2016 Interactive Fiction Competition


It is a perfect parody, yes. Though, as the thing it parodies, just as tiresome. I lost faith too early and inside the building it starts getting really more interesting.

All the flashy trophies and pogoman names while great fun and great parody are less interesting than the social commentary on the phenomenon of digital addiction. That’s where it really shines.

I also liked the in-jokes on the IF community in the titles of areas in the map.

I’ll finish it when possible and update my initially harsh ifdb review…


Digital addiction? Moi?

Looking forward to your review update. Hey why don’t we have a IFDB category?


Minimalistic jazz, good stuff. Perfect for the setting. :slight_smile:

I don’t judge IF by sound effects or music, but don’t take points away, either.


IF is largely a literary-minded genre, largely due to coincidence-- namely, the interests of most authors who explore the medium. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the phenomenon of available content has almost certainly limited the appeal and spread of the medium itself.

While Pogoman is meant as a parody, the underlying mechanics demonstrate this thesis. There are better examples, however, such as Pacian’s Rogue of the Multiverse or Veeder’s Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder (which placed fourth in the 2013 IF Comp).

People are always saying IF is a tired old medium, and that everything worth doing has already been done. I think examples like these show that there are entire new directions for the medium itself that have barely been explored.

On a most general subject, I have to say I’ve never really understood these “trophy” or “achievement” type of feedback mechanisms. You can’t really do anything with the trophies in most games, and you are usually rewarded with them unexpectedly rather than as a result of deliberate action. Certainly this is in part what Pogoman as well was satirizing-- but apparently a lot of game designers earnestly think this trophy approach is a good practice, and I just don’t get it.


As someone who has enjoyed these mechanisms, I’ll say that they’re best understood in the context of competition with other players. They’re most relevant in multiplayer games, or in single player games with a multiplayer framework on top (XBox Live, Steam, whatever).

Some reasons to embed a single player game inside a multiplayer framework are to stimulate competition, prevent cheating, and to legitimize player achievements. If I tell you that I have a party full of awesome Wizardry characters, you’ll say “well, you could have hex edited your character disk, so who cares?”. If I link my awesome WoW characters, you might be impressed.

Many games will give you a list of available achievements, some of which might seem impossible on a first reading and will require applying some thought and creativity towards how they might be achieved.


That probably explains my confusion, as I mostly pursue solo play types of games. I was thinking about trophies strictly in terms of feedback loops (which are the elements that some say make video games more addictive than chocolate-covered heroin), and since they’re often unearned (or perhaps, awarded unexpectedly) they didn’t seem to fit with that mechanism. Your explanation makes sense, though, in the context of “bragging rights” in a multi-player environment.

I’ve never tried any form of multiplayer IF-related game, though a few do exist. Do such games use similar features, and if so do players find these features effective?


Achievements in games are often used as motivation to explore elements or challenges easily missed in a standard playthrough. In IF, it has somewhat replaced the AMUSING text from games of old. That said, in Pogoman Go, I don’t think it was really meant to be either of those things. It was just a joke on top of jokes. I, for one, just thought it was entertaining, but it’s interesting to read that some people actually took them seriously.


I haven’t really played multiplayer IF, although I’ve played MUDs. My favorite ones have quests that are essentially mini-IF games (with a worse parser and more guess the verb issues than is the norm in the IF community) embedded into the larger text-based RPG that’s the MUD proper. Since I appreciate both genres, I enjoy this. People who dislike RPGs and grinding probably wouldn’t find it worthwhile to endure just to access the quests, though.

The MUDs that I’ve played have had various leaderboards (xp/hour, rooms explored, quests solved, best kill) and medals/achievements. I think that they’re fairly effective, although most players seem to compete more on the RPG-style ones related to character power and less on the IF-style ones related to exploration and questing.


This as well as the competitive elements vlaviano mentioned can be related to the design philosophy of providing elements for player contributions to narrative that we discussed somewhere earlier.

One never knows what any particular player hopes to gain from the experience of exploring a particular work. Elements such as badges, trophies, etc may appeal to some, but be completely ignored by others. Including a wide variety of such often disparate elements accomodates emergent narratives (constructed by the player, but in any particular detail perhaps not even envisioned by the designer). In the example I used earlier, we might liken this to providing swing sets as well as an area of shiny rocks at a playground, so that kids who just need work off excess energy can soar around on swings, while budding geologists can ponder the difference between igneous and sedimentary stones.

If one is writing to engage the audience (which I earlier argued is the highest legitimate goal of interactive media), this is therefore an important element of good design philosophy.

