Interactive Fiction Festival?

Interactive Fiction Festival

There have been rumblings on the forum about the desire for a non-competitive, focused showcase of interactive fiction. It would be like the Commonplace Book Project, or the IF Art Show in that there would be a pre-arranged theme for the games, and the release could perhaps be tied in with an offline event. It wouldn’t be a competition (the games wouldn’t be ranked), but there should probably be relevant rewards for the entrants. Perhaps commissioned analytical reviews/discussions accompanying each entry?

I know that there is some tentative interest in this idea, but I thought there should be some constructive discussion to get the ball rolling in the right direction. The basic thought is, if we have a cool idea then we shouldn’t sit around just waiting for someone else to implement it.

What needs to be decided:

  • The theme for the first showcase.
  • This theme will then inform the title of the showcase.
  • When it would take place.
  • Who should curate the showcase.
  • Where online the showcase should be hosted.
  • Depending on the theme, we could tie the showcase in with some offline publication or event.
  • What reward, if any and who should supply it.

In the spirit of not expecting anyone else to do what I will not, providing there is plenty of interest in the thing going ahead, I’m happy to fill in any of these roles (curator, webhost, provider of analysis etc.). Obviously should we decide on a theme that I’m not excited about such as Horror, then someone who is more passionate about that theme should probably curate. And so on.

Emily Short has some good advice here on the matter. I open it up to the floor.

I would have an interest in participating.

A possible theme, just throwing it out there: vehicles. The festival site could have kind of a car show theme sort of like how the old IF Art Show site has a museum theme. But the vehicles in the games wouldn’t need to be cars. They could feature a spaceship or a submarine or a schoolbus or an elephant-carried siege-tower or whatever. Thus it would have a unified theme of sorts, but people could still write in whatever genre they prefer.

Personally, I’d be a lot more interested in a comp themed around an IF element (the ones I was thinking of were setting, NPCs, and scale of action) rather than a genre, but either’s good.

We’d want at least a two-month space between the announcement and the entry deadline, preferably something at least twice that, possibly up to a year. If there’s a judging/curation/review panel, we’d want at least a month after entry the deadline to give them time for substantial reviews.

Definitely don’t want to clash with the Comp. The other main conflict to worry about is Spring Thing: intent-to-enter deadline March 1, games released April 2/3, results out probably mid-May. Introcomp (voting probably somewhere around June-July) is probably less of a conflict as far as authors go, but it’d be good to give it some space for audience purposes.

So… aim for a deadline somewhere around late July-early August, judge/review process September sometime?

(And in case it wasn’t clear, I’d be happy to organise, review, whatever.)

Glad you’re on board. Bonaj ideoj, Troy, keep 'em coming. The vehicular idea would certainly allow for a broad scope of games, but I don’t think it would give the reviewers/audience any concrete grounds for comparison of the games.

I think broadly I’m in favour of this approach, especially as it would give the commissioned reviewers something concrete and interesting to discuss about each game’s approach to the chosen element. Could you unpack ‘scale of action’ a little bit? Every game takes place somewhere along the universal/global/local/individual scale. What kind of game would a focus on scale of action encourage?

This seem reasonable. If we can get this off the ground in the next month or so, there should be plenty of time to announce for, say, August 1st 2012.

As for the reviewing process: I’m very much in favour of having a board of judges and maybe a ‘best in show’ type award (that participants can opt out of the reckoning for). We want it to be friendly for non-comp people, so it’s important that it isn’t billed as Another Comp Comp.

I figured that might be the case [emote]:)[/emote]

Okay, so: the great majority of IF games involve interaction at the same scale: you control a single person, taking direct physical actions that take between a few seconds and a few minutes to resolve. This heavily influences (or limits) the kind of stories that can be told in IF, and there’s no inherent reason for it (just, y’know, the slight circumstances of tradition, established practice and existing tools). So I’d very much like to see more games where normal actions take place at different scales – scales of action, of time, of character, whatever. To a great extent this is just a hobby-horse of mine, and may be of little interest to anybody else.

