I’m sure this has been discussed before, but what would it take for all the top authors of IF to get together and form some kind of committee or quality assurance collective? I don’t specifically mean in the sense of commercialization, as I know TextFyre has tried and failed, etc. but just something like a set of regulations and guidelines that a title has to meet to be worthy of being a “good” work.

In other words, I see some disparate examples of high quality output (Hadean Lands is often at the top of anyone’s list, etc.) but where does a person (perhaps someone only casually getting into text adventures) go to in order to get something to play that they know is going to be worth their time?

Back in the day, you could pick up any Infocom title and be sure that it had some redeeming quality to it. Sure, some may have preferred certain titles over others, but they had all been tested and had a degree of thought behinds them. They all had substance, even if the particular story wasn’t your “cup of tea”.

From my perspective, blindly going to IFDB and then trying to separate the wheat from the chaff isn’t a good way to represent the art form. All the stuff there is all over the map. You’ve got 1-star stuff mixed in with stuff that is 4-star, and so on. I have no confidence that when I download a title that it’s going to be worth my time, that it will be presented well, that it’ll display well on my interpreter of choice, etc.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think it would do great things for the IF community to appoint “board members” of some type to generate author guidelines, to promote the art form, to put a stamp of approval on high quality titles, to define some sort of benchmark or “bar” that IF titles should strive to meet.

There’s a certain stigma to self-published works in any medium, be it YouTube videos, (back in the day), ReverbNation, or dumping an eBook on Amazon. Even if IF can no longer be commercialized in a monetary sense, can there at least be some kind of “guiding hand” steering its course–something to lend an air of authenticity to a body of work?

I know that’s a lot of unclear rambling, but basically I’m looking for a bunch of the sages and gurus involved in this crazy IF thing to form some kind of unified front, operating as if a company, even if there’s really no money to be had. Just something to help the energy reach a critical mass, instead of authors orbiting around this nebulous concept like lonely satellites.

I’m not sure that could work. For one, how would you decide which people get to be the “gurus” who know all those things? And would those gurus be under the obligation to play every single game to make an assessment?

Also, how can you define games that way? There’s so many different sorts. I’d heartily recommend “Opening Night” to anyone looking for a quick and meaningful diversion, and “The Nemean Lion”/“Orpington” for anyone looking for ways to deconstruct certain IF conventions. I’d recommend “Pen And Paint” to anyone willing to overlook implementation issues to enjoy a taste of a world, a might-have-been of a game.

…but I wouldn’t put them side-by-side with Anchorhead, Babel, Photopia, Galatea, Blue Lacuna.

And yet! The games I just mentioned now are considered to be “crème de la crème”, but even they have their detractors, who would probably be totally uninsterested in playing Galatea but might enjoy, say, “Lost Pig”. Or “Fish Bowl”.

I dunno. Yes, the current IFDB system is imperfect, but I’m not sure there’s a better alternative - at least with IFDB people can leave their thoughts with reviews, that speak volumes. Better tested games, and better implemented games, and well better games, will tend to attract more and higher ratings, and so float to the top.

I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I feel that something like this would be actively destructive on multiple levels – by turning differences of taste into a cause for fights in the community, by burning through enormous amounts of time from the people most productively involved with IF at the moment, and by gatekeeping to the disadvantage of outsider and experimental art. Such art is one of IF’s most interesting sources of growth.

There are a handful of publishers – Choice of Games and Sub-Q, most notably – that do take submissions, do have editors and quality standards, and do pay their authors. That’s a venerable model for a reason. Importantly, a) they pay the people involved for the effort involved; b) they’re not trying to account for the whole field of IF, and if someone doesn’t like or share their particular vision, they can go elsewhere. I’d be cool with seeing more such models spring up if there are resources to support them, but very much less cool with any attempt to gatekeep the whole medium. (Fortunately, I’m also pretty confident that that’s just too much work for anyone to want to do.)

Yeah, I get your point, it’s all subjective, right?

But if it was still 1985 and Infocom was still in business, what titles would they have been eager to release?

Anchorhead is probably a safe bet, right? But why?

Because it’s pretty much bug free, it has a well developed story, logical puzzles, it’s of good length, etc. What criteria does one use to judge an XYZZY award winning title?

Why are Aaron Reed, Emily Short, Michael Gentry, Andrew Plotkin, and Eric Eve always names at the top of the list?

I suppose the criteria (loosely, for me) is that the story be worth winning a XYZZY, of a length that someone purchasing a game for $40 '80s currency wouldn’t feel cheated, presented well (“box art”, included maps, feelies, etc. are of high quality), and that it’s created in a story format with a solid interpreter available, and it has been debugged.

If I was going to pay $$ comparable to what I was spending on computer games back in the '80s and early '90s, then that’s what I’d be looking for in a game.