A common provision in IF is to provide multiple potential author-constructed narratives, but I’m now speaking about minor elements. For example, if there is a dog or cat in a game, I’ll likely try to have my character pet it. If some provision has been made, even a minor provision (“The dog wags his tail happily”), my satisfaction level as a player has just gone up a few points.

In this year’s IF Comp, as has been mentioned before Fair readily springs to mind as an entry that went very far in taking an approach similar to that I’ve just outlined. Can anyone else think of other examples from this year’s crop of entries that offered similar gameplay?


I remember when achievements were added to my fave MMO years back, I was pretty indifferent to them. They seemed kinda silly and pointless and I decided I wasn’t bothering with them. What - I do X amount of quests and I get 10 achievement points? I kill X amount of mobs of a certain kind and I get another 10 achievement points? I head into some zone I haven’t visited in a long, long time and discover an area I’d never bothered with originally and I’m awarded with 10 achievement points? Big deal.

But then, funnily enough, I found myself becoming kind of hooked on them. I was in a guild at the time and when I brought up the guild panel, I saw I was 5th out of around 200 people in the guild on achievement points. And, even though I told myself I didn’t give a rat’s ass about achievements and they were just silly things put in the game to waste everyone’s time, I still found myself going out of my way to get them. Solely to get one up on the top four. Spending an hour sneaking into an enemy city and finding a nice safe spot to fish just for the sake of an achievement which ultimately meant nothing? Go for it! I even spent hours fishing at a pond in a flying city because there was an achievement for fishing up all these coins of various colours and no one else in my guild had that achievement. Didn’t I feel special when I got it first? Hell yes I did.

So yeah, on one hand they are just a time wasting mechanic put in games to waste everyone’s time, but on the other hand they can be a lot of fun. These days, I usually think of them as the old score system on steroids. Instead of just a numeric value which increases when you do stuff, here you get actual titles and the like.


trophies and achievements are drivel and their addiction-induced insanity properly parodied in Pogomen to great effect.

seriously, sometimes they pop up in my PS4 games for completely inane actions. There are trophy hunters out there who don’t seem to play for the fun of it, but to hunt down every idiotic one, like “float in the air for 40 seconds” or “kill an enemy by sliding”. These all from single player games, as I don’t care for idiotic paintball arenas full of yelling retarded kids on crack…


Given that IF is a relatively sedate pursuit, and the audience is mostly folks for whom entertainment at the time of play consists largely of intellectual stimulation (otherwise they’d be playing Candy Crush Saga), can we generalize about the sort of feedback loops (repetitive rewards which stimulate a player to seek more repetitive rewards) which are most effective in the IF medium?

Would these be unlocking new narratives, novel interactions with the world model and objects, discovering new aspects of characterization… or something else?

Fair from this year’s IF Comp is an interesting example of a game that offers pervasive player choice. It’s a relatively short game, and I played several rounds in the allotted two hour judging time. For two games, all I did was try to peddle books-- which turned out to be quite humorous at the end, when my character finally had to judge the science fair and had not examined any of the exhibits. On another, I tried to take judging the fair seriously, and found out all kinds of other things are possible in the game.

Certainly Fair presented an authorial point of view, but managed to accomodate player participation generously (a difficult balancing act). I enjoyed the game quite a bit, and wanted to continue replaying-- which, I think we’ll all agree, is a rarity in the IF genre.

What can we learn from Fair about good game design? On the other hand, were there horrible flaws in Fair that we ought avoid from a design perspective?

Though I very much enjoyed Detectiveland, I don’t have much desire to replay it. In what respects is Detectiveland different from Fair to account for such an outcome?


Fair was actually the game that broke my comp game-playing stride. I also started off with the book selling, but when I eventually realized that was more of a distraction and I should be getting on to judging, I was a bit frustrated and overwhelmed. I stopped playing, meaning to get back to it at some point, but never did. I admit it’s more of a personal choice, but I’ll always be a fan of bottleneck design where choices are initially limited.

I have a bias when it comes to comp games; I want them to put their best foot forward in that first two hours of game play and be efficient with my attention and time. That design issue aside, Fair seemed written well enough and I thought it was more than possible that the main game was entertaining which is why I wanted to come back to it… but alas, I didn’t, and it was the last comp game I played.


Hope you do, let us know.

My problem with games discussing digital addiction is that, well, games might tip me off to something I never explored that I’ll wind up wasting 3 hours playing.

In games, yes. When they get super abstruse they don’t help. And app addiction is a pretty awful way to waste time, and people are paid to think of ways to keep consumers stuck.

