Help me make a "What system should I use?" resource

Inspired by Conrad Cook’s post over in the “Other Development Systems” subforum, I’d like to make a single-page resource for people who are just stumbling into the world of interactive narrative, wanting to make a story, and wondering what system would be best for them to use. I’m picturing this as a list of profiles listing the basic information about each system, with lots of links to help people find out more. (UI-wise, I’d love to make the page filterable by various criteria, and provide the ability to link to particular profiles.) As far as scope, I think it should be very wide-ranging as to which systems to include, from hypertext to parser IF to Ren’Ai to choice-based games.

Here’s a list off the top of my head: TADS 2, TADS 3, Inform 6, Inform 7, Quest, Hugo, ADRIFT, ChoiceScript, Twine/Twee/AdventureCow, Undum, Ramus, Ren’Py, Vorple, Bloomengine, SCUMM

However! That’s a lot of writing to do, much of it on things I don’t necessarily know about. So, I need your help! You could suggest a system that I don’t have listed, or you could write up a profile. (Or… both?) Stylistically, I’d like to keep a neutral-to-positive tone and focus on the big distinctions between systems, while remaining fairly concise. If you contribute a profile, let me know if you want authorial credit and/or a link to your website. I reserve the right to edit for tone or grammar/spelling.

Here’s an example profile, for Inform 7, which demonstrates the categories of information that I think it would be useful to have:

(I welcome feedback on the above profile. I think I may have said some things that are no longer true. Also, I have no idea whether or not to capitalize “glulx.” And I use a lot of hyphens, all the time. I’m also not sure where to mention – since it’s a pruned-down version of Inform 7, perhaps it should get its own profile?)

I think I would err on the side of Englishierness. “Inform 7 is a rules-based programming language with a distinctive natural language syntax” doesn’t seem like it would mean as much to a novice as “Inform 7 programs look like they’re written in English, and are based on a list of rules saying how to respond to actions a player takes.” Though that latter sentence might not capture the distinction from object-oriented stuff.

The business about formats and interpreters seems like it might be confusing as well, although possibly the way to take care of that would be in a global introduction to the whole thing: Some languages output games in different file formats, some of them produce files that are run with special programs and some produce things you put up on the web (do any produce standalone apps?), that sort of thing.

Excellent work, though!

Perhaps it would be appropriate to put this on

A global introduction would be good, but of course that’s going to start reading like an essay, because this is not a simple topic. When you mention “a modern-style parser” in the Inform profile, for instance, that’s a phrase that would have to be unpacked into a couple of paragraphs.

Yes, TADS 3 will produce stand-alone Windows apps (.exe files), but not apps for MacOS or Linux.

SCUMMVM is used to interpret existing private game engines that have been implemented or reverse-engineered, but there are precious few tools for authoring games it can understand, which I understand has been done only twice by high-level hackers. (Most likely are ones made for AGI, the first and more primitive Sierra adventure game engine, though it may someday be able to run homebrew games made using Sierra’s later SCI.) If you want to walk down that road you can also look at other engines used to make similar graphical adventure games, chief among them Chris Jones’ AGS and similar programs like eg. SLUDGE as well as the newer Wintermute and the positively ancient World Builder – none of which are currently supported by SCUMMVM but all of which might be someday. (Of course, if you’re persistant and perverse, you could well use Klick 'n Play, a Wolf3D map editor or Pinball Construction Set or one of its contemporaries (OK, Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set would be more likely) to tell a curious and brief slice of interactive fiction. Any tool will do. We haven’t yet seen a game about ghosts writing clues in a haunted spreadsheet but I’m holding out for it: Cornerstone 2 – Revenge of the Poison Pill.)

More historical tools for text adventures as we knew them would include the Quill and PAW, while some early graphic adventure tools would include GAC and STAC. In the “totally obscure” category I was always interested in seeing a clear evaluation of the Gamescape engine that powered Marooned Again and its predecessor for CYOA hijinks, but I don’t know if anyone other than its author ever published anything made with it. I’ve only seen one program made using Questwriter for the C64 (if we’re serious about getting retro here) but it also seemed to have some potential for generating at least Scott Adams-level IF.

I appreciate however that you’re not explicitly soliciting a list of every game-making program known to man, but rather ideas about perhaps sorting them taxonomically and presenting them to would-be developers.

Maybe something like a glossary, then. Something like this:

…and that might be all that I see that needs explanation in the suggested Inform 7 writeup. (Maybe Integrated Design Environment, and I’d say “two different file formats” rather than “two different formats” – which I suppose is technically inaccurate, because .z5, .z8, .glx, .zblorb, and .gblorb are all different file formats, but I don’t think we need to get into that.) But that way you don’t need to define “parser” every time and “interpreter” separately for every language.

“Interpreter” is the big one, I think; people will understand what it is to produce games in HTML and Javascript that you can play directly on the web (like ChoiceScript and Undum), and what it is to produce standalone apps (like TADS), but as I said I don’t think that talking about interpreters without explaining them will be super-noob friendly.

