IFComp 2018 Postmortem

I had two main goals in mind when I wrote Let’s Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise: create a cool hack on top of the Desmos Computation Layer, and write a good entry for IFComp, the yearly interactive-fiction writing competition. I think I succeeded at creating the cool hack—the Desmos team invited me for lunch and everything!—but in terms of IFComp, I was somewhat less successful:

The IFComp results for my game. I placed 74th with an average rating of 3.42/10.

The main issue people seemed to have with my game was its interface. Most interactive-fiction games use hyperlinks or buttons to allow you to select choices, but my game had clunky radio buttons instead, and “blank” radio buttons without choices would frequently appear. This issue stemmed mainly from my decision to hack together Let’s Explore Geography! using Desmos Computation Layer, a system that wasn’t designed for text adventures at all. DCL only lets you have one button per page, and there’s no facility for hyperlinks, so I was stuck with radio buttons. (Similarly, the empty radio buttons appear because DCL doesn’t let programs deselect radio buttons or change the number of them dynamically.) I knew the resulting interface was a bit awkward, but I didn’t expect it to be as much of an issue for the judges as it turned out to be.

I was also surprised by the number of reviewers who thought Let’s Explore Geography was an entirely serious attempt at making an educational tool. I had intended my game as sort of a light, jokey parody of a famous Canadian edutainment game from the 80s. When I submitted it to the competition, I thought it was obvious. The game had a ridiculous, over-the-top title, the game’s text was written in a very dry style with a lot of little jokes, the competition description included a list of Common Core standards the game was supposedly “aligned” with, and I’d even put “Have an edu-taining day!” on the game’s landing page! But then it occurred to me that normal, non-parody edutainment does most of that stuff, too. Whoops. I’ll have to be less subtle next time. Or, I dunno, maybe write that it’s satire in the “genre” field or something.

All in all, though, I’m glad I entered IFComp this year. While I did get a fair few negative reviews, I also got feedback from some people who enjoyed my game despite its flaws, and even the people who absolutely hated my game were polite about it and provided useful suggestions. I particularly enjoyed Victor Gijsbers’ review (he completely got what I was going for with the game) and Sam Ashwell’s review (despite being negative, it’s well-written and hilarious). It was fun to hang out on the secret authors’ forum and play through other people’s submissions, and I look forward to entering more interactive fiction competitions in the future.

(Oh, I’ve also created a post-comp version of the game that should hopefully improve on some of the interface issues.)