Spring Thing '16 post-mortem

Again, it’s outside the purposes of this comp - which is, to have fun making more and better IF games, which we all love. [emote]:)[/emote]

Competition wise, and from experience, you need to feel the full brunt of your mistakes - and I guarantee that you’ll either quit or never make that mistake again and be the better for it.

But, does that apply to the comps here?.. I don’t think that it does. It’s all about what we want these competitions to be, and people are giving more importance to how it helps promote new authors and better games than to how those games rank against each other. That makes sense to me, personally - a more competitive comp is possible, but it’s not what it currently is. Best to think of the rules in those terms. This is why I’ve taken pains to explain (many times, as Hanon pointed out) why I dislike the updates rule - I did once argue about how it didn’t make sense in competitions, but right now I’m more inclined to simply argue on how it makes me feel as a player, which seems more relevant.

Mind you, if the comp were indeed a more competitive place - a true competition - I’d stand behind everything vlaviano has been saying. 100%. I’m just not quite as certain as he is that that sort of competition is what this niche genre needs, at this stage of its existence.

I don’t like the “four weeks allowing bugfixes, four weeks not” idea. There’s still a point after which a game might have a bug for which there is a quick, easy, and desired-by-almost-everyone fix, which isn’t allowed to get fixed. Judges who don’t want to deal with bugfixes already don’t have to.

Good to know - thank you.

If the game’s been out for four weeks and has been played by dozens - maybe hundreds, even thousands - of people and this bug hasn’t been found, it’s either so remarkably well hidden it’s irrelevant or so minor it’s irrelevant. I’ll echo what Peter Piers said above. If you enter a buggy game in a comp, that’s your fault. You should have tested it more thoroughly beforehand. If your game is released with a nasty bug in it, next time you’re going to try a whole lot harder.

Like I said, my suggestion was just offered as a compromise. The people in favour of updates get to update the game to their heart’s content for a full four weeks without fear of discouraging the people against the updates rule from playing their games; then the people not in favour still get to play the games and vote for them once all the updates have been sorted out. It’s not an ideal solution - but then there isn’t going to be a solution which suits both sides of the argument - but to me it seems like an acceptable compromise. I’d certainly be far more interested in a comp - both as an author and a player / judge - with this compromise in place than I am right now.

You may be over-estimating the size of the comp’s audience a teensy weensy little bit. [emote];)[/emote]

Doesn’t sound great for anybody. It adds an extra deadline in the middle of the competition for authors and voters. It gives the impression that the first half of the competition period “doesn’t count”, and voters might want to do all their voting in the last month – which is not anybody’s recommendation, and is in fact a terrible idea, given how many games turn up.

The IF Comp used to require authors to provide a walkthrough that would allow the organizer to quickly verify that all submissions were winnable prior to the public release of the games. Other bugs might make it through, but there would at least be a working path from beginning to end. In the event of a typo such as in your example, I expect that the author would be notified and allowed to resubmit if he could fix the bug before the actual deadline. If not, the game would be disqualified, and players wouldn’t have to deal with it.

It’s certainly better than allowing free updates throughout the competition, but I prefer that the games remain unchanged from the time that they’re first seen by the public until after voting is completed.

I agree with this. If they don’t already, comp sites should link to this thread on accessibility.

I meant this more as a general striving for greatness and not pointing at a specific person and saying “I want to defeat that guy.” Although I do think there’s an element of wanting to be as good as or to surpass people whom one perceives as notable and especially skilled. This is akin to wanting to beat Kasparov at a game of chess. I don’t see this as antagonistic or motivated by jealously, but rather that the person has become a benchmark for a certain level of skill to which one aspires.

I’d emphasize the “at that time, under those circumstances” element of my previous statement and liken it to a skilled boxer getting knocked out. I think that, with Taghairm, he completely misjudged how much his audience would be alienated by animal cruelty, especially a minute or two into a Twine game that up until that point had offered virtually no interactivity. The player is asked to skewer and burn a cat before having invested anything into the game, and, unsurprisingly, many people noped right out of there. It’s a failure that reflects an inability or unwillingness to engage an audience before challenging them. It doesn’t matter how profound your words are if no one is listening. (Consider the preceding in reference to your point 2.) If we average his two scores, I’d say that we arrive at a good overall assessment of his skills as applied last fall.

“His skills” requires some discussion of point 1. I would say “there are multiple skills that we could be measuring”. For simplicity’s sake, we project them all onto a single axis and call them IF skill, but I think that a simple comparison of a hypothetical Twine comp with a hypothetical parser comp demonstrates that not all comps that we’d construct in the realm of IF would test the same set of skills. These two comps would weight the individual skills that we map to “IF skill” very differently. The Twine comp would likely emphasize visual design, prose writing and interactivity design in the large (in terms of branching story), while the parser comp would emphasize programming ability, cleverness of puzzle design, and interactivity design at a smaller scale (exploration of an environment and object manipulation). So we have to interpret “better skills” with respect to what’s being tested by a particular competition, and we need to design competitions to test those skills that we’re most interested in promoting.

