The NarraScope planning process continues! We’ve just posted a call for proposals for talks and panels.

The details are all on the web site, but to sum up: we’re looking for cutting-edge discussions about adventure games, narrative design, interactive fiction, and anything else that falls under our umbrella. We hope to represent a wide range of viewpoints — indies, academics, communities outside the gaming mainstream.

NarraScope 2019 will take place at MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) from June 14-16, 2019.

Proposals are due by January 18th. We expect to have one-hour talks and panel discussions, plus probably a session of lightning talks (five to ten minutes).

We regret we are unable to cover travel expenses for speakers this year.

Thanks in advance!

IFTF is pleased to announce that the Treaty of Babel document is now under a Creative Commons License.

“Hang on, the what?” I hear you ask. Yeah. I know.

When I made this change to the web site, our benevolent president Jmac asked “Is this worth a blog post?” And I said “No.” It’s housekeeping. It’s a line that I forgot to add when we brought the IF Archive site on board last year. It’s one small step towards creating an open, nicely-organized repository of IF specifications, but it’s not exciting in its own right.

But Jmac pointed out that this was a good opportunity to mention the Treaty of Babel. It’s a funny bit of IF infrastructure which has existed for more than a decade. Some of Babel’s ideas are in common use, but the spec doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s worth a blog post.


Graham Nelson came up with the idea for the Treaty of Babel back in 2006. He was working on the beta version of Inform 7, and he wanted bibliographic data to be a first-class part of the ecosystem. An author writing an Inform game should be able to specify title, author, release date, and other such information in a way which could easily be extracted. That way, if you had a library of Inform games, you could wave a tool over them and generate a library-style catalog.

But as soon as you say that, you realize that it should really work for all IF systems, not just Inform.

Graham contacted a bunch of IF tool developers — Mike Roberts for TADS, Kent Tessman for Hugo, and so on. (Twine didn’t exist yet!) I was involved as an IF Archive maintainer, and also as the maintainer of Blorb, the IF packaging spec which Inform used. We hammered out the details, and then L. Ross Raszewski wrote it up as a document. It was announced as the Treaty of Babel — thank Graham for the slightly self-deprecating name. You can see the original announcement on Usenet, which was the IF community medium at the time.

(Just a few days later, Graham posted the first public beta announcement for Inform 7.)

So what is Babel good for? The web site gives the original intent:

  • ISBN-like unique ID numbers for story files, old and new, produced by commercial or non-commercial compilers living and dead;
  • a standard format for cover art and bibliographic data;
  • a web server able to provide these for a given ID number;
  • a command-line tool able to identify and extract data from story files in any format;
  • reference software providing a format-neutral API for reading story files, and removing “wrappers”.

Of these, the ID numbers (“IFIDs”) and the standard format (“iFiction”) are now well-established. You can see IFIDs listed on game pages at IFDB. The iFiction format is less visible, but it’s embedded as an XML snippet in every Inform game, and other story formats as well.

The web server plan never got off the ground. This is entirely my responsibility; it was intended to be an IF Archive feature, and I just never built it. My excuse is that IFDB launched in 2007, and that covered most of the indexing and cataloging work which the Babel site was intended to serve.

The final Babel goals were software. Like most reference implementations, they are not themselves widely used, but their existence was necessary to create and validate other tools in the Babel ecosystem. Zoom, for example, was the first “modern” IF interpreter, supporting several story formats and a Babel-driven catalog of the user’s IF collection.


And now?

As we move into the new year, we are considering possible updates for the IF Archive. These are not urgent — after all, the Archive works, as it has worked for over 25 years.

But I’ve never entirely given up on the idea of Babel-indexed metadata. It might mean something different than we imagined in 2006. We don’t have to build everything out of CGI scripts, for one thing; the Net now teems with cheap web service tools. We also need to think about IFDB, which has its own database with its own indexing system. Perhaps we should pull IFDB keys into the Archive’s data collection and connect them to IFIDs.

