2016 Interactive Fiction Competition


ah. Well, that interface has been used a lot to try to keep up with times. graphical point-n-clicks were born from it, eventually getting rid with verb lists in favor of all graphical clickfest. I played Shadowgate on a NES emulator…

but Robin games decidedly have more in common with older Scott Adams text-adventures.

I’ve been seeing a common trend that is to severely limit the available verbs. I hate it. These guys should go cyoa rather than corrupt parserland.

much easier to type, right? :wink:

or have less of a cleptomaniac protagonist. In many modern point-n-click adventure games, once an item is used for its single purpose, it’s discarded. But in IF with a magical bottomless inventory, it keeps there forever unless we manually drop it. and we’re always afraid of dropping anything because it could be needed later, say, in the very last puzzle…

in modern IF, we’ve been used already for quite some time with automatic door opening once we have a key. How about some automatic item discarding once its purpose is no more?


In practice, this would be a big improvment in almost all cases. In theory, though, the better solution in the overwhleming majority of games would be to facilitate emergent gameplay. Instead of providing ten one-off items in the game world, provide three or four items and allow the player to combine them in various configurations for different purposes. This is a simple way to increase player engagement, and implementing this style of interaction doesn’t really take much more time or planning than the conventional approach.

Implementing multiple plot points is more work, but also very rewarding to players. Instead of having a one-use item, have one item that can be used several ways, with each way being mutally exclusive as it creates a tangent in the narrative. For example, let’s say we have an “open door” scroll whose text vanishes after the spell is cast. The player can use the scroll to open the door to area A or area B, but not both, creating dynamic replay value.

On the parser front, there are enough relevant entries to say we have at least a minor resurgence of maze navigation games this year. Mazes may have been fun in the 1980s, but now… they just seem painful.

On a related note, I’ve been saying for many years that an “exits” command or similar functionality is one of the best player-friendly features a parser game can incorporate (assuming the game has a physical world). I’ve so far found five parser entries that have something like an “exits” command, and as always each of these is getting one bonus point.


Exits may be handy. But please only when called, not in every room description a la Scott Adams, too gamey.

BTW, the sad state of IF these days: little lively discussion about the games, many mean reviews by countless one-shot clones. Discussion is not welcome as it inevitably leads to someone somewhere taking offense…


By the way, I asked the author if she was planning to update this game during the comp; here’s what she said (quoted with permission):

Personally I am in favor of the update rule and I think it would be useful to update this game during the comp so that more people will be able to finish the game and give it a fair judgement, but I respect her decision to wait until it’s over. Frankly I doubt that people’s ratings would change all that much; even in its somewhat broken state, there’s enough of a game there to avoid coming in last, and barring a complete overhaul, it’s not going to turn into a masterpiece either.


Hey, does anyone know whether the DOWNLOAD button for online games allows you to download the latest updated version? I think so, the text on the site seems to imply that, but I was wondering whether anyone knew for certain.

I seem to remember in the past that online games were able to update the online link only, which is ok for Twine (easy to download anyway) but not ok with, say, ChoiceScript (lots of other files, usually). But that was then, and it’s likely that’s been changed. Anyway, I could be misremembering. Anyone know?


I think the IF comp download package gets updated regularly as entries are updated, and the download is now 10 MB larger than last week. I’m not sure about the html games, the best way to find out would be to download again and check the file timestamps.

“You are Standing in A Cave” shouldn’t be singled out for problems. I felt positively sad playing another entry, “Steam and Sacriliege,” over minor but sustained quality issues that could easily have been fixed with a few hours work. I thought the author had clearly put a lot of heart and effort into the entry, and I was frustrated to see so many simple features lacking. For example, numerous “mystery rooms” undiscoverable except by travelling random directions (even in the player-character’s house, no less, which presumably the player-character would know in detail), lack of synonyms, etc-- basic player accomodation issues that have been discussed endlessly over the years.

