Spring Thing '16 post-mortem

Oh gosh. I thought the idea (or Mr. Reed’s intention recently) was to shift Spring Thing away from being a “comp” as in competition and more for a carnival of fun stuff that attracts authors and players who might not want the stress of IFComp.

Offering some sort of prize structure is a way to attract more authors, and is a good thing.

Perhaps separating judge’s ribbon awards from the prizes is the thing. I suggested giving each alumni (doesn’t matter how many) a ribbon they can award as they see fit: The “Emily Short Ribbon” or the “Inkle Ribbon” or “The Zarf” would all be great honors for games to receive. The alumnus can award any game they see fit. One game might get several, or they may get spread out so every major game and back garden entry gets one. Awesome.

I might suggest for a prize structure, that anyone who wants to contribute a prize to Spring Thing name it and handle awarding it. A person could submit a hand-crafted “Frotz Spell Scroll” to the game that best utilizes magic. A magazine might could put up “Our Favorite Spring Thing Twine Game” and offer $25. Spring Thing solicits these private awards but the responsibility of fulfilling any monetary or physical prize is up to the presenter.

And I also think that many IF enthusiasts (but not all) enjoy peripheral entertainments such as boardgames and hybrid book/computer experiences…or at least getting to see an interesting new one. That’s why there’s a “Back Garden” which allows experimentation with anything not expected to classify as a complete, classic piece of Interactive Fiction. As long as it’s interactive, and involves fiction, I’d love to take a look at it. Just because there’s a giant Ferris wheel at the back of the art carnival doesn’t mean I have to ride it.

Yeah, I can see what you’re saying here. And I’m not the best person to talk about this in some ways, because I never get to that much stuff during the comp (and often not after it).

Maybe one thing that would help here is to limit updates to something like once a week, and enable authors to announce that they were planning an update for the next week. That way you know you’re at least getting a fairly settled build.

Yeah, my claim isn’t really meant to be comparative–it’s that post-comp releases don’t get played much.

In my case I’ve done one post-comp release (though I haven’t entered any of the main comps, only mini- and midi-comps), even though several of my games could benefit from one–and that was for something that I was able to put in Marius’s New Year’s thing, which meant I knew it’d get played on Floyd. Plus the original game was a speedIF so I knew it could at least benefit from rewriting all the default messages (and squashing the usual disambiguation issues.) For a lot of other things, it’s just hard to motivate myself (I could end the sentence there) to spend a lot of time polishing something that seems like it’ll barely get played.

That was a weird case which was in some ways not deliberate. I don’t know if the author talked about it after the comp, but I’m pretty sure that what happened was that the author got a lot of feedback to the effect that his game had some disturbing implications that he didn’t intend, and he tried to do a rewrite to take care of that

which involved randomizing the genders of the characters, possibly among other things.

So the author didn’t at least come in intending to make such huge changes.

My discomfort with Standoff isn’t that it’s a tabletop/paper game (I thought Trapped in Time was fine, and very well done), it’s that it’s a multiplayer game where the players are providing the story, as opposed to the game itself. To my mind, the key to something being interactive fiction is that the player interacts with the fiction (or players, in the case of Aspel). Even something like a paragraph-driven board game feels closer to IF than an RPG does, since the game is still providing (most of) the fiction. Likewise, Jason Rohrer’s game Sleep is Death is (as I understand it) a tool for one player to provide a story game experience to the other player, rather than the game providing the story itself, so I think it would fall outside the domain of IF.

I think we should keep in mind that just because Standoff might not have been a good example of the type of IF experiments (some) people would like to encourage, that doesn’t mean the general category of ‘IF experiments’ is not worth encouraging. It takes time to grow a garden, no?

That does sound like a good idea.

My attitude as a judge has been “yes, please do update, because that makes it more likely that people will enjoy whatever version they eventually play, but I am not responsible for making sure that I keep my review and opinion current with the latest version of your game.” If someone says “wait, no, try this one!!”, that’s a request they’re making that I may not have time or ability to honor: maybe I’ve already played the game once, maybe I didn’t play it but I’ve downloaded it and I can’t or don’t want to download it again, whatever.

In my view, a tabletop storygame is a system for producing fiction, which does have to be operated by more than one person to work; but in supplying scenario and/or structure, it’s supposed to consistently be generating stories within a certain domain. This can be done badly or not work, and I got the impression from reviews that Standoff, specifically, was a little half-baked. But I still think it’s close enough to IF that having the possibility of submissions like that enriches the field.

