How are your entries judged?
Most Dream contests are judged by "This Cat You Know" (President) and "Some Kitterwing" (Executive Producer), and other Creators and Associates. Each category has a 1-5 score and the totals are tallied at the end, with the highest scores winning. Posted below are some details about the contest categories that are always a part of each contest.
The most important category! Was touring the Dream and trying out all the things to do there enjoyable? Was it interesting and designed with others' enjoyment in mind? Fun also includes whether the activities in the Dream were too difficult to accomplish for most people and if they were too hard to find. You don't want to frustrate those there to have fun.
Stuff To Do
This sounds a lot like the Fun category but it's more about quantity of activities, where Fun is more about quality of activities. If your Dream is just a chat area or only has one game to play, it probably won't get high marks in this area. There needs to be enough to do to occupy a bunch of players for quite sometime.
This might mean making a kind of Dream no one has seen before, or doing an original twist on an old theme. The originality can also be in the art, story, music or sounds, a new type of game, or new DS. Don't forget to note in your write up about your Dream what those original pieces are though, so judges and Dream visitors can see.
This is about viable Dream design and attention to detail. Taking some time before you start Dreamweaving to plan out the layout of your Dream will go a long way. Make sure everything flows well, especially since a lot of players will visit it. To get points in this category, have a cohesive look and make sure things match. A top winner's Dream will even look like players have been inhabiting it for a while.
Some examples include: Edging your paths, having organic shorelines, wooded areas, and grassy plains, keeping colors matching, not repeating the same objects/floors on the same screen without variances or designed patterns. Also, make sure players can't see clipped areas that they shouldn't, such as the upstairs off in the black.
Really complicated DragonSpeak is not necessary in winning Dream entries. But it is where the magic and fun is! Any DS needs to do what it's meant to do, so don't get more complicated than necessary.
Annotate all your DS and test it very thoroughly, including under stress of multiple players being in your Dream simultaneously. If something is going to go wrong with your entry, it will most likely be DS! If you are one of those players who can do really amazing things with DS, play this up a lot to get those high scores.
Graphite and GraceKitten's Spring 2005 entry had an excellent inventory system made from DragonSpeak.
Using custom patches in Dreams is not required in most Dream contests; even using original patchwork is not required. However, your chances of winning do increase with some!
The quality of the art is also important. All should have matching perspective, outlines, shadows, scale, and color palette. You won't get as high of patch score with mis-matching or low quality pieces, so this is a good place to get help if you aren't used to patching. You can use art from someone else if express permission is given. Give credit to the artists either in a readme attached to the Dream entry, in the entry text, or webpage.
Indigo Nightfall entered "Snow Globe" in the Winter 2004 contest. Almost everything in the dream is beautiful, original patchwork.
Sounds and Music
It's easy to forget about sounds and music when you are creating a Dream. However, they can really enhance the mood and fun!
Scary theme music can give an audio cue to what the player should be feeling. Ambient sounds can also set mood, such as random bird calls for meadows, or frogs for swamps. Using sounds to show that someone is on the right track on a quest or that they successfully completed some task gives another dimension to game play.
A few hints: don't repeat the same song or noise over and over as it will just annoy players and judges. Not everything needs sounds, choose carefully to maximize the player's experience. Don't patch in too many large sound or music files that will cause the download to over-inflate. Lastly, some players don't have their sounds and music on, so if you use them in your Dream, make sure there's a visual reminder to turn them on!
Dreams need to tell some kind of story to add interest and depth to them. Although this can be shown a lot with the graphics and layout, many Dreams have an actual storyline that goes with them. These can be a backstory on a webpage, or entry text to help the player "get into" the Dream, or a quest story that develops as the Dream is experienced.
Keeping a story light and humorous will appeal to a wider audience than an overly involved storyline. This might be a good area to get some extra help in, like roleplayers who often excel in this area. Story also includes any signs or text in the Dream. Make sure you have someone double check your spelling as well.
Community friendly is a bit of a catch-all category. One part is whether you have made your Dream friendly for others. For example, do you have an area or DS in the Dream that is obviously only for you and your friends? That would count you off for community because you are not being inclusive.
Also, how well does your Dream work for crowds? Are pathways wide enough, are doors and rides designed for large numbers of players, and does the Dream manage traffic well? Do you have enough signs and text to let players know what they need to do? Do quests / games handle multiple players using them, and do they reset properly?
You can get high scores in this category if quests and games require cooperation to work well. The other thing you can do to make high scores in this category is hold events in your Dream during the festivals that go with the Dream contests.
Extra credit: Teamwork
You'll get some extra points if you show that you worked as a team with others. We don't dock any points though if you did it all yourself, though.
Quality assurance is something you can never do enough of with a contest Dream. Test everything! Test it again! And when you are done, add a bunch of players and test even more. It can be really hard to do this because often you've barely given yourself enough time to finish, and testing can be time consuming.
You can't test a Dream by yourself. You need someone else with an outside view to look for typos, broken DS, weaving mistakes, etc. Preferably, get a bunch of friends to pore over the Dream trying to break things. In most festival maps, over half of the DS is "troll proofing" DS.
It's also important to make sure puzzles and quest stages either reset when a player complete it, or don't need to. Also they should be able to handle more than one person working on the same challenge at the same time, or else seal off areas so that only one player can play at once. In sealed areas especially, you should make sure nothing will be broken if a player unexpectedly leaves or loses connection.
Putting time limits on some Dream elements can be a good way to make sure they'll get reset whether a player finishes or not. You may get counted off for really sloppy mistakes, but otherwise you do get a bit of leeway here since it is difficult to get everything working right.
Extra Credit: Webpage
Since you are not provided with webspace, you don't need a website. However, you'll get extra points if you use the web to improve your entry.
Often entrants will use the webpage to give hints and clues about the game play in the Dream or explain the backstory. They include maps of the Dream to help players find their way around. This can be really helpful for judges who might have a lot of Dreams to judge and it saves them a good deal of time.
Stevie (fire elf)'s webpage "Damon's Infection" for the 2004 Wolf Howl