TaleSpinner Interactive – a new crowd funded campaign

After more than a year of privately funded development I am now at liberty to announce the existence of the TaleSpinner Interactive Fiction Project to the community.

TaleSpinner is a system that facilitates the design, development and play of IF titles entirely online. More than that, when the project is complete it will provide a robust system for submitting a completed title to our online store for sale to the public.

I am not yet at liberty to relate the details of how we will market TaleSpinner titles, but I can say that the target audience will be the casual gamer. A significant portion of this demographic enjoys a good read, and it is ripe for introduction to this wonderful art form. As such, titles accepted for publication will need to adhere to certain guidelines. These will become available on the official website at TaleSpinner Interactive as we grow closer to releasing our development tools to the public. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Our goal of returning IF to the market is nothing new, and has already been achieved with various levels of success by members of the intfiction community. Consider what we are attempting as something like an App Store for IF. If we are able to complete the TaleSpinner Interactive Fiction Project, it will enable all members of this community to have a very real opportunity to be financially rewarded for your work. As you should be.

To move the project to the next stage, we need your help! We have initiated an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign. Visit there and you will get a lot more detail on the project and what we are planning for the future. Even if you can’t contribute, please pause there and leave a comment, as this helps increase the campaign’s visibility. Also, please Tweet, FB, Google+, Blog, and otherwise spread the word.

Interactive fiction has been my passion since the seventies. I’ve had a long history in the game development industry, beginning back in 1984 when I started my first game company. All this time, I’ve longed to assist in presenting IF to a new and enthusiastic audience. Finally, with the TaleSpinner Interactive Fiction Project and the assistance of the community and my team, I believe we can fulfill a lifelong dream. And the best part is if we are successful, it’s good for everyone who shares in the passion.

Again, please check it out and let me know your thoughts. Your input will be invaluable.

What do you mean by “interactive fiction”? Your history-of-IF paragraph refers to Infocom and the parser-based IF tradition – which is largely what this forum is about. On the other hand there is a growing trend of choice-based interactive narrative.

If choice-based: There is also a growing trend of “write choice-based games for money” companies. How do you distinguish yourself from them?

If parser-based: Historically it takes two to four years for a new IF system to mature. That’s from first working game to a really complete, usable development platform – and that presumes a population of active game developers. How do you plan to get yours up and running? Or are you building on one of the well-known platforms?

“I’m just not at liberty to describe it. But it’s ossum fer real. Send money plz. Thx.”

Hi zarf!

By “interactive fiction” I do mean the sort that this forum is about. Although I have not posted here, I have followed intfiction.org for a very long time.

The parser for TaleSpinner has been under concentrated development for over a year in a commercial development environment. And that’s for the current iteration. The first iteration was under development for almost that long and exposed all of the sorts of problems one would expect from something as complicated as an English language parser. The current version is sophisticated and can for example handle three-noun commands like “put the coals in the furnace with the tongs”.

The interpreter has built-in support for handling modern conventions of IF, like automatically performing detailed actions if they have already been done once: (You unlock the door with the brass key, open it, and move north.) Again, just an example.

The development system is quite simple, nowhere near as complex as Inform 7, closer to Inform 6, but simpler even. Although complex things can be done with it if the developer puts his/her mind to it, it has all the features one would expect for producing a conventional IF title. And conventional is the key. We will be soliciting titles that are story-based with puzzles, rather than puzzle-based with some story. The system is designed to allow an author to focus more on writing and creating, and less on the actual scripting.

The system is not final yet: there’s still more development needed. The reason no one’s heard about it before is that there was money involved in its development, and so NDAs were in place. Those are being lifted now that we are soliciting help publically.

Actually, I am at liberty to describe it. I’ll be doing that here and on the official site. But really, the development system, although fun, is not the real focus of the project. It’s the marketing of original IF titles to the public. If you have a look at the campaign site, you’ll see a lot more detail.

When you wrote “I am not yet at liberty to relate the details of how we will market TaleSpinner titles,” I took that to mean that you are not yet at liberty to relate the details of how you will market TaleSpinner titles.

My mistake, clearly.

I didn’t ask anything about the development system.

Well, exactly.

No, mine. Sorry about that. The details of how we intend to market do indeed need to remain under wraps until we get closer to a launch date. This is because there is money already in the project and we need to preserve existing interests.

I can respect that, entirely. It just makes me (understandably, I think) hesitant when it comes to backing. I am a fan of crowd-sourcing; I’ve dipped into that well myself and I’m currently a backer on some projects by others … and I do love seeing anything IF-ish do well. But I agree with your assertion above, that this is about marketing games … and until I can read more about the project’s intentions re marketing, I feel like I’m reading very little (I have other concerns, specific to the project’s page, but that’s for another time, perhaps). I hope that makes sense. And I hope that whomever has decided to restrict your “liberty” at discussing your marketing intentions also understands the dilemma that silence creates in the context of crowd-sourcing.