Regarding “Standoff”: I ran imaginary games which specifically encouraged this kind of weirdness, but I feel like Spring Thing in particular was not the right venue. I’m all for cross-pollination (obviously) but I don’t think it does storygames a games a service to toss them in a very different gameplay context; I doubt many people did the game justice (quick survey: did anyone play Standoff in real life, or did most people just read the instructions)?

For imaginary games I just posted in as many forums as I could find that might have people interested. (I’d be careful with the “encouraging language” – sometimes it comes off as patronizing.)

For IFComp I have had the disconcerting effect of writing a review, consulting other reviews, and have them mention things that I swear I never saw. I then had some back and forth where I figured out I played the updated version and the original author didn’t. (The Secret Vaults of Kas the Betrayer from 2014 come to mind – the gameplay had some major changes but in a way that was non-obvious there were changes, so I had to do some detective work with version 1 to figure out what was going on.)

For the last IFComp I would just have to check the website every single time I played a new game, sometimes re-downloading even though I was fairly sure the version I had was the newest one. I do miss the days I could just depend on the first-day download.

This is a circuitous way of saying, sure, allow updates, but put some sort of sanity in. Maybe limit the number of updates, or only allow updates the first week?

Though to be fair I have my doubts about whether most people played the story games in Imaginary Games, either. Or they probably used some kind of mock ox liver for Sub Way.

I do have to confess that I didn’t play A Game Played By Galaxies myself; I don’t have easy access to cardstock, though I did print it out on see-throughish paper, but the main issue is that I just didn’t have the wherewithal to organize a playing partner on short enough notice to get my review in. And I get the impression that this isn’t that uncommon for games that don’t run on the computer. There’s a review of DUNGEN [star], another game by the same author for procjam (and some other jams), which mentions that the first time around nobody who reviewed the game actually played it. Though again, this was a print-and-play game in a venue with a lot of digital games.

Yeah. [emote]:([/emote]

(I am fairly sure Sub Way is more of a to be read instead of played game, although I have a diary of gameplay as one of the responses.)

This was tried a couple of IFComps ago. It wasn’t bad, but forces the organizer to toggle the allow upload switch on and off.

I don’t know why this is such anathema to people (except for Peter, who has explained numerous times in detail). There’s always going to be that one typo in the introduction or that early crash to desktop that causes excruciating pain for an author if they are made to sit by idly and watch every single review mention it, especially if it’s an easy fix that takes five seconds to remedy once discovered. Do people want to find bugs? Is it somehow unfair that an early reviewer got to snark the crap out of problems in a game and a later reviewer does not? Everyone who’s written knows you can beta test, but can never stress test the work with hundreds of people hitting it in different directions.

I’m not saying authors should incorporate changes to satisfy reviewers, or add significant chunks of gameplay that weren’t finished before release. People pay upwards of $60 for buggy mainstream games that have day-one patches and other bugs that only get fixed later. I’m not saying that should be an excuse, but it shows that nobody, even professional game studios can hit every detail…especially when under a time crunch deadline.

We may be operating under the assumption that the bugs in a comp game are deal-breakers. They’re often not. I’m not sure anyone is advocating that comp games have to be bug-free from the beginning, and severely penalised for every single bug. I believe this came up mostly as an argument for fairness in a (no longer quite so) new “you can now update games” rule.

I say this because it seems to be a particular focus of the argument. In fact, everyone WANTS to present as bug-free a comp game as they can, I’m sure (and the ones that don’t, like John Evans who consistently delivered gimmicky, unusual, ambitious and intriguing but hopelessly broken games, get the reception one’d expect). Regardless of the existence of the rule.

It used to be a common theme of reviews that they’d say “Looking forward to a post-comp release!”. Meaning, the bugs were there and were acknowledged, and they did hurt the game’s rating I’m sure, but the overall message was “Author, when you fix these issues you’ll have a better game I’d like to play”. That’s pretty positive. [emote]:)[/emote]

I mean, for me the bugs were never an issue, as can be clear from my arguments. I’m just saying that it might not be an issue for the people who use it as THEIR argument, either. The bugs-being-fixed situation makes the judges’ position a but more difficult as regards to fairness and consistency - but I don’t think anyone is expecting comp games to be totally bug-free and is pulling down their rating every time they find a bug.

