IF Comp prizes and prep

San Tilapian Studies being played at the Friday Spectacular. copyright Wellcome Collection
San Tilapian Studies being played at the Friday Spectacular. Copyright Wellcome Collection.

My narrative party game San Tilapian Studies seems to have been well received at the Wellcome Collection last month, which reminded me of how much fun I had both playing and making this game. So I’ve donated a kit as an IF Comp prize, meaning that I’ll customize the items and rules for the winner’s choice of genre, scale to desired party size (it was originally designed for 40, but doesn’t have to be), and assemble all the physical elements.

The other thing I’ve donated is a small piece set in the winner’s game world, whether they want that to be a feelie, a short story, or a piece of cover art within the range of my cover art abilities. (I don’t draw well, so it’s usually photography plus typography.) This would then be the winner’s to do with what they liked: keep private, distribute with their game, whatever.

This is an experiment; I don’t know if it’s likely to appeal. But I’ve always admired comp prizes that had the effect of adding resources for a game, such as translations, sound tracks, and artwork, that the community might enjoy. Marius Müller’s German translations of Sunday Afternoon and Patanoir are particularly awesome, even if I don’t know enough German to comment on their quality. I tossed around the idea of donating commissioned work, finding an artist or maybe a fantasy cartographer who might be hired to create some neat materials around a winner’s game, but there were too many unknowns there: you can’t get a quote on art without having some notion of what the image is going to be, and maps can vary enormously in complexity and challenge. And besides, you want to pick an artist when you’ve got some sense of the style of the thing being illustrated. Trying to plan a commission without knowing what it might be for just seemed like folly, in the end.

There’s a bunch of other neat stuff in the prize pool, including books, games, art, and some cash prizes.

Meanwhile: those who read this blog regularly know that for some years I’ve tried to review every IF Comp game that ran on my system and either a) listed beta testers or b) was choice-based. This year I’m changing that policy, in response to feedback that it’s too discouraging for novice authors, and will only cover games here for which my review is a net positive. I realize that still doesn’t accomplish the effect of actively encouraging new authors as some jams do, and I’m open to ongoing feedback about what would help with that, if it’s within my time and resources to address.

The IF Comp site is still accepting sign-ups from authors, as well as prize donations. The same site will be used to handle judge’s votes.

18 thoughts on “IF Comp prizes and prep”

  1. “maps can very enormously in complexity and challenge”
    It’s a tiny typo, but it can lead non-native speakers down the garden path.

  2. My impression is that you’ve always been fairly gentle even when your reviews weren’t a net positive. Oh, well, that’s less work for you… though, I’m curious, how far on the “work/play” scale do you usually feel it is to review all the eligible entries for this-or-that comp?

    1. It is definitely work, though that is true of most games I play these days: analysis mode is always on, so while I usually get some enjoyment from games, playing them is not what I do for fun.


      1. while I usually get some enjoyment from games, playing them is not what I do for fun.

        This statement makes me sad. (I remember Dave Gilbert saying something similar in an interview, since he is writing / testing / playing adventure games all day for work.)

  3. I wonder whether this policy might not be even more discouraging to new authors. If “I’m not being reviewed by Emily Short” means “Emily Short couldn’t think of anything nice to say about my game”, I can imagine that people will be discouraged by not being reviewed — perhaps more so than if they can actually see why you didn’t like their game. Also, it seems to me that in the entire field of reviewers, you are more on the gentle than on the harsh side, so the net response to someone’s game might in fact be more negative if you don’t write about it.

    Of course, I’m saying this without having any knowledge of the feedback you’ve had, so I’m not exactly in the position to second guess your decision.

    1. I can usually think of something nice to say even about games I consider broken, so the implication of a non-review isn’t quite what you describe — but I don’t feel like this blog is the right context for praise-only-style feedback, since I also use it to review commercial games and give player recommendations in general, and I want to be able to send clear signals here about what I think is most likely to be of interest to players. (Sparkly IF Reviews was an experiment in the praise-only direction, but not a workable one, in the end.)

  4. It is best not to worry about being welcoming or discouraging. Best not to be too self-conscious about it.

  5. It MIGHT work to let non-positive reviews be private? Or to ask people if they’d like to see your reviews (if it’s negative)? It seems such a shame to miss out on your opinions when you’re willing to put in the time. On the other hand, some people (more likely those who don’t write well) will never understand the value of good criticism. I’ll certainly enter, and if it’s rubbish you can go ahead and say so publicly :)

    Felicity Banks

    1. Several people have made that argument to me (about taking criticism being necessary for good authors), and at one time I probably would have made that argument myself.

      However, as far as I can tell, some participants are seeking a different social contract than one where criticism is appropriate. If a friend invited me to a dinner party, I wouldn’t go home afterwards and blog about how the meat was overcooked. If a friend wrote me an email about their vacation, I’d appreciate learning about their trip, not send back a critique of how I thought their travel writing could be improved.

      I think historically the parser IF community has assumed that the purpose of sharing your games in the Comp is to refine your skill and develop the medium (with a lot of extra assumptions thrown in about what “developing the medium” should even look like). But that’s not the only thing it could be for, or the only thing participants want to use it for. Those other uses are not inherently invalid.

  6. Your not commenting is quite a loss; the attempt to change the social contract of the Comp weakens it drastically. I wish those who don’t want actual reviews had found another venue.

    1. If you don’t mind my digging into this a little: are you concerned about this from the perspective of an author worried about losing out on feedback, or a third party who wants to be able to read the negatives as well as the positives?

  7. Knowing a bit about the different communities involved, I think this is a good compromise. People can always ask if they want crit, after all, and there will be lots of it available from people who aren’t concerned about being welcoming. I may roll my eyes gently at people who flip their lid about people pointing out even easily-fixed typos, but that barn door has been kicked open and the cows are in another time zone, and one person can’t rewrite a social contract.

    Then again, I don’t have so much of a dog in the fight as a non-author — I like seeing more diversity in authors because I like playing games. I love the resurgence of text games, and the ways the form is being pushed to new uses.

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