We are delighted to announce our keynote speaker! Natalia Martinsson of Killmonday Games will kick off NarraScope in June.

Natalia is an illustrator, animator, and the designer of indie hit Fran Bow and the upcoming Little Misfortune. Together with her partner Isak Martinsson, she creates adventure games with a sparkling mix of childhood whimsy and gruesome nightmare.

You may pet a doggy, a fishy, a wolfie, the Kraken, the kitty and the foxy.

— from the preview of Little Misfortune

Natalia will speak about shaping games with emotional intelligence. Her approach to character design colors every aspect of Killmonday’s games — writing, narrative design, even the studio workplace and production process.

We look forward to hearing Natalia speak and welcoming her into the NarraScope conversation!

Remember, NarraScope registration closes on May 17th. We’re coming down to the last couple of weeks here. If you want to be a part of this conversation, now’s the time to push the button.

By the way, we’ve gotten several inquiries about video recording of the NarraScope presentations. Karsten Feyerabend of articy Software has volunteered to record some of the talks. (With the permission of the speakers, of course.) He can’t cover the entire conference, but we should be able to get a selection of the talks online. We’ll let you know the details as we work them out.

Thanks to articy Software for helping with this! Hopefully in future years we’ll be able to expand our recording capabilities.

Because I miss you all and want to see you.

Maybe that’s not the whole reason. (Maybe it’s just 27.5% of the reason.)

I’ve spent a lot of years in what I used to call “the interactive fiction community”. It was never the only such community. A lot of groups and traditions have grown up around the idea — ideas — of telling stories in the interactive arts. Sometimes we have conversations and exchange ideas; more often we don’t. There’s been a lot of border-drawing and definition-guarding. I’ve done it myself.

Some groups talk about adventure games; others about narrative games, story-games, interactive fiction, interactive narrative. Sometimes we talk about “text games”, and sometimes the games are wordless. Not everybody even thinks of themselves as creating games.

There’s a lot of diversity, is what I’m saying. But also a lot of commonality — perhaps unspoken or undiscovered. So, like we wrote on the front page: it’s time to bring those communities together.

We’ve had gathering points in the past, but they tend to be sideshows. Interactive narrative rates a mention at most game developer events, and also at many recent writing and literary conferences. But it’s just one of many topics. GDC has a “game narrative summit”, but of course GDC is enormous, expensive, and aimed at the needs of the biggest industry movers.

Recently, however, we’ve seen a few regional events which are entirely focused on narrative games. WordPlay in Toronto and AdventureX in London are our direct inspirations, and we’re grateful to them for blazing trails.

NarraScope is our attempt at such an event. We hope it will bring its own flavor to the party, and that flavor is: bringing communities together in conversation. IF or adventures or narrative games, visual novels or storygames or hypertext: what can we tell each other? What problem have you solved that I can learn from?

We hope that NarraScope will grow to become an indispensable annual gathering for everyone exploring interactive narrative. Come find out what the first one will be like.

And also, you know, to hang out. I’ll be there. I know a lot of my friends will be too. We’ll catch up.

The IFTF Education Committee (EdCom), is excited to be hosting three workshops at NarraScope on Friday June 14. Early sign-in begins at 6:30 pm in MIT building 32 (the Stata Center). The hour-long sessions will start at 7:30 pm, also in building 32.

All workshops are free for NarraScope attendees. Registration is open now.

