Past IFComp authors--any tips for this year's new authors?

I have vague memories if there being an author’s channel here during the comp. Or am I remembering wrong?

I’m thinking of doing a post mortem of my game at some point. Not sure where best to post it.

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There’s a category that gets created for IFComp entrants only, but I believe it doesn’t appear until the submission deadline (so that we know who exactly is an entrant!).

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When I first learned about this a few years ago, I made an effort to let the author know I was coming back to finish later if I found myself closing an IFComp playsession prematurely. I know there’s a decent chance they might never read it, but I like to believe it landed at least once.

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For first-time Inform authors particularly,

Remember to “build for release” at least 24 hours before the deadline. You may have defined a variable in not-for-release code and then accessed it in release code. This may be a bit jarring, but it usually means just moving code around. It’s not a deal breaker if you release a debug version, but it may allow players to try weird stuff.

Make sure your webpage works 24 hours in advance, if you publish with a web page.

Use your walkthrough to make sure it gets the player through, especially on the release build. Even if there are other holes, having that work is good. Read the transcript.

Check and/or implement ABOUT and CREDITS.

Don’t fix anything big on the last day unless you have a regression suite, and even then, use discretion. Fixing spelling mistakes is a good final-day project.

WRT fixing bugs in-comp I don’t like to submit a new binary immediately after unless it’s obvious e.g. forgetting an instead in

check taking thing you shouldn't take: "You can't take that!"

Often when you find a bug you can/should ask “where else might there be similar bugs?” The process of reuploading can get tiresome.

Longer games take more time to get reviews. That’s a good thing, if you have a longer game, because a quick review for a long game probably isn’t favorable.

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(I’m not an author, but I have played/judged for a few years now.)

Yes. Indeed, for parsers, window-shopping is all I use the “play online” option for. Like reading the back-cover of a book. I’ll browse and compare games this way to determine a rough order of what I’ll play first, what I’m in the mood for. Actual play happens with the downloadable files (if available. Authors, please make downloadable files available if possible. I’m looking at you, Adventuron-developers…)

The following is some advice from the player/judge side of things to help the authors have a good comp-experience: when playing a parser, record a transcript and make it available for the author. You don’t need to go into testing-mode or change your playstyle at all, just type TRANSCRIPT (Adventuron TSTART) as one of your first commands and play on. Authors really appreciate this even just to see players engaging with their work, and it can make a world of difference should they want to make a post-comp version.

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There’s some crossover with this topic and this one. I thought I’d talk about what I saw in the authors’ forum, so people know about next year.

There’s discussion about how we got ideas, what our process was, time sinks, other stuff we wrote, and so forth. Which is always nice.

I sent in IFComp ratings the past two years for entries I didn’t test/write, but I didn’t reveal them in the authors’ forum (I looked at the 2021 ratings and had a few “wait, I rated X under Y?” moments.) In fact, it’s been a long time since anyone has. The reviews are more “these parts are neat, these can be fixed for post-comp, I didn’t get this, what about trying this?” So it’s noncompetitive like that.

There were several food reviews to replace Christopher Huang’s reviews people really liked. He’s writing real novels now, and that apparently requires a lot of effort, especially ones that I note are on my local library shelves, as his are.

Often authors get to a quick start reviewing stuff they think meshes well with their tastes. Then we can get slowed a bit, which is okay. We didn’t sign a contract! But then if you do find the motivation to keep going that’s great! It’s hard though. Much like non-authors writing reviews.

Some people start with the short games and work their way to longer ones. A haul of 20 reviews is pretty good. We all wait to post reviews to IFDB until after the comp is over but I think I posted reviews for a couple that I thought deserved a signal boost because they used an unusual engine and people might not try them.

As for looking at reviews I make a point of having a taskscheduler check the forums 2-3 times a day. That helps me with other websites I don’t want to visit too often. I also try to wait 12+ hours before responding to a review so I don’t say anything silly.

