Last year we created the Colossal Fund to raise money for IFComp prizes. It worked great! IF enthusiasts donated over $7000; we distributed $5600 to the authors of 52 IFComp entries. The only stumbling block was that IFComp 2017 was bigger than expected — 79 entries, the largest slate in IFComp’s history. And that’s the kind of problem that we’re really happy to have.

Now it’s time to open the Colossal Fund for IFComp 2018. The donation button is live! See your name listed on our donor page. (Or listed as “anonymous”, if you prefer.)

We’re raising the stakes this year: our fundraising goal is $9000. The fundraising deadline is November 15th (the end of IFComp voting).

Just like last year, we are earmarking 80% of donations ($7200) to be distributed among the top two-thirds of IFComp finishers. The other 20% ($1800) goes to support IFTF and its operations, including IFComp.

What does this mean for authors? Because we’re dividing the money among the top finishers, the exact numbers depend on how many IFComp entries there are. Let’s assume that IFComp continues to grow, and reaches 90 entries this year. Then we will divide the money among the top 60 entries. If we reach our target of $9000, then the prize chart look like this:

1: $334.5216: $191.5231: $89.7746: $29.27
2: $323.7117: $183.4632: $84.4647: $26.71
3: $313.0718: $175.5733: $79.3248: $24.32
4: $302.6219: $167.8734: $74.3749: $22.12
5: $292.3620: $160.3635: $69.6150: $20.11
6: $282.2721: $153.0236: $65.0251: $18.27
7: $272.3722: $145.8737: $60.6252: $16.62
8: $262.6623: $138.9138: $56.4153: $15.16
9: $253.1224: $132.1239: $52.3754: $13.87
10: $243.7725: $125.5240: $48.5255: $12.77
11: $234.6126: $119.1141: $44.8656: $11.86
12: $225.6227: $112.8742: $41.3757: $11.12
13: $216.8228: $106.8243: $38.0758: $10.57
14: $208.2129: $100.9644: $34.9659: $10.21
15: $199.7730: $95.2745: $32.0260: $10.02

The numbers add up to $7200, which is 80% of $9000.

As you see, this is not a winner-take-all plan. Our goal is to distribute prizes across a broad range of IF styles and ideas. Any game which does even moderately well should receive a decent prize.

Other details:

  • How do I donate? Go to IFComp.org and push the big yellow Paypal button.
  • Is my donation tax-deductible? Yes, to the extent allowed by law. (Consult a tax professional, that’s all we can say.)
  • Does the Colossal Fund replace the usual IFComp prize list? No! These cash prizes will be in addition to the usual IFComp prize list. Please visit this page to donate objects and services as prizes.
  • How will the cash prizes be distributed? Via PayPal. If you can’t accept PayPal, we can mail a US check to a US address. If that doesn’t work for you, or if you wish to decline the cash prize, we will roll the money into next year’s prize fund.
  • Was any money rolled into this year’s fund from last year? Yes! Some of last year’s winners declined their prizes, and we also had some donations that came in after last year’s deadline. So we are starting the 2018 CF fund with $1100 already in the pot.

If you have further questions, please contact us at ifcomp@ifcomp.org. And thanks for your support!

We proudly announce two additions this month to IFTF’s roster of advisors and directors.

First, we welcome Liza Daly onto IFTF’s board of directors. Liza is a software engineer, startup founder, and technology executive who specializes in digital publishing and web-based storytelling. She founded ifMUD, an early, influential chatroom for the IF community, and has authored several parser and hypertext games. This work most recently includes the XYZZY Award-winning Harmonia, a delightfully marginalia-driven story that finished among IFComp 2017’s top five entries.

We also welcome Graham Nelson to our advisory committee. Graham is a fellow in pure mathematics at St. Anne’s College of the University of Oxford, but the IF community recognizes him chiefly as the inventor and ongoing lead developer of Inform (as well as the author of Curses, the sprawling text adventure that debuted Inform to the world). Inform helped catalyze interactive fiction out of its post-commercial dormancy in the 1990s, and continues to serve as a centrally important tool for countless authors creating new work. (Graham’s labors on Inform continue as well, as evidenced by a talk he recently presented in Oxford.)

Besides these lists of impressive credentials, both Liza and Graham have been active members and friends of the IF community for a long time, and IFTF is that much stronger for their names and voices added officially to its future direction.

Several months ago, after our recognition of the IF Archive’s 25th anniversary, a community moderator from Opensource.com contacted IFTF to ask if we’d like to write an article about the Archive. As the name of the website suggests, Opensource.com has interest primarily in articles about free and open-source software; while the Archive does host its share of FOSS, we ended up agreeing to write a more general study of the intersection between interactive fiction and open source.

That article, authored by yours truly, is now online, under the headline A brief history of text-based games and open source. I think it turned out pretty well, and I invite your comments on it. Enjoy!

If you keep up with IFTF Newsletter you have already heard the news, but we’re excited to formally announce that IFTF has formed an Education Committee! Our mission is to increase awareness of IF within the gaming world and outside of it.

We’ll do that by promoting the use of IF in teaching, and the teaching of IF programming and design. We understand IF in the educational context most broadly as game, literature, art, non-fiction simulation, or interactive narrative interface, and in its parser-based, hyptertext, and hybrid formats. We are also committed to a wider social goal — advancing digital literacy and inclusivity by fostering the writing/programming of IF across multiple disciplinary fields and within racially, culturally, economically, and gender-diverse populations. We’ll support educators teaching all across the academic spectrum, those who teach kids, undergraduates, graduate students, adults, educators, and the general public.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to chair this committee. I’ve been on the IFTF Board of Directors for a little less than a year now, but I’ve been teaching IF for decades. I am currently the Director of the Electronic Literatures and Literacies Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The new IFTF Education Committee has been populated by an equally experienced group of game designers and educators. Fellow board member Chris Klimas, creator of Twine and I will be joined on the committee by Brendan Desilets, who utilized IF for many years in Middle School classrooms and now teaches in the English Department at UMass@Lowell, Jeremiah McCall, author of Gaming the Past, who employs IF to teach High School history at Cincinnati Country Day School, Anastasia Salter, who teaches Digital Media at the University of Central Florida, Matthew Farber, who teaches in the Technology, Innovation, and Pedagogy program at University of Northern Colorado, and Stuart Moulthrop now in the Media, Cinema and Digital Studies Department at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The committee’s activities will include identifying, curating and sharing existing pedagogical materials on an IFTF Educational Resources Website, as well as developing new materials, curricula, and media for use in classrooms or as part of online IF courses. We’ll seek grants to help us make these materials available to educators working at all with all levels, but particularly in underserved public school settings. We’ll promote our educational initiatives through social media, and wherever we may travel. Look for us soon on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ll be out in force at IFTF’s first annual conference slated for June 2019.

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?)