A portable "IF machine" - ideas?

Hi! I’ve been pondering lately how hard it would be to put together a portable device (I’m thinking the size of a tablet) that can play as much of the interactive-fiction oeuvre as possible. The ideal is a cheap machine (the price of a tablet, perhaps?) with a lightweight software setup that makes it very good for playing a lot of interactive fiction on the go.

Laptops are nice, but tablets are a lot more usable in situations where you don’t have a lap or other solid surface. So, my current idea is for some type of touchscreen tablet outfitted with Linux or maybe Windows. The logic behind the operating system choices is that, for a given game made in any system, those are the OSes most likely to have support for an emulator that will play it. (Really, why does there still not seem to be a good Glulx emulator for Android?) Windows seems to be the best OS choice in terms of coverage - IIRC there are some games that come in .exe format or that have Windows-exclusive emulators. But, it’s also a big proprietary OS that might be hard to customize into something specialized for this purpose, so the next obvious choice is Linux (for which much of the Windows stuff can be run in Wine anyway).

So if I were to try to put together a machine like this, I’d probably try to find an inexpensive touchscreen tablet or computer that can run Linux, and then install some lightweight distro along with Wine and all the emulators and such, and finally probably customize the graphical interface to make it touchscreen-suitable and so that it’s easy to access the emulator I want. For bonus points, you could get the note-taking software of your choice on there too.

This might be pretty feasible. The ideal machine to use as a base would probably be one of those little folding touchscreen laptops that can turn into a tablet with the keyboard folded back, but my impression is that those are expensive with respect to their other capabilities, as laptops go. Any thoughts on how else one might take one’s IF library on the go? Anything I’m missing? Is this just not worth the effort at all?

Touchscreens aren’t ideal for typing commands into a parser I’d think so a physical keyboard would be a consideration, even a phone sized qwerty keyboard is better than a touchscreen kb in my opinion.

Anyway I’d think architecture would be your first worry. If you want to run x86 Windows executables you probably want a device with an Intel Atom processor rather than an ARM one. Most Gnu/Linux and Android tablets use ARM processors, this means not just using WINE to translate Windows operating system calls into their equivalents but using an emulator like QEMU to translate every machine instruction from an x86 instruction to an equivalent set of ARM instructions, something which somewhat inefficient (in terms of speed and battery life).

The impression I get though is that the real cost is not in the device but in the effort to customise the software stack for an off-the-shelf device if that’s what you intend.

On the ARM running Windows software front CrossOver for Android might release soon, which if the tablet has an Intel Atom processor might let you run Windows apps under Android.

Otherwise there seems to be a very large selection of games that are designed to run in virtual machines, if you can limit yourself to those, it would seem you have a large enough library that will work on most tablets?

Those are all very good points.

It’d be nice to support all the obscure formats, but I’d honestly be fine just with Z-machine and Glulx VMs. So, if there were a good Glulx interpreter for Android, an off-the-shelf Android tablet would be a perfect fit for this kind of application, at least for me - but I know of no such interpreter, so it’s more complicated than that. I’d be glad to be proven wrong about that.

If you are okay with a terminal-window interface (no mouse, no graphics, fixed-width font) then you can compile Z-code and Glulx interpreters on any platform with a compiler. And TADS and Hugo, probably others. It may be possible to compile Gargoyle and get the GUI interface, too, but I have no experience with building Gargoyle.

The cheap option there is to buy a ChromeBook laptop and reinstall it with Linux. $250 tops. It’s low-end hardware but an IF interpreter needs very little RAM or CPU.

A ChromeBook or something like a Lenovo IdeaPad seems right to me. I have a Surface 3 for that and more of course.

Although not a completely portable system the Raspberry Pi running Linux is probably the smallest (and inexpensive) albeit you need a monitor and keyboard to go with it but it’s certainly a good option for somebody that has access to those on the go.

I once wrote a blog post about this, and got told I was thinking of a Windows phone, as I recall.

Personally I’m very happy with my iPod. iFrotz runs ZMachine and Glulx games, TADS support is coming, I can play web-based games within reason…

…and if apple’s policies were different, I could have had a Spectaculator emulator for text adventures, an Apple II emulator, and even DosBOX (yes, it did exist for iOS at one point; got pulled out).

Seriously, the hardware on that little thing is amazing. It’s the software policies that cripple it. It was too expensive for me to consider jailbreaking it, but I’ve felt sorely tempted at times.

Another great thing about the iPod? Fits in your breast pocket. Very handy for playing in quick bursts, or fishing the game out to try the puzzle solution you’ve just thought of.

I was considering a Windows phone, but I feel like the small screen would be too limiting.

As I’ve said, Android would work decently if it weren’t for the fact that I’m not aware of any Android Glulx emulators.

Is TADS really coming to mobile?

The iOS frotz beta I have is capable of running TADS games, if that helps answer your question. :slight_smile: There are some kinks to iron out, and I’m not even talking about multimedia capabilities - on the version I have hyperlinks don’t yet work. I’ve had this beta for months, and don’t know what the progress status on the dev’s side is, but he remains an accessible person. Always replies to my e-mails. I’ve been politely not asking him point blank about it - I can wait. :slight_smile:

If I could play babel and worlds apart on mobile, my life would have come to full fruition.

I feel similarly, though not quite as extreme. :slight_smile: I’m really really looking forward to it.

I assume the talk about TADS “on mobile” means iOS. For Android there’s already Son of Hunky Punk.

If something like a kindle paperwhite could handle IF, that would be great.

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Personally I’ve found my Lenovo Yoga, in either notebook or tablet mode, to work quite well for IF. I haven’t been able to find an interpreter, though, that supports standard touchscreen scrolling, where dragging the text box will scroll the text. Does anyone know a good interpreter for this? I typically use Gargoyle, but it does not seem to be designed for touchscreens.

You can hack one, jailbreak it, Gargoyle has been ported to the Kindle Paperwhite. github.com/poker335/garglk

There’s also possible to use Odroid (a single board computer) on where you can run a complete linux or android. More than enough to play nearly all if adventures. Getting a touch screen and battthatery is easy and there’s kits to do that.
The option I use is the machine (fits in my pocket) and a borrowed screen and keyboard XP

I’d love to have one. It would help pass the time when I’m on the train to work and back.

Are there any cheap portable devices with a keyboard?

I’m thinking this would make more sense for a dedicated IF machine. Without a keyboard, i don’t see the point of a specific device vs a mobile app.

cheap portable device with a keyboard? I’m thinking an old Blackberry phone?