Taking a page from the success of IFComp’s Colossal Fund, IFTF offers a new way for IF community members to show their support for the Foundation’s ongoing programs. If you use the PayPal link on our giving page to set up an automatic monthly donation of $5 (USD) or more — an action as easy as checking a checkbox, and as spiritually uplifting as a warm spring breeze — we will salute your generosity with a place of honor among our new list of monthly supporters.

Naturally, IFTF continues to gratefully and humbly accept tax-deductible donations of any size or frequency. We also reserve the right to think of other fun rewards for those who display ongoing or otherwise significant generosity! But for now, giving a public nod to those who think of IFTF every month (or at least instruct a database running somewhere at PayPal headquarters to think of IFTF every month on their behalf) seems like the least we could do. So, we’re doing that.

If having your name printed on a static webpage somehow isn’t enough when it comes to showing off your IFTF support, then may I remind you of our gift shop! It sells an array of IFTF merch, including IF Archive stickers, IF Archive coffee mugs, and IF Archive T-shirts. (Someday we’ll put some more designs up there, but darn it we love the IF Archive.) All profits from these purchases go into IFTF’s general fund.

Since assuming management of IFTF’s accessibility testing project a few months ago, I’ve decided to update this blog every now and again with a public progress summary. Consider this the first!

This spring, the accessibility committee plans to form a number of working groups who will each create a small, purpose-built accessibility-test game. Currently, we’re planning to build games in Inform, Twine, and ChoiceScript.

Each game will serve as a sort of obstacle course of accessibility challenges, both those common to computer interactions, and those specific to IF. Notably, the entity running this course will not be the game’s player, but the game’s own development and play software. The player — one of the volunteer testers we plan to recruit, in the near future — will simply ride along and take note of how well it performs. We’ll base these challenges on WCAG 2.0 Level A, a set of recommendations that — if properly implemented — provide a broad basis of good accessibility practices.

The high-level questions each game seeks to answer:

  • Do this platform’s development tools allow an author to make appropriate affordances for players with disabilities?

    (As a simple example: Can you specify alt text that accompanies an image which appears during the game?)

  • Do the separate programs that run games created with this platform succeed in representing any such affordances?

    (If an image with a game has alt text defined, for example, will the play-platform know when and how to display that text appropriately?)

The real questions will be much more specific, of course, and many will make their way into surveys that the working groups will create alongside the test games. Earlier this year, committee member Deborah Kaplan drafted a simple example survey for a notional test game, to show the spirit we have in mind.

This work also takes a page from Roger Firth’s Cloak of Darkness. This classic specification for a tiny parser-based IF includes a number of activities that a traditional model-world game system is expected to support: moving around among rooms, playing with light sources, hanging clothes on hooks, and so on. By boasting a Cloak of Darkness implementation, a given parser-IF development system can both prove its basic functionality and provide a small, rich source-code example.

Unsurprisingly, accessibility committee members with longer personal IF histories all thought of Cloak at around the same time, once we started thinking about asking testers to play a pre-arranged game of some kind. Since we will aim to test not model-world flexibility but rather affordances for players with disabilities, we opted to create new works rather than explicitly adapt this one. But, threads of that trusty old Cloak will wind through our output, just the same.

If you said hello to me at GDC last week, I might have slipped you a surprise:

Get on board the early hype trait for the new NARRATIVE INTERACTIVE FICTION ADVENTURE GAMES CONVENTION -- coming to Boston, USA, mid-2019

(Yes, there are typos. We apologize. The flyer was thrown together at the very last minute.)

But I didn’t say hello to everybody at GDC, or even all the IF-related people. (Con crud laid me low on Thursday; I missed some important parties.) And I never intended this to be a secret, anyhow. So here’s our more public announcement:

IFTF intends to run some kind of convention (or conference) for lovers of interactive fiction, narrative games, adventure games — all the forms of story-forward interactivity. Join our mailing list for more info!

If I handed you one of these flyers, I immediately added “Planning is in a very early stage.” We don’t even have a name for the thing yet! (“Narrative interactive fiction adventure games convention” is unwieldy and has a terrible acronym.) In fact, I’m still wavering between calling it a “convention” or a “conference”. Or a “conferention” maybe.