I’m pretty well finished with the entries. As I suspected might be the case, this was an odd year of generally higher quality but lower peak quality. I don’t think there was anything in this year’s crop that will be long-remembered for greatness, but on the other hand there wasn’t a lot of junk either.

I had trouble deciding how to finalize my scores-- scoring 40 entries in the 4-6 range seemed silly, so after deciding first and second place I instead took the whole of the remaining scoring range (1-8), divided by the number of entries, and assigned an equal number of entries to each point on the scoring scale. In other words, based on sometimes small details as well as my general impression of “enjoyment factor,” I started moving entries up or down until the whole scoring range was populated by an equal number of entries at each point. Hopefully, this will help distinguish the scorings, rewarding or admonishing entries according to their relative merit.


Oh? That would seem to contradict what the site itself says…

Otherwise, the all-in-one archive contains the game files as they stood when the entry deadline arrived.

Mind you, it says 221mb but it really means 212mb. I also noticed it, re-downloaded, and realised I was downloading a 212mb file just as before.


Based on a random sampling today, apparently:

a) The zip file download of all the entries does not get updated (i.e. it contains the entries in their original state)

b) For any particular entry (including html-based entries), using the Download link for that particular entry (in the entry blurb) does offer a download of an updated version of the entry if the entry was updated.


Most awesome, excellent and other adjectives to that effect! Many thanks!


zarf has come up with a fine chart that shows parser vs choice games throughout IFComp history:


he even goes on to discuss parser-like games, such as Detectiveland, but in his second post, he gives “16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds” a choice-based label, even though it features inventory and location-based gameplay - parser stuff.

the lines are blurred. I’ve had quite more fun with this years’ twine offerings. But overall, I’d say the 2-hour limit is too great for the games, parser or otherwise, that people are making… one of the reasons is multibranching: some people will go great lengths to try to cram as many possible (unlocked) paths, but I wonder about if that’s any worth when judgement is based on a 2-3 paths playthrough? I certainly won’t go through all of them…


The chart is interesting. The first two interpretations that spring to my mind are:

  1. Parser games dropped off sharply, just as CYOA entries dramatically increased. Since historically “IF” was synonymous with “parser interface,” this probably means that the IF Comp itself was fading away, but a surge of interest from CYOA-minded folks has revitalized the event. Since the overall number of authors participating is increased, the percentage of these authors interested in parser interfaces has also increased in the past few years. In other words, “a rising tide lifting all boats.”


  1. The CYOA folks love to talk, but rarely deliver quality goods. Having been repeatedly informed of the “death of the parser” by “ineffably awesome new stuff,” many authors experimented with the newer format. Seeing the inadequacies of the latter, they are now returning to parser-based design. New folks coming along aren’t aware of many details, so they initially jump on the CYOA bandwagon, which means that format continues to grow as well.

Other interpretations are certainly possible. Does anyone else have ideas that might account for these data?

In almost all cases, I’d say that in a story with multiple endings, experiencing one or two subnarratives is sufficient to inform one’s opinion regarding the overall quality of the work. If branch A and branch B suck, branches C through J are likely to be lousy as well; and the converse is also true.

Adding a greater volume of content rather than focusing on quality content is a bad habit many hobbyists learn by observing trends in commercial gaming, so in the case of beginners we probably shouldn’t judge them too harshly. Going further, in all commercial media, inferior plot-based narratives (easy to churn out by the bushel) always outnumber superior character-driven narratives (which require more skill to craft well). In other words, yet another “beginner’s mistake.”

Does anyone disagree regarding these elements of design? If so, why?


yes, but they are returning to parser with their own ideas about parser. Namely, very constrained verb lists and quite often automatic navigation through scenes. Also, severely short, vignette-like games. Seems like their ideal is Pickup the phone booth and Aisle.

I’d rather just see a tomb for parser games than watching this travesty.


I’m not sure whether this can be illustrated by the chart, but I’ve always felt that some people came to IF wanting to do CYOA, really - but at the time there wasn’t a CYOA tool that was easy, or had an established community around it. There wasn’t even a typical CYOA adventure the way we now have Twine. On the other hand, there were lots of Inform and TADS games. And authors who probably could be doing amazing Twine games were stuck doing mediocre parser games.