Generally people tag it with IFComp-2023 and just start a new topic. They may appear right away, or even 2 or 3 months after. Having something 2 or 3 months after is IMHO a nice reminder to people to check out IFComp entries they meant to get to, so if anyone lets things slide, don’t feel bad. There’s always one person, and people find it interesting! So don’t feel you missed the boat if life gets in the way.

One other thing–a post-comp release is neat to have, or have ready. It’s good for those features that go beyond bug fixes. This’d include, say, new verbs in a parser entry.

It can be tricky to have a branch for both IFComp fixes and post-comp fixes which is another reason to try to keep code fixes simple.

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Be Olympic: that is, what matter is partecipating.

I know that my released binary has at least a pair of typo and an inconsistency, but no bugs, and put typos and inconsistency into the “post-comp” list

a tip to the organisers, not only a walkthru, but also a readme should can be separately uploaded, because a readme file is the natural place for warning about known issues and/or bugs discovered too late to fix.

Elaborating on Jim N.’ s on frustratingly short transcript, (albeit anon, I consider auto-transcripting a “nosy” web behavior), I give a tip to new judges: do first a “reconnaissance”, not limiting to blurbs in deciding where to start, but also playing for a pair or so of minutes, then play first the ones with the least liked genre/setting, keeping the favourite genre/setting last, this is IMVHO a good way to judge way more than five entries.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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Here’s my tip if you’re coming from another community: be aware that judges in the IFComp tend to really and honestly assess your game, very much including its weak points. There are online creative communities where it’s standard to only give positive feedback. Nothing wrong with that; but it’s not IFComp. I don’t mean that IFComp judges are mean. Very few, if any, are. I mean that IFComp judges usually give the kind of feedback that allows you and others to learn from your mistakes – and we all make mistakes. Especially for less experienced authors, this may mean that you get some quite negative reviews. Learn from them, and know that not a single person in this community writes that review about you. They are about your game. And the judges will be 100% ready to give your next game a new chance!

I think IFComp can be a bit scary this way, but it’s also what makes it valuable.

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Oooh I got a few from last year’s experience :stuck_out_tongue: which might end up being a repeat of posts before me.
Also, more of a non-parser perspective:

  • Everyone who plays your game will have an opinion about it. Some positive, some negative. We’re pretty much dealing with subjectivity there. And most people vote by their own metrics, which can be different to someone else. A 9 might be a 6 for another voter.
  • Even if you think you tested for everything, someone will find a bug. Happens to everyone. Try to fix it and upload it when you can, but remember not everyone will replay the game or play the corrected version (if they downloaded the whole comp early on).
  • Public sentiment toward your entry might not reflect your position in the ranking. You might have only negative reviews, but not place at the bottom of the ranking; or have very positive ones, but only reach the middle bar. More people vote without leaving comments online (or at all). You never know until the results are announced.
  • You can interact with the competition as much or as little as you’d like. Play all or none of the games. Read all or none of the reviews. Discuss or not with other creators or players. Or all in moderation. There’s no one way of participating in the competition, and you should do what’s best for you.
  • Critical and negative reviews can sometimes be a lot to swallow. It’s ok to take time and process it. You don’t have to reply to the reviews if you don’t feel like it. And they’ll be there when you’re ready or want to read them!
  • Post-mortems are fun for players (and other authors) to learn about your process of making your entry, how you managed, what went wrong, what went right… and it can be very cathartic for the author (like properly closing a chapter)

Maybe an important one:

  • Treat yourself to something nice when you’ve submitted your entry. Because you’ve done it! You made a whole game and submitted to THE Olympics of IF. Kuddos’ to you! Not many people can say they’ve done that!
  • Also treat yourself after it’s over :stuck_out_tongue: because you did the Comp!