As I said above, we also have the notion of a community repository for IF specifications and standards. IFTF now holds the community specification of the Z-machine under a Creative Commons license. Other documents are stored on the IF Archive, but with no consistent licensing, ownership, or findability. (For example, the Glulx spec is readable and CC-licensed, but it’s owned by me personally rather than by IFTF. And you have to know where to look.)

Over the next year we intend to regularize this stuff, make a tidy index page, and invite other spec maintainers to contribute documents.

Look for more ideas and announcements in the coming year.

IFDB, the Interactive Fiction Database, is a web service which collects information about published IF. IFDB was created by Mike Roberts; he continues to maintain it for the benefit of the IF community. All information stored on IFDB is contributed and edited by IF community members.

Since its launch in 2007, IFDB has become an indispensible resource for the community.

Last year, we took a look at IFDB and asked ourselves, “How is this going?” The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t be asking ourselves — we should be asking the community, the people who use IFDB. So we set up a survey and passed it around.

To be clear: we did this as friends of IFDB. Mike Roberts did not commission this survey, and he has not committed to any particular work based on the results. When the results were in, we collated them and sent a copy off to Mike. And then… we kind of let the whole project slide. Oops. (It’s been a busy year.)

We didn’t intend to keep the results secret; we just forgot to post them anywhere. That oversight is now fixed. So here you go: the results of the 2017 IFDB survey.

So now what?

As the page says, IFDB is not an IFTF service. We can’t hack the server and make changes. However, we can act as community organizers, and think about ways that the IFDB user community could better serve themselves.

Interested in contributing time to IFDB editing or documentation? Drop us a line.

After working with the IFTF, I’m pleased that the Undum website and documentation is now available again, at GitHub.

It has powered a number of games, occasionally pops up among IFComp entries, but has never been as widely used as other tools. If you are unfamiliar, allow me to introduce it. Undum is a choose-your-own-adventure interactive fiction tool, with a couple of very specific design goals. One aesthetic and one technical.

I have a passion for the texture of books. I wanted to create a tool where the works exude physicality and play has the feeling of reading prose. The visual design is unashamedly skeuomorphic: from before the time we learned to distrust such things. It begins with letterpress titles and marbled paper, and opens to cream textured background and off black ink. My hobby is bookbinding, this was a virtual version. When I created it in 2009, CYOA games were structured like the original books: read a paragraph, make a choice, the screen clears and new text appears. In Undum, the choices fade, disappear, and the surrounding text rearranges to form a resulting narrative. It looks somewhat old now to my eyes, but the basic idea I think is sound. Many other recent titles – inkle’s games for example – use a similar effect, at least for small sections of text.

Technically, both Undum and the games that target it, are written in JavaScript. I hoped this would make it accessible for a wider range of dabblers, requiring transferable skills rather than learning a new language. It also made it achievable to write and document over a few weekends: I didn’t have to worry about parsing, or creating a complete runtime. But the best benefit, and in some ways the one least exploited in practice, is the ability to use Undum as part of a bigger game. I imagined a strategy game with CYOA elements, or a piece of interactive fiction using natural language generation to be different each time.

Between the first and second release, I fell in love with Alexis Kennedy’s quality-based narrative structure, as used in Fallen London (at the time named Echo Bazaar). Rather than specifying explicit options, a random selection can be drawn from a database, based on criteria that represent the choices made so far: this choice is allowed if ‘fear’ is greater than three, for example, that one if the ‘met the monster’ flag is set. This approach allows a choice to easily affect things much later in the story. And crucially, it allows new sections to be written and added, without manually rewiring the flow. In Undum, explicit and implicit choices are both supported, and interchangeable from moment to moment.