This is what is on the line-up:

Teach Lamp: IF Workshop for Educators

Presenters: Brendan Desilets and Matt Farber

Are you a teacher who has always wondered about using interactive fiction in the classroom? Here’s your chance to sample some interactive fiction in its two principal forms, parser-based IF and choice-based IF, and to learn directly from people who successfully use it in their own teaching. In this workshop you’ll read interactive fiction that has been used in classrooms, and you’ll try your hand at writing some as well. This is your chance to get started! For more information, contact Brendan Desilets, brendan_desilets@uml.edu

Make Lamp: Crafting Parser-Based IF with Inform 7

Presenters: Anastasia Salter and Judith Pintar

The classic verb-driven, parser-based model of Interactive Fiction offers space for nuanced world-building, conversation models, and puzzle development, but can be needlessly daunting for beginners. We’ll dive into the “natural language” engine of Inform 7 and work through the textual construction of objects, rooms, and a few classic puzzles. For educators, Inform 7 can be a particularly compelling way to introduce the logics of object-oriented programming, and for writers Inform 7 offers impressive flexibility in narrative branching and NPC character building. For more information, contact Anastasia Salter, anastasia@ucf.edu

Twine Untangled: A Beginner’s Workshop

Presenters: Chris Klimas and Stuart Moulthrop

Twine is a platform for making anything from choose-your-own-adventure stories to entrancing, multi-mediated game-worlds. Twine is as powerful as a world of creative coders can make it – yet incredibly easy for beginners and a great tool for teachers. Join us for a hands-on taste of Twine, introducing the interface, basic composition, story logic, and some glimpses of scripting and other advanced topics. No programming experience necessary! For more information, contact Stuart Moulthrop, moulthro@uwm.edu

IFTF has published its Transparency Report for 2018 as an eight-page PDF. It summarizes IFTF’s activity from January 2018 through December 2018, including a high-level accounting of the organization’s financial income and expenditures.

As a public-service organization that many people entrust with their time, attention, and money, IFTF presents this annual report in an effort to show how it has applied its community’s investments over the past calendar year.

IFTF president Jason McIntosh wrote most of it this year, so it also contains at least one extremely dry joke. Please give it a look at your own convenience.

The registration page for NarraScope 2019 is now open.

Really we opened it up on Friday — you may have seen the tweets. But we were quiet about it through the weekend in case any last-minute problems turned up. Maybe they still will, but now it’s time to shout about it!

While we’re shouting, here’s some more things you should know:

The event is limited to 500 attendees. The venue rooms only hold so many people.

We expect registration to sell out well before June. There will be no at-the-door registration! We’ll post regularly to let people know how fast the tickets are selling.

We want NarraScope to be accessible to everyone interested in narrative games, regardless of their background. Therefore, we have several classes of ticket available.

  • The standard membership costs $85. This gives you access to the entire conference; it also includes lunch Saturday and Sunday.

  • If you can’t justify the cost of the standard membership, we also have a restricted-budget membership for $35. This gives you access to the entire conference, including lunch Saturday and Sunday. That is, it’s exactly the same as a standard membership — it just costs $50 less.

  • To counterbalance this, we offer a community supporter membership for $135. This is, again, exactly the same as a standard membership — it just costs $50 more. The extra money goes to support one restricted-budget membership.

  • Current MIT students may register for free. Our thanks to MIT for giving us affordable function space on campus! The MIT student membership gives access to the entire conference, but does not include lunch. Sorry about that.

  • If you are a confirmed speaker, we have emailed you a complimentary registration code. Check your inbox.

By the way, the restricted-budget and community-supporter memberships are entirely on the honor system. Pay what you can afford. We hope and expect that it will all balance out in the end.

Also: we’re aware that Boston is an expensive city, and a $50 discount on membership doesn’t go far towards the cost of travel and housing. We apologize that we can’t do more. We’ll see how it works out this time, and we’ll consider every option to make NarraScope more accessible and affordable in the future.

(If you are interested in sponsoring NarraScope, please contact us!)

Beginning in December 2018, we debuted Twine News. It’s a roundup of Twine game releases, educational resources, events, and pretty much anything else that people in the Twine community would be interested in. If there’s something Twine-related you’d like to get the word out about, please submit a suggestion using the site’s online form. If you’d like to follow the Twine community more closely, there’s also a Subreddit and Discord, too.

IFTF plans to publish its third annual transparency report by the end of March. This is a little later than last year’s publication date, due in part to my own coming up to speed with the authorship task after former board member Flourish Klink handed the job over to me. I thank the board and the community for its patience, and will of course update this blog with a link once the report goes public.

