Rather by accident, half of IFTF’s current board of directors — myself, and Andrew Plotkin — spoke at !!Con (pronounced “bang-bang con”) in New York City earlier this month. Zarf and I both pitched talk proposals months ago, mutually unaware of the other’s activity. Learning that the conference had accepted both our pitches was a fun moment.

As it happens, Zarf spoke about a topic of potential interest to readers of this blog: the history of Glk, his own virtual-machine technology for parser-based IF games. Initially developed in the 1990s to replace the tried-and-true but quite cramped Z-Machine, Glk has become a core standard for developing and playing modern parser games, and in his ten-minute talk Zarf describes its continued development and hopeful future directions.

Zarf wrote up further thoughts about !!Con on another blog, and I link to my own talk and conference experiences on yet another. (My talk had nothing at all to do with interactive fiction!)

!!Con, now in its fourth year, also gave us a model for what a small, inclusive, and successful conference themed around creative technology can look like. The various directors and volunteers at IFTF have been thinking more on this topic lately, noting the global IF community’s ongoing success with local meetups, and recalling positive experiments with unofficial mini-conferences the Boston area saw in past years. Nothing more than a glimmer yet, but, it’s a glimmer.

Two updates this week from the IFTF Twine committee.

First, I’m pleased to announce that beginning this month, Philome.la is now being regularly backed up to an IFTF-managed archive. If you’re not familiar with Philomela, it’s been a true friend to the online Twine community for many years. As I wrote earlier this year, it hosts thousands of Twine stories for free. With an IFTF backup now in place, we can be more certain than ever that the works published on Philomela will be accessible for a long time to come.

I want to especially thank Colin Marc, one of the people who manage Philomela, for his help during the process of setting things up the backup.

Now that things are figured out with Philomela, we’re interested in expanding our backup process. We’re not the only archival option for interactive fiction resources — IFDB, IFWiki, and Intfiction.org are currently backed up to the IF Archive — but the hope is that offering more options benefits everyone. If you manage an interactive fiction resource that would benefit from being backed up (or having some redundancy added to its backups), please email us at info@iftechfoundation.org.

Secondly, the Twine committee is looking to add a new member. We’re looking for someone who is committed to supporting and improving Twine, and who can represent the interests of the diverse community of people who use Twine regularly. Committee members are expected to attend monthly online meetings, but in large part, individual member duties depend on the skills and availability of each member.

If you’d like to be considered for committee membership, please email us — same address as above.

Since IFTF’s launch party, we’ve been talking about the Accessibility Testing Project. “The Testathon”, for short. The plan was (and is) for a community effort to test IF tools and make sure they’re usable by everybody. IF has a long history of being open to gamers with visual disabilities. We want to make sure that remains true, and also that it extends to other groups of gamers.

Last fall, we put together a committee of people with experience in accessibility tools and testing — and experience in IF, of course. Then… things kind of bogged down. Turns out we didn’t think hard enough about experience in organizing a committee and making things happen.

Rookie mistake, right? And precisely because nobody was pushing the thing forward, the problem slipped to the bottom of everybody’s priority list and now it’s April. But now it’s time to start pushing again.

So: we are looking for someone to take on the Testathon organizer role. This is primarily about organizing meetings, making decisions, resolving disagreements, and generally chivvying people along to the next step. The organizer does not need to be an expert on either IF software or accessibility testing/tools; that’s why we have a committee. But they should know enough about both fields to understand what the rest of the committee is saying when they say it.

If you’re interested, or you know someone who is interested, please contact us. Thanks!

More than sixty IFComp participants responded to a survey that I prepared after last year’s competition wrapped up. (That’s around one-quarter of everyone who either entered or voted in IFComp 2016, and that’s great!) As I hoped would happen, several common threads emerged from the responses. A few highlights:

  • Of those who thought that lifting the ban on public author commentary significantly changed the competition, ten times as many people found it an improvement versus a detriment.

    As a result — and mixing in my personal observation that everything seemed to operate just fine under the simpler ruleset — we’re likely to keep this change in-place for 2017.

  • Lots of people, both judges and entrants, wish that judges could optionally leave some anonymous free-text feedback to entrants alongside their ratings. This never really occurred to me alone, so the spontaneous, many-voiced desire for it surprised and interested me.

    At least one fellow contest-organizer I’ve spoken with since expressed surprise that IFComp doesn’t do this already. I fully admit that, in nerdish naiveté, I figured that allowing entrants to include their contact information on the ballot filled this need well enough. So, this discovery alone made the survey feel worthwhile to me.

  • Many respondents would like to see a stronger link between the IFComp materials hosted on ifcomp.org and all the reviews, playthroughs, and other player-created material that the IF community (and, increasingly, the larger game-playing world) generates during the six-week judging period.

    These responses resonated the most with me. I have for years wanted to more officially recognize “reviewer” as an IFComp participatory role, just as important as “entrant”, “judge” and “prize donor”. And I have, as the evidence shows, fallen short of any action in this direction.