It’s possible that people have come to realise that it IS possible to do the games they wanted to do. And having come to that realisation, they not only realise what the parser is NOT for, they also realise what it IS for.

As for the parser games which apparently some people are saying “should have been CYOA” about… meh. People said that about “enigma”, and I kinda see their point, but a parser game is a different experience from a CYOA game, and if an author wants to provide a parser experience with a truncated parser I think it might be positively avant-garde.

FWIW, I think Draculaland should have been a parser game. I think Coloratura should have stayed a parser game. I think Enigma certainly should stay a parser game. I also think Hallowmoor should be exactly what it is, and Porpentine should write Twine/CYOA/Porpentine games (I played some parser games of hers, and there’s something worth recommending there, but she clearly wasn’t ready for the gravitational force of the black hole that is parser-game-implementation). It’s not just what she does best; she’s bloody excellent at them, she’s always experimenting, and she has a captive audience (mind you, there’s a Chinese Whispers game where she participated and you can almost immediately tell which scene is hers, and it’s really good atmospheric stuff I’d like to see more of even in parser).

To sum up. I think the author knows best what kind of experience they want to create, and if they choose a platform it’s not for us to criticise but rather to judge what there IS rather than what WE THINK THERE COULD BE. Having said that, we all do that, and I did it in my last paragraph, but we should make sure authors understand that we’re just expressing our preferences as players, and not forcing them to give up their intended experience.

And we should make sure that we ARE just expressing our preferences, however vehemently we argue either way.

Really, I think Coloratura makes the perfect example. I fell in love with a game that allowed me to “examine universe”, and that had perfect implementation for a couple of spotty places where lesser games would have me guessing verbs, nouns and syntax. The Twine version, for me, paled in comparison. Question is - what was it originally designed to BE? If it was originally designed to be a Twine game and then made into a parser game I’ll gladly eat my words. I’m sure, though, that it was designed as a parser game.

Either way, I probably wouldn’t have cared if I hadn’t played the parser version, and played it first. I loved it so hard, it’d be hard for any alternative version to measure up.


I don’t quite enjoy games that put me in the role of a non-human character. It tries to see the world from their point of view and half fails because either feels too ridiculous (Gronk) or too alien (Coloratura). I’ve never been anything but a puny human and trying to force myself into gnome-like thinking is not an easy job.

Regarding limited verbset parser games, sometimes it works in spite of the limit, not because of it - that is, I can forgive the limitation if the game is any good. Most of the times, it’s an annoying broken fourth wall reminder that you’re playing a game - not unlike the awkward verblist interfaces early graphical point-n-clicks came up with to be “friendlier”.

I’ve seen an author being annoyed at the experience of a player trying to jump through their carefully woven story. Can you believe that? The author is annoying that a character under the control by the player might be able to jump on the spot fruitlessly and thus might have its reputation ruined in doing so. So they simply get away with that freedom, so to be again, as the author, at full command and all you gotta do is click, sorry, type the verb they chose for you, the reader of the hypertext story.

anyone would remind that person that there is that “interactive” bit there before “fiction” and that it certainly doesn’t mean just “flip the page” or “click here” to forward the story?


Ah, that’s the eternal struggle, isn’t it? It’s there even in roleplaying DnD. The party is free to completely ignore the meticulous game the DM prepared for them. The DM is free to retaliate by killing them instantly somehow.

I think I know which author and quote you mean. I’m going to reproduce the quote, without ill intent, because I’d like to comment on it (but not in a way, I hope, that the author feels they have to defend themselves).

In my case, the reason is that I am primarily interested in parser
storytelling – which has a long history in IF, dating back to the IF
Art Show – and thus do not want the reader to experience a “story” that
consists of 50 turns of “You jump on the spot, fruitlessly.” That would
be an awful story.