I also have the privilege of overseeing the IFTF Accessibility Testing Committee’s report, which — after a rather longer delay! — looks on-target to appear later this year. The accessibility program successfully concluded the testing exercise it began in January, with its public call for more participants resulting in a tidy doubling of the initial tester-pool. (We also extended the testing period by a week to better accomodate these later arrivals.) The committee now possesses accessibility survey responses from several dozen players with disabilities, including both IF veterans and those new to the form. We now turn our attention to transforming this data into a meaningful report, and I very much look forward to presenting it to the community.

I’ll be giving a short presentation about IFTF at the monthly Providence Geeks meetup at 6:30 on Wednesday, February 20, at the AS220 art space downtown. (IFTF’s connection with Providence extends only so far as the fact that its current president happens to live there — but he does, so there you have it.) This will happen at the AS220 main stage at 115 Empire Street.

I plan to host a group play-through of Admiral Jota’s well worn crowd-pleaser Lost Pig starting at 5:30, to entertain the early-birds. We’ll likely have examples of other modern IF on-hand to sample after the talk; I’m taking a cue from how the Boston IF crowd offers demonstrations at the local indie-games festival every year.

Because AS220 has closed its restaurant for renovations, visitors should plan to dine before or after the event, or bring their own take-out to enjoy on-premises. Providence Geeks will provide a pop-up bar.

IFTF is pleased to announce that we are now in the process of adopting the IF community forum at intfiction.org.

I should say: the forum moderator team are pleased to announce this, in collaboration with IFTF! They already posted the news last weekend.

The forum is a long-standing center of IF community discussion. It’s been continuously active since August of 2006. Mike Snyder, who has hosted the server since the early days, is now stepping down as maintainer. Our very great thanks to Mike for the years, effort, and financial support he’s put into the system!

So now the forum will pass into the IFTF domain. It’s important to make clear what this means.

  • IFTF now has a IntFiction Forum Committee. If you look at that page, you’ll see five people listed as moderators, led by Dannii Willis. These are the same people who have been moderating the forum for the past few years.
  • You’ll also see my name and Chris Klimas on the committee. We are not forum moderators, and we will not be directly involved in moderation decisions or policy. We’re there to advise and to act as liaisons between the mods and IFTF.
  • IFTF will own the intfiction.org domain, run the server, and pay for hosting costs. (Supported by your donations, of course.)
  • The mod team will continue to maintain the software and deal with the day-to-day work of running the forum. As their post notes, they are considering switching from phpBB to Discourse. That was their decision, and they’re making all the decisions about how the new server will be organized.
  • The committee chooses its own members (as long as there’s at least one board liaison). So the committee, including both moderators and board liaisons, decides who gets to be a moderator.
  • IFTF will provide oversight, stability, and support as needed. Since the server itself is run by IFTF, it is protected by IFTF’s status as a registered nonprofit with legal resources and so on. The forum also gains the benefit of being operated by an organization, rather than one volunteer’s web hosting account.
  • The IFTF board has the ability to overrule the mod team. However, we intend to use that authority only for emergency situations. For example, if the mod team breaks down and is unable to make decisions; or if the moderators make decisions which put the forum in legal jeopardy.
  • The mod team has the ability and authority to run the forum software — banning or editing messages if necessary, and so on. The IFTF board liaisons do not have that authority.
  • To be clear: I set up the Linode instance, so I have root access to the machine, so in theory I have absolute power. However, I would not use that power unless the mods request it or if it’s required for emergency server maintenance.
  • The forum has a code of conduct, and IFTF has terms of service. (Including a privacy policy.) All will apply. They should be compatible (we’re checking with our lawyer to make sure).
  • Beyond the guidelines of the COC and TOS documents, IFTF’s policy is to not dictate the shape of forum discussion. Think of this as editorial independence. The forum will be an IFTF project, but the “owners” do not decide what’s on-topic for the forum, or how topics are organized, or what counts as interactive fiction. The moderators decide that. They should not need IFTF’s input unless they’re seriously deadlocked.

