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The Hows and Whys of the Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

by Stephen Granade

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It's an unspoken tradition: every year after the Annual Interactive Fiction Competition ends, people begin arguing about how the competition should be changed. This is certainly a good thing -- the competition has changed for the better thanks to some of these discussions. However, much time has to be spent explaining why the competition is structured as it is, only to have to go through the same explanations the next year. When the competition is held, how long it lasts, how games are rated, all were deliberate choices, and discussion of changing any of these should involve why the choices were made in the first place.

To prepare for the next competition, I've explained the reasoning behind the competition's structure.

When It's Held

When the competition was first formed, the newsgroups were mainly the province of academicians. The timing of the competition reflects that fact. Each year, and saw a new influx of people in September, shortly after the start of the new school year. The games are released in October to give students time to discover the newsgroups and the competition before the judging begins.

This has the added benefit of leaving the summer months for writing games. Both students and teachers tend to have more free time in those months, free time they can spend coding and debugging games.

The makeup of the newsgroups have changed, and nowadays Internet connections are no longer the province of colleges and universities. Still, the summer is when many people have more free time, and we wouldn't want them wasting that free time outside.

The Two-Hour Rule

All games which are entered are to be played for only two hours before a judge rates the game, and authors are to keep that limit in mind when creating their games. This hearkens back to the original intent of the competition: encourage more short games, especially Inform games. The competition has grown since then, but it is still for short works of interactive fiction.

The two-hour rule isn't meant to keep judges from playing a game to the end, only to insure that no game is judged based on material seen after the two-hour mark. Judges can play a game for longer than two hours, but they can't change their rating after that time.

All Games Must Be Unreleased

The competition is meant to encourage new games, not be a showcase for older games.

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