There are two approaches here, which will change the nature of the event pretty heavily: pick something that IF is traditionally strong at (setting, Lovecraftian horror) and solicit high expressions of craft; or pick something where IF has a weaker record, and encourage innovation (NPCs, romance, scale).

Here are some more ideas for themes. I tried to think of as many as possible. Volume always beats quality, despite millions of claims to the contrary:

Famous rivalries (Edison/Tesla, cobra/mongoose, sperm whale/giant squid)
Emperor Norton
Birds (player character is a bird, or something else in the game is a bird)
Scarves and the art students who love them
The Finno-Ugric language family (comparative phonologies/syntaxes)
Some famous literature kind of thing, but it has to be from the public domain, like some poems or something
The Bill of Rights (limited to ten pieces; each game focuses on one amendment; typical American ethnocentrism)
A trial? A famous trial, from history; one that is interesting
Pre-microchip cryptography (Scytales, Enigma machines)
Our Favorite Popes
“Greco-Norman History” (note to me: check to see if this is a real thing)
Steampunk, or some other “-punk” kind of thing
A series of public service announcements warning tweens not to huff paint
Choose a “trope” and “deconstruct” it
Folk songs
The PC is a barber, and you can’t move, you just stand there and cut people’s hair
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
Friends (1994-2004)
Races—not like, ethnicity (boring), but people racing against each other
Household objects that come to life and have personalities, a la Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
I guess in Beauty and the Beast it was the other way around, but that could be a theme too
Games without pronouns
Games modeling naval warfare
Games modeling various strengths of adhesives
Games modeling a light-sensitive fungus that seeks out sources of water
Games with twist endings
“Boogeymen” from children’s tales around the world
The months of the year
Gulliver’s Travels (heavy-handed social commentary)
Dog shows, cat shows, beauty pageants, that kind of thing
The Prisoner (1967-1968)
Inventions that have been lost to time (I can only think of Greek Fire right now but you could probably make some up)
A tribute to some classic game that nobody’s made a tribute to yet
Cave People

That’s all I can think of! And incidentally that last one, “Cave People,” is the best one.


I don’t see how that can possibly be true.

I like trojo’s “vehicles” idea, and I did even before I realized my WIP has a bus in it. It seems like it strikes the right note of not-overly-specificness.

EDIT: Sorry Joey, I didn’t see your comment. Do we need to give the reviewers a basis for comparison, though?

This idea definitely has legs. I’d be very interested in seeing the results of successful experiments with nonstandard scopes. Possible ideas this suggests to me:

  • Player is a government. Plays out globe/decade spanning policies.
  • Player decides what their character will do with whole days, rather than minutes. Story lasts a year.
  • Player controls a whole household, can set default actions for characters not currently being micromanaged.

It’s a tough call, I can see merits in both approaches. If possible, could we do both? A Grand Showcase in Two Parts: high quality submissions on the theme of x, and submissions focusing on innovation in theme y. Or would that threaten to weaken the concept and dilute the submissions?

I like the dizzying breadth. I’ve whittled the list down to what I take to be the most promising themes. Ideally, you want something that it’s engaging, suggests to authors game ideas and doesn’t lead to the attempted implementation of the same idea by seven different people.

It’s not an absolute necessity, but I think that it would certainly be a strength of the showcase if the games shared grounds for comparison. While it may hit the right note for specificity, comparing how well and in what way authors implemented vehicles might not be the most interesting or relevant grounds for understanding games in relation to one another. I guess it depends really what the showcase aims to do.

What should the showcase aim to achieve?

Games with ‘high expressions of craft’? Games that deepen the IF canon.
Innovative games? Games that broaden the IF canon.
More games of any kind? (Encouraged by having a broad and accessible theme)

I think dilution is a valid concern: the Art Show never really managed to fill all of its categories. Having two categories that are intended to attract very different kinds of author might offset this. Or not.

It might be worth thinking about whether the theme of the festival also makes a strong pitch to players. Does it have a cool hook that would make people think, “oh, hey, yeah, I want to play some of those!”? (Especially people who are casual/indie players rather than hardcore IFfers?) If so, it’s more likely to get coverage on indie gaming blogs and fulfill an outreach function. (Assuming that’s in fact what you want to do here, but that’s the impression I got from previous posts.)

