We’re pleased to announce that Judith Pintar will be joining the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation’s Board of Directors.

If Judith’s name seems familiar, it’s because her experience in the interactive fiction medium spans decades. Her BBS satire game CosmoServe won the fifth annual AGT game contest in 1991— four years before the IF Comp was first held. (If you don’t know what AGT is, ask your parents.) She created several other AGT games in the 90s and now works in Inform 7.

Currently, Judith is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). There, she directs the Electronic Literatures & Literacies Lab, an academic community of digital humanities researchers and practitioners. She also teaches a course on interactive fiction at UIUC.

We’re very excited about the knowledge and experience Judith that brings to the foundation.

As we push IFTF projects forward, we are sometimes reminded of cool things that someone wrote years ago.

For example! Spring is the season of IFComp web development, as our volunteers polish up the web site and add new features for this year’s competition. In the course of that discussion, I was reminded that the IFComp server also handles web authentication for two of other IF competitions — IntroComp and the XYZZY awards.

That is, when you vote in those events, you just use your IFComp login. It’s a minor feature, and I don’t think there was ever a big announcement or discussion about it. Someone worked it up a few years ago and it makes life easier for the XYZZY and IntroComp administrators.

But since IFComp is now an IFTF project, IFTF now has a public single-sign-on service for IF competitions! Again, this wasn’t a bullet point on anybody’s planning outline. It just happened because the IF community (communities) have a lot of nifty bits of tech lying around. And since it’s happened, we get to brag about it. Maybe more IF events will make use of it someday. (Contact us!)

Here’s another bit of tech. In 2014 I wrote a quick prototype of an IF screenshotting tool. I imagined a script that could run through the IF Archive, fire up every game, and render the opening screen as an HTML file (or even an image). Yes, this was inspired by Jason Scott’s screenshot-blaster utility on the Internet Archive.

My original prototype was very crude and I didn’t do anything with it. But it popped into my head when I was writing my Glk talk for BangBangCon. The IF-o-Matic ultimately relies on Glk, my common IF display library API. Any IF interpreter which has a Glk port can be launched and generate output in the same way.

Since giving that talk, I’ve gone back to the IF-o-Matic and refined it quite a bit. Last night I threw in the contents of the IF Archive’s Glulx game directory and it did pretty well! Generated 140 screenshots in a few seconds.

Reduced screenshots of six Inform games from the Archive

Displayed games: The Realm of A’oria, Farm Quest, Cheesed Off!, Oppositely Opal, Hard Puzzle 3 : Origins, The Outcasts

The IF-o-Matic is still missing a bunch of features — unpacking zipped-up game files, displaying graphics. But I’m thinking that this will someday be a standard thing that we run on all Glk-compatible and web-compatible games. You should see these screenshots when you browse IFDB. Maybe I’ll set up a Twitter bot and tweet an IF screenshot every day. Possibilities are vast.

If you’re already reading the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation’s blog, we probably don’t need to convince you that interactive fiction is a worthy and valuable art form. No one can dispute that it’s textual. But can it be literature?

Many people approach IF through gaming. That makes sense: it first emerged into wide public consciousness with Zork, which was marketed and sold as a game to people who wanted to play computer games. It’s easy to consider traditional, puzzle-heavy text adventures as simply textual versions of adventure games (or, if you wanted to be more historically accurate, you could consider adventure games to be graphical versions of text adventures). And even as less puzzle-focused interactive fiction has become fashionable, nobody has sought to escape the “game” label. Choice of Games sells IF to the mobile gaming market, but Charity Porpentine Heartscape still is considered a game-maker when she shows her Twine-based art in the Whitney Biennial.

Still: since when have “game” and “literature” been exclusive terms? Visual novels and dating sims are very obviously the literary and gamified sides of the same coin, and they’re sometimes considered interactive fiction (confidential to visual novel people: call us!) We’re all familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and it’s impossible to look at one without realizing that a Choice Of Games game borrows many aspects of their format. (There’s even been a successful “choosable-path adventure” Hamlet retelling, To Be Or Not To Be.) But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Experimental writers have several times tried creating a “novel as card game,” printing text on cards and letting people shuffle the story into different orders. (There are similar projects that are sold as games, not experimental novels: think Dixit and Rory’s Story Cubes.) And aren’t riddles, one of the oldest types of games, also a form of literature?

While we necessarily recognize that interactive fiction is usually categorized as a form of “game,” we think it’s important to consider it as literary work as well. Whether a technology for creating interactive fiction is mostly used by hardcore gamers seeking the most punishing, unforgiving puzzles, or whether it appeals more to those working in an artistic context, we’re excited to provide support.

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 naivetĂ©, 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.