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.

My family bought a new(ish) car towards the end of the summer, the first that any of us have owned with a flat-panel display integrated into the dashboard. You navigate through its offerings via some chunky buttons surrounding it; it rather reminds me of using an early iPod. One day while fiddling through its menus, I discovered a “Software licenses” option — which does nothing except display the text of the good old GNU Public License in its entirety. You can use the radio-tuner knob to scroll through it at your leisure, once you call it up.

The car didn’t make clear what among its myriad software components fell under the GPL, but clearly something did. I felt equal parts amused and impressed that our friends at Volkswagen had gone through the trouble to follow the license’s directions and post the thing prominently enough that I’d stumble across it while the very machine hosting the file carried us up interstate 95. (Don’t worry, my wife was driving.) Furthermore, it wasn’t the first place I’d unexpectedly run into open-source license text lately; earlier in the summer, I found myself reading the MIT license on my TV screen, attached to some tool or library running deep under the hood of my Sony Playstation.

These discoveries brought to mind how I had called a little more attention to IFTF’s GitHub repositories a few months ago, and made me think that the IFComp codebase hadn’t done a very good job of acknowledging all the open-source projects that it folds into itself. Fine and good for IFTF to boast of its own FOSS bonafides, but it suddenly struck me as a poor showing that various international corporations did a better job than our scrappy little nonprofit of offering proper by-the-book credit to the free software we use.

So I set about to fix that, and with the help of our legal counsel I this month published a new and stupendously wordy LICENSE.md document to IFComp’s code repository. Most of the words belong to the licenses themselves, lovingly hand-pasted into place, but the top of the document lists the different open-source projects that IFComp incorporates.

As it happens, IFComp uses all these projects in order to support the in-browser play of Inform-based IF games. Stephen Granade and Dan Shiovitz first rolled these features into the comp software some years ago, making the play of IFComp games suddenly much more accessible than before. I, as IFComp’s current lead organizer, have worked to maintain this very important feature, and I have the following people and projects to thank:

  • Quixe by Andrew Plotkin, via the MIT License

  • IF Recorder by Juhana Leinonen, via the MIT License

  • Parchment by Atul Varma and maintained by Dannii Willis, via the Modified BSD License. It in turn uses Gnusto, originally by Thomas Thurman, via the GNU Public License.

I would point out that none of the above software was, to the best of my knowledge, created expressly for IFComp. Rather, these are independent projects by members of the interactive fiction community, and their public release inspired IFComp’s technical team to make creative use of them towards the competition’s own betterment. All this serves as a fine example of why we love open-source software at IFTF, and why we will always continue a commitment towards openness in all the software that we as an organization produce and maintain.

Benevity, a company that manages corporate employee-giving programs, now lists IFTF as a charitable cause. If you work for a company that uses Benevity, then you can use your employer-provided tools to direct a bit of ongoing material assistance in IFTF’s direction — for which we would, of course, be humbly grateful.

We registered with Benevity after it informed us that someone within Google had put IFTF’s name forward as a worthy charity. So: thank you, anonymous Googler! (If this was you, please drop us a note and, I don’t know, we’ll send you some merch or something.)

Not an employee of a Benevity beneficiary? No worries: IFTF continues to support a variety of donation options allowing you to support our mission and programs with your financial gifts of any size. Every dollar helps, and all are tax-deductible where allowed by law.

I’m pleased to announce that IFTF now hosts Twinery.org, home of the Twine project. We launched our organization last year with Twine support as a core program, and I feel so excited to see the dividends paying off now, between this and the recently launched Twine Cookbook.

Granted, stuff like the Cookbook arguably deserves your excitement more, since that represents something new. Setting up Linux machines and shuffling domain names around doesn’t necessarily thrill anyone — especially since, if we did everything right, the new system looks and works exactly the same as the old one did. But that’s a big part of IFTF’s mission in action, really! By taking stewardship of important community resources like Twinery.org, we extend our organization’s legal protections and and public funding to help keep these resources online, safe and stable for a long time to come.

And, yes, for this server we must once again extend our terribly nerdy naming scheme for IFTF-hosted machines. Just like last time, we found quite obvious which bit of Zork’s early-game inventory to borrow for this purpose. As such, the servers that IFTF runs now include lantern (IFTF website and mailing lists), sword (IFComp), bottle (IF Archive)… and now rope, for Twinery.org.

Three months ago, we announced our Colossal Fund fundraiser for the Interactive Fiction Competition.

We aimed to raise $6000 for IFComp prizes and organizational expenses. I am delighted to announce that this morning, we achieved our goal.

Thank you to all our donors, large and small!

Our plan, as you recall, is to dedicate 80% of the fund ($4800) to the IFComp prize pool. That money will be distributed among the top two-thirds of IFComp entries, according to the final rankings, on Nov 15th or shortly thereafter.