I suppose that since IF is no longer really commercially viable, then it’s a moot point. But from my perspective there are a lot of people that will never branch out from replaying Zork because there is no monolithic slab of modern quality titles to choose from. From my perspective, it seems as if Infocom was the golden age and it seems ridiculous that IF is still chasing their tale in 2015.

Hm. There’s loads of commercial IF available right now, some of it modestly successful; some of it more than modestly (see 80 Days). There’s also an enormous explosion in the amount of amateur/hobbyist IF being created using various tools, a proliferation in the types of tools available, and active development of new interactive narrative concepts. I don’t see the present “chasing Infocom’s tail” in any sense except possibly the sense that, for people who specifically want more games just like Infocom games, it takes a little more effort to identify new, high-quality work of that type.

So it sounds as though what you want here is specifically to create a label visible to people who are nostalgic about Infocom, that would market to those people efforts of a similar size, quality, and style. Perhaps the project would help provide box art, feelies, and QA to bring submissions in line with its standards; perhaps it would just serve to identify things deemed suitable.

I have a hard time envisioning that being self-sustaining unless there were a revenue stream, a wealthy patron, or some super-passionate volunteers, but it’s conceivable. It wouldn’t have to be a seal-of-approval thing applying to the whole community.

Mostly serious suggestion:

Pull a Ryan Veeder.

Like, if there’s a specific thing you’re looking for in a game, and you’re willing to pay money to see that thing happen, make a market for it. Run a contest or start a Sub-Q style publication. Create guidelines for exactly what you’re looking for, exactly what you want to see. Pay people a reasonable amount for producing a thing that you really like. Give them republishing rights to sweeten the deal for them.

Yep, pretty much, although “just like Infocom” is a little narrow, I suppose. I’m not looking for IF that is a slave to nostalgia, but I’m thinking more like bringing the Infocom mentality to 2015, insofar as the interpreter is seamless with the story, the accompanying artwork doesn’t like like it was done in MS Paint, the story has been play-tested, the story isn’t just a proof-of-concept / gimmick, the stories behave roughly consistently from title to title, etc.

But you’re right. It can never be self-sustaining unless there was a source of funding or a whole bunch of volunteers with the same goal. And that is exactly what makes 2015 sadly less appealing than 1985.

I never meant to imply that it had to apply to the whole community. That would be clearly impossible, even assuming it was a good idea. I was just looking for a publisher/curator/brand/foundation/framework/imprint/banner that signified a particular stable of authors and stories was ‘guaranteed’ not to be amateur nonsense only self-published to an author’s own lax standards. Even a voluntary ‘creed’ would be desirable.

“This title meets the standards set forth that it has over 10 hours of playing time, a hint system, 300DPI+ artwork, has been edited for grammar, and has been play-tested by at least 3 individuals” or whatever idealistic requirements might be in place.

If you want games that are XYZZY-worthy, you can use IFDB to find games that were nominated for XYZZY awards. You don’t have to sort through the database blindly. There’s a list for every year and some tags too. No guru panel required.

Yeah. It always comes down to money and doing it yourself, doesn’t it? :slight_smile:

Your solution is the most viable/realistic approach, I just don’t think I have the clout/influence/charisma/leverage to pull it off.

Of course.

But it’s not just about it being XYZZY worthy. Part of it is about creating some sort of unified front or identifiable brand.

I get that people that are insiders to IF don’t see a problem with its lack of sex appeal, but that’s because they’re already in love.

Edit: In other words, why don’t I know anyone that plays IF that didn’t grow up with Zork? Part of the reason, IMHO, is that it’s hard to play, hard to find, hard to identify the quality titles, and it’s not well presented or promoted.

Yeah, anyone on these forums may think it’s super-easy to just go cruise IFDB and install Gargoyle, but unless it’s a one-click solution then no one on the outside is going to care. “Eh, I clicked that link, but then it asked me to install some Interloper thing or whatever, so I just closed it.”

I won’t name any names, but when I look at how 98% of IF is visually presented, it’s a turn-off to me. Aside from maybe 80 Days, Cypher, and a couple others, if I was judging a book by its cover then I’d skip right on over. And that even extends into something as simple as choice of interpreter. A game is going to look different depending on what the default colors, fonts, and window width are for any particular interpreter. I could fire up some amazing story in Frotz and see some yellow on blue garish text and think, “nah, this looks cheesy” before I even start reading.

People are lazy. People are quick to judge. If people are turned off at first sight or encounter anything off-putting or difficult then they’re going to cruise right on by.

Well, I’m not an insider to IF. I only found out about it last year around October. But I used those IFDB lists to help find good games, so I think they do have value for drawing people to the medium. It worked for me!

