WELCOME to the IF COMMUNITY
Hello, fellow adventurer, and welcome!
This page offers some guidelines for enjoyable participation in the
worldwide 'IF Community' -- enthusiasts for the text-based
adventure games which are more grandly known as Interactive Fiction.
As with any such gathering, observing the community's customs is an excellent way to start,
and we hope you will find these remarks helpful as you settle down and get your bearings.
The advice was compiled by the community, and is currently maintained by
Stephen Griffiths (stevgrif "AT" actrix.gen.nz).
There are no IF magazines or journals in the shops, no TV or radio programs, virtually no books,
hardly any face-to-face meetings; thank goodness for the many useful websites.
Most of the fun revolves around the two Usenet newsgroups dedicated to this hobby:
is for people interested primarily in playing IF games, discussing them,
asking for hints and solutions, and so on.
is for people who additionally write adventure games,
create IF development systems, devise tools and add-ons, publish guides and tutorials,
and generally take a more active role in keeping IF lively and moving forward.
The newsgroups are the primary medium for IF related topics and
-- especially important for newcomers -- problem resolution.
You are encouraged to participate and ask questions in both groups.
However, before doing so, we would respectfully urge you to check out some useful resources:
- Each newsgroup maintains a list of Frequently Asked Questions:
here's the rgif FAQ
and here's the one for raif.
Additionally, the Ifaq
provides highly-condensed answers to some of the most common questions asked by newcomers.
- Google enables you to
search all the messages
ever posted to the newsgroups.
- The IF Archive is a vast repository
of material relating to text adventures over the years; due to bandwidth limitations,
its maintainers will be grateful if you access one of its mirror sites.
A few minutes spent using those invaluable resources
will often answer your queries, either directly or by linking to an IF website.
But, if you can't find what you're looking for, go ahead and post a question.
Below, we offer some advice on how to post and reply to newsgroup messages;
experience shows that adherence to these guidelines is likely to maximize
the assistance that you receive.
TONE and CONTENT
We'll start with a few general observations, intended to be non-contentious.
The IF community welcomes:
- naive questions,
- genuine innovation,
- hard work.
On the other hand, it has much less time for:
- copyright debates (see below),
- 'which system is best' wars (see further below),
- people who won't learn,
- persistent self-promotion.
The suggestions here are no different from those on most other Usenet groups:
just common sense and good manners. On the positive side:
- Keep your message as brief as possible, but not at the expense of
clarity. Provide enough information so that people can fully understand
what you're asking, what doesn't work, what you've tried, where you're
attempting to get to.
- Give your message a meaningful subject line.
One common practice is to start with a keyword in square brackets --
the language you're using, a competition name, the word 'Announce' (or just 'Ann') --
to help readers to focus.
Good examples include:
[TADS] Random numbers aren't very random,
[Inform] New module for floating-point numbers uploaded,
[Announce] IF-or-Die competition,
IF Archive seems to be down? and
Need assistance with Zork III.
Bad examples include:
Newbie wants help,
Stuck in the dungeon and
Can't compile on Mac; they're too vague.
You'll get a better response if your subject line alerts experts in your area
- Use fairly short lines -- around 50-60 characters is about right.
Newsreader programs wrap long lines in a way which often makes them hard to read.
Additionally, responses usually lengthen your lines by preceding them
with "> " characters, and responses to those posts add further
prefixes, and the whole thing easily becomes a mess.
- (On raif) If appropriate, a fragment of relevant code can be included,
but usually not more than about 20-30 lines.
- (On rgif) If you're asking for help with a game,
start your posting with a block of empty space
(many people spell out "S p o i l e r S p a c e"
with each letter separated by a blank line)
before explaining exactly what you've achieved and where you're stuck.
You're aiming to prevent other players from inadvertently reading your message
and maybe spoiling their own enjoyment of the game.
And here are a few things you're advised not to do:
- Never attach a file when posting to the IF groups.
Other newsgroups (usually those known as 'binaries', which helpfully include .bin. in their names)
may accept attached files, but this is not the case with raif and rgif.