I largely agree with this. Bingo or Chute and Ladders would fall into the category of valueless competitions that I mentioned earlier, because they test an attribute (luck) that can’t be improved. I’d resolve the seeming contradiction with “outside assistance” by saying that, in those cases, it’s a team that’s competing, and it’s the team’s collective skill that’s being tested. But overall, yes, the rules are the important thing, and I thought that we were arguing about which rules (1) would be fair and (2) would test the things that we want to test. The problem is that this formulation assumes a unified “we” with a single will.

Yes, but if testing it prevents us from testing other skills that we value more highly, then it’s better that we don’t. (I’d also be interested in data about the rankings of revised games.)

The organizer is running a competition (see my earlier post about the Main Festival vs. the Back Garden), an event in which people compete for recognition and prizes. I conclude that, since a competition is being run, it should be a fair one, and so I argue against rules that I perceive as violating the spirit of fair competition. Although we can argue about what’s fair and what’s not, yes, I see the desire for fairness in an organized competition as self-explanatory. However, I’ll explain it (again) anyway. A competition is organized to test a set of attributes. If it’s not fair, then it doesn’t effectively test those attributes. That makes it not fit for its purpose and a waste of time.

I’d love to beat Kasparov. But not by means of Kasparov getting disqualified because his mobile phone goes off.

I don’t think I misjudged anything. I actually expected Taghairm to do worse in the rankings, although I consider it my best game. It’s a good example to show how some games are not entered into IFComp to vie for the top spots. I didn’t expect Midnight. Swordfight. to place as well as it did either, for that matter.

This doesn’t really apply to Spring Thing, but since the thread has moved to discussing competitions in general and my rankings in particular, I figured I should say something.

We might be getting mixed up. The context for the Kasparov thing is “People are trying to better themselves, to strive to do better than their opponents because they admire their opponents so much and want to be even better”. This is a completely different mindset than “beating the opponents on a technicality”, which is what you bring up.

I see how your point relates to the overall updates thing, but bringing up this particular quote and example might just make things muddier. Vlaviano was using that comparison in a specific context, talking about something else. (and if I’m wrong about this, things are getting muddier still!)

FWIW, the updates thing is more like Kasparov (or anyone, really) asking for a do-over because three moves ago he should have moved a pawn instead of a knight.

EDIT - It appears that, in chess, illegal moves penalise the person who was to start the illegal move (by means of the timer), and 3 illegal moves seem to indicate forfeit. If you compare the illegal moves to the bugs… but again, this is NOT a chess tournament, but something lighter.




If during a game it is found that an illegal move, including failing to meet the requirements of the promotion of a pawn or capturing the opponent’s king, has been completed, the position immediately before the irregularity shall be reinstated. If the position immediately before the irregularity cannot be determined the game shall continue from the last identifiable position prior to the irregularity. The clocks shall be adjusted according to Article 6.13. The Articles 4.3 and 4.6 apply to the move replacing the illegal move. The game shall then continue from this re-instated position.


After the action taken under Article 7.4.a, for the first two illegal moves by a player the arbiter shall give two minutes extra time to his opponent in each instance; for a third illegal move by the same player, the arbiter shall declare the game lost by this player. However, the game is drawn if the position is such that the opponent cannot checkmate the player’s king by any possible series of legal moves.[/rant]

EDIT - This is interesting. To robinjohnson, being disqualified due to bugs is like being disqualified because the phone went off - unfair, unrelated to the competition, a stiff technicality, something totally not your fault. To vlaviano (and myself) being disqualified due to bugs is like being penalised for your actions, for something that IS your fault.

Could this be what’s really at the heart of this divide? Bugs ARE the fault of the author, there’s no way around that. I know we live in an age where everyone find excuses to exculpate themselves and everyone else, but occasionally you do have to learn to say “Damn, that’s my fault” and accept it so you can then proceed to correct it. Saying “Damn it, that’s totally not my fault!” is not productive, especially when what you really mean is “That’s totally my fault, but everyone else has the same fault so I refuse to take the blame for it!”.

“Blame” is a strong word. Again, in the IF comps things are much lighter! No such strong emotions as blame, authors are not to blame for bugs. They are, however, responsible for them. We can work around that fact by acknowledging that bugs have a way ot creeping in… but we can’t pretend that it’s not a fact. FWIW.

EDIT - For the umpteenth time, though, the Spring Thing has conciously moved AWAY from a comp mold to be something less competitive. The ranking is mostly ceremonial, just for a bit of fun. So no gross injustice is being perpetrated if there ARE updates.

