Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Monday, November 1, 2010

IF Comp 2010: How long is 2 hours, anyway?

(Dear authors I've betaed for: this is not directed at any specific game/comment, past or present.) 

I keep sheets for stuff I should do to be a better beta.  I love betaing, but it's an acquired skill, and I'm acutely aware when reviews go out with stuff I missed or thought but didn't mention.  I feel culpable, you know? Especially if it's stuff I wouldn't notice as an author.  That's one reason that my beta reports are full of nitpicky details.  If some player complains about misplaced modifiers, I want plausible deniability from my own conscience. 

The new note reminds me to set a timer and input times for the author in fifteen or twenty minute chunks.  "Playtime: 15 min."  The thing is, playtime doesn't really correspond to the transcript.  Maybe I spent ten minutes thinking about the problem before getting the answer; maybe I was just fooling around.  I tend to input commands as I think, so I don't stare at a wall of text.  I'm a fast reader, so I may well have a high command:seconds ratio.  Then again, in traditional games, I'm usually well behind the bell curve in actual "progress".  (It floored me when someone mentioned that Portal was an afternoon's project for her; my reflexes suck for a long-time gamer.)

I'm guessing IF - good, juicy IF, where you want to kick the heads and examine things and soak in the environment - is even more variable than most games, but that doesn't mean it's not worth checking in with the authors about, for exactly the same reason you let authors know that their puzzles require psychics with degrees in astrophysics to work out. 

Every year, there's some games that seem wildly short and some that seem wildly long.  By the time betatesting comes around, often bare days before a comp, there's not much time to change that, but hopefully it'll give the authors some sense of rhythm.  And when I say "authors", I mean me, too. 

I've got an idea I'm tickled about, won't leave me alone, but is this an hour game?  A five hour game?  Suitable for IF Comp 2011, or not so much?  Clearly, it's hugely variable, but everyone seems to agree that A quiet evening at home is short, and Anchorhead is long.  

(Sidenote: I'm kind of a shitty judge, in that I have the tendency to wander off and make dinner, and come back to the game, and judge when I feel like it.  I've done pretty good this comp at finishing the games I've started, even if the endings aren't the most positive ones.  But: a) assuming I remembered to check the clock when I started, and b) noticed it was more than two hours since I finished, I don't try to remember what I thought the score was at the two hour point.  In fact, I come up with scores that change as I play other games, and as the experience sinks in.  It's kind of like scoring food on the first bite - that's part of it, a big part, but there's other flavors to come, and maybe after you have a bite of that cheesecake, your brownie won't seem like a 9.)

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