So I decided to enter the IF Comp (The Interactive Fiction Competition) again this year, having tried it last year and come in next-to-last place – I got outvoted by unfinished games!
This time I started late, more or less on whim, with only days to submit an idea before the deadline.
I thought I’d start with a short story I’d already published, since that would be a tried and true storyline. I gave my story list a quick glance over and said, “You know what? Deshaun is my man. That story could have gone differently easily!”
Starting out on the project was easy, too. Deshaun Stevens’ Ship Log is an epistolary story, so it is already broken into small sections. I just made each diary entry in the story a page in Twine, and then, well, I figured I’d figure out how to branch it.
That was not necessarily as easy as I thought. First I had you pick one of Deshaun’s New Year’s resolutions to follow, and I tried to make each path different to reflect what the reader wanted Deshaun to work on. Then I stared blankly at my new branch-offs and said, “Oh crap, how do I make a plot about keeping up with your diary and exercise?”
“How do I end this story in a different way and make it still an enjoyable story?”
For a long time, Deshaun was a branching story with only one branch. Then I got an idea for the character to sneak out. There was a point in the story where Deshaun was trapped in a safety quarantine. It was convenient in a short story to keep him away from the action at that point, but what if he broke out?
Well, it grew from there. I tried to always think in threes – because binary choices feel so sterile. So Deshaun ended up with three different happy endings, three different romantic endings, and three different sad endings.
When I uploaded it on what I thought was one full day before the deadline (I had recorded the date wrong and was actually on the deadline) I had made a small edit to the first page and left a DIV tag unclosed. This broke. Everything. I panicked. I could not update it until after judging began. I refreshed the updating page almost every hour until it let me in.
There were over 80 entries in the competition! After last year’s experience of having my game excoriated, I avoided the forums. I tried, in fact, not to think about it at all. I had finished the game just in time to meet a crazy high submission goal for October in preparation for NanoWriMo. So it was a shock to discover I’d placed 26th! Not shabby, eh? High enough, in fact, to get a small cash prize!
If you’re interested at all, you can play the game online here.