However, I can tantalize you with some early statements:

  • We will do this. In Boston. Sometime in the summer of 2019. We’re aiming at June but that could slide around.
  • It will be fun!
  • We are a small group of collaborators, mostly from the Boston indie-dev scene. We have not yet formed up as a committee or decided who is carrying what role yet, so I will leave the names for a future announcement.
  • We intend to welcome all sorts of interactive narrative: Twine, parser games, point-and-clicks, visual novels, graphical adventures, experimental hypertext. There are a lot of disconnected “IF communities” these days — many of them don’t even think of themselves in those terms, but they’re still exploring the world of narrative games. We’d like to be a place where they can all get together and talk.
  • This will be an event for both creators and players (and people who are both!) That’s why it’s both “convention” and “conference”.
  • We’ll probably lean towards the indie side of the spectrum, since giant companies already have their own conferences.
  • Our intention is to be affordable and welcome a diverse range of voices. We will have program content from game designers you admire and also designers you’ve never heard of.
  • We want to make this an annual event.

Having said that, I acknowledge that not everything about our plan is going to be ideal the first time out.

  • The first (2019) conference will be limited in size. This is IFTF’s first real-life event. We want to approach it conservatively and scale up over time.
  • “Boston” and “affordable” are not words that go together smoothly. We apologize for that. Our core group is mostly Boston-based, and we know this area best — there’s no practical way we could run the event in a different city. Maybe we’ll pick a different city for 2020.
  • For that matter, my country’s policies are currently unfriendly to visitors from abroad, and actively hostile to visitors from Muslim-majority countries. Some conferences are reorganizing outside the US until matters improve. I support that idea, but again, it’s not practical for us the first time out.

We intend to keep these issues in mind and look for ways to mitigate them as our experience and resources grow.

It’s all a year off, so we don’t have any more info for you yet. But if you’re interesting, please join this mailing list to receive news and announcements. The list will be low-traffic — no more than a couple of posts a month, usually less.

(We’ll also post important announcements on this blog, and also our twitter account and so on. But the mailing list is how to stay in the loop specifically about the convention.)

If you’re interesting in helping with the event, please drop us a note! We don’t have tasks for volunteers yet — as I said, we haven’t even figured out our own roles yet. But we will stay in touch as the conference plan progresses.

Thank you for your interest in interactive fiction! And adventure games, interactive narrative, and all the other terms that get used.

I’m super excited to be the lead organizer of the competition this year. Such a role could be overwhelming, but fortunately there are lots of volunteers and advisors who help lighten the load, for which I am grateful. (If you’re interested in being part of the team, it’s never too late to send an email to ifcomp@ifcomp.org to let us know!)

I began working with the Comp last year, first shadowing Jason McIntosh, then assisting as a vice-organizer. I’m really proud of the work we put in this past year. In particular, I love that we implemented the anonymous feedback feature, adopted from my years running the IntroComp. This new addition was really well-received by authors, but there’s no such thing as too much helpful feedback to hone your craft. This coming year I plan to focus on improving the quality of feedback that’s entered, as well as providing some incentive to improve the reviews that are written elsewhere online. Related to this, we may look into ways to increase discussion of individual games during the competition itself.

We received a lot of post-comp feedback on the sheer volume of games we received in 2018. Lots of people applauded the volume and diversity of the games that were entered, while others felt completely overwhelmed. I plan to look at some ways to make a large number of games easier to navigate.

If you missed the opportunity to take part in our post-comp survey, but you have thoughts you’d like to share as we prepare for next year, feel free to email us at ifcomp@ifcomp.org.

We have published the 2017 edition of IFTF’s financial transparency report, summarizing how money flowed through the organization over the course of last year. It’s longer and more detailed than the 2016 report, as one might expect from the fact that 2017 represented IFTF’s first full calendar-year of public operation. Please do give the report a look to learn more about the income that IFTF received — largely from individual donations by generous IF community members — and how that money got allocated and applied.

The report was assembled and authored by IFTF co-founder Flourish Klink, who — in bittersweet news — is stepping down from the board with the end of her term on March 5. A member of the “founding five” who helped get this idea off the ground two years ago, Flourish’s experience at running organizations of all sorts led to IFTF’s adoption of an open-books financial policy, as well as the annual transparency reports.

IFTF’s board will continue producing the reports, and otherwise carrying on with the lessons that Flourish taught us during her time as a director. Thanks for everything, Flourish, and I hope that we’ll continue to make you proud.

After last year’s IFComp wrapped up, I announced on the competition’s blog that Jacqueline Ashwell would become its new head organizer, beginning in 2018. I held the role for four years, and I feel very fortunate to pass it along to one so apt.

The mid-winter months are a traditionally sleepy time for IFComp, as you may expect, but I can report (from my privileged vantage point) that Jacq has begun warming up the controls and taking charge of planning 2018’s competition. I know it seems prosaic to say every year that this year’s comp will be the best comp yet, but… well, I’m sure looking forward to October, and I hope you are too.

