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IF Only: What to watch for

Where to get your fix

Most of my columns look at a particular author, game, style, or theme in IF that you might be interested in trying out. But if you're new to interactive fiction entirely and want to branch out into finding new work of your own, where would you look? Here's a quick tour of some interesting things to look at and watch for.

Publication Places for New IF:

New short work, usually 5-10 to play, appears twice a month at Sub-Q Magazine. Founded last year, Sub-Q functions for IF much the way an online SFF magazine does for short speculative fiction: it pays per word, it publishes content for everyone to enjoy online, and it's funded through subscriptions and donations from its most ardent supporters. Editor Tory Hoke has been energetic in maintaining a quality standard for everything they publish, and also for matching authors of traditional fiction with implementors who can help them out if they have an unusual vision. One of my favorite Sub-Q pieces is one of these, Vajra Chandrasekera's semi-fantastical Snake Game. The site also offers author interviews, reviews, and other goodies.

At the other end of the funding and curation scale is IFDB, the database for new IF. Any new work can be listed at IFDB, whether it's free or commercial, new or old. IFDB also serves as a kind of community record of what has even been written and considered IF in the past year, for the purpose of choosing games eligible for a XYZZY Award. Anyone can edit it, so if you have a new text game (or an old one) you'd like to make known, you can go in there and add a page and a news item for that piece. It has an extensive tagging system, too, so if you want to look for something really specific, you can. (French-language romance IF? Works published in 2016 with released source code?)

On Steam, Choice of Games curates a list of narrative rich games, especially interactive fiction. That list naturally includes all the choice-based IF that they themselves publish to Steam, but also some other picks, such as story-rich life sims and visual novels from Hanako Games, and various others.

textadventures.co.uk hosts a number of games in Quest, Inform, and Twine to be played online; editorial picks get surfaced to the front page. Beware if you play something really long in this context because the site can time out if you leave your half-finished game alone for long enough, but it works fine as a context to play short pieces.

New Texture games are hosted on the Texture website itself, if the author chooses to make use of that feature. It's also possible to export a Texture game and host it somewhere else on a different website. Philomela hosts Twine games for free, and has a Twitter feed you can follow if you want to see every time someone makes a new game public there. To the best of my knowledge there's (intentionally) no centralized list of every game posted on Philomela, but huge amounts of material are stored there if you know where to look.

And of course there's an itch.io category, which contains a number of pieces I wouldn't immediately have thought of as interactive fiction, but quite a lot else that I would.

Reviews and Coverage:

Planet-IF is a blog aggregator that collects together a lot of writing about IF from various places, including historical writing from Digital Antiquarian, author development logs and post-mortems, and reviews of new work and competition contents.

Spooky Action At A Distance reviews interactive fiction and non-interactive science fiction/fantasy, as a venue for the meeting of media, and offers some of the more writing-focused responses to IF currently available.

SPAG is an online zine that has existed in one form or another since the mid-90s, though back in the day it was all text and considerably harder to search. It continues to provide reviews and in-depth articles about tools and concepts in interactive fiction. Its older archives are still online, too, containing hundreds of reviews of text adventures going back to the Usenet days.

Competitions and Jams:

Interactive fiction has a long tradition of competitions as a way to give authors a deadline, get new games out in public, and encourage players to give feedback in the form of ratings and reviews. The longest-running of these is the yearly IF Comp that just wrapped up (and about which we posted extensively here). But there are a few others that run regularly that are worth looking at.

IF Comp's junior sibling is the Spring Thing Festival, intentionally set to happen at the opposite time of year. Spring Thing is designed to welcome longer games, rather than focusing on games that can be played in two hours or less. It also eases up a little on the competition aspect: participants who want to submit something a bit unusual and experimental, or just to skip out on being ranked, can enter the festival's "Back Garden," where they'll be shared alongside the other games, but not rated.

Other competitions and jams are lighter weight or more sporadic: ECTOCOMP is a yearly Halloween jam for short horror pieces. It turned up some really good things this year. ShuffleComp is a jam that's run twice now, where participants wrote games inspired by song mixes. ParserComp is a competition for parser-based games specifically, which has run once in the past and may be revived. The Year of Adventure is a kind of anthology running all year this year to gather up pieces that do homage to the original Crowther and Woods game that started the whole genre.

Something Else I'm Looking Forward To:

Cropped cover for Southern Monsters

Southern Monsters (Kevin Snow, late 2016). Kevin Snow may be familiar to readers from his previous work, especially Beneath Floes, a retelling of Native Alaskan folklore that he developed in concert with local storytellers. He now turns his attention to a rather warmer setting, in a game of swampland cryptozoology.

Other developments to watch:

The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is a non-profit organization whose job is stewardship of IF community assets and infrastructure. It's taken on responsibility for the IF Comp and will pay for its server costs and other on-going needs, but there are grander plans in the longer term.

Among other things, IFTF will provide additional support for Twine – a tool currently maintained on a shoestring by people who have other day jobs; and to commission a one-time accessibility report on how IF tools can better serve players with visual impairments or other restrictions. Historically, text-based games have been among the most accessible forms for visually impaired gamers, because they have tended to interact well with screen readers. The development of many new and more visually compelling interfaces in the past few years means that games that look better to many users are simultaneously leaving behind the communities of blind gamers who used to rely on them. So I'm enthusiastic about IFTF's mission to help address this.

[Disclosures: Emily is on the advisory board for the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation (a position that allows her to give her opinion when asked, but does not entail managing or distributing its financial assets). She also has a current contract with Choice of Games. More generally, Emily Short is not a journalist by trade and works professionally with various interactive fiction publishers. You can find out more about her commercial affiliations at her website.]

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Emily Short