In December, Emily Short, the author of Galatea and Metamorphosis, announced a new competition: SmoochieComp 2001. Anyone who wanted to could write a short text adventure whose main theme involved romance and love.
There would be no prizes; instead, there would be reviews, written by a panel of judges. Games had to be submitted by February 1st, and would be released on -- when else? -- Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day has come; the SmoochieComp games are available; and the reviews, by Paul O'Brian, J. Robinson Wheeler, Duncan Stevens, Kathleen Fischer, Lucian Smith, Bridget Sweeney, and me, have been posted. Shortly before the games were released, I had a chance to talk with Emily about the competition and how she felt it went.
Stephen: What made you decide to hold a SmoochieComp?
Emily: Well, I'd been talking with various people about how games released outside the main competition didn't seem to get enough attention, so I was thinking about what would be a good model for a comp that would be different (less focus on scoring things) but provide some feedback. I was drawn to enter last year's IF Art Show by the promise of reviews and attention, so I thought maybe that general concept would be a good model.
As for the subject matter, that was partly due to things that people were talking about on ifMUD and partly because I really enjoyed Kathleen Fischer's Masquerade game in Comp2k, and wanted to see more of the same genre, I decided.
Stephen: Given the dearth of games involving romance, at least compared to science fiction and fantasy topics, were you concerned about the response you'd get?
Emily: Well, not really. My sense from chatting with people was that a lot of them thought it was a cool idea; they just hadn't gotten around to writing any games like that. So I figured that I'd get at least enough to make it interesting, and I had plans for a game of my own to enter (not the one I wound up entering, unfortunately, but that's another story).
Stephen: And how many of the people who thought it was a cool idea actually entered?
Emily: Heh. Well, obviously, I can't tell for sure, but I did hear from probably half a dozen people who said, "I know what I'm going to write!!" and then didn't. Which is a pity -- there are a couple of games that I heard half a premise for and I wish I could play, so it's too bad that they remained vapourware. On the other hand, I know that Real Life intervenes; I don't think I had particularly unrealistic expectations. But I did think that the positive initial response would mean that I'd get some games, even if they weren't from the people I first talked to.
Stephen: What was your impression of the games that were entered?
Emily: I thought we got an interesting range. Obviously I enjoyed some of them more than others; I thought it was, well, curious that so many of them were tonally dark. I think I was hoping for a couple more games that would be silly and perky, or just plain sweet; on the other hand, some of what I did get exceeded my expectations in other directions.
I thought Voices was very interesting; I'm not one of the reviewers, of course, but at some point I may write something about my response to it, which was fairly strong, though perhaps not quite what the author intended.
In any case, on the whole I have to count it a success, in the totally selfish sense that it produced things I enjoyed playing.
Stephen: And of the authors?
Emily: I thought it was interesting that a wide range of people entered, from old practitioners to total first-timers.
Final question: how was your experience as a competition organizer, and would you do it again?
Emily: I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness and helpfulness of the reviewers, without whom this entire project would not have worked at all. I picked out a group of people whose past reviewing work has impressed me, on the theory that if the only reward for entering was reviews, the reviews should be good ones. The administrivia of it had frustrating moments from time to time, not least because I was coordinating for a few days from Israel, without my usual resources, and I could've done without that wrinkle. So it's been a headache on a couple of occasions, but I might do it again -- in a year or two.