Ah. At first I thought you just wanted to have a shadowy cabal of IF gatekeepers to shine a light on quality games for you, but I guess what you really want is something more like the Nintendo Seal of Quality.

Yes. Much in that spirit.

Oh, it’s useful to be sure. But I suspect you’re more patient than most people.

Do you mind me asking what it was that drew you to IF, since you hadn’t previously been exposed to Zork or other well-known Infocom hits? Were you already a fan of Choose Your Own Adventures? PnP RPGs?

Did you encounter any difficulties with trying out interpreters / story files that (in your honest estimation) your peers (co-workers, school mates, siblings) would have instantly given up on?

This is just my opinion, of course, but I’ve made a list here of games that are as long and as good quality as Infocom games.

I got into IF through Porpentine’s work, so right away there’s something that wouldn’t fit the “10+ hours of playtime, hint systems, 300 DPI artwork, etc.” requirements you’ve proposed for a Nintendo-style label. I’d read CYOAs as a kid, and I played some seriously bastardized Dungeons and Dragons back in school (no stat-tracking or dice anywhere in sight), but that’s about it.

I came to IF from the literary side of the spectrum. And personally, I think this is the side that remains most untapped. It’s the side that I could see gaining wider appeal if more bookish people knew about IF. You wouldn’t be able to sell IF to the bookish crowd with bunches of puzzles and long playtimes. In fact, I think using stuff like that as criteria to judge the medium would be damaging right now.

Initially I tried to play most games online. Lost Pig crashed on me though, so now I tend to play offline with Gargoyle. I’ve had no problems with it. But I think this is actually the biggest issue for getting new people to play IF. Nobody’s going to want to download an interpreter. Games need to be playable online with as little hassle as possible.

Hmm… you’ve given me something to think about. Maybe new school IF is all about the Candy Crush casual gamer meets novel reader crowd.

At the very least, I definitely agree with your assessment about downloading interpreters.

Thanks for your response.

I trust you see the problem in asking other people to volunteer their time for no money.

If I have guru credit, then I need to spend it keeping my own career moving. If that’s possible at all.

I like the idea of an actual publisher – one that sells IF and uses the money to promote more IF and pay authors. Even better: the idea of several actual publishers with different editorial styles and different IF markets. ChoiceOfGames is one, Sub-Q is another. There’s room for more.

Man, movies suck. I keep loading random IMDB pages and never come across anything I like. If only there was a better way to discover movies.

Everyone prefers to be compensated, of course.

Yes, you (naturally) have oodles of guru credit, but I don’t see being on the same platform with other IF authors as working against moving your own career forward.

I would ask you: is IF where you want it to be (as far as being a respected and/or marketable medium)? Are you “making it” as a career, given the current state of IF popularity/marketing, or are you just kind of scraping by? Even as someone with heaps of clout in this genre, do you feel you have enough influence over the market to be where you want to be?

That’s very much unintended to be any kind of accusatory questioning (to you, or anyone else). I’m asking a sincere question: is everyone at the pinnacle of IF (if there is such a thing) satisfied with the current state of IF?

The idea of a publisher is basically my point. Why is there no definitive, overwhelmingly successful publisher of IF as could be compared to Infocom in their heyday? Can all the individual self-publishers afford to forge their own paths, or would working together and promoting each other as a singular entity be better to expose IF to the public as a whole?

If I had enough money/influence then I would come up with a marketing plan, stylistic/quality guidelines, and hire all the authors I mentioned earlier. But that’s not going to happen. It seems like everyone with a serious (career?) investment in this IF thing should want to band together to raise sea level; a “rising tide lifts all boats” sort of thing.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a bunch of the top authors agree to write amount of stories in a roughly similar package, presented in a roughly similar way under the same banner, than to each have their own personal websites, promoting their own personal wares, etc.?

If I go to buy Hadean Lands, am I going to naturally buy Cypher, Bronze, or 80 Days next? Brand loyalty, you know?

Edit: Okay, I’ll put it this way…

If I finish a masterpiece of IF and I want to publish it in 2016/2016, then what are my likely choices? I don’t see any publisher that has the stable of powerhouse authors that I listed (forgive me if I left anyone out which I surely did, it wasn’t meant to be all-inclusive). So am I to try to sell my story myself, or take it to another publisher with lesser quality authors/presentation?

If I’m putting out a game that I don’t want to self-publish, then I want it to be marketed along with Andrew Plotkin, Steve Meretzky, and Emily Short, rather than Johnny Unknown, you see? But that doesn’t appear to be an option at the moment.

“I really liked that Wishbringer game. Hmm… Suspended is another game in the same ad. Maybe I’ll give that a try!”

I played both of those back in the day. Different authors, different styles of play. Why did I play both? I knew basically what I would get and that they wouldn’t suck because the other games surrounding them didn’t suck.