    So let me say it now: I hope to make 2017 the year of the review, for IFComp. We’ve got a few months before judging starts, and I plan to make use of this time to lead the IFComp committee and volunteer dev-team in discussing and implementing some simple ways to link IFComp entries with reviews. Ideally I’d like to increase reviews’ discoverability without upsetting the neutrality of the ballot itself. IFComp is larger than its ballot page, of course, and I feel confident we can find some routes that will work splendidly.

We’re still more than two months out from accepting entry-intents for this year’s competition, but it’s never too early to contribute either to the prize pool or to the IFTF fund that helps make IFComp itself possible. We set up a page about both kinds of donations last year, and every word remains true as written.

Please accept my gratitude for your interest in reading this far, your generosity should you choose to contribute to IFComp, and your shared excitement for what IFComp’s 23rd year will bring us both.

When IFTF was founded, the initial slate of board members agreed that we wanted to work towards as much transparency as possible. To this point, we’ve tried to do that, communicating via several channels (including this blog!). In January, we released a Transparency Report for 2016, detailing our financial goings-on for last year.

Today, we’re pleased to announce we’ve adopted an official Open Books Policy that requires us to publish a Transparency Report each year. In full, it reads:

IFTF seeks to be a transparent organization. Therefore, at the end of each calendar year, the Secretary and Treasurer will together write and publish a Transparency Report, which will include (but is certainly not limited to):

  • The amount and source categories of incoming funds;

  • The amount and expenditure categories of outgoing funds;

  • A general accounting of volunteers, their hours, and where these hours were spent;

  • IFTF’s monthly and yearly spending rates;

  • An assessment of the overall financial health of IFTF.

We hope to become more transparent as time goes on, not less. Therefore, while the 2016 Transparency Report is a good starting point, we commit ourselves to providing more detail in subsequent years, particularly with regard to individual projects.

We’re excited to continue operating as transparently as possible going forward!

The 2017 Whitney Biennial has something curious to offer fans of interactive fiction. Among the works shown this year are With Those We Love Alive and howling dogs, Twine works written by Charity Heartscape Porpentine.

These names may also be familiar to IF fans because With Those We Love Alive placed 5th in the 2014 IF Comp and won two XYZZY Awards that year, and howling dogs placed 11th in the 2011 IF Comp and also won two XYZZYs.

The Whitney Biennial is a venerable insitution of the contemporary American art scene. It’s previously exhibited works by Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, and Robert Mapplethorpe. And so while it’s true that this is — by far — not the first time interactive fiction has been exhibited to the public, nor is Porpentine’s work is the first at the Whitney that could be categorized as a video game, this is still an important milestone. It’s also a testament to how interactive fiction remains a thriving, relevant medium.

This year’s exhibition runs through June 11, so there’s still plenty of time to pay it a visit yourself. There’s also an Artforum interview with Porpentine online where she talks about the Whitney.

Here’s a tidbit on the theme of helping to update old IF tools. TLDR: the Gargoyle interpreter project is looking for volunteers to build the app on Windows and Linux, so that they can do a new release. (MacOS is covered.)

The full story:

Gargoyle is a popular IF interpreter. That is, if you want to play an Inform game, or a similar parser-based IF game, you can download a game file and load it up into Gargoyle.

(Yes, it’s more common to play IF in a web browser. But interpreter apps were around long before browser players — that thread runs back to Infocom’s invention of the Z-machine. Many dedicated IF fans prefer using interpreters, either because they like the native app interface or because they want to collect IF game files offline.)

Gargoyle is very flexible. It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux; it supports a variety of IF formats (Z-machine, Glulx, TADS, Alan, Hugo, and more). It was designed to display text in a typographically clean and fluent way, for a modern IF playing experience.

On the negative side, it hasn’t been updated much since 2012. That’s generally been okay! A well-tested app can remain in use for many years. But Gargoyle has run into a few snags. Some of the interpreter engines are out of date. Emily Short’s Counterfeit Monkey overran the app’s UNDO space in an unexpected way. Most seriously, MacOS 10.12 “Sierra” changed the keystroke input behavior in some subtle way which broke the app entirely.

In all these cases, the fixes were simple; contributed patches showed up on Github almost immediately. Problem was, the project was essentially shelved. The original maintainer had moved on. Nobody stood up and said “Okay, we are accepting these patches and doing a new release.”

In IFTF’s discussion of the adoptable IF tech archive, Gargoyle came up repeatedly. Is Gargoyle an abandoned project? No, there’s a mailing list and a Github repository which have some activity. Okay, can I do anything to nudge it?

At this point it sounds like I’m building up to an “I saved Gargoyle!” press release. No, no. Chris Spiegel is the one who stepped up and started organizing a new release. My role was to say, look, I’m involved with this organization which aims to support IF tools. Can we draw attention to this? Can we pass the word along?

And that’s why I’m reposting this.