But how many of those authors published a post-comp release? And if they did, how many of the reviewers who asked for it played it?

During a competition, authors are energised and incentivised to release updates. You know that if you put out an update during the competition, it will be played by a significant number of people, and they’ll get a better experience than if they’d played the original version with the stuff you missed. That translates to better ratings and better reviews. Plus, bug-fixing is something to do while you’re waiting for reviews and competition results.

Once the competition is over, the energy drops - especially if you didn’t place very well, or if you got a lot of negative feedback. Even if you do motivate yourself to finish the update and release it, the new version is probably going to be played by far fewer people than it was during the competition. Easier to start a new project instead, even if you were 90% of the way to a post-comp release when the competition ended.

More games updated = better games overall = better for players as well as authors. And that’s what I see happening.

This is a good point. I can attest to the reduced incentive to fix non-critical things after a comp is over.

I can’t think of any reason not to let people fix bugs right away. Patching games and fixing bugs in a timely manner is part of releasing a game, and wouldn’t it just be a waste of everyone’s time to struggle with an unplayable game when the author could have fixed it, and wanted to?

What makes sense in the context of releasing a game is in tension with what makes sense in the context of participating in a competition.

The reason not to let people fix bugs is that it’s unfair to allow a competitor to alter their competition entry after the deadline.

If author A is allowed to spend ten hours post-deadline locating and fixing bugs in his entry, shouldn’t authors B-Z be allowed an additional ten hours of development time as well? If no bugs have been discovered in their entries, shouldn’t they be allowed to spend their ten hours writing additional prose, creating additional puzzles, or otherwise improving their games? This leads to an untenable situation for judges.

Earlier in the thread, someone proposed allowing weekly updates. Consider player behavior with the knowledge that weekly updates are permitted. A self-interested judge would likely hold off on playing games until after the first update cycle. If the other judges behave similarly, who will find the bugs that lead to the bug fixes that lead to the updates?

I’ve made my opinion clear on the updates during the competition issue before, but I might as well reiterate it again as the subject has been raised.

I’m against it 100%. I feel it ruins the very spirit of a competition to allow people to update their games during the actual voting period. Each game should stand on its own merits as it was first submitted to the competition. Allowing authors to remove parts that people disliked, fix bugs that should never have been in the finished version and fine tune their games based on feedback during the voting period is a definite no-no for me. It’s the sole reason why I haven’t entered the IFComp since the rule was introduced and why I’ll never enter it again.

At the end of the day, if you enter a game in a competition and it’s full of bugs, more fool you. Isn’t that what testing is all about? By all means, fix the bugs as soon as the competition is over, but during the voting period? No.

I don’t just dislike the rule as an author, though, I also dislike it as a player. Perhaps even more so. I find it hard to summon up any enthusiasm for playing the competition games knowing that they might well be updated and a new version will be out in a few days. If I play a game and a new version comes out, whatever score I give to the game would need to be revised if I was going to be completely fair. Am I expected to play each new version of the game to see if my original score still applies? If I review the game, who’s to say whether anything I comment upon in my review will still be relevant once it’s been updated another half a dozen times?

Many judges don’t notice or care about updates. Perhaps less than 10 in the last comp. The rest would be the ones who provide the bug reports.

In the early years, I thought of IFComp as a formalization of releasing a game – in 1995! Your game would appear on the IF Archive with no advance notice or press (who had heard of any of us amateurs anyhow?) People would download and play it, but they wouldn’t notice bug fixes (there was no mechanism for announcing updates).

RAIF regulars did know each other, and did see bug-fix announcements, but the idea of IFComp was to flatten out those “in-group” advantages – to try to get a reading on how the game would do in “the outside world”. At least, that was how I saw it. (Leave aside the question of whether there was an “outside world” that cared about IF!)

So, (1) it’s not at all obvious that this is a good way to think about IFComp. (2), Spring Thing is not IFComp and doesn’t necessarily have to have the same model. (3), even if you really think this model is crucial, the process of releasing an indie game has changed tremendously in twenty years, right?

As far as this goes, it’s perfectly fair and within the rules for you to rate the version you played. The judging rules for IFComp explicitly allow for this, and state that judges are not expected to play the most recently updated version.