Oxford/London First Meetup

The inaugural meetup of the Oxford/London interactive fiction group was well attended, and ran for a good four and a half hours before the last of us had to go our separate ways. Many thanks to those who came!

We talked about loads of things, as you might expect, including work in progress by several of the participants; the parser/non-parser split in recent IF production; ways to make the more parser-focused side of the community more welcoming to new participants; life in the game industry; why horror is or is not hard to write; storytelling features in the Silent Hill games; game mechanics and marketing strategies of Fallen London; and a number of other topics.

There was also a proposal that it would be good to have scheduled IF discussion on ifMUD, like ClubFloyd but for critical conversation — perhaps around a topic or question announced in advance. The idea was that there’s a desire for some more focused live discussion of interactive fiction, but that just dropping by the MUD casually doesn’t always provide this, depending on who happens to be logged in at the time. Having a pre-announced topic would give the conversation a bit of shape and make it easier for participants to perhaps have thoughts together in advance.

Proposals for future events:

– IF game jam
— group play-through and discussion sessions, about interesting new releases or works by members who want feedback
— book-club style discussion of games members had picked and played in advance
— overview of new Inform features with Graham Nelson
— (brought up online rather than actually at the event) overview of TADS adv3Lite library with Eric Eve
— (likewise) tabletop storygaming

The next meetup is already scheduled and will be at the Failbetter Games headquarters in London, Feb 18, 7 PM. Alexis has been good enough to raise the event attendance to 30, so if you saw that that event was closed out and you wanted to go, it’s open again.

Oxford/London IF meetup

A couple of months ago I ran a poll to see whether people might like to have an IF meetup group in southern England, and if so whether they preferred Oxford or London. Then I went to a conference, then got a really really bad cold, then the holidays were upon us and it seemed like a bad time to add extra things to anyone’s calendar.

But! Now that’s past, I’m eager to get this rolling. The feedback about location was decidedly mixed — lots of people who could only make one of those options — so I’m going to try for alternating locations. And because Oxford is where I am and it’s easier to start here, I’ve proposed a first meetup for Feb 2, in Oxford, at the Jam Factory Restaurant. We can meet, chat, talk about what kinds of things we’d like this group to do. I will bring a copy of Blood and Laurels, my next game, for people to look at if they are interested. Please feel free to bring your WIPs or favorite games as well.

If you hate the time, the choice of day of the week, the relative lack of advance notice, I’m happy to factor all those things into future plans about what we’re doing — I just wanted to get something rolling after that hiatus.

Want to RSVP? Want to join the group to get announcements of future events? The site is here.

Edited to add: we now have space and time for a London meeting as well, Feb 18 at 7 PM. Signup at the same link.

Various IF News: Text Fiction, Inky Path, et al

Inky Path. Inky Path is a new quarterly literary magazine for interactive fiction. Founder Devi Acharya describes it thus:

We cannot currently pay authors for their work, but do hope to showcase it in an interactive literary magazine, a lit mag that leads readers to certain pieces depending on their choices. Right now the hope is for it to be a very multimedia experience. This means definitely cover art and neat graphics/layout. We also plan on running contests (hopefully paid) through the site.

About selectivity: That’s going to depend largely on the volume of submissions, but we hope to submit most of the pieces that reach the inbox. We also accept works from all different sorts of IF writers and programs, including both parser-based and choose-your-own-adventure games.

Basically, this is a way for up-and-coming IF writers to get their work shown instead of lost in the archives, as well as a way for newcomers to IF to read some great IF work without being lost on a site like IFDB or the IFArchive.

This idea of a curated, attractive space for IF has come up a few times in the past, but there haven’t been many focused attempts to actually pull it off in a sustained way. It’s something that’s very much needed: especially with IFDB seeing an increased volume and variety of submissions, and with IF being created and announced to different communities, it’s not always easy to get visibility for the best material. Perhaps Inky Path will help with that. If you want to be involved, they’re seeking both content submissions and people interested in reading for the site or contributing graphic design experience.

IGF Nominees. Speaking of getting attention, the nominees for this year’s IGF have been announced. Aaron Reed took an honorable mention in the Nuovo category for 18 Cadence, while Deirdra Kiai (known for The Play and Impostor Syndrome, among others) took four nominations for their stop-motion musical adventure Dominique Pamplemousse — including a nomination for the grand prize, in a field of some 650 indie games.

French IF Comp. IF players who read French may be interested to know that four games have been entered in the French IF competition. Votes are due February 2. If you’re not familiar with French IF idioms, you may find it useful to check out the IF instruction card in French or a full manual translated into French for help with the commonly used commands.

German IF Magazine. (Added in an edit — sorry, I meant to include this initially.) Textpäckchen presents German-language IF on a regular release schedule, and its first two games are already available. The help page includes some lists of standard verbs that may be useful for those learning German IF idioms.

