Spring Thing '16 post-mortem

You’re not.

(“Wanting to prove myself” to myself might be a part of it; but wanting to prove myself better than other people is not.)

(Besides, maybe other people are better than me and just put in a typo on the day before the comp that stopped their game working. If I’m striving to Actualise Myself As A Human By Being The Best I Can Be, why would I want to beat someone on that smug technicality?)

Right - doing well in a comp because someone introduced a late-dev bug and couldn’t fix it is kind of like doing well in a Magic tournament because of a bad judge ruling. Maybe it’s better than losing, but you don’t feel good about yourself.

I would say that it needn’t be a test of one’s abilities as such. You could have a Bingo or Chutes and Ladders competition if you wanted. Certainly it needn’t be the test of the abilities of a lone creator, as you suggested by saying that the point is to determine whose skills are better without outside assistance. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is (was?) a competition even though competitors could call on outside assistance. Race car drivers have pit crews. Golfers have caddies. Etc., etc. The important thing is the rules, that you only use outside assistance insofar as allowed by the rules, and the rules are clear on this point.

Furthermore, being responsive to feedback is itself a skill. And, as I’ve mentioned, the games that have to be revised because they’re buggy will do worse than the ones that work as designed from the beginning. (I don’t think anyone has tried to answer the question of how high a game has placed that had to be revised because of bugs… did Eurydice ever fix its typos?)

Anyway, what does it matter? Suppose there is some exact definition of competition under which competitions shouldn’t allow updates. That leaves open the question of why we would want to have competitions rather than something else… call them “comps.” (Which can be not competitive in any sense; Taleslinger’s New Year’s Eve event was briefly called a Mincomp even though the participants weren’t competing against each other in any sense.) Too often you’ve just laid down your somewhat tendentious definition of competition and then said that the update rule violates the spirit of competition, as if it’s self-explanatory why we should care.

I see the value in IF comps, if anything in this area, as motivating people to produce better games. The improvement of some abstract skill isn’t much use except insofar as it leads to better games (if it’s possible to separate the two). You’ve given an argument that a no-update rule would motivate people to test beforehand (which honestly doesn’t seem like improving skill anyway, but engaging in better practices–but never mind, because I’m all in favor of it!) but as I said the history of the comp doesn’t support the idea that allowing updates actually decreases willingness to test your game. Taking positive steps to encourage testing would be a lot better.

And if the idea is that the element of competition will encourage people to improve because of their drive to win over everyone else… well, as Sequitur and Robin said, I don’t honestly think that most people on the IF scene are motivated specifically by that. When I submitted a game with an annoying bug, I wasn’t mortified because I thought it would lead to me placing lower in the competition, I was mortified because I thought I was letting down my players and peers.

Re: Reaching minority groups

This is coming from more of a player’s perspective than an author’s, but the trend toward games that are inaccessible to people with disabilities (in my case visual impairment) is very discouraging. The first three games I tried this year were either impossible to play with a screen reader, or it was unnecessarily difficult. IF Comp games are becoming similarly uninviting; I’m guessing most of the hypertext games this year will be inaccessible. That is a bit ironic, perhaps, given that I was attracted to the community over a decade ago because it produced games that I could actually play. Now I always assume new Twine-produced games are inaccessible, difficult to play, or incomprehensible. I try most anyway, but it is very discouraging, and I can imagine people just giving up in frustration and never coming back. I should note that some platforms, like Choice of Games, are accessible. For the most part parser games are accessible as well, as long as they are made with one of the more popular systems.

I’m not sure what can be done about this. Maybe somewhere on the website or in the rules it can be requested that authors consider the accessibility of their games?


Neil, can you tell me if The Xylophoniad was accessible to you?

My girlfriend has visual problems that can be addressed by taking care with colour schemes and the ability to make the font larger, so I do run everything past her, but I don’t know how it works with screen readers, and I apologise for that.

I actually forgot this was about Spring Thing rather than IFComp when I posted before, and I know Spring Thing is a little less competitive by design, which is actually why I haven’t really had any interest in joining it–I like the competition aspect and a big motivation for me was trying to improve my ranking over the last year’s. I think it’s good that there’s different types of event for people who want more or less competitiveness. But I don’t really see how allowing updates, whether for bug fixing or to add additional material to a game, harms the competition as long as everyone has the same opportunity to do it.

This whole discussion seems to be getting way too deep. Are we even discussing the Spring Thing any longer or is it just a case of who can put forward the floweriest argument?

For me it’s just a matter of personal taste. If I play and vote for a game early in the voting period and then it gets updated, my score applies to a different version of the game than the one which people will be playing from that point onwards. So I might as well leave it till later in the voting period when the final versions have been released, only that leaves me with the problem of having every game in the comp to play through during the final week. Which is clearly not going to happen. In which case, voting in the comp is a no-go for me so I might as well just leave it till after the comp to play the games when the final versions have all been released.

Might it be possible for a compromise to be reached which would satisfy both sides? Have the first part of the voting period open to games being updated (kind of a beta-testing phase) and then have the second part where no updates are allowed and people can simply concentrate on playing the games. Surely any crucial game-breaking bugs which exist would be fixed by that stage and authors wouldn’t need to update their games again. You’d also have the advantage of people opposed to the ideas of updates during the voting period being able to play the games – and vote on them – once the bugs have been fixed and the updates have stopped.

I think disallowing authors to correct bugs then is counterproductive to what you’ve expressed here.

Updates disallowed: “Oh crap. I made a last-minute tweak ten minutes before the deadline and misaligned the tabs in a “When Play Begins” rule so now the game displays the banner text and just stops. No command prompt. This is the version uploaded to the comp and the deadline passes. Several forum threads over the next six long weeks argue whether I intended this as some kind a troll. Since the gag rule is lifted, I can only reply and tell people there is a game there, but it’s unfortunately stuck behind an errant tab stop. The game gets a few dismissive reviews and shut out with a total of six “1” votes. I update the game after the comp but it sinks like a rock on IFDB because all attention is diverted to the next thing.” What did I learn?

Updates allowed: “Oh crap, my game stops after the banner text and was savaged by the early-bird reviewer. I correct the bug and re-upload the next day. Now I have five weeks and six days to get some reviews that actually discuss the content of the game and end up with several pages of feedback and fixes besides the tab stop issue.” What did I learn?

Which of these, in your opinion, is a better learning experience?

I see no problem if, for example, there is a four-week period of public release and updates with no voting, then the games are frozen and voting opens for four more weeks after that to give people time to play and review the final versions. It would kind of negate that “vote after only 2 hours of play” rule. It might help some judges with the increased volume of submissions, since there is extra “beta” play time.

Or perhaps open that space between deadline for intents to enter and release - allow people to test-release their games if they want to in that last month before the actual voting starts, and strongly suggest that people do not publicly review games formally before the submission deadline.

Honest to God? The one where you suffer the consequences to such a full extent that you never ever EVER do that mistake again.

But, this is probably way too serious to be productive in the context of these particular competitions.

The Xylophoniad is good. Web-based games with keyboard input work well with readers. For Twine games, the most common problem is finding the links.


This seems pretty reasonable, from my perspective.

I concur.

Harsh man. If I was made to sit out an entire comp dead in the water like that, I’d never even bother again.

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.