The Once and Future SPAG

31 Aug

As many of you reading this undoubtedly know, I was for five years the editor of a webzine covering goings-on in the modern interactive-fiction community: the Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games, or SPAG. In 2010 I turned it over to another fellow, but that didn’t work out too well in the long run. After 1.5 excellent issues under his guidance, SPAG fell dormant. It’s been that way for over a year now.

This has always vaguely bothered me, like a little worm of guilt always burrowing away at the back of my psyche. SPAG, you see, is just about the longest-lived institution in contemporary IF, dating back to 1994. It even pre-dates the big annual Competition. People have continued occasionally to inquire about the magazine’s status, which has only made me feel worse. Still, I never felt quite bad enough to take on the job of reviving SPAG myself, as that feels very much like a “been there, done that” kind of endeavor for me. So I let my guilt fester in the background as I continued with my other projects.

Luckily, someone has finally come to my psychological rescue. More importantly, he’s come to SPAG’s rescue. Danni Willis has already done a hell of a lot for IF with Parchment, his interpreter that lets you play IF right in the browser. Now he’s going to take over as editor of SPAG. He has big plans for a new, dynamic website. He also plans to take a shift in emphasis I began at the end of my tenure to its logical conclusion: SPAG will now be a magazine for in-depth features and analysis rather than a reviews clearinghouse, a change I wholeheartedly approve.

But of course, and as I said way too many times during my own tenure as editor, to succeed SPAG needs your articles and feedback. Please contact him, or contribute to the aforelinked forum discussion, with your article proposals and ideas on how to make the new SPAG bigger, better, and more relevant than ever. I know that it’s again in good hands at last.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Interactive Fiction, Modern Times



6 Responses to The Once and Future SPAG

  1. Dannii

    September 2, 2012 at 2:37 am

    Thanks Jimmy for making this happen! I hope SPAG will have a long life ahead of it!

  2. Peter Orvetti

    June 26, 2019 at 7:37 am

    Forgive me for a somewhat off-topic post (though it fits here better than elsewhere), and also if this question has already been answered elsewhere…

    For an enthusiast like me, with a smattering of writing skills but absolutely no coding experience, what is the best way to experiment in writing a textual IF? What software do you suggest downloading, and how would you take the first steps toward mapping a world and plotting a story? And once I’ve crafted something, how would I share it?

    • Jimmy Maher

      June 26, 2019 at 9:35 am

      Your first choice must be whether you want to write parser-based game or choice-based games (the latter form is also known among the lowbrows as Choose Your Own Adventure-style games, among the highbrows as hypertext narratives). I’m going to assume here that you’re interested in writing a parser-based text adventures, since that’s what much of this site focuses on.

      Being that you aren’t a coder, Inform 7 ( would probably be the best fit for you. It’s a very innovative system that uses an English-like syntax. It’s not *quite* as easy as just describing your world in English — there are rules, syntaxes, and quirks to learn — but I think you’d find it far less intimidating than the most advanced alternative system, the *very* programming-like TADS 3 ( I’d recommend avoiding other systems which advertise themselves as being beginner-friendly, such as ADRIFT ( They tend to sacrifice too much power and flexibility on the altar of ease of use; you’ll quickly come to find them constraining. Inform 7 has an excellent introduction integrated right into the app. Take your time working through it, and you’ll be just fine. The documentation even has some excellent advice on your other questions, about the design process and how to share your work.

      The place to go to talk about interactive fiction and meet the community is the IF Forum: This is also a good place to find beta testers when your game is finished — a step you most definitely should not neglect before releasing it officially.

      The best way for a new author to get noticed with a new game is by entering it into the IF Comp (, which takes place every fall. Do so, and your game is guaranteed to get played and reviewed by quite a few people. (The latter can be a good or bad thing. Unlike a lot of amateur communities of creation, the IF community tends to have extremely high standards. While I personally wouldn’t have it any other way, do be aware that, if you release a buggy or otherwise substandard game, you won’t get any gold stars just for participating. You can expect to be held to roughly the same standard to which I hold the commercial games I write about on this site. You may find this exhilarating or intimidating, or perhaps a little of both.)

      The Comp is oriented toward shorter games that take no more than a couple of hours or so to play, and making a game of such a length is good advice for a beginning author under any circumstances. Save your epic for later, if you find you like this IF-writing gig. For now, concentrate on delivering an excellent shorter experience. Even that will take much longer than you expect if you do it right. In other words, between the demands of learning Inform 7, designing and writing a game, and testing — please, PLEASE, don’t neglect this last step! — IF Comp 2020 is probably a more realistic target than IF Comp 2019, assuming you aren’t in a position to devote yourself full-time to the craft of writing interactive fiction.

      On questions of design, I’ll humbly submit that you can find a lot of good advice right here by reading about what games of the past did right and wrong. And Graham Nelson’s The Craft of Adventure, while perhaps a little dated in some ways, is still an excellent resource:

      Good luck. And did I mention to be sure to test your game? ;)

      • Peter Orvetti

        June 26, 2019 at 10:28 am

        Thanks so much!

        • Lisa H.

          June 27, 2019 at 8:15 pm

          I would suggest, as far as playtesting, if at all possible get someone(s) else besides yourself to do it. Fresh eyes that did not write the code are much better at discovering bugs, unexpected behaviors, lack of clues for expected actions, and places where deeper implementation would be helpful or fun.

          • Mike Taylor

            June 28, 2019 at 9:47 am

            I’d go further: if you’ve not got someone else to do it, it’s not playtesting. You the author are literally the worst person in the world to determine what is and is not apparent to players.


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