It may also be that I have a different idea in mind than everyone else – I’m thinking about a guide that would be friendly for very noobish people. (Which might include me; I’ve never been entirely clear about what libraries are.)

how about also highlighting with which systems you can make games that you can play on iOS, android etc? I think this is probably a factor for some people.

matt w - Thanks for the feedback. I think I do need to do another pass or two on that main sentence. I’ve been trying not to foreground the natural language-ness of Inform, since “looks like it’s English” is a kind of a set up for disappointment in this case, but you’re right that the sentence as-is is not particularly approachable. (It’s a symptom from sometimes having to write artist statements…)

I’m really not sure how confusing the format stuff is – it’s hard to put myself in the headspace of the total tyro here (as opposed to the limited but passable knoweldge I have). It seems to me that most computer-literate people have some knowledge of different kinds of files, and different kinds of programs to interact with those files. You can’t open an mp3 in TextEdit/NotePad, (er, you can, but it will be disappointing) or a jpg in iTunes. Maybe it’s weird because we usually think of games as “applications,” not “files.”

Anyway, it probably comes down to sorting out exactly who the intended audience is. I’m basically picturing the kind of person we get around here in the forum, who know enough about the topic to have googled their way to us, but don’t necessarily know what the current state of the art is. I think that a huge list full of some frankly fairly complicated systems is not going to appeal to the absolute beginner anyway.

I’m definitely planning on having some sort of introduction – if nothing else, a caveat on “this is just a page to help you make interactive stories at all, not how to make good ones” – and you’re right that I should define some terms there.

UnwashedMass- Ah, I almost certainly meant to say SLUDGE. Clearly I should not be the one writing that profile. :slight_smile:

As for seriousness about getting retro, I’d say I’m serious about covering anything that actually might be an answer to “what system should I use?” So I think criteria like “runs on an average current computer, on an operating system most people have heard of” are useful, as are things like “has users that are active on the internet and might answer questions.”

Now that you mention Scott Adams, though, I recall that there were some threads about a SA-style adventure system a little while back. Anybody here know enough about it to write a profile?

peterorme- I agree that mobile compatibility is an important feature for some projects. I wonder if there are systems that specifically target mobile yet*, or just in the way that, if they target javascript/browsers, they are mobile-compatible? Definitely a thing to keep in mind.

*Zarf’s working on Inform 7 and iphones, but that’s not publicly available yet.

For people stumbling upon interactive narrative from non-English speaking parts of the world, it might be of interest what languages games can be written in using the different systems.
Inform 6, Inform 7, and Quest all have support for Spanish, French, German, and one or two more languages. Undum would pretty easily support any language, I suppose. And so on.
(I also seem to recall that there are systems specifically developed for writing games in Russian and Spanish respectively.)

Oh yes! I totally thought of that when I was originally drafting this thing, which was, uh, as I was falling asleep two nights ago. So I guess I forgot between then and actually writing it down. :wink: Good call. (It probably only makes a difference in systems with parsers – hypertext and choice-based systems don’t show any text to the player that wasn’t written by the author.)

It could also be helpful to list, for each system, two or three actual games, real-world examples of the end product.

You might also want to indicate in which language(s) the documentation is available.

“What system should I use?” is exactly the reason I just registered, so I hope you don’t mind me using this thread to ask my question:

I’m looking for a CYOA framework that I can use to publish stories for e-readers and mobile phones.

Right now, having a multiple set of choices is all the story needs, rpg stats are probably a bit overkill. The only feature I would like to have is random events. Say, the character is in a garden and chooses to smell a flower. Sometimes you get a description of the fragrance, and sometimes a bee stings your nose. That sort of stuff. Or, based on chance, the weather in the story is either rainy or sunny.

Oh, another thing. Images tied to certain events.

Top of my head, you could try looking into Quest -

I don’t know if it’s already implemented, and how far along, but there’s a Gamebook mode that’s exclusively for CYOA-style. It’s been focusing on exporting to some mobile phones (I don’t know the details because it’s not any phone I own).

E-readers… have no idea.

Gamebook mode is now live on the web-based beta of Quest at - it will also be part of the beta of the Windows desktop version of Quest 5.2, which will hopefully be out in a week or so.

With a finished game, I can convert it into an app for iPhone, iPad and Android.

The gamebook mode is pretty simple at the moment, but it all runs on top of the Quest platform, so features like random events will be simple for me to add. It is already possible to include pictures.

Very cool, will check that out. One thing I have found while googling is Choicescript ( Reading the quick intro it seems to be easy to use and offer lots of stuff, although I couldn’t find anything about export/publishing. They say you can host your story on their site, or pay a licensing fee if you don’t want to do that. Letting them do the hosting apparently also means getting sold on Amazon et al.

Sounds a bit like 3 in Three…

3 in Three is a really good game you guys


Is ZIL actually a likely answer, though? It seems to me that pretty its only strength that is not surpassed by other systems is the retro-authenticity factor, and a writer interested in that probably already knows about it. But feel free to provide a profile for it! It seems like this project may not have quite enough enthusiasm behind it to reify, sadly.