I left working on Undum to develop Varytale, a short lived commercial IF endeavour that shared a lot of the same aesthetic and narrative structure. And then I retired, and it lay fallow, aside from email help requests that still drip into my inbox. If you are curious, I think it is particularly suitable for writerly programmers, especially those who want to push the boundaries: hook up web sockets for multiplayer IF, send new content from a web server, break out of the narrative to play a mini game, or add rich media and video. I hope, with the encouragement of IFTF, it continues its afterlife powering interesting and form-challenging games.

Six months ago, we waved around the idea of hosting an interactive fiction conference in Boston. Then — six months of silence.

Surprise! We still exist!

…Apologies for the delay. Nailing down a venue turned out to be a more protracted and painful process than we expected. It’s still not entirely nailed down, I’m sorry to say. But it’s solid enough for us to announce:

NarraScope 2019
Celebrating Narrative Games
June 14-16, 2019 — Boston, MA

The focus of the conference is not just “interactive fiction”. IF is a broad-ranging term these days, but not everyone uses it or thinks of themselves as “interactive fiction authors”. NarraScope will aim to cover the spectrum of narrative-focused games and interactive design: adventure games, Twine, hypertext, choice-based and parser-based IF, visual novels, procedurally generated narrative… Each of these forms has evolved into a community of practice. We want to create a space for these communities to come together, talk, exchange ideas, and discover ways to collaborate.

We are still finalizing the details of the venue and schedule. We expect to be in Cambridge, in coordination with MIT’s Comparative Media Studies and Writing department.

A call for speakers and talk proposals will be posted soon! Watch for news on our mailing list (join!) and on our web site.

Who are we? The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which supports the tools, services, and community resources of interactive fiction and narrative games. NarraScope is IFTF’s first major public event. Here’s our conference committee.

Inclusivity statement: NarraScope celebrates the diverse voices of game design. We aim to create a safe, welcoming, and accountable space for all participants.

As of this week, the Inform 6 web site at inform-fiction.org is now maintained by IFTF.

“Wait,” you say, “there was an Inform 6 web site? You mean before the Inform 7 web site?” Indeed there was! Graham Nelson launched inform-fiction.org in 2002, and continued maintaining it until around 2008. After that, I7 was more widely used, and the I6 site settled into a quiet retirement.

This doesn’t mean that the I6 language fell out of use, of course. It’s still a vital component of the I7 toolchain, and some people continue to write games in I6 directly. However, development of the I6 compiler and library have moved to familiar open-source platforms (GitHub and GitLab).

Furthermore, the old web site remains the canonical home for some of the core documents of Inform’s history:

All of these documents are also preserved on the IF Archive, but we thought it was important to give the web site (and its canonical URLs) a permanent home. Therefore, with Graham’s kind permission, we have moved inform-fiction.org and all of its contents to IFTF. In fact, it’s now an official IF Archive annex, an alias of inform-fiction.ifarchive.org.

We don’t plan to update the site going forward. It remains a snapshot of IF history — or a series of snapshots. If you poke around, you’ll find Z-Machine interpreter lists from 2004, Inform extensions from 2007, and bug report lists from 2013. We don’t apologize! That’s history for you.

So what else can we preserve?

Web sites sometimes fall off the net. We’re not going to go around aggressively soliciting domains to take over — that would be tacky. But if a well-known IF site looks neglected, or if the owner wants to hand it off… drop us a line. We have a good track record for preserving IF-related data.

We also intend to create an Archive annex specifically for IF standards and specifications (like the Z-Machine). Again, these all exist in the Archive directory, but you have to dig for them. It would be nicer to have a core site where everything is findable.

This is a question that hits close to the bone for me. The specs for Glk and Glulx, my successors to the Z-machine, live on my personal web site at eblong.com. Does it make sense for me to shift them to an Archive annex? Transfer the ownership of the documents to IFTF? I suspect it does.

This doesn’t imply a radical change. I am, I guess, a BDFL for these specifications, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. But, as we know, eventually a BDFL might want to retire. So having a succession path through IFTF makes sense.

On to the next decade.

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.