What with my newfound free time and all, I’ve assumed leadership of IFTF’s accessibility testing program. After guiding the team towards making some good progress in 2017, its chair, furkle, had to step down due to a shift in personal priorities. Happily, furkle will remain on the committee as its resident Twine expert, and the whole volunteer lineup from the program’s founding remains present and active. The program’s goal stays the same as well, if a bit calendar-shifted: we aim to deliver a report on the accessibility of interactive fiction software by the end of 2018. This will almost certainly involve a call for community participation, so: stay tuned.

In the meantime, and in the interest of transparency, I have made the program’s mailing-list archives public. This occurs with the team’s consent, after I pruned off and stashed away all discussion prior to this year. I consider this a bit of an experiment, but it’s a technique I learned about at the All Things Open conference a few months back, in a talk given by an Apache Software Foundation member. It struck me as an easy way for a community-funded nonprofit like ours to build further good-faith public accountability while also passively creating public documentation of our own work. If it fits well here, I plan to recommend that appropriate future IFTF mailing lists open up their archives as well.

(As an aside: our “Friends of IFTF” mailing list, home of our monthly newsletters, also has an archive. I really ought to post links to these sorts of things a bit more prominently, hm?)

Just in time for the holidays (or anyway smack-dab in the middle of them), we open the doors to the IFTF gift shop.

Right now, we’ve got just one collection of items: T-shirts, mugs, and stickers all featuring gorgeous artwork by Maia Kobabe commemorating the IF Archive’s 25th anniversary, as featured in our recent blog post on this topic.

All proceeds from gift shop purchases go to IFTF, helping it fund its programs and other activities. Pick up a cool bit of IF merch, and support interactive fiction’s public infrastructure in the process! (This complements our various methods for giving more directly — and tax-deductibly, where eligible — to IFTF.)

A map labeled 'The Interactive Fiction Archive - Since 1992', surrounded by books, a lantern, a ball of twine, and other bric-a-brac

After 25 years of continuous operation, the Interactive Fiction Archive feels like a fact of life to members of the interactive fiction community. To those who’ve been involved longest, it’s an old and reliable friend. To newer IF enthusiasts, it can sometimes seem a puzzling relic of the past — it doesn’t look like modern web-based archives, or function like them either. Often taken for granted, the IF Archive is one of the most important collections in the world of electronic gaming.

The IF Archive was founded in November 1992 by Volker Blasius and David Baggett. The original announcement says that “we want this site to be a place where all things related to the art (and science) of interactive fiction can be consolidated,” but it wasn’t exactly a mission statement—at the time, no one could have guessed that it would be such a long-standing endeavor.

At first, the Archive was a simple FTP site. Those of us who weren’t technophiles in the 90s might not recall how files could be distributed this way, without a website at all—in fact, it wasn’t until 1999 that it had an HTML front-end. But even without a web presence, it was at the heart of IF culture for years: Inform and TADS were both originally distributed from the IF Archive, and the first IFComp was run from it. In fact, apart from that web presence, the IF Archive isn’t fundamentally much different from the day it was launched in 1992. The biggest change is its growth: today, the Archive contains about 15,000 files, filling nearly 10 gigabytes of disk space. Every new IFComp adds about a half a gigabyte of storage—an unthinkable amount when the archive was founded. Fortunately, disk space has gotten cheaper faster than the Archive has filled up.

Fundamentally, the Archive is just that: a location to store interactive fiction games, and one that intends to keep them forever, allowing the public to download them freely. It lacks a search function to allow you to find the games or other IF resources you want; it assumes that you’ll already know what you’re looking for. To actually search for works, you’ll have to use a secondary tool. Happily, Mike Roberts created the Interactive Fiction Database (IFDB), which allows anyone to find what they need. It might surprise many people to find out that these are separate tools operated by separate teams!

Still, that’s one of the things that makes the IF Archive so enduring. David Kinder, who started working with the Archive in 1995, writes, “Most technology either becomes useless or gets replaced, but a few things just hang around forever, becoming part of the infrastructure that people rely on, often without even knowing that much about it. That seems to be the way the Archive is going. Hopefully in 25 years anyone who wants to will be able to look back at what was happening in 2017 from what we’ve stored.”

As a community, we’re incredibly lucky to have 25 years of interactive fiction history stored for us — not just individual works of IF, but the discussion and the tools that make the community what it is. This presents its own challenges going forward. Andrew Plotkin says, “We’re not just a single community any more; there isn’t even a single focus of community discussion. There are modern IF communities and audiences that don’t have archiving in their cultural DNA. I am keen to bring them the word. I want IF fans in 2042, twenty-five years from now, to know all of IF’s history—not just the parts I was directly involved in.”