The rest of the donated money goes to support the ongoing operation of IFComp and IFTF. Server costs, paying our lawyer, all that good stuff.

Now, here’s where the plan gets a little bit bent. When we wrote up the prize chart, we estimated there would be 60 entries. The actual number isn’t final yet — wait until Sunday! — but it’s safe to say that it’s higher than 60.

This means that $4800 pool will be distributed among more authors, so the top prize will be somewhat lower than we estimated. (The minimum prize will still be $10.)

We are no longer accepting prize pool cash donations; we’re not going to change the goal at the last minute. However, we are still accepting donations of traditional prizes! The Colossal Fund cash prizes are in addition to the regular prizes, remember? Games, toys, books, food, goods and services of all kind — they’re all good.

So if you’re worried that the prizes are being spread too thin, please contact IFComp and let us know what you’ve got.

Note: IFTF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so Colossal Fund donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. However, traditional IFComp prizes are handled differently. They are sent directly from donors to recipients; IFTF just coordinates the process. So they are not tax-deductible.

IFTF is of course grateful to receive donations at any time. Those donations will go into our general fund, which supports IFComp as well as our other programs.

Thank you all again for helping to make this effort a success. And enjoy the games when they appear on Sunday!

For years now, knowledge of how to create amazing projects in Twine has been spread out across forums, blogs, and social media. With the Twine Cookbook, a new Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation project, we are hoping to begin consolidating that distributed knowledge into a by-the-community, for-the-community collection of recipes!

Inspired by Inform’s own Recipe Book, the Twine Cookbook is the first step toward building the same type of resource that shows and describes techniques of combining macros and functionality for common tasks. We are interested in things as seemingly simple as “Dice Rolling” in Harlowe and as complex as “moving through a ‘dungeon’” in Snowman! We’re striving to include code for each of the built-in Twine story formats—Harlowe, Snowman, and SugarCube—in each recipe.

We hope that the Cookbook will be a truly community effort. Contributions can come in different forms. You can add entirely new recipes, fill in gaps for story formats not yet covered, or even suggest recipes for others to complete. The README file describes how to do each of these!

Finally, the Twine Cookbook is written in the GitBook format. While fully accessible on GitHub through the SUMMARY file, the project can be cloned or downloaded locally and compiled into HTML, PDF, or EPUB format using GitBook’s tools.

We accept recipes in all story formats and across both Twine 2 and 1.4.2 in compiled HTML or Twee notation format with notes. All are welcome.

IFDB, the Interactive Fiction Database, was launched about ten years ago by Michael J. Roberts. Mike was responding to a commonly-voiced complaint about the IF Archive: it’s full of great stuff, but it’s impossible to search and there’s barely any information about the games there.

I take full responsibility for the IF Archive’s failings, by the way. We occasionally talked about ways to improve searchability, but we never did anything about it — until IFDB came along and pretty much solved the problem for us. It’s the complement that the Archive didn’t know it needed.

IFDB takes a crowdsourcing approach which has worked very well for the past decade. IF enthusiasts fill in bibliographic data about new games (and about old games, as they come to light!); people can contribute reviews, ratings, game lists, polls, and so on. The site instantly became essential to the IF community, and it remains essential.

Having said all that: nobody argues that IFDB is perfect. A couple of weeks ago I ran into a discussion about what sorts of things IFDB isn’t as good at. I immediately got defensive (even though it’s not my site!), and then I started to ask how it should be fixed. And then I took a step back and said, okay, maybe I should be asking everybody what IFDB needs.

Thus, our shiny new IFDB User Survey.

If you have used IFDB at all, please take a few minutes to fill this out. Answer as briefly or as volubly as you like. You may include your name or answer anonymously.

(Yes, I realize the irony in explaining IFDB for four paragraphs and then making a request of people who already knew what IFDB was! Here at IFTF we strive to be educational even at inopportune moments.)

If you’ve already filled out the survey, thank you! (We originally posted it last week.) (And we haven’t changed anything, so there’s no need to do it again.) But if you haven’t run through it yet, please do. The deadline is October 15th.

After we close the survey, we’ll collate the results and post a summary on this blog. It should provide an interesting diversion while we wait for IFComp results.

Now the caveats:

IFDB is not an IFTF service; it is wholly operated by Mike Roberts. Mike has stated that he doesn’t have much free time to update the site these days. So please don’t get the idea that anyone is going to jump straight from collecting suggestions to implementing new features. This is research. Once we have results, we can start thinking about next steps.

We will of course pass the survey results along to Mike. It’s possible that some of the suggestions will turn out to be easy changes. You never know. If there’s a possible role for people to contribute development effort, we’ll be happy to coordinate; but that’s up to Mike, obviously.

However, the survey is deliberately open-ended. It’s possible that the top ideas won’t require server updates at all. They may involve better use of existing IFDB features, or public outreach, or even a brand-new complementary service somewhere.

Thanks for helping out.