This last point is subtle. We’ve had quite a bit of discussion about who “owns” the new forum. But not the way you might think! I came into the discussion assuming that the mod team would be the “real owners”; they came in assuming that IFTF would be. It’s been a bit of a “you first” “no you first” situation.

My (personal) conclusion is that “ownership” is a terrible way to approach community resources in the first place. That’s why I’ve avoided the word in most of the above discussion. (Except for the domain; there’s a clear notion of who owns a given domain name.) Spelling out our explicit areas of responsibility is much more useful.

Ultimately, this is a joint project on behalf of the IF community. It exists because the mod team approached us and we saw that we could help. If it turns out that we can’t work together, the solution is not for the “owner” to force a decision on the “subordinate”; the solution would be to amicably separate.

Why am I going on at such length? I could have just said “IFTF is taking over the forum, yay, party hats for all.” Why all this introspection?

The forum is the first IFTF project which has really had to grapple with this question. After all, when IFTF adopted IFComp, the Comp was run by Jason McIntosh — IFTF’s president. When the IF Archive came on board, I was the director. When Twine got IFTF support, the association was managed by Chris Klimas, Twine’s creator, who is also on the IFTF board. It was taken for granted that each project would continue to operate within IFTF with the same values and vision as it started with.

The forum is IFTF’s first outside project, in that sense. Some of us board members have participated in the forum — I’m an active poster — but we didn’t build it. It’s important that IFTF be able to support the forum without changing what the forum is.

Look at it this way: IFTF now operates a bunch of IF community resources. (Most of the resources I thought of as crucial in the 1990s… although of course IF is a far bigger pond today.) This centralization is a strength; we have nonprofit status and a shared donation stream. But it could also become a problem. Any observer of centralized social networks knows how sour they can go.

IFTF has authority over the resources that it operates. This is necessary for a bunch of reasons, including simple legal liability and the kinds of emergencies I described earlier. However, we want each of these projects to continue thriving in its own way, according to its own values. For the forum, that means a policy of editorial independence.

The problem is not centralization, but dominion. If IFTF were consolidating power — if it were even perceived as consolidating power — it would lose the community’s trust. So we have to be careful to avoid that.

Even dictating the definition of “interactive fiction”, across all our services, would be a fatal mistake. We’re not the people who decide that. You are.

So yes: party hats for all. This is a good move. The moderators now have the opportunity to update the forum. We think you’ll like the upgrades. But at heart, we trust, the forum will remain the community center it has always been.

I’m pleased to announce that the IFTF accessibility testing program has at last commenced its testing exercise. We would like to extend our gratitude to the AbleGamers Player Panels program for helping to gather more than two dozen players with disabilities willing to play our specially prepared test games and report on their experience.

And, of course, our deepest thanks go out to the testers themselves! We’ll collect their feedback over the rest of January, turning that into a report that we’ll present to the IF community later this year. Testers will receive modest gift cards for their participation, so this work also comes to you via IFTF’s financial donors — a special group of people which, as I never tire of reminding y’all, anyone can join at any time, and to any degree.

We have an interesting gap in our present disability coverage that we’d like to fill, though! While many of the initial group identify as vision-impaired — and we absolutely value their input — very few refer to themselves as fully blind. Recognizing the historically special place that text-based games have among the community of blind gamers, we’d like to invite more self-identified blind IF fans with some time to spare this month to help us with this project. If this interests you, please drop me a note.

I also bear a special request from AbleGamers president (and IFTF accessibility committee member) Mark Barlet: if you are a blind IF fan interested in helping video games of all kinds improve their accessibility, Player Panels would love your help! You can learn more about the program here, including information on joining the effort. According to Mark, Player Panels seeks to improve the number of blind gamers within its ranks, and he hopes that this partership with IFTF — AbleGamers’ first foray into interactive fiction — can help with that.