I’m sure that many people will roll their eyes upon hearing that there’s another random, obscure game type I’ve always had a bit of a crush on; at the very least, it won’t come as a surprise.
Nevertheless: I have always had a thing for interactive fiction. Perhaps it’s because my early computer gaming had IF at its core – Adventure, Zork, and the way-ahead-of-its-time Zyll were among my staples. I had XYZZY burned into my mind around the age of 7.
I’ve always been interested in writing IF, or at least dabling in it. None of the tools, however, leapt out at me as being easy to use or develop with. But via Grand Text Auto, today I stumbled onto Inform v7 and had a major Holy Shit moment.
As for why: despite never having been much for hardcore programming, I have enough CS in my bones to know what programming languages look like. I’ve done OO, C-like, Lisp variants, and even oddball stuff like assembly. Programming has never been an accessible skill; the most accessible language I’ve ever seen is Applescript, and even that is plagued by very particular formatting.
I spent an hour looking at the Inform documentation this afternoon, and I nearly had an aneurism at some of these examples. Here are four rooms and two objects from Adventure written in Inform 7:
The Cobble Crawl is a room. “You are crawling over cobbles in a low passage. There is a dim light at the east end of the passage.”
A wicker cage is here. “There is a small wicker cage discarded nearby.”
The Debris Room is west of the Crawl. “You are in a debris room filled with stuff washed in from the surface. A low wide passage with cobbles becomes plugged with mud and debris here, but an awkward canyon leads upward and west. A note on the wall says, ‘Magic word XYZZY’.”
The black rod is here. “A three foot black rod with a rusty star on one end lies nearby.”
Above the Debris Room is the Sloping E/W Canyon. West of the Canyon is the Orange River Chamber.
In case I wasn’t clear above the blockquote, this is source code, not a transcript. Even if you’ve never taken a programming course in your life, you can read and understand that. Luckily enough for people writing IF, so can the computer. (Admittedly, not all of the code ends up being this nice, but certainly the majority does.)
So perhaps now you can see why I’m freaking out – but hell, there’s even more than that. It has a gorgeous, completely functional IDE, lengthy documentation, and compiles down to Inform v6, so that people who are already well into IF won’t have to download anything else to run games written in the new language.
If you’re the sort of person who finds this interesting – and bless your heart if you do – by all means, download the environment (it is free, of course), and start playing. For the programmatically minded or those who have dealt with IF before, Brass Lantern has a good overview.