The IFComp games are now out! 35 games in all, the vast majority of which are playable online.
You have until 15 November to submit your votes - if you’re voting, you need to have played at least 5 of the games.
Here’s the first of what will probably be an irregular roundup of what’s happening in the world of interactive fiction and digital storytelling. Got something to share? Let us know! You can email [email protected] or tweet @TextAdv.
Choosatron: This wi-fi interactive story printer is nearing the end of its Kickstarter - it’s already achieved way over its target amount, and you have until 30 August to pre-order one.
Seltani: Andrew Plotkin has unveiled Seltani, an online environment for creating multi-player works of multiple choice interactive fiction.
IFComp: The deadline is approaching for signing up on the IFComp website as an author - you have until 1 September. But don’t worry, you have until 28 September to actually submit your game. Looking at the current prize list, you could win $250 - or, if your game isn’t so good, you might be the unlucky recipient of a CD of the best of the Eurovision Song Contest.
A Very Serious Game: Allyson Whipple and Carly Kocurek are seeking funding on Indiegogo for an educational interactive fiction game called Choice: Texas, about access to abortion. They’ve currently raised over £2400 and funding will close on 18 September.
AdventureX: AdventureX will be held again this December in London - it was a great event last year and we’ll definitely be going this time too. Once again it will be free to attend, and they’re currently asking for donations to help fund the event - you can contribute by getting yourself a VIP card for £12.
Calendar: We’ve added an events calendar to the blog to help keep track of all the interesting things that are going on - let us know if we’ve missed anything!
That’s all for now, but before we go we should quickly mention our new email newsletter “The Text Adventurer“ - nothing too frequent, just 3 or 4 times per year, covering all of this kind of stuff. We sent out the first issue a couple of months ago so we’ll be putting together the second one pretty soon - sign up now to be sure you get it.
A couple of months ago, we started accepting more game listings on textadventures.co.uk, opening the site up to allow all kinds of web-browser games, such as those created using Twine, Inform or Undum.
We’ve now opened up listings even more - with new links to off-site games, all of which can be played in a web-browser, and/or downloaded as an app.
We’re adding listings manually at the moment, so if you have a link you’d like to add, email [email protected] with a description, cover art and category. The only rules are that the game has to be a text-based story game of some description, and it needs to be easily playable - by which we don’t mean that the game itself should be easy, just that it should be playable directly within a web browser, or at least available from an App Store.
We’ve also added an events calendar. The idea is to list any events that are of general interest to the world of interactive fiction, digital storytelling, and anything related. This includes conferences, meetups, competitions, performances… basically, if we think it’s interesting, and it relates to the world of stories, interactivity and technology in some way, then that’s the kind of thing we want to add to the calendar.
It seems "digital" is a word people in the "culture" sector use when they want to pretend they don't work in IT.— Alex Warren (@alexwarren) July 23, 2013
I work in IT. I have done so for a long time. I’ve always loved programming - it has grown from my hobby to my profession over more than 20 years now. I first sold software over the internet in 1999 - quite a long time before the App Store came along and made that kind of thing a whole lot easier.
It’s never been particularly fashionable to say you’re “in IT” though. Historically, the cool kids always thought of computers and programming as rather boring, with a couple of major exceptions - the Dot-com bubble of 1997 to 2000, and the boom in apps of 2010 to the present day.
For much of my professional career I’ve worked building and maintaining financial software. It’s not glamorous, it can often be difficult and dull, but it certainly pays the bills. So that’s my background. Recently though, I’ve been moving away from financial software as I build up textadventures.co.uk. My work now is introducing me to a whole range of new people - people who are involved in education, games, interactive storytelling and so on.
This means that over the last couple of years, I’ve been exposed to a lot more people who are professionally in the arts, culture and media sector. And it’s been interesting to see how attitudes to technology differ here compared to elsewhere.
There’s one word that seems to typify the difference in thinking about technology: “Digital”. It’s not a word that I encountered very much before, but it seems to be everywhere here.
I remember that “digital” always used to be an adjective. Digital watches, digital thermometers, digital television. But in arts/culture/media, it is used as a noun. I’ve seen job titles like “Head of Digital”, and people talk generally about being “in digital”. From what I understand, it’s used as a shortcut to mean, approximately, things to do with apps, websites, smartphones, tablets… that sort of thing.
What I find strange is that outside of this sector, when people talk about apps, websites, smartphones and tablets, they don’t tend to talk about “digital”. They’ll just use the actual word for whatever it is - or if they’re talking more broadly, they might say “software”, “technology”, “IT” or “the internet”.
So why the new term? Are the old terms too boring? Perhaps those words are not “creative” enough?
Effectively, anybody with “digital” in their job title works in IT. They may swear blind that they don’t, but they do. If your work involves building something technological, even if you’re providing creative direction or doing project management, you’re doing the same thing that the millions of people who work in IT do.
(An exception may be if you work purely to create content - as a writer, artist, filmmaker etc. I’m not really talking about those activities here, although once again we already seem to have good existing words for them. Prefixing “digital” to these just because the end result appears on the internet isn’t meaningful.)