He speaks for IFTF, the charitable nonprofit that assumed legal stewardship of the IF Archive in 2017. Here’s to 25 years of the IF Archive, and we look forward to the next 25!

Artwork for this article by Maia Kobabe.

Recently, the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation learned of a project by Authors Alliance and the Organization for Transformative Works to functionally expand fair use rights for e-book authors in the United States. We think everyone who knows about IFTF should know about it and consider helping out by completing a survey.

OK, you want us to know about a legal thing. Fair use rights, what?

There is a law in the United States called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it illegal for most people to rip DVDs, Blu-ray, and digitally transmitted video. However, under United States law, people are allowed to repurpose copyrighted works when it is a “fair use.” If this is the first you’ve heard of the term “fair use,” watch this explainer, then come back here.

The Library of Congress periodically issues exemptions from the DMCA. This means that they consider possible fair use cases, like making an artwork or creating a film school textbook, and then say “yeah, that sound like it’s good enough—we won’t go after folks who break the DMCA in order to do that.”

Right now, there is an exemption for people who make fanvids (if this is the first you’ve heard of fanvids, oh boy, are you in for a treat): they are allowed to rip movies in order to make their work. Similarly, people who make film school textbooks are allowed to do so. But most people in the United States, under the DMCA, are not allowed to rip movies.

What does this have to do with interactive fiction?

IFTF defines “interactive fiction” pretty broadly. We include parser games, yes, but also Twine games, visual novels, pretty much anything you can think of. And a lot of things that we consider “interactive fiction” are legally considered “e-books.”

Authors Alliance and the Organization for Transformative Works are trying to expand fair use rights for e-book authors (which, as we just said, includes most people who write interactive fiction). Right now, the DMCA only allows people who write e-books about film analysis to rip DVDs. But we know that people can create interactive fiction that’s fanfic, and we believe that fanfic (like fanvids) is covered under fair use. Someone ought to be able to create a Twine game or a visual novel critiquing a film and use images from that film.

So, what should I do?

If you create e-books (which, remember, are broadly defined, and include a lot of types of interactive fiction!) then you should take the survey—especially if you ever include images in your work! This will help them learn about fair use in the case of interactive fiction.

As a disappointing and troubling surprise last week, the United States’ Federal Communications Commission announced its plans to remove regulations that enforce Net Neutrality in America. IFTF rejects this proposal.

Interactive fiction relies upon the open web. Thanks to Net Neutrality’s long-standing guarantees that American internet service providers must provide a consistent level of access to all parts of the public internet, IF — its works, and its supporting technologies and services — have remained discoverable to all US-based internet users. It has also provided a commons upon which Americans have developed and shared new IF works and technologies for all the world to enjoy and build upon further.

We do not exaggerate to suggest that literally every development in interactive fiction as we know it today has the reliable existence of the open web to thank. The hobbyist-driven re-emergence of IF in the 1990s via online discussion forums would not have likely happened without Net Neutrality-enforced openness, nor would the initial development and distribution of free IF creation tools like Inform and TADS. This holds just as true for more recent developments such as Twine, and community projects like the IF Archive, IFComp, or IFDB.

Without Net Neutrality, internet service providers would be free to limit access to parts of the internet in any way they wish. They could, for example, split internet access into a la carte services, where only wealthier customers could easily see, much less build upon, the internet beyond a handful of destinations offered in “basic cable” tiers. Less wealthy Americans would thus have trouble discovering any of the tools or services linked to in the previous paragraph, all relatively small projects hosted by either IFTF or independent, self-funded volunteers.

And that’s only one possible scenario. The loss of Net Neutrality would immediately threaten the continued existence of the open web, and all the art both extant and potential that relies on it, for all Americans. It would hurt the rest of the world as well, given the historical prevalence of globally beneficial online projects and resources created within the United States. This change could easily prove devastating to all manner of commercial and artistic innovation and communication, including interactive fiction.

For the sake of the continued growth and even basic availability of interactive fiction technology, IFTF asks its American friends to join in resisting this unwelcome and harmful change. The FCC plans to formally vote on December 14, but considers the outcome predetermined along party lines, with three Republican commissioners versus two Democratic ones. American citizens can still contact their elected representatives, as well as the FCC itself, to demand the proposal’s withdrawal. If the proposal carries as expected, then various organizations, including EFF and ACLU, will need financial support in order to legally challenge the end of Net Neutrality.