IFDB page: Domicile
Final placement: 18th place (of 30) in the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition
For last year’s comp, John Evans submitted a game called Hell: A Comedy of Errors. That game started out very cool and interesting, but after playing for about an hour, it became quite apparent to me that the coding wasn’t finished. Well, some things don’t change. I mean, the ABOUT listing for this game includes the admonition, “for known bugs, type BUGS.” Known bugs? Listen, if you know there are bugs, especially basic ones like those in this list (“hints not done yet”), that means your game isn’t ready for release. So, hey: DON’T RELEASE IT!
Like Evans’ previous game, this game has some pretty cool stuff in it — there’s an interesting magic system, some good puzzles, a nice sense of expanding possibilities. The problem is, it’s not finished. I played for a while, found some of the cool stuff, and solved a few puzzles. I also found a ton of bugs (not on the “known bugs” list), which forced me into checking the hints a lot from early on — there were a number of synonym problems, some sloppy coding, some Vile Zero Errors. Then got I totally derailed by a game-killing bug (again, not on the “known bugs” list) that spat out a Zero Error and trapped me in a dead-end. So, back to the hints. I restored, tried another method, ran smack into another game-killing bug (that’s right, not on the list) that refused to acknowledge when a puzzle had been completed. So then I said, “Okay, you know what? You get a 1.”
I’m in a bad stretch, here. Three out of the last four games I’ve played have been, in my opinion, not even close to ready. This one is maybe the most aggravating of all, because it seems like the author has this problem repeatedly, so I’m going to do something I rarely do, which is to address him directly. John, your games could be really good. Really. But man, you have got to follow through! You have got to finish what you start. Polish it, test it, get the bugs out, make the code smooth. You know: finish.
Listen, I have a half-finished game on my hard drive too, and I could have slapped an ending on and released it to the comp, but I didn’t, because of this idea I have about comp courtesy. I would prefer to do the right thing by the people I’m asking to spend time on my stuff, so I won’t give it to them until I’ve done all I can to make sure they’ll actually enjoy it. If you get too bored with something to finish it, or the deadline comes before you’re ready, DON’T RELEASE IT. Releasing half-done, bug-ridden games is indefensible, because no matter how much potential they may seem to have, until they’re finished, they’re CRAP.
Instead of starting a new game for next year’s comp, polish and fix this one, so that you can actually have something good to your name. That’s just my advice, which I’m sure doesn’t mean much to you. If it did, you’d have gone back and finished Hell: A Comedy Of Errors. But you won’t be getting much respect as an author until you show that you can actually write a good game instead of a good half-game.