If you need people to look at a complete file, ask in the newsgroup for volunteers,
and then email the file to them directly.
- Don't post in HTML format; not everybody has a suitable newsreader program.
Stick to plain text (it'll be one of the setup options on your newsreader),
and use simple character markup if you need *emphasis* or _italics_.
- It's hardly ever appropriate to post the same message to both newsgroups,
a practice known as 'cross-posting'.
Select the correct audience -- authors and designers (raif) or players (rgif).
- Some things are better handled off-line.
In particular, if you find mistakes in a game, a book, a website or whatever,
try emailing the author directly rather than posting to the newsgroups.
- Avoid the Caps Lock key, because IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING.
Write in normal mixed case, with regular punctuation.
- Ensure that your post isn't off-topic [OT] for the purposes of these newsgroups.
If it isn't related to IF, it probably doesn't belong, though there are
always borderline situations.
- Don't post in haste.
Re-read your message carefully before you send it; have
you actually said what you meant to? have you given all necessary information?
have you omitted any vital word (like not)?
The very act of writing down what you want to know can often help you to
find your own answers, so hold off hitting that SEND button for a little while.
Also, the newsgroups are unmoderated, so if you've said something unfortunate,
or libelous, or just plain stupid, it'll still get published around the world
in the twinkling of an eye.
A few extra considerations apply if you reply to a posting made by somebody else.
- By default, your newsreader program will probably quote the entire message to which
you're replying. Unless that message is very short, you should not include all of it;
readers find it highly irritating to re-read a complete posting just to
discover that you've added nothing more than "I agree completely".
Remove as much as you can, leaving just enough to establish a context
in which your reply can be understood.
- Append your reply at the end of the original message -- it makes the whole
thing much easier to read, especially after several people have added their contributions.
Some newsreaders automatically place the cursor (and your signature) at the start
when replying; this 'top-posting' is a real pain (thank you, Microsoft), and you should always
reposition to the end of the message.
Here's a longer explanation why.
- If you have several comments on different parts of a message, you can interweave
them within the previous posting. In each case, first show a piece of original text,
then follow it with your remarks on that text.
Again, try to avoid these pitfalls:
- Never selectively remove material so as to mis-represent what the previous poster said.
Also, be sure to retain their name at the head of the message.
- If you reply to a cross-posted message, your reply will go to all of the original groups
This is rarely an appropriate course of action; either don't reply to a cross-posted
message (especially if it's off-topic), or reply only to the single 'correct' group.
- Regardless of what we've counseled before, newsgroup postings are often written quickly.
It's considered impolite to remark on spelling and grammatical errors,
or other such infelicities.
By all means comment on what's said, but please refrain from picking on the manner of its saying.
- Newsreader programs support many different fonts, some of fixed-width, some with proportional spacing.
It's a bad idea to use spaces and "^" characters to point to words in the line above;
lots of people won't see what you're seeing.
- Remember that the Internet is an international medium;
not everybody lives as you do, or shares your cultural and social background,
so avoid rash assumptions and hasty conclusions.
Since IF authors are continually adding material to the IF Archive,
many discussions in the past have dealt with issues of ownership and usage rights
(the infamous 'copyright threads').
Not unusually, uninformed comments and radical viewpoints have lead to heated debates.
Please, don't bring up a copyright thread.
Here is a summary of the generally-accepted status of the topic.
Anybody who creates a game, or a tool, or a tutorial, or whatever,
is automatically the owner of its copyright.
Copyright owners are the only people who can define the terms on which their creations
can be used by others.
Much of the available IF material is freeware, which means that the copyright owner
allows it to be used without charge. That is all that it means.
Making items available as freeware:
- does not mean that the owners have given up their copyright,
- does not mean that the items are 'free software' (in the GNU/FSF sense), and
- does not mean that the items are in the public domain
(effectively ownerless and usable by anybody for any purpose).
An item is not in the public domain unless it is explicitly labelled as such,
which applies to very few of the items at the IF Archive.
Uploading an item to the Archive does not have any effect on that item's copyright status.
Uploading most certainly does not convert a copyrighted item into a public domain item.
