How to judge long games

This will be my first year judging IFComp, and I’m trying to figure out the best way to get a fair impression of a game in two hours.

I usually like to take my time in IF, reading descriptions carefully, examining everything whether it looks useful or not, and trying various experiments. I’m also kind of slow at puzzles, truth be told, so even if I try to go faster, a game that was designed to take two hours to finish would probably take me somewhat longer.

For example, Mike Spivey’s A Beauty Cold and Austere placed high in the rankings a few years ago. I love the game, but it took me much more than two hours to play it. If I had needed to rate it from one to ten after two hours of playing, I really don’t know what I would have done. I still wouldn’t have known about many of the fascinating elements introduced in the later game, or the clever ways that concepts from the late game help to solve puzzles from the early game, or even the aesthetically pleasing structure of the world map.

I could have saved some time by bulldozing through it all, focussing on getting things done over admiring the scenery, but that just wouldn’t have been as much fun. Or I could have made much heavier use of the hint system, but that would make it hard to judge the puzzles as puzzles.

So, for authors: how do you wish judges would handle this problem? Would you rather have a player explore the beginning of a game in depth (and possibly miss the end), or do whatever is necessary to see where it all ends up (at the possible cost of enjoying the beginning and middle less)?

And for experienced judges: which alternative have you found more satisfying?


Oh, the imperfect art of judging a game before you end it.

On the one hand some games need more than five minutes (or even two hours!) to reveal to you how good or bad they are, but on the other hand “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

As a judge, I don’t mind feeling stupid, as long as feeling stupid is on my terms. :slight_smile:


Authors who have entered the current IFComp are probably forbidden by the rules from expressing an opinion about this, since the rules say “avoid suggesting to judges, directly or indirectly, how they ought to fill out their ballots.” So here I am, not expressing an opinion, but just pointing this out in case you get little author response. :wink:


That’s a good point. I’m really asking for thoughts on how to play the games, not how to vote, but I’m sure it’s a good idea to interpret the rules conservatively. Oh well, any authors from past years who aren’t entering this year are still invited to respond.

The comp rules are pretty clear:

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.

So, to a certain extent you may be endorsing something blindly. You might get to the end of the story and decide that you were totally disgusted with the turn it took after the two hour window. By the rules, you should not change your rating, but you always have the option of not submitting one.

My advice would be to play however you play and let the chips fall where they may.


Some day someone’ll make a game that runs a timer and starts insulting the player after 2 hours 1 minute.


As a judge, I tend to dock games that go past two hours, because there is always the chance that it will not stick the landing no matter how great it is before then. In the past I have consulted the hints/walkthrough if I get stuck after 90 minutes so that I can try to see the ending before 2 hours, but I usually regret it afterwards so I probably wouldn’t do that now. I would rather experience the game as intended, and when I eventually do finish I’ll give it a fair rating on IFDB which might be higher than my IFComp vote. E.g., I gave Sub Rosa five stars on IFDB, but I rated it a 6 during the comp because I felt I had barely started it after 2 hours. It’s a great game, but it wasn’t really appropriate for IFComp, which IMO is still meant to showcase “short” games (although today a 2-hour game feels more like “medium length” to me).

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