…incidently, there is similarly no gross injustice if there are NO updates allowed. It cuts both ways! Either it’s all just for fun, and it’s not a real comp, and therefore it doesn’t matter whether or not you have bugs… or it’s all perfectly serious, and the bugs will be a part of your finished product just like you were in a baking competition and you left some burnt raisins in your cake that you couldn’t scoop out before presenting your cake to the judge.

I’m going to bed now. I know I’m arguing, and I know I’m making some sense, but I no longer know what I’m arguing for or against.

Let me just offer a counterpoint here: Punishing people as a teaching tool is asinine. Nobody is getting massively rewarded for participating in IF, and very few people are being tangibly rewarded at all. When someone joins a competition with a broken, unplayable build of an otherwise working game, and then can’t fix it because of a no-updating rule, they are enormously more likely to just decide this isn’t for them and go do something else with their time than to learn something meaningful other than “don’t mistakenly publish broken builds of your project”, which is something I would assume everyone knows yet it happens anyway because people make honest mistakes. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure whatever is there to be learned will be learned anyway; it’s not like releasing a game with bugs and then updating it has no cost or isn’t noticed. If your interest is in having a vibrant community of people produce IF for you to play, then no-update rules are not in your interest.

The idea that Taghairm was a failure or a mistake is insane to me.

I think this whole discussion gets down to the fundamental rift in this community that stems from the fact that some people have a narrow, limiting idea of what IF is and should be, and how it should be evaluated; and those people seem to believe that every institution in the community should serve the elevation of that narrow ideal (ie, “polished” traditional parser games built by hobbyists with copious amounts of time to invest into them) over all other iterations of the medium. This elitist, rarefied view of the medium precludes my participation and that of a lot of people whose work I think is important and valuable; so if I seem to care excessively about this issue, I would point out that this issue is part of a broader context. In such a context, I cannot help but see some currents of this discussion as being less about bugs and more about who should be allowed to participate, under what circumstances, and with what kinds of work.

Anyone who is capable of producing a work of IF is allowed to participate. With the inclusion of choice-based works under the umbrella of IF, this is a larger group than ever before. If this still excludes people, then the solution is to teach them how to write IF, not to redefine IF so that it includes PDF files. Is it our duty to accept historical romance novels in a hard science fiction competition, because some people’s lack of scientific education would otherwise preclude them from participating?

Maybe you’re right, but I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t get that far, and therein lies the failure. If you claim that that was the point, then I’ll claim that it’s easy to evoke disgust and drive someone away from your game. What’s admirable to me is evoking disgust while compelling someone to keep playing.

[Emphasis mine]

I should point out that you have opposed and continue to oppose said inclusion. I should also point out that there is a gulf between being nominally allowed in and being actually welcomed; and that a lot of the positions taken by certain members of this community in this and other discussions show remarkable lack of interest in transposing that gulf, with regards to authors from the Twine world, authors with a non-technical background, authors from less privileged backgrounds in general…

Okay, I would really like this not to turn Nth repetition of the argument about how everyone is arguing about how everyone else is arguing about inclusivity. And the definition of IF. Let’s not.

The topic of game updates during the voting period – both Spring Thing and IFComp – is plenty for one thread.

vlaviano wrote:

No. The competition is fair if it tests entrants even-handedly. Being ineffective for some purpose is not the same as being unfair.

This is not just semantics. You have repeatedly invoked fairness, “the spirit of fair competition”, and justice – and argued as if everyone who disagrees with you is pushing for an unfair IFComp. It doesn’t fly that way.

All sorts of contests, competitions, and ranked festivals exist in the world. You can say “It’s like a baking competition and the dishes should be plated as served!” Or I can say “It’s like the World Series and teams should be allowed to train and even change their lineup between games!” Really, these are both terrible analogies. IFComp is its own thing. Currently it is a thing where game updates are allowed. That means that updating your game is fair play. That’s all.

I kindly want to remind what things we should be discussing here:

  • Non-digital games in Spring Thing (Back Garden and Main Festival)
  • The Alumni’s Choice ribbon.
  • More pro-active outreach.
  • Publishing the estimated playtimes.
  • Rules on author speech.
  • Rules on in-comp updates.

P.S. Oh, and this is a thread about Spring Thing, if anyone’s confused. Not IFComp.

Well, if everyone has the same fault, it’s probably something universal, so yeah, it’s not really something you need to take blame over. It’s like beating yourself up for contributing to climate change because you’re exhaling carbon dioxide. Bugs fall into the same category–even extensively tested projects that whole teams work on full-time for years have bugs in them. Most competitions entries are done for free by one person in their spare time. You’re not ever going to be able to teach people to just not have bugs next time, because they do just happen.