Yeah, having a pitch that can be expressed neatly in a couple of words is a useful thing, propaganda-wise.

I hadn’t really noticed a desire for an outreach component in this, thus far, but it’d be useful just in terms of awareness within the IF community and getting the thing into people’s minds. (I remember having a pretty hazy idea for many years about what the point of Spring Thing was, other than ‘the Adam is grouchy about the Comp comp.’)

Shouldn’t that be “… despite very small numbers of well-reasoned and eloquent claims to the contrary?” Otherwise you end up in a loop [emote]:([/emote]

Well, I’m always down for deconstruction (and subversion) [emote]:)[/emote]

But I strongly agree with Emily that the theme should broadcast a strong wanna-play these coolfun gamethings vibe, and any theme best expressed in theoretical, structrual, critical or otherwise boringal terms … is not that.

Miniature-Mammoth Vacuum Cleaner, obviously.

Village People!

I don’t care about outreach at all, myself, but I see no need to scare nice people off, either [emote]:)[/emote] Unless they’re dull nice people, then it’s okay to scare them.

Not in this thread, but in previous threads, I had the impression a couple people thought a non-competition-y festival would be good for that purpose.

I would dig this. Games that get released as part of a contest get a ton more buzz than games that get released on their own, to the dismay of the competition-averse among us. Since non-competition would be the big distinguishing factor of this thing, I’d want to structure it to play up that aspect. I would prefer a more literary theme to a more technical one, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a genre–it can just be a concept, like “second chances.”

If there are awards, could they be more “just for fun” than serious awards? Most Creative, Most Fun, Best New Author, etc.

It may also be helpful to limit it to one entry per author so that no one just throws in a bunch of random junk. Because that never happens in judged contests [emote]:lol:[/emote]

You could indeed sneak this in before Spring Thing if you wanted, particularly if the games are short.

Class Clown, Most Likely To Die In A Car Crash, Most Obvious Pseudonym

If prearranged reviewer(s) write up some remarks that would be released alongside the games, each game would come with its own blurb and feedback, making it easier for external game sites to profile the contents. In years past, IF Art Show worked this way.

This collapses the release, then judging, then feedback cycle – but that’s another thing that would set it apart from typical comps.

We seem to have something like a consensus that the above would be a good way to handle things. (I think?)

The tricky bit, which we’ve avoided discussing thus far, is the negative side of curation: are all entries accepted, and if not, on what grounds can entries be turned away?

An entry bar is player-friendly (guaranteeing that anything they play from the festival will be of a certain quality) and judge/reviewing-panel friendly (by committing to substantive reviews, they aren’t committing to five thousand words on Stupid Kittens). On the other hand, it potentially exposes the festival to Epic Whine Flamewars from rejected authors (particularly if it’s based on subjective standards) and might make the comp less attractive to authors (but that’s kind of the point).

The theme will play a part in deciding how outreachy the festival is. (Outreachy is a word, right? No? Well, it is now.) An esoteric-sounding or highly-technical theme that aims to produce ground-breaking technical innovations and/or avant-garde literature might not produce games that are as newbie-accessible as a theme like “truly massive explosions” would. Not that there’s anything wrong with a festival focusing on technical innovations or avant-garde approaches to story-telling, but that would probably end up being aimed more at the existing IF community than the wider world.

Assuming the entry bar would be based on quality, or someone’s subjective judgment, then might it be better to have a Festival Showcase and a Festival Annex or something like that? It could still be player-friendly, in that the players could guarantee quality by sticking to Showcase games, and panel-friendly, in that the judges wouldn’t have to review Annex games (but maybe they could, if there was one they wanted to). But it might tamp the Epic Whine Flamewars (just) a bit if people whose games were rejected were still in the festival somewhere, and it would be less disappointing for an author than if they worked on their game and had nowhere to put it at all. Though if making the comp less attractive to authors is a goal, that might not be a good thing.

If there were objective requirements (e.g. “You have to list some beta-testers”), then this wouldn’t be an issue, though then you might not have as much guarantee of quality. OTOH having someone screen the games in advance seems like it might be a ton of work, so maybe objective requirements would be the way to go.