This is really interesting, because it assumes that a player who types JUMP 50 times in a row is not to be blamed to making a boring and uninteresting story. It even assumes that it detracts from the story, which I daresay most people won’t even bat an eyelid at. However, people WILL notice if you give a non-standard response to a command like that.

I appreciate the sentiment here - trying to make interactive stories, not games. I’m not sure I follow that the parser is the best venue for it, the author’s arguments certainly failed to convince me, but if it’s what the author wants to do, I’m not sure it’s in our place to browbeat them. We are free to play their games or not (I prefer to play them, so I can at least experience something new).

The really fascinating thing about that quote is what a different mindset it has to the one that, for instance, I have. I think Jon Ingold would have a similar mindset to this author’s, because he’s also tried a lot to inovate in order to tell stories (My Angel), immerse the player (Fail-Safe), retain mimesis at all costs (Insight) and, in the end, do away with the parser (Colder Light and, of course, everything from Inkle).

And let’s be fair. If Jon Ingold said something like this he’d probably be better received. (EDIT - “Fair” works both ways - he’d have said it differently)

So I appreciate your annoyance, and I share a lot of it. I’m having a really fun time right now with Speculative Fiction. I am really not interested in fancy high-falutin’ avant-gardisms; not as much as I am interested in something well written, well implemented and with heart behind it. But, authors should be free to do what they want to do. All we can do is provide constructive feedback, based on our opinion, and accept that they may take it or leave it depending on a number of things, including - but not limited to - what they had for lunch, whether they had their favourite dessert, and whether it’s raining outside.

EDIT - I knew I’d forgotten to say something else. It’s all about implementation - if a player keeps trying verbs and they’re rejected, that’s probably worse than trying to do the same command (which works) 50 times in a row. When playing homebrew parsers, as soon as I realise the parser is pretending to understand something it doesn’t I get ready to quit the game at the slightest provocation. You can’t communicate with a game like that, unless the game is not really a game but a story and it’s going to go on regardless of what you type.

Which brings me to Photopia, and Rameses. Both are highly constrained. But they had to be parser games; they needed the illusion of the parser freedom in order to lead the story (Photopia) or downright cut the player’s wings at every corner on purpose (Rameses). Or even to make a bigger point, as in Constraints.

I really think there are enough people making more traditional parser games that we needn’t worry about oddities, which have always existed and thank god for them (isn’t Galatea an oddity? And you brought up Aisle - that was a revelation, it brought something totally new and unheard of, and is integral to IF as we today know it). Whether they’re making the sort of games we favour… isn’t that always the thing? The one we can’t (and shouldn’t!) control, to boot.

EDIT 2 - Another question. Who is writing the story? The author or the player? And does it really matter? What IS a story in parser IF - is it the transcript that includes floundering around? Or is it the story bits that happen during the game? This used to be a non-issue, but suddenly we have stories and we have games and authors and players with strong preferences on both sides.

Should authors take offense for being called out by someone who doesn’t like what they’re doing? They can’t - every author in every medium has to put up with that. Should players bully authors into making the games they want to play? Absolutely not, I don’t think, especially since there ARE other games that they want to play, so it’s not like a barren field.

Pffff. I was trying to reach a grand conclusion and all I can think of is “cut out the drama, people, let’s play the games”. It’s lacking a certain something. But it’s kinda true. It tends to cut discussions short, though. :stuck_out_tongue:


I did a quick replay of Photopia. even as constrained as it is, it never feels that way and frankly it handles pretty much anything you throw at it in gracious and completely “on topic” manner. A hallmark of puzzleless interactive fiction that indeed changed the way we saw the medium that should be more studied by wannabe authors…

BTW, there was some discussion here about “You’re standing in a cave”? Truly beginner stuff, not unlike the tons that pop up in playfic. why even bother? even twine entries are better than that…


This may well be my favorite topic, as most of my posts in this forum have asked this question in one way or another. In an effective interactive work, both author and player should be co-constructors of a narrative that emerges as the player makes choices meaningful to himself amidst a framework provided by the author.

