Way back in 1995, Graham Nelson had recently released his language Inform. People who wanted to use it didn't have the large pool of example code to learn from that users of other languages had.
Enter Kevin Wilson, an undergraduate at Berkeley. He was a fan of text adventures, and was hard at work on a game of his own, Avalon (aka Once and Future). When the idea of a competition to encourage new short Inform games came up on rec.arts.int-fiction, he ran with it. After a fair amount of debate on rec.arts.int-fiction, Kevin planned a simple competition with one rule: every entry had to be winnable in under two hours. He divided the competition into two categories, one for Inform games, the other for TADS games.
The judging rules were as simple as the entry rule. Anyone could vote. All they had to do was play every game in a division and then vote for their top three choices.
A total of twelve games were entered in that first competition. Several were by now-familiar people: Neil deMause, Leon Lin, Jason Dyer, Andrew Plotkin.
The response was remarkable. After the votes had been counted, discussion of all the games went on for weeks. Traffic on rec.arts.int-fiction took a dramatic upswing, and the flood didn't slow to a trickle for some time.
The second year, a few minor changes were made to the competition. The divisions were eliminated; each game was judged against all others, regardless of the language used to create it. Instead of voting for the top three games, judges ranked each game on a scale of one to ten. This format has stayed the same since.
After three years of running the competition, Kevin stepped down, citing a lack of time to devote to the competition. The fourth competition was organized and run by David Dyte. Since then, Stephen Granade has been the organizer.
Winners of the past competitions were:
2007: Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota (writing as Grunk)
2006: Floatpoint, by Emily Short
2005: Vespers, by Jason Devlin
2004: Luminous Horizon, by Paul O'Brian
2003: Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto
2002: Another Earth, Another Sky, by Paul O'Brian
2001: All Roads, by Jon Ingold
2000: Kaged, by Ian Finley
1999: Winter Wonderland, by Laura A. Knauth
1998: Photopia, by Adam Cadre
1997: The Edifice, by Lucian Smith
1996: The Meteor, The Stone, and A Long Glass of Sherbet, by Graham Nelson
1995: Uncle Zebulon's Will, by Magnus Olsson (TADS); A Change in the Weather, by Andrew Plotkin (Inform)
This year's organizer is Stephen Granade.