The basic assumptions on which the community operates are that items in the Archive
(a) have been placed there for safe-keeping (to ensure they are not inadvertently lost), and
(b) can be downloaded by individuals for their personal use.
The precise meaning of 'personal use' varies.
In some cases it is explicitly defined by a license which is included with the item
and which defines the forms of usage that the copyright owner permits and/or prohibits.
A shareware item, for example, will typically allow a period of free evaluation,
after which you are required to pay a small fee for continued use.
In other cases, items have licenses which prevent re-distribution as part of a collection or anthology,
or where a charge for doing so would be imposed.
However, many items have no license
(or similar statement of the copyright owner's intentions) at all.
In this case, the accepted situation is that you can download the item and freely use it yourself,
but that you must obtain the copyright owner's permission before any other form of usage.
The copyright status of older, commercial, games is summarised in the
and in many cases has already been discussed in that newsgroup.
The same general rule applies: the only person qualified to make statements about allowable uses of such
software is the copyright owner.
Here's a longer
on copyright facts and common myths.
If you're a budding IF writer, then you need to choose an appropriate authoring language.
You have three major options.
1. Use a specialized language.
Several excellent authoring systems exist for exactly this purpose.
Most significant today are ADRIFT, ALAN, Inform, Hugo and TADS;
these, and others, are described in
the raif FAQ
and showcased at Cloak of Darkness.
Newcomers are always advised to use a specialized toolkit; a good one:
- provides all of the basic components which every game needs:
an intelligent parser (to interpret what the player types and perform the requested action),
a comprehensive model world (rooms and directions, containers and supporters, people and animals, etc),
timing and scoring mechanisms, SAVE and UNDO, and a whole load more;
- is flexible and extensible in ways which its inventor hadn't anticipated;
- enables you to create your game on a PC, Mac, UNIX box or whatever you prefer,
while accommodating players with UNIX, Macs, PCs or whatever they prefer;
- has many existing users who can advise and assist you.
The other choices are both much more difficult.
2. Use a general-purpose language.
You can write your game in a generalized language like Basic, C or Java.
The disadvantage is that you'll spend a lot of time re-inventing wheels,
solving problems which the specialized languages have already cracked.
People have come to expect high playability standards,
which means that the task is larger than it might appear.
3. Invent your own language.
You can create your own authoring system (using Basic, C, Java, etc),
and then use it to write your game.
This is even harder; also it's fairly unlikely that others will be interested in your invention.
The existing tools, extended and refined over many years,
can nowadays satisfy 99.9% of authors' needs. Either:
- your system will need to be technically better than the rest
(faster, more flexible, whatever) --
and you'll probably also need to write a jaw-dropping game to demonstrate its capabilities --
before other authors will consider using it, or
- it will need to be notably different; maybe
easier to learn, or having a revolutionary design process, or targeting a new audience.
A system that's merely 'me too' almost certainly won't cut it.
One tip: if you do decide to follow this route, don't first ask for raif's opinions
(they'll probably be discouraging); just get on and do it.
The IF community is small, friendly and supportive; it welcomes new members
-- readers of the Usenet newsgroups --
and tries hard to encourage their endeavours.
All members are equal, though perhaps more attention is paid to those with a
track record of notable contributions, who post helpful responses and who devote significant amounts of
their time and energy to assisting other IF enthusiasts.
Other than in this respect, there is no ruling council, no inner circle,
no secret cabal; any uniformity of expressed opinion is merely a reflection of
shared experiences leading to similar conclusions.
If you come up with a wonderful new concept and ask for the group's opinions,
it may happen that someone replies with a laconic "This has been raised before,
and was deemed a Bad IdeaTM."
That's not a personal attack, just a brief (if lukewarm) outline of the conclusion of a past thread.
Some topics have been discussed to death, and there might be a shared consensus about them.
Instead of reacting furiously, try to learn the nature of those discussions;
perhaps there is something new to add, or perhaps you have the will,
the knowledge and the stamina to offer a breakthrough.
You really can play a significant part in the community if you so choose;
everybody here hopes that you will.