Consider the analogy of a playground. The builder of the playground provides swing sets, slides, monkey bars, and so forth. Each child who enters the playground will then entertain themselves according to their own interests adapted to the potentialities provided by the playground designer.

My point has always been that authors who are uncomfortable with (or unambiguously resent) this inherent aesthetic funciton of interactive media have chosen the wrong medium in which to express themselves as artists. Such artists should pursue more traditional written mediums (essays, short stories, etc).

Personally, I don’t mind if someone playing a game I’ve designed constructs their own narrative that consists of jumping fruitlessly on the spot for fifity turns, apart from the concern that if this is the most interesting narrative they can construct I have likely failed to provide a cogent framework for them to explore with satisfaction. However, my objective is always to above all entertain. Many authors working in the IF genre have other artistic objectives-- objectives which may directly conflict with the interactive nature of the medium itself.

As these considerations reflect inherent aspects of the interactive medium, I do feel these matters should be open to fundamental critique that goes beyond “I didn’t like this” to say instead “This work is a failure, because the author has ineptly misused their chosen medium of expresssion.”

The aesthetic theory I’m proposing (again) is certainly not a widely held view, and is often considered controversial. Are there important aspects of the IF endeavor which my theory ignores or diminshes?


I think everyone will answe that differently. Different people will have different thoughts on what’s important. Personally, I think you’re spot on. It’s also like that article on Spag a while ago about IF being like improv theatre - I loved that article, and if you haven’t read it yet, I suspect you’ll enjoy it too.

I don’t necessarily agree with

but it’s for the reasons I’ve already stated. Agree to disagree. :slight_smile: Anyway, it IS possible for the audience to realise that the author has chosen the wrong medium, and for the author to gain immensely by choosing another medium. It’s a fine line. It’s always peaceful when things are in their place - but when someone starts juggling things, and putting things in different places… well, contemporaries may call them madmen or geniuses. History may vindicate them as visionaries, or just keep calling them foolish. It’s really hard to judge. That’s why I try to keep an open mind.

To make an analogy with music, Bizet’s Carmen - today one of the most loved operas of them all, most widely recognised and most easily sung, whistled or hummed - was at the time criticised for being very hard to listen to, and breaking all sorts of conventions that the audience’s ear was used to. Nietzsche made very unfavourable criticisms of Wagner, and his criticisms are not unlike the criticisms we might make today of contemporary, hard to listen to music. Given all that, I’m uncomfortable with stating anything; I might be prejudiced without even realising it! I might be holding on too much to my own likes and dislikes. I might, in fact, be a child scowling at peas and broccoli - but as an adult, there is no reason for me to keep avoiding peas and broccoli.

EDIT - To be fair, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was a huge, huge flop at the premiére. Rather than be depressed (as did Bizet) or call the audience ignorant buffoons (as did Wagner), he rewrote, ammended, corrected the score. The result is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to live (and you have to hear it live, recordings really don’t do it justice). Just goes to show…


I see the magnum opus of IF is minecraft. lmao

seriously, I believe a playground in the hands of child alone is pretty bland. The author of IF should not not merely provide a playground but also enliven it with interesting activities…

you have failed nothing if dumbasses don’t get it. I often see authors saying they should “better communicate” their intent. Better communicate their intent to get more players into IF almost always means getting down to the lowest common denominator, into the kind of caveman thinking regular “gamers” seem to get into when confronted with the parser: “hey, look at that moon, touch moon, eat moon”. And this leads to Lost Pig. either that or just remove the parser all along and just provide links for compulsive clickheads.

so, just do your thing and people commited to the genre will appreciate.

but that’s precisely what we want: your personal opinions, not censored crap that goes well with everyone and truly says nothing because of it…

but what about the original score? did you ever listen to it to compare? :wink:


Touchè. By modern standards the original score might be a masterpiece. But you’ve just argued against yourself here, I’m afraid, by saying that the audience maybe had no right to meddle in Puccini’s vision. :wink: