Q. is the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation a good thing?
Q. How good?
To quote Emily Short: ‘this may sound rather dull and legal, but it is in fact very important’. In this post I want to try to explain why, and why you should care, if you’re less familiar with interactive fiction.
The interactive fiction community has been, for years, an adventure playground for formal innovation and the commercially untethered play of ingenuity. By ‘commercially untethered’ I mean that almost no-one has made any money. On the one hand that’s great, because it means people have made interesting things they love, rather than things that sell. On the other hand, it means almost no-one has made any money, and the community’s run entirely on love. Love goes a lot further than money, but it’s not infinite either, and the history of the community, as far as I can tell, is often down to people going above and beyond what could be expected until they’ve Had Enough.
Equally, up to this point most of the tech that supports IF work has been owned or stewarded by individuals, rather than larger entities. Individuals are great, and some of my best friends are individuals, but they often die or get religion. Foundations can persist, and people consequently feel happier assigning (eg) IP to them. They can also accept tax-deductible donations.
Of course, commercial IF has had a resurgence lately – 80 Days, Choice of [various] and Fallen London, for instance, IN STRICTLY ALPHABETICAL ORDER – but all these lovely operations (of which Failbetter is plainly the loveliest) operate their own proprietary technology (though inkle has open-sourced ink), and each has strong ideas about how IF should operate. The IFTF has very sensibly drawn its directors and advisory board from people who cross the spectrum of approaches – from traditional GO NORTH GET PIG parser fiction to Twine – and including people from each of those three highish-profile IF studios.
Including champions of such a wide variety of approaches also looks to me, as a fringe member of the community, like a sensible way to quell some of the brushfire arguments about what is and isn’t Actually Interactive Fiction that have bedevilled the community in the past (and which neatly mirror the arguments about what is Actually a Game in the larger games industry). I believe – again, as a lay member – that those arguments are mostly past, but I know they drained a lot of energy from people of goodwill, so the IFTF may have a double benefit.
I should add, btw, that this is all as per above Unofficial. The first thing I knew about the IFTF is when they mailed me and asked me to be an adviser, and I said yes because it’s obviously a great idea.
Q. What is your role as an Advisory Board member?
IFTF Directors: Alexis, we’re doing x. Any thoughts?
IFTF Directors: Right.
Addendum: I couldn’t find an elegant way to work this into the post, but Andrew Plotkin’s presence in the IFT reminded me that I still hadn’t played his Hadean Lands, which just now came out on Steam. It’s been very well reviewed, but I haven’t played much parser IF in years – the barrier to engagement remains high, although there’s lots of brilliant work, and I hadn’t got around to it. I have now. In fact I was up until 2am last night playing it. If you, like me, often bounce off trad IF, give it a try anyway. It’s buttery-smooth to get into, with a deliciously astringent difficulty curve, like a mostly-text mostly-monochrome Portal, but with alchemy! If you’re still sceptical, add it to your Steam wishlist: it’ll be like buying that Three Colours: White DVD that makes you feel cleverer just having it in your house, until one day you actually watch it and find out it’s actually really good fun.