I’m completely in favor of finding willing volunteers to do builds. I’m not familiar enough with any of the target systems (including specific Linux distributions) to be able to do builds, so I’d welcome anybody with that knowledge to step forward and handle it.

— Chris Spiegel, mailing list message, March 18

Chris is looking for people to do Windows and Linux builds. The last release covered Windows, MacOS, Ubuntu-i386, and Ubuntu-amd64. So we want to cover at least that much, but more would be nice.

(I have volunteered to do MacOS builds; I worked out the procedure a few months back.)

If you’re interested, join the mailing list and let us know. Thanks.

IFTF co-founder Carolyn VanEseltine last week stepped down from our board of directors at the end of her one-year tenure. (While we went public late last year, IFTF legally incorporated in March.) Carolyn has played as much of a formative role with IFTF as any of the rest of us, and we’re sad to see her leave the board — but pleased and proud at her continuing work in interactive fiction and elsewhere. Happily, she accepted an invitation from the remaining board members to remain connected to IFTF affairs through our advisory committee.

A board with only four directors sits a bit shy of the ideal, and we’ve been engaging our advisors and others towards inviting IFTF’s first non-founder director. I’m looking forward to it, honestly! Like many non-profit organizations, our founding board comprised a group of friends with a shared passion, chosen at least as much due to mutual proximity as any other strategy. We now have a chance to invite people on who add complementary skills, experience, and perspectives that the board otherwise lacks, broadening our ability to fulfill IFTF’s mission.

We’ve also published a new page for IFTF’s IFComp committee. This committee, in essence, makes public the informal mailing list I created when I became IFComp’s organizer in 2014.

For the sake of timeliness, the board created the committee last summer, in time for IFComp 2016 — and it spent the rest of the year with only one member, that being yours truly. At the start of this year, I worked with IFComp’s informal advisory group to transform it into a more formal governing body, operating under a written charter with a published roster.

Practically speaking, the organization of IFComp doesn’t change: there remains one organizer, and this person will also act as the chair of IFTF’s IFComp committee, year-by-year. The other committee members play an advisory role to the organizer. As the new page notes, IFComp’s full list of volunteers and participants rolls out far longer than this list of names; one can find a more complete roster by browsing the names attached to any particular year’s competition files on the IFComp website or in the competition archives.

Finally, the board extends a welcome to IFTF’s new communications manager, David Streever. He’ll be working with IFTF secretary Flourish Klink to better organize our social-media presence, email communications, and so on.

David is a very prolific writer in both hobbyist and commercial spheres, from his 150+ IFDB reviews through his paperback travel guides for cyclists. Clearly David cannot stop writing and I feel very fortunate that he has volunteered to extend some of that energy in IFTF’s direction!

Today’s update is short—just a quick note, mentioning that two of our board members, Carolyn VanEseltine and Andrew Plotkin, attended GDC! They’ve both been tweeting their experiences, and we’ll post more about GDC takeaways soon. In the meantime, here’s a few highlights!

Andrew live-tweeted Jon Ingold’s talk, but the tweets aren’t threaded; this is the first in the very long series:

And some old arguments were resurrected:

All in all, a very successful GDC for everyone.

One of the Twine committee’s priorities for 2017 is to improve the state of Twine documentation. We’re facing a few related challenges. First, there are two versions of Twine in use in the wild: the old 1.x release series, which many veteran users of Twine still swear by; and the newer, more web-oriented 2.x series. While some concepts are applicable to both versions, it can be confusing and frustrating for beginners to look for an answer, but find out it doesn’t apply because it talks about a different version of Twine.

Secondly, Twine documentation is scattered across the internet! Although there is an official wiki, to get the best answer to a question about Twine, you’ll likely need to do a web search. That means that not only do beginners need to sort through advice that might be outdated or doesn’t apply to the particular version of Twine you are using, they’d also have to sort through the cornucopia of the web to find a good answer.

There are three things the committee is working on to improve the situation, and they all focus on the Twine wiki. First, we’re surveying the web at large to find the best Twine resources we can. Once we’ve identified them, we’ll either make sure they’re linked from the wiki or possibly even incorporated into the wiki directly— with the permission of the author, of course.

You can help with this task! If there’s a resource you think is helpful but isn’t already on the wiki, please tweet a link at @twinethreads, the official Twine account. We’ll incorporate it into our planning process.

We’re also looking for a volunteer or two to help manage the Twine wiki. This would entail the typical gardening work that most wikis require: identifying outdated content, planning ways to better organize pages so that they are easier to find, and other organizational work. It’s not glamorous, but it has a huge impact on the community. You’ll be helping hundreds if not thousands of people become skilled with Twine. If you’re interested in volunteering, please email hello at twinery dot org. Make sure to list any relevant experience in your message, and what goals you’d have as a volunteer.

Finally, we’re planning to create more documentation ourselves. We know there are gaps in using Twine that just aren’t covered in any documentation, but in order to focus our efforts, we need to have a complete picture of the state of things. That’s why we’re gathering as much existing documentation as we can first. So, look for more updates on this part of the committee work later this year.