Still, this is not really a problem if it’s just about the badges and labels we use. Different groups use different words for the same thing all the time. You may use a particular word to describe your job, because consciously or unconsciously it gives you a certain social cachet. This is fine, if everybody in your group understands what you mean. It is a problem if it alienates people with a technical background from outside the arts, though (and I can’t help but feel there could be something of a class issue here, as if not wanting to risk being associated with “blue collar” IT work like maintaining servers and fixing computers).
More seriously though, I think the use of this term is actually detrimental to the success of “digital” projects. Many of the problems that digital projects in arts and culture face are down to this denial that these are really IT projects - boring old IT projects, just like people do in the rest of the world. Building apps, creating websites, making games - the rules do not change just because you’re in a different industry. By pretending that “digital” is a brand new area, it seems to me that a lot of knowledge is being discarded - knowledge that we have accumulated over the last few decades of building the exact same kind of stuff under a different label.
My friend Martha Henson, who knows a lot more about this sector than I do, wrote a blog post covering some of the issues she has seen - Why I’m fed up with digital projects (and why I’m not): a rant
I am fed up of seeing people and organisations produce digital rubbish: poor apps, clunky games, badly designed microsites and other half-arsed online, mobile and technological systems and whatnots. I am fed up of people who are smart about digital, who think about users, who ask the right questions at the start, who embrace technology without fear and understand how to apply it, being over-ruled by people who’ve just bought an iPad for their kids and now assume that everyone has them and that this is all the justification they need to insist upon spending £50k on a new app for their organisation.
The problems range from poor design to poor project management, unrealistic budgets and a general lack of understanding about how technology works and how software is built. As Martha suggests in her post, the people who call the shots often don’t have a technological background - but they do have an iPad.
They think “apps” are different to what we used to call “software”. Software was expensive. You went to a shop and could pay a lot of money for something that was slow, and difficult to install and use. Apps aren’t like that - apps are cheap, very quick to get hold of, look lovely and they’re easy to use. Good iPad apps feel a world away from the clunky programs we used to use on our beige desktop PCs - so different, that I suspect some people think a lot of the things we learned about building software no longer apply.
And of course, because consuming apps is cheap and easy, then building apps should also be cheap and easy. Right?
So we see insultingly low Invitations to Tender from cultural institutions with low budgets, thinking that they can have an app built for them for a tiny amount of money. There are clients who don’t even know why they want an app in the first place - they just know that there are loads of apps, and their competitors have apps, so they must have apps. And there are clients who want to spec an app in detail up-front, and get the lowest bidder. The classic waterfall model. You wouldn’t build “software” like that - but somehow, this is “digital”, these are “apps”, and so the rules must be different, for some reason.
Within the world of computing and software, we’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. We’re not there yet - the whole of IT is an incredibly young industry, which is why I love working in it. It would be silly for cultural institutions to throw all of that knowledge away because they think they’re working on something even newer and completely different.
But I am new here and may be missing something, so please let me know what you think in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter @alexwarren.
Sometimes during a moment of low concentration when I’m sat at my desk, a cruel epiphany occurs. “Oh god, what am I doing? What am I actually doing? Seriously? I quit my job for this?”
And I feel very stupid and alone.
I’m working on various bits of software and websites related to interactive fiction, and there’s a vision behind all this.
It’s a vision of interactive storytelling becoming more of a mainstream art form - with people interacting via smartphones and tablets, and taking up writing interactive stories as a hobby. A vision of kids being introduced to interactive fiction at school, as a way of engaging them with reading and writing, and also for introducing them to programming. A vision of authors doing interesting things with technology. And a vision of me helping all of this to happen.
But at times this vision escapes me. It flutters off and leaves me with a different view of things. Perhaps my vision never becomes reality. Or, arguably worse, maybe it does - and I am nowhere to be seen.
An idle glance at Tweetdeck can be all it takes for my vision to vanish in a puff of smoke. I see others succeeding where I am failing. I see somebody talking about their successful project. I see people talking about interactive fiction, and my platform and website is not there. Sometimes it can feel like I have spent so long building my part of this world of interactive fiction, and yet to many in it I am completely invisible.
If I take a moment to calm down and think things through logically, I can get the vision back and have some confidence that I’m not completely wasting my time. I look on my forum and see people building things using my software, and helping each other out. I search Google for “text adventures” and see my own site comfortably at the top. I look at the number of people submitting games to my website. I think of all the teachers who have contacted me about using my software in their classes.
It’s like I can see two different realities, success and failure, side by side, and they are both simultaneously true.
I will probably always perceive things this way - even if I do manage to make a living out of this business I am building. There will always be people doing exciting things without me, and I will always have the worry that somebody out there is doing something similar, but better.
Feeling failure acutely is, I expect, necessary to succeed in the first place. If I thought I was successful already, what would I be aiming for?
There will probably always be times where I feel bitter, jealous, stupid and uncertain. The challenge is to harness these emotions instead of letting them get the better of me.