(I would advise peeps to play some entries, because there are always some fun games every year! And it can be a nice distraction :wink:
Or you can play the hundreds of entries from the past editions of the comp :stuck_out_tongue: )

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Since a bit of this has been about preparing for negative feedback, I’ve always appreciated Sam Kabo Ashwell’s advice for IFComp authors receiving bad reviews. The advice is basically “do not engage, especially if the review upset you”, though with a lot more nuance than that. This approach is to try to stop you accidentally (or deliberately!) blowing up a minor criticism into a reputation-damaging argument.

I think it’s good advice! I reckon you can get away with responding a little bit - I think a “thank you for giving it a shot” won’t go amiss on a negative review, just as a show of goodwill - but it’s worth trying to keep some distance from reviews, just for your own mental health if nothing else.

And if you’re now getting worried about negative feedback after reading all this about negative feedback - well, firstly, most IFComp judges are very even and kind these days in my experience. But also, have a look at the previous scores for IFComp winners, just to show yourself that there’s no accounting for taste. There’s someone out there who thinks that The Wizard Sniffer - one of the highest-rated IFComp winners ever, and joint-10th place in the recent poll of the IF community’s top 50 games - is a 4/10 game. (And they might have valid reasons for voting this way! But they’re very much outnumbered.) And Howling Dogs placed 11th out of 28 entries in IFComp 2012, with its fair share of low scores, but I think it’s fair to say it’s become the most influential game out of that ballot (it’s currently the highest-rated 2012 entrant on IFDb, with by far the most votes).So if you get a couple bad reviews, rest assured that history will vindicate you.

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I agree with the rest of your post… but of course a lot of games that get bad reviews are not vindicated by history. :smile: And that’s fine too! You don’t need to write howling dogs.

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Heehee. I wasn’t being completely serious when I wrote that bit. But I do think it’s good to remember that your game will have a life beyond the Comp, and that you’ll eventually be getting reviews from people who aren’t under time pressure to judge at least five games, who can give your game more than two hours, and who aren’t comparing your game to 70-80 other games as they go.

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To elaborate yet a bit more on reviews: there will be kind ones, there will be funny ones, there will be thoughtful ones and there will of course be some terrible ones by obnoxious people who are completely and utterly missing the point yet pontificate on what they wrongly assume to be the case. This last type might end up swinging public opinion against your until then promising entry. It is still, and perhaps especially so, advisable not to engage with these! If something like this comes up, it’s best to sit down with a sheet of paper and write out a hundred times: “Suck it up, buttercup!”

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I wonder whether that ever happens, let alone regularly. How many voters are going to (a) read these reviews before voting, then (b) be influenced by them to such an extent?

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Wait, there are reviews!? /s

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Hold on… I thought you couldn’t see reviews while IFComp was running?

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A long time ago IFComp was pretty much completely silent during the whole run. There was no discussion of the games at all until it was over.

After a few years, (I can’t remember when, somewhere between 2003 and 2014) the rules were changed so judges can discuss the games during competitions, but authors had to stay silent.

The author rule was relaxed quite recently. Now everyone can discuss games.

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But are reviews posted during or after the comp? (Or at least visible.) Because couldn’t that come under changing opinions? EDIT: Ah, Victor already mentioned the influencing bit.

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That was the case earlier in the Comp’s history – everyone used to post their giant review threads all at once in the newsgroups as soon as the Comp ended – but for the past I think 5-10 years, that rule’s been changed, so now you typically see lots of reviews cropping up during the Comp.

There are two informal norms that I don’t think are actual rules, but are good practices to my mind: 1) many reviewers don’t assign numerical ratings and/or put their reviews on IFDB until after the Comp is ended; this can help reduce the risk of biasing judges before they play a game; and 2) authors generally keep their reviews of other games to the authors-only forum, so they’re not publicly commenting on competitors’ work during the Comp (since authors can now be general judges, I suppose this technically doesn’t matter as much, but I think it’s still nice and collegial).

You could see it that way, which is I think an extra incentive to aim for thoughtful, even-handed evaluation when reviewing.

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Ahh, okay. Makes a little more sense now.

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