The Second Annual Boston IF Mini-Con

The Second Annual Boston Interactive Fiction Mini-Convention started on Thursday, March 11, and finished on Sunday, March 14. Held in parallel to PAX East 2011, a major gaming convention, the Second Annual Boston IF Mini-Con is actually the third IF mini-con to be held during a PAX event. The first Boston mini-con started it all during PAX East 2010, and a second mini-con followed in Seattle during PAX Prime 2010. The attendance and events during the latest IF mini-con demonstrate that the interest and excitement within and outside the IF community continues to grow.

A prelude to the mini-con started with a Thursday evening dinner for members of the IF community, courtesy of a private room in Tavern in the Square. Although not a venue for formal discussion, the dinner offered a chance for both international and local travelers to relax and, more importantly, reconnect with old friends. The revelry continued well into the night, thanks to Nick Montfort, who graciously hosted an informal after-party at his own apartment.

The mini-con officially began at noon, the next day, with the opening of the traditional IF Hospitality Suite. Located in room 846 at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, the suite welcomed all IF enthusiasts. In addition to snacks, drinks, and respite from the convention center, the suite provided visitors with a plethora of IF-related material to peruse and enjoy. Among the paraphernalia were classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, Aaron Reed’s “Creating Interactive Fiction With Inform 7“, and the very recent “IF Theory Reader” by Kevin Jackson-Mead and J. Robinson Wheeler. A full list of books available at the suite can be found in Andrew Plotkin’s post mortem of the mini-con.

While the mini-con warmed up in the suite, several members of the IF community served as panel participants in PAX itself. Award-winning IF author, Andrew Plotkin, who raised over $31,000 for his Hadean Lands Kickstart project, reviewed his experience with other members of the Kickstarter community in “How to Fund Your Game Development Project with Kickstarter!”. From the PAX East schedule:

“Whether you’re a seasoned game designer or just starting out in the field, independently producing and publishing a game can be a huge undertaking! More and more, game developers are turning to Kickstarter.com as a place to not only raise funding for their projects, but as a unique way to build fan support and reach out to new communities.”

Later in the day, Aaron A. Reed, author of the award-winning IF game Blue Lacuna, joined several other panelists to discuss the importance of dialogue in gameplay during “Interactive Drama: Dialogue as Gameplay”. Again, from the PAX East schedule:

“Do narrative games provide dialogue choices that enhance gameplay? Is it important to develop relationships through interactive choices between player and non-player characters? How are interactive conversation choices designed and how important is the user interface? What does it mean to experience Interactive Drama in a gameplay mechanic of dialogue choices?”

Back in the hospitality suite, the first of the official IF mini-con events began with “Non-gamers Gaming”, a panel moderated by Andrew Plotkin. He was joined by Heather Albano from Choice Of Games, Tim Crosby from Disruptor Beam, Caleb Garner from Part 12 Studios, and Sarah Morayati, author of the award-winning IF game Broken Legs. The essence of the panel, from the mini-con schedule:

How do you design challenges for gamers who haven’t played the last thirty famous entries in the genre? What about readers and writers who do not identify as gamers?

A full video of the panel is available from The Gameshelf.

The first day of the mini-con wrapped up with a “Meet the IF Community” party, which packed the IF suite full of fans throughout the evening. This gathering, in turn, led to an impromptu journey across the Charles River and down into the steam tunnels of MIT, an inspiration behind the classic Infocom IF adventure, The Lurking Horror. Only a few members of the party were lost on this particular expedition, but luckily, they were found.

The major events of the IF mini-con were held during the second day within a separate hotel conference room. The first was the “Speed IF”, in which IF authors had the rest of the day to write an entire IF game that contained the following topics, randomly selected from people in the audience:

  • A character whose name starts with the letter “M”
  • Sending Jim and Kevin on a mission to locate something
  • The Tomb of the Unknown Tool
  • A 100 year old typewriter
  • Pluto
  • Braintree or Alewife
  • One of the titles on Juhana’s poster of imaginary IF titles
  • Chicken fingers
  • Explosions
  • Vacuum

By the end of the day, ten games were completed and can be found on the TextFyre Speed IF page.

Speed IF was followed by the IF mini-con’s second panel discussion, “Setting as Character in Narrative Games”. Andrew Plotkin, who moderated the panel, was joined by award-winning IF authors, Stephen Grenade and Rob Wheeler, and Dean Tate from Harmonix:

“In adventures and other explorational games, the setting is often the most eloquent and memorable character: an island, a castle, a starship. How do these locales tell stories, and how does the player character fit into those stories?”

A full video of the panel is available from The Gameshelf.

The third event of the day was a collaborative playing of Jim Munroe’s “Everybody Dies”, his award-winning IF fantasy about teenage life (and death) in a local grocery market. Audience members dictated commands to be played, and subsequent narration was provided by IF authors Stephen Grenade, Sarah Morayati, and Aaron A. Reed, each of who voiced one of the main characters in the story. The reading lasted about an hour, and the author provided insight to his story-telling afterward.

Jason McIntosh and Andrew Plotkin gave novice and veteran IF authors “A Lightning Introduction to Inform 7″. Using Inform 7, the predominant IF authoring language, they quickly assembled a small IF game in front of a live audience.

The final event of the day and perhaps the most exciting event of the entire IF mini-con was the “IF Demo Fair”, organized by Emily Short. The fair provided IF authors and fans an opportunity to show off their innovations to the IF community. Exhibitions included new games, demonstrations of new IF interfaces, experiments in constructing narratives, and providing IF extensions for nonfiction projects. Also on display was the famous Automatypewriter, which typed out a transcript of “Everybody Dies” for observers. A full discussion of the IF Demo Fair requires a separate article (if not articles); fortunately, Emily Short provides several informative posts about the Fair on her blog, and will author a comprehensive article for the next issue of SPAG.

About Michael Hilborn

Michael D. Hilborn is a manager of web application development at Harvard University. He spends what little spare time he has devoted to games, movies, graphic novels, and books, specifically those of the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror ilk. He began playing (and writing) Interactive Fiction around the age of ten, which led to him participating in the Boston Interactive Fiction Community almost three decades later. He currently maintains their web site.
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