IFComp 2007: Overview and promise

So, the comp is well and truly over for the year. The results are up. Lost Pig took first place, followed by An Act of Murder and Lord Bellwater’s Secret, an unusually strong showing for mysteries this year. Last place was taken by Paul Allen Panks, surprising no one, with his sole surviving game: of the three he entered, two were disqualified for violating comp rules. And somewhere in the middle, Deadline Enchanter took the Golden Banana of Discord, the unofficial award for the game whose votes had the largest standard deviation. I take a personal interest in the Banana, because my own 2001 entry, The Gostak, holds the record for highest standard deviation ever. I rated Deadline Enchanter low myself, but it certainly deserves the banana, being hard to understand and breaking convention as it does. I would have been disappointed if the award had gone to its runner-up, Gathered in Darkness, which is relatively normal and seems to have gotten as high a standard deviation as it did simply by only being playable under Windows and thus getting fewer votes than most games.

On the whole, this year’s comp seems substandard to me. Perhaps I’m growing curmudgeonly and difficult to satisfy, but I gave out no tens and an awful lot of threes. I think I lowered my standards as I went along — a few of the earlier games on my list, including Lost Pig, definitely got rated lower than I would have rated them later. This is why it’s important to play the comp games in a random order: to even out effects like that.

If this year’s comp has an overall theme, it’s inadequate testing. Several games were so buggy that I cannot believe that they had been tested at all, and one was acknowledged by the author to be outright impossible to win. This is a shame, and I have to accept part of the blame for it. One of the differences between amateur and professional game development is that professional outfits can be reasonably expected to hire testers. Amateur games have to rely on volunteers, and the sad fact is that finding volunteers with enough IF experience to give your game a meaningful workout is hard, especially as the comp deadline draws near. In the past, there have been some online resources to help authors find testers, but I don’t know if they’re still being maintained.

Writing criticism is always a little arrogant. Creating is hard, finding fault is easy. So it’s particularly shameful that we who criticize fail to do what we can to find fault before release, when it’ll be helpful. So, rather than just gripe, I intend to do something about it. I intend to test some games, and do it thoroughly as I am able. At minimum, I want to be a tester for at least ten of next year’s comp entries, and also as many works not entered in the comp as I can manage. Next summer, I will actively pursue entrants and badger them to give me beta copies of their games. This is my promise, and I make it here in front of everybody so I won’t have any excuse for forgetting it.

IFComp 2007: Slap That Fish

And we come to the last game, a bit of nonsense by Peter Nepstad. Yes, that Peter Nepstad. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: My Mind’s Mishmash

A work by veteran author Robert Street. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Ferrous ring

A sci-fi piece by Carma Ferris. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Gathered in Darkness

Next we have a horror story written in Quest. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Press [Escape] to Save

An experimental effort from first-time author Mark Jones. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Orevore Courier

A spaceship piece by Brian Rapp. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Adventure XT

And here we are at the third Panks game this year. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: The Chinese Room

Harry Giles and Joey Jones present an adventure game based on philosophical metaphors. Spoilers follow the break.
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IFComp 2007: Varkana

Next up is an illustrated story set in a different world. Spoilers follow the break.
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