But I’ve found that on social forums or learning forums, when they’re meaningful, they’re a big help. E.g. stackoverflow encourages me to upvote helpful stuff or leave comments and maybe even focus on participation I’d put off. Or codeacademy lets me look at what will give me the most bang for my learning buck next, or even just gives an award for doing a lesson 5 days in a row.

edited to add reply to endosphere:

Thanks. I think I really cleaned up the starting narrative so you don’t have to worry about if you played PC. So that’s something I can fix. I also do think that I write for myself and accept if people just don’t like parts of the game, as often the feedback is helpful. Points are secondary.

Glad you found EXITS useful. It’s sort of a staple along with VERBS of stuff to implement. I think it’s useful for the player, and it also helps me focus. And it’s a safety net if things go wrong. Unfortunately I didn’t really -test- it programmatically, due to lack of time.


I played it and my reaction was pretty similar to yours: great idea, ambitious plan, but the design and implementation didn’t live up to the aspiration. It wasn’t overly buggy-- I did manage to finish the game and get 3 of the 5 endings during the judging time (and got the other 2 afterward), but I had to lean on the walkthrough heavily. It could have used a lot more attention to either whittling away the extraneous bits or fleshing them out in a way that would be more interestingly responsive and not underclued/red-herringish.

It actually reminded me a lot of Marshall Tenner Winter’s games, except that it seemed to make newbie mistakes that I think MTW has learned not to make.


Winter is certainly under appreciated in my opinion. I’ve enjoyed almost all his games, even though there’s usually one glaring design problem per game. For example in the 2014 IF Comp he had an entry called Jesse Stavro’s Doorway that was a very good game-- right up until the conclusion, when players were offered a really lame ending that was obviously slapped together in a hurry. Even despite that I scored it highly as tied for fifth place that year (in the official results tally, the entry placed 19th).

I didn’t save a transcript from Steam and Sacrilege, but I think you’re right, the many issues I saw are probably due to a overambition (as is often seen in Winter’s games as well) combined with lack of design experience. I just felt sad to see something not working out when someone had clearly expended so much effort on it.


The 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition website is now offering a short post-event survey for everyone who participated in the process. The survey is available at the IF Comp website. If you have suggestions for improving future competitions, let the organizers know your ideas.


Thanks for the comments on Fair. I guess the underlying force is “you can never please everybody” and I had specifically written this game to address issues people had with my previous games. Two years ago it was too open and did not direct the player and people gave up. Last year it was too limited and people wanted other things to do. I tried to strike the happiest medium by giving the player a goal, then having a character spur you on the “main quest” and making the game not punish the player for any action and short enough that if you didn’t get everything done it wasn’t a slog to try again. One day hopefully I’ll hit it right.


Well, yeah, I’m completely aware that my first impression was a bit unfair which is why I held off rating until I had seen more of it. Of what I saw, everything about the game seemed competently put together.

Without having seen the rest of the game yet (still), I wonder how feasible it would be to move the starting room to another location in the fair, allowing the player to find the selling-books minigame as a sidequest instead of the first mechanic they come across (and are somewhat punished for playing around with), forcing them to acquaint themselves with the fair itself (and how time effects gameplay) a little sooner. It might even be more interesting in a narrative sense to hold back on some of the sci fi author background of the PC until they reach the hallway room from their own wanderings.

But hey, if you’re happy with “Fair” as it stands, more power to you, and it’s very possible I wouldn’t have rejected some of its elements under other circumstances. Releasing games is definitely an eye-opening experience for most of us where we find only a fraction of players really enjoy what we make, and hopefully, knowing at least some people get you makes it all worthwhile. Keep writing the games you want to see!


I intended the game to be quick and open-ended so people could do what they wanted. Most people did not report any problems with the scope of the game, but I can understand there are players who prefer to follow a trail of breadcrumbs. There is no real “lose” condition. You can wait in the first room for sixty turns, judge the fair blindly, and that’s hunky-dory as far as the plot is concerned. Your play-through where you just sold books is just as valid a way through the story as someone who finds all the secrets.

The principal informs you of your duties and your time limit within three turns of starting the game, so I don’t know what to say if players don’t realize what else was going on.

There are ways you can gimmick the system though. You just have to explore the environment a bit. I hope that’s not too much to ask in a very small parser game that doesn’t require much of anything from the player.

On edit - read this back and don’t mean to be argumentative. I do appreciate the feedback but the “issue” you had is one of the built-in challenges intended - “how do I spend my time here?”