How to make a great IntroComp entry

IntroComp 2015 logo It's IntroComp season again! IntroComp is one of the oldest active IF competitions, run yearly since 2002. The idea is to make a short intro that showcases a work-in-progress that will eventually be expanded into a full game. Competition judges are asked to rate the entries based on how much they would want to play the full version.

Here are some tips for competition participants on how to make the best of their entry.

Plan further than the intro

This is perhaps the most common sin of IntroComp entries: the author has not designed the game beyond the entry itself, which makes it hard to continue building the full version.

It would be wise to have the story and gameplay thought out at least twice as far as the actual intro, preferably all the way to the end, at least conceptually. This includes visioning what happens immediately after the intro ends and what is the overall story structure: the intro is the beginning but what happens in the middle and how the full story is resolved in the end. Otherwise there's a good change that the intro ends in a creative dead end with no easy way forward.

It's not hard to tell if an author has planned the story beyond the intro. Intros with short term design are often tightly self-contained and convey no feeling of there being something else beyond what you see. When the world and the general plot is well thought out, it's almost automatically visible in the resulting work. (See also a previous article discussing the subject.)

Start with the relevant story

Sometimes the word "intro" is taken too literally and the entry ends before the actual story even gets to start.

A fictitious example: Your story is a retelling of the 12 labors of Hercules. A good intro would contain the first labor to its completion; it would give a good indication of how the gameplay works and judges could easily imagine what the rest of the story would look like in its full version.

A bad intro would be about Hercules packing his backpack and a puzzle about finding a map for the location of the Nemean lion, and it would end just after reaching the entrance to the lion's cave. It would tell very little about what the game is actually like.

So cut off everything that's inconsequential to the big picture and start right from the action.

Make a proper ending...

Even though we're talking about introductions, it's still important that the entry reaches some kind of conclusion of its own. Sometimes that's easy to do when the story can be neatly divided into independent scenes (like in the 12 labors of Hercules example), but sometimes you'll have to work harder to find a good place to end the intro.

As a rough generalization you'd have one or two short term goals that are resolved during the intro while the overall goal is both left unresolved and made clear to the player.

...but leave some loose ends untied

This comes back to the "plan ahead" advice. Even though it's good to resolve a short term goal or two, there should be some kind of hook that makes the player want to continue playing the finished work.

A cliffhanger is a traditional way to end the intro, but it shouldn't be the only hook. As said before, the intro's purpose is to build expectations for the full version. It shouldn't be self-contained: leave room for future expansion. A couple of locked doors, interesting inventory items with reuse potential, references to NPCs not yet encountered. Anything that makes the player's imagination run wild.

Remember though that it's important that you as the author know where the loose ends are going – you can't just drop a locked door somewhere without knowing where it leads. Anything that serves a purpose usually comes across as such in the writing, whereas pointless scenery is often easy to spot.

Have the entry betatested

While technical issues are not explicitly in the judging criteria, bugs and spelling mistakes will reflect poorly on the entry. After all nobody wants to play a buggy game and the intro is taken as an indication of the finished entry's quality.

You don't need a whole army of testers, one or two should be sufficient for a short intro (although more is always better.) It's easier to find testers for IntroComp entries than for many other games because potential testers know that the game should be short and therefore doesn't require a huge time commitment. Testers can be recruited from the beta testing site or from the forum, among other places.

Remember that choice-based entries need testing too for things such as spelling, tone, and pacing.

IntroComp 2009 reviews

IFComp is still going on, but I've had these IntroComp reviews sitting on my hard disk long enough. So here they are.


Gossip has a really nice setting (playing a "journalist" of a trash magazine) that had me hooked right away. Playing further lead to a small disappointment compared to the expectations, but I would very much like to play either a reworked intro or preferrably a solid full game.

I didn't finish this one. I got as far as a cocktail party with a large amount of guests where I had to gather gossip about them. I didn't count but there were more than ten NPC's present. Talking with the waiter got me some tips on what to talk about with whom, but then that source ran out and it started to look like I would have had to write down the names of everyone and methodically go through everyone asking them about everyone else there. There were just too many of them and not enough personal interest in the characters for this to be anything else than a chore, so I gave up there.

There were some technical problems. I had a camera but i couldn't PHOTOGRAPH or TAKE A PHOTO. Some guesswork finally lead to TAKE PHOTO. Also the game suggested that there would have been a puzzle involved in catching the person I was supposed to photograph, but somehow I skipped that part by just walking into the location of the target.

There's no plotline or conflict or any motivation for the player character other than her profession. The game is not as much a game or a story but a gossip journalism simulation, but to work as such it should have the gameplay and puzzles significantly smoothed out.


Obituary tells the story of a woman who dies. The story doesn't end there; she ends up in some afterworldly place (Hell? The limbo? Back to Earth as a ghost?).

The game advances through cutscenes and the story is clearly the main point. The parser is there just so that the player could give the right command that triggers the next cutscene.

I got stuck once so bad that I had to look at the walkthrough. Turned out that you had to examine a thing twice to notice an important item, but the game never hinted at this and there was no reason or motivation for the player to do it. Contrived puzzles are often the result when the author wants to tell a story but thinks that "IF has to have puzzles". If the game is about the story, don't force puzzles in if they don't come naturally.

The player character has a nice amount of roughness and distinct personality. It's a good start for building the full game, and this is the intro I voted with the highest score.


Selves: Interactive Emo Poetry (ok that's not the real tagline but it should be) is thematically similar to Obituary but has the angst turned up five notches. And yes, you can cut your own wrists.

The unnamed player character seems to have caused a death of this woman whose body is conveniently lying next to a shovel. So far the goal can be easily guessed. Since you can't DIG with the shovel, some verb guessing leads to BURY BODY. Then the player is transported to an empty room (empty... like your soul) where you can CUT YOURSELF, but other than easing your existential pain with cliches I couldn't find anything more to do. Surprisingly CRY or DYE HAIR BLACK didn't work. Too bad this was the only game this year that didn't come with a walkthrough.

For some reason games and other fiction like this often create the mood by being vague throughout and purposefully avoiding giving any useful information to the reader. This is not the only way to create the mood the author is probably after, and Obituary demonstrates this with being much more powerful in building the mood using different techniques. It was bad luck for Selves that it was released together with Obituary. The comparison is inevitable and Obituary is the obvious winner.