Secret business is fine. It can be very reasonable. But secret business + crowdsourced feels like an … awkward … combination. Especially on a topic so central to the project.

Meaning no disrespect, but a fair dollop of critique.

It’s feedback like this, which is, as I mentioned earlier, invaluable. Thank you!

As “Ghalev” said, maybe you should rethink your stance regarding information about what it is that you can bring to the table that no one else can. A big part of marketing is about money, and the fact that you’re asking for 50k $ to fund development doesn’t fill me with confidence that your company has the means to bring games to market in a way that will make it possible for authors to earn real money.

An app store for IF sounds like a great idea, but then, unlike Apple or Google (or even Microsoft), you don’t have an automatic market due to your own OS, so you’re basically competing against a gazillion other indie developers and casual game distributors. What you’re offering right now is a new IF authoring system that no one can take for a spin and no word at all on how you are going to give authors better opportunities to market themselves.

Offering just a website and a payment system is not going to cut it, I’m afraid, and I don’t see how you’re going to reach a big audience without serious money; especially, when you don’t even have any games yet (a marketing concept should be tailored to the product, I’d think, and you’re not selling your development system, you’re selling IF).

I’m sorry to sound so negative, but I’d really like something like this to succeed, so I’d like to know a little more. Will you offer automatic conversion of games to iOS and Android (which should be one of your highest priorities if you’re aiming for the casual gamers in today’s world)? Facebook integration?

How will the money be divided between the authors and you (70/30 like Apple? If so, can you bring the same marketing clout that Apple can bring for your 30% cut)?

I think it’s only fair to divulge that kind of information if you want to ask strangers for investment money (I know that crowd-sourcing differs from investment in that we’re not expected to invest a lot and therefore we can’t possibly ask for an audit or anything, but still).


I agree with what others have said. I would love to see your project succeed! But there are others scurrying around trying to put together an IF business model – David Cornelson, Jon Ingold, and let’s not forget Howard Sherman. The challenges are varied and amusing.

In order to have an impact, I’d suggest that you need, at the very least, (a) a great game, written in your new development system, (b) a publicly available development system that authors can check out, and © a clear vision, with details, of how the finished games will be playable on iOS and Android.

One question that begs to be asked is, why is creating a new game development system part of the project at all? If you’re not happy with Inform 7, you can choose Inform 6 or TADS 3.1, both of which are mature, relatively bug-free, and come complete with a small but loyal set of authors who, in many cases, would love to get paid for their work. Asking anybody to learn a new game development system is … well, if you’ll forgive a disparaging metaphor, it’s sandy icing on a gravel-filled cake. (I don’t actually mean that the way it sounds, it’s just too good an image to pass up.)

I don’t consider this negative at all. This is the sort of thing that helps me make the case for more transparency in the campaign. Thanks very much.

Jim, you’re quite right on all points. Although it may seem that I’ve kicked off the campaign a little early, my rationale is that the campaign is actually two separate campaigns. The first is to help get the tools and the game ready (addressing your points), and the second is to handle all matters related to the marketing and sale of the titles. My hope for the first campaign is that there will be contributors out there who are interested enough in phase two to help me through phase one. If I can get phase one funded, it will mean the difference between fulltime development plus having the tools and game completed in about six months, versus part time development and having it take well over a year.

One reason is security for both the author and the publisher (us). Everything is done in the cloud, from development to play testing to playing the end product. All story files, saved games and related data are stored in our database, rather than on client systems. This helps mitigate the possibility of someone purchasing a copy of a title and passing it around. Devices will handle this similarly, but by their nature will also be able to play offline. As HTML5 application caching matures, offline play should become available on personal computers, too.

Multiplayer is another example of what we can do. Several people can log into a TaleSpinner title, select someone to steer, and have a Club Floyd style experience, complete with transcript.

Another thing we’re striving for is the ability to develop a sophisticated title with a simple scripting system. I know this has been tried before, but as with all things, we learn from precedent. In the scripting system tabs and newlines are significant, and we have designed a syntax that does not require text to be encompassed by quotation marks. This means that authors have the option to write prose in word processors of their choice and then easily copy and paste their text into the script. I hope to introduce spell checking into the development system that only checks actual prose and leaves the rest of the script alone. That still needs to be implemented.

I know I really shouldn’t just drop nuggets like this. I’m working on documentation for the existing system which will be posted as soon as it gets to the point that it’s worth reading. I welcome any more feedback you may have!

What made you decide to choose the flexible funding campaign option?

Indiegogo is not our last stab at funding. It’s currently the most preferred, obviously. We have two other options. One is to apply for government funding for the Arts (we have a few programs like that in Canada) and the other is to secure venture capital. Any Indiegogo perks will be honored if we move to either of the alternatives.

The further into development we can get, the better chances we have of a government grant. If Indiegogo doesn’t generate all the funding we need, that would be the best of the two remaining choices.

Venture capital is the least preferred, because that means we have to give up a significant portion of the project ownership, probably more than 50%. To be honest, if it got to that point, we’d probably not go that route.