One oft-mentioned fact about the IFComp is that it’s the longest continuously-running game competition on the Internet (that we know of, anyhow). It’s even older than Windows 95, believe it or not—discussions about the comp began on rec.arts.int-fiction, one of the main watering holes of the interactive fiction community, months before Windows 95’s August 15 release date. But what was that first comp like?
The rules were simpler—well, the rule was simple. Kevin Wilson, the first comp’s organizer, enforced just one: each game had to be completed in two hours or less. Sound familiar? It was originally suggested that games be limited to a certain number of rooms—tricky to imagine how this would have worked once non-parser IF was entered into the comp, of course, but the counterargument at the time was that limiting the number of locations in a game doesn’t necessarily cap its length. (Still true—just ask devotees of the room-escape genre.)
Though there were only twelve entries total—by comparison, there were 61 in 2016—they were managed in a a bit more complicated manner than in modern comps. Judging was split based on the development system used to create them: either Inform or TADS. So that first year, there were two first-place winners, two second-place, and so on. This split was due to concern that everyone judging wouldn’t be able to play games from both systems, as interpreters weren’t available for every platform and the computing landscape of 1995 was more diverse than it is now. To give you an idea, it was still possible to buy a Commodore Amiga in a store back then. This split was removed in subsequent comps.
Among the authors were some familiar names:
- Stephen Granade, who would go on to run IFComp from 1999 to 2013
- Magnus Olsson, who edited SPAG between 1997 and 1999
- IFTF’s own Andrew Plotkin
The prize pool worked exactly the same way it has for the lifespan of the competition, with winners taking their pick of donated prizes in descending order. Some notable prizes:
- A signed copy of Kevin Wilson’s in-progress game Avalon, which wouldn’t see a release until three years later under the title Once And Future
- A copy of Leather Goddesses of Phobos on 5¼” floppy
- $100 donated by Eileen Mullin, editor of XYZZYnews
Besides the IFComp site’s own page, SPAG’s coverage of the competition makes for good reading about IFComp’s inaugural year. You’ll find reviews of each entry— and of course, all the entries are still playable in modern interpreters, and in my opinion have aged well. My own favorites? The One That Got Away and Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents “Detective”. I’ve never been good at puzzle-y IF, you see…