Android Z-machine interpreter. Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 10.47.40 AM Patrick Albrecht has announced Text Fiction, a new Z-machine interpreter for Android, which uses a texting-like UI for the back and forth between the player and the game. It’s already gotten quite a few positive reviews, and offers features like text-to-speech and play of zblorb-wrapped files. It’s free at the Google Play store.

IF authors on Patreon. Colin Sandel, co-author of One Eye Open, has a Patreon page now, as do sometime Twine authors Porpentine, Mattie Brice, Anna Anthropy, and Merritt Kopas. The neat thing about Patreon is that it’s a crowd-funding model that allows for smaller pieces and less overhead for creators than Kickstarter: a good Kickstarter campaign takes a month or more of hard work to run and usually requires the creator to offer a lot of rewards that themselves add to the duration of the project. (And then there’s the challenge of meeting one’s Kickstarter deadlines, which can turn out to be difficult for unforeseen reasons, even for experienced developers.)

Patreon works on the idea that you’re supporting the author rather than a specific work, and is suitable for smaller pieces, so you pledge to give a small amount of money for each new release, regardless of what that is — the author doesn’t need to put together a pitch video and reward tiers for each project, and also has an idea of expected earnings and therefore how much work it’s reasonable to put into each release. It’s also possible to cap one’s contributions per month to prevent yourself from going over budget. Credit card fees and Patreon fees take around 8% of contributions, leaving the rest for the creator. Many Patreon-supported works are then released entirely free with no further associated costs.

If you can’t tell, I’m enthusiastic about this model and I hope it proves workable, because I think it’s a great way to build up a living income for people who create outside the mainstream, but still have an interested audience. From the viewpoint of the surrounding community, it often also means new work, released on a regular schedule, typically free for newcomers — which means that people who aren’t sure whether they’re interested enough to splash out money on new work can try it out free. Win!

(There’s probably some kind of midpoint still unaddressed, between Patreon and Kickstarter: depending on patronage levels Patreon makes sense for things that might take the creator less than a month to make, and Kickstarter for things that might take a year; I’m not so sure about projects that need to be supported in the 3-to-6 month range. But still. Having more models for this is good.)

Events: Phrontisterion, WordPlay Festival

For some years, Chris Crawford has run a mostly-yearly convention on interactive storytelling called Phrontisterion. This year, he changed this a physical gathering to a virtual one, in which participants can get together online to discuss projects they’re working on or have just recently become aware of in the interactive story world. Last session I did a presentation on Versu. Future sessions will cover other areas of interactive story, which might include conventional IF, video games with a story focus, academic narrative experiments, etc. Sessions are designed to take one hour and meet the third Wednesday of the month at 9 AM Pacific (a time picked to accommodate the maximum number of current participants, given how people are spread over many time zones and many jobs). If you’re interested, there’s a blog and sign-up form.

Also: if you’re in Toronto on November 16, you might want to check out the WordPlay festival, put together by Jim Munroe and the Hand Eye Society. There will be an IF workshop with Christine Love. There will be a talk by the creators of Kentucky Route Zero. There will be many games on display, including my pieces First Draft of the Revolution and Counterfeit Monkey.

Upcoming stuff and events

IndieCade is this weekend in Culver City. I will be there talking about narrative alongside Nick Fortugno, and also moderating a panel about Twine featuring Porpentine, Merritt Kopas, Kat Chastain, and Christine Love. Besides the Twine panelists, I know at least a couple other IF folks who will be there as well; some really cool games are nominated, including Kentucky Route Zero and Gone Home, a Twine compilation by Porpentine that includes howling dogs and several other works, Hide and Seek’s Tiny Games collection, and a new pen-and-paper game by Elizabeth Sampat.

AIIDE 2013 is in Boston October 14-18. I will not be there, but Richard Evans will be, and will be talking about Versu from an AI perspective.

PRACTICE is in New York, November 15-17. This is one of my favorite game-related conferences because it focuses on the details of craft and tends to involve really nitty-gritty discussion, far more than your average GDC talk. I will be talking there about Versu from a narrative design perspective.

November 20, Graham Nelson and I are speaking about publishing IF at an evening on transmedia publishing, run by the Oxford Publishing Society.

AdventureX is December 7th in London. I am not speaking, but am planning to go unless my schedule makes it impossible somehow. Jon Ingold (long time IF author and cofounder of inkle) and Dave Gilbert (Wadget Eye) are both lined up to speak.

If you’re planning to be at one of these and want to meet up, ping me! (Except the Boston one, obviously. If you’re going to be there, have fun, and I wish I were going to be able to do that too, but the scheduling just didn’t work out.)