to create the game itself, so…
Thanks for the input!

When I was writing I7 games for IFComp, I found that testing and debugging is also a huge part of getting it completed. As your game ramps in complexity and branching, so multiplies the number of things that can possibly go wrong that you will need to debug. So just be aware even if you get the game done, it may not be completely in shape for submission immediately. Get your beta testers on it as soon as possible.

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36 years! Holy cow! :open_mouth:

I usually drop a project after only two years, to be honest. I just get bored. I don’t think I’ve ever actually completed something before. I’m hoping that will change with my current one.

I’m currently taking (what I remember to be) Emily Short’s advice and writing out what I would like a perfect transcript of the finished project to be first, and then trying to make my game reproduce that as you play. It’s a lot easier than just winging it because it takes very little effort to rework a fake transcript compared to reworking puzzles or objects.

It’s a silly, collaborative project I started in childhood and have been tinkering with ever since. It’s been released four times already in different formats, and I’m working on a Choicescript version.

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I’m curious what your original language was. C? Or maybe BASIC?

Paper! And then HTML, and then TADS 2, and then Twine. It’s choice-based.

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I’ve been working on mine since September, and it’s almost ready for Beta testing now.

“Long” is a relative term too, due to the number of hours you put in a single period of time.

I started work on Six Silver Bullets sometime in 2002-2004, and didn’t finish it until 2018…but that’s because I spent huge periods of time not working at it all (and often starting and restarting it). All told I spent ~300 hours on the iteration that ultimately got submitted to IFComp. It has ~30 locations and a few hundred special actions.

I started work on Skybreak! in 2017 and finished it in 2019…but I worked on it almost every single day. All told I spend ~700 hours on it. It has ~300 locations and thousands of special actions.


I know Anchorhead (1998 edition) is special. Nevertheless, according to Wikipedia the author Michael Gentry spent a year using at least six hours everyday: "Development took approximately a year, with several weeks dedicated to designing the game map and writing the story, “at least six solid hours of coding every day,” and an additional three months dedicated to debugging."
From Anchorhead on Wikipedia
And it was his first game…

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I’ve played Anchorhead and liked it… wow, that’s interesting to know! Okay, hearing from a lot of you makes me realize that yes, IF creation really does take that much time… I just watched the hours racking up on a single scene, and had to start wondering if it was just me and everyone else in the world knew how to crank things out much faster. Thanks all for sharing…

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A lovely guy called Eric Mayer, a former IF writer who with his partner Mary Reed writes historical whodunnits, once told me that he’d written novels and he’d written IF, and IF was harder!