I had intended to write another long section here about the design of Hill Ridge Lost & Found, and then a final section about meta-level notes, but I had to get back to real life for a while, and now the shadows are getting long. So I'll just wrap up quickly.
Mostly I wanted to say: sorry about the bugs. All known issues have been fixed since Oct. 18, but some early players (as well as those committed to playing the original entry) had a rough experience. Scheduling problems led to my adding lots of content after testing, and my own later "testing" just wasn't very thorough. In the end I just ran out of time, even though I left myself plenty. I submitted the game less than an hour before the deadline, at which point I had been up 24 hours past my bedtime. So the final push was close to 40 straight hours of work with no sleep. That's when things go wrong. That's why the writing near the end, for example, is relatively weak.
Aside from the game itself, there are a few things I wanted to do better before I ran out of time: the cover art, the ABOUT text, and online play. The art was done very early, and I never got back to making a version that would look good small. For some reason I was thinking you would be able to click it to get a larger version.
As for the ABOUT text, I have to take you back to Koustrea's Contentment for a moment. It was my first game and first IFComp entry. In that ABOUT, I said the game was intended for veteran players of IF. That meant parser IF, because I wasn't thinking about the other kinds at the time. And really the statement only meant that I wasn't providing an introduction to parser IF and was too lazy to dig up a link to one. I fully expected that 100% of the IFComp judges would be veteran players of parser IF, and furthermore, that they would all have the HTML TADS Player Kit. (Boy, was I wrong.) So the statement wasn't even aimed at judges; it was for the game's life after the Comp. For Hill Ridge Lost & Found, it wasn't that I hadn't learned my lesson, it was just that all I had time for at the end was copying and modifying the Koustrea ABOUT. Barely any time to think about it.
It goes without saying that I've learned a lot, having been through two cycles now, and some of my opinions have changed. With Koustrea, I treated the Comp like a festival, a place to publish a work. But I learned that your work is then judged as an entry, assessed as an entry, written about as an entry, not a work. With Hill Ridge, I made a shorter work, but still one that wasn't quite tailored to the Comp. I still think that approach is fine and I don't want to discourage it, but from here on out, any further IFComp entries of mine will really be Entries. There's a lot to be said for synergy. In principle, I'm still against making an entry that is specifically designed to win, but there's shouldn't be anything wrong with treating the IFComp Entry concept as its own art form and making high-quality things.
As obvious as it is, I had to learn that the IFComp is really the Short-IF Comp. And now it seems to be morphing into the CompEntryComp, as an increasing number of entries fight for attention. And that's fine; I wouldn't change a thing, I just need to do it better. That is, not in terms of my scores, but in terms of making games that are more accessible and inclusive to the current audience.
Which brings me to the TADS issue. The plan was to take advantage of the TADS compile-for-web option, which would solve a lot of problems. In theory, the online TADS format is ideal: very powerful, universally playable, and I get to keep working in a language I'm familiar with. But I ran out of time to investigate it enough. Also, perhaps more importantly, I CAN'T GET THE MOTHERF****R TO WORK! Bugs, and a complete absence of useful documentation. And help is not forthcoming. So that whole thing is in limbo right now. Which is frustrating, because in theory it looks TOTALLY AW*SOM*! I was ready to spearhead the inevitable TADS revolution, but I guess it will have to wait.
And now, a heartfelt thank-you to the 32 people who played my game; even more thanks to those who wrote about it. I'm in tremendous debt to those who found bugs early; it totally saved the day. For one thing, I was able to grab a cool prize (the T.I.M.E. Stories game, which has already arrived from Amazon). But I'm especially glad that the feedback helped to give later players a much better experience. I was especially lucky, I think, to have Lynnea Glasser randomly have Hill Ridge show up very early in her list of playthroughs. That alerted me to more problems than I'm willing to enumerate.
I'd like to recognize one possible improvement in particular that my critics collectively came up with. My room descriptions were too long and confusing with the exit-rundown being usually incorporated into an already-long paragraph. It's a good idea to break the exits out into a separate one. That's first on my list for a later release.
So... what's next for me in IF Land? Well, there's two things I'm sure I want to do. One is to branch off like a madman and do one of those newfangled clicky-things in Twine or something. The other thing I want to do is keep making puzzle-based Text Adventures like it's 1986 and you refuse to buy a Nintendo while there's still an Infocom game somewhere on a store shelf.