Maybe it’s a difference in what skills we’d like to see the competition test? To me, being responsive to player feedback and fixing bugs as quickly as possible is part of being a good game creator, so for me “are you paying attention to your players’ experiences? are you able to fix problems that crop up?” is a valid metric to judge people on, while “is there a fatal bug somewhere?” is mostly just a matter of chance.

Well, switching to the other side of the argument, that’s not necessarily true. I don’t know of any examples for games, but the Heartbleed bug is an example of a bug that was out there for a long time before anyone noticed, and was important. For another example, I think Marco told me that I was the first person to take a particular path through the endgame of Andromeda Apocalypse, pretty late in the competition; if it had been bugged the bug would’ve been discovered late, but might have been significant.

I disagree with this for basically the same reason. Bugs can wind up pretty well-hidden, so that they still remain after you test them a lot. Part of it depends on what your testers do, and your testers are people working for free and doing you a favor, so it’s hard to ask too much of them.

If you’re talking about “a competition” in your example, not the easy-going Spring Thing or IF Comp, then well, that’s how some people get weeded out at the beginning: they made a broken, unplayable build. The consequences are that the game is unplayable, and they suffer the consequences. If then they give up, then they weren’t cut out for the pressures of competition.

Again: the IF comps have a different mindset (I think that’s become pretty obvious in all of this discussion) where this kind of thinking isn’t productive. But you talked about “a competition”, and in “a competition” that’s what happens.

Blame really wasn’t the best word. “Responsibility” is probably closest. The author doesn’t program bugs in, but it is their responsibility to program them out.

But it IS necessary to take responsibility, or we’d all be pretending to ignore bugs because it’s such a way of life. The bugs going unpenalised and unchecked would result in buggier games.

Again, I’m not saying all games have to be 100% bug free, we’ve all agreed that extremely unlikely even without the pressures of the comp. But the bugs are a part of the competition entry, and the way we look at the bugs is fundamental to this update issue.

If we look at the bugs and say “These bugs are a problem. They are detracting from my enjoyment. The author is responsible for them, therefore they shall be penalised for them”, within that point of view we’re working towards a competition where people are judged by their initial entries and are encouraged to submit the best possible game at the very beginning. We’re also not being very forgiving (then again, how many players and reviewers are? The real world is a cruel place).

If we look at the bugs and say “I can overlook these bugs, it’s ok, every game has bugs, they really should be fixed but I can look past them” we’re allowing the authors to fix the bugs and get a better rating from someone else. We are working towards a competition where the first attempts of every game CAN be bugged, where we are encouraging authors to do a mad dash to include that glorious final gimmick, the one they wanted so badly to include but which broke half their game (knowing when NOT to dash and when to post-update or delay the release is a necessary skill, though). We are minimising the bugs, overlooking them to focus on other things. That means the author will do the same.

It’s just a matter of choosing one - the latter one seems to be what most people prefer, and sure, it fits with the more relaxed theme of the comp and especially the spring thing. It’s not the end-all of competitions, though, and it amuses me that some people are arguing so strongly that it is, and that it is their given right. I wonder how well some of the people doing that fare, or would fare, at an actual real life competition where things aren’t quite so cuddly.

Yeah, me too. I was trying to come up with a compromise that both sides might be able to agree on. Allowing updates during the voting period is a real problem for me and the sole reason why I haven’t entered the IFComp since it was introduced, but I’d be willing to enter the comp if it only allowed updates up to a certain point. Even if I didn’t enter the comp itself, I’d be interested in voting and reviewing games if the updates were only allowed to begin with. (In my mind, the first part of the comp would be a public beta-testing period with the real comp actually beginning when the updates stop.)

Some people seem in favour of my idea and some are against, which I certainly expected. There isn’t a solution which is going to satisfy both sides of the argument so a compromise is the best we can hope for.

The IFComp rule allowing in-comp updates has been in place since 2011. I have yet to see anyone present evidence, even just their impression/feelings/gut reaction to the games, that this has actually resulted in authors releasing buggier games. On the contrary, the discussion I’ve observed (in contexts other than discussion of the update rule) has leaned the other way. People seem to feel that the overall quality of IFComp games has improved in recent years, and that we rarely see the kind of unplayably broken games that used to be entered every year.

Going back to the original post in this thread: I would love for there to be a competition or event of some kind for interactive text-based and text-heavy works in general, whether digital or analog. Something that encouraged different game-making and interactive story communities to look at each other’s work and share ideas and design insights. Perhaps it could award ribbons (or whatever) for achievements in particular areas of writing and design, like the XYZZY Award categories. I’d be very excited to see the works it attracted and the conversation around it.

I don’t know that Spring Thing should be that event. It might be better to start something fresh. I’d like for Spring Thing to continue to have a more open approach to the Back Garden entries, though. If someone would like their tabletop RPG or gamebook or visual novel or RPG Maker conversation game to appear in the Spring Thing Back Garden, I’m interested to see what they’re bringing to the IF conversation.