So, I was having some trouble finding a bit of detail on exactly what glulx, ULX, gblorb all actually meant.
If you look at the Inform parser environment today : Quixe, Frotz, Glulx, gblorb, ulx, z8, z5, zblorb, Trizbort, Fweep, Z-machine…etc…etc… would it be fair to say that this profusion of tools (all of which, within their buckets, do much the same thing) and list of dense and in-jokey platform names is an active discouragement for a newcomer to the parser IF community - both developers and players? I’ve been back in the community for a year now, and am still not sure what some of them are.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea to, say, have a single IDE, single format, single interpreter (for multiple OS) to encourage simplicity, inclusiveness, and rationalise the whole process of I7 based parser IF development. Oh, and perhaps a completely opaque (to the player) local installation tool that doesn’t require manual install of an interpreter at all!
aka, say Twine, or Quest. Which are, by all accounting, quite popular.
Once a standard is in use, it’s hard to convince everyone to switch to a new one. Z-machine version 8 superseded Z-machine version 5, and Glulx superseded that, but you still see Z-machine games being made.
Also, of the things you list, many of them are very different.
Quixe is a Glulx interpreter for web browsers.
Frotz and Fweep are independent Z-machine interpreters, separate from Inform.
Glulx and Z-machine are virtual machine formats.
gblorb, ulx, z5, z8, zblorb are file extensions for (very different) types of files.
Trizbort is used to make maps of IF games and is separate from Inform.
I can’t think of any way that, say, Z-machine and Trizbort could ever be combined, just because at heart they’re entirely different things.
Your points are well taken. I understand the general failure of top-down standards development. I also get that many of the tools I quoted do separate things. My examples were more to make a point.
However, parser IF development should be a simple thing. The delivery environment for content has homogenised to the point where we, effectively, have a single potential delivery point - the web browser. The audience for ‘games’ expects a simple, completely opaque installation process, or, in 99.99% of cases to play the game online. Developers expect a simple IDE, with a toolkit and a standardised delivery framework. Newcomers to IF expect full integrated media.
My argument is that I7 dev and delivery is mired in the past of names derived from games released in the 80’s and really should pay attention.
Hm. It is increasingly possible to pop an Inform parser IF game on the web and not have the player on the other end know anything about Glulx, blorbs, etc. textadventures.co.uk is also making it easier to host Inform games of many formats, again without the player needing to know anything about how they work or how the files might differ from files in Quest or Twine. I7 has also gone to defaulting to Glulx output, which again means that most authors don’t have to worry about Z- vs. Glulx output, since the main reason that became an issue was when people ran out of memory in Z-. So it feels to me as though we’ve made a good deal of progress on this front, though maybe not as much as you want.
For what it’s worth, issues about smoother web presentation and more accessibly playable games are near the top of Graham’s priority list for future releases. There is some work that needs to happen to get Glulx to play nicely with Vorple, which I think would produce radically more attractive games, but this is something we talk about quite a lot. So attention is being paid; if you have specific suggestions, that’s always interesting, but the general topic of how to make games that are easier to host and easier for people to play is definitely on the radar.
But it also sounds to me as though part of what you’re describing is just “there sure are a lot of components to this 30-year-old tech ecology” – and I’m not sure that is something that could productively be gotten rid of. For that matter, the Twine ecology is also complicating over time, with multiple versions of Twine that people use, macros and stylesheets available in various places around the web, and so on.
(To be clear, what I am saying here is not “You didn’t run into trouble” – I believe you that you did and that it was annoying – but I’m trying to work out which bit of what you’re saying can be converted to specific actions that wouldn’t cause more harm than good.)
Not quite, although that’s part of it. I’m hoping we’d all agree that there is a place for parser IF in the great ecology of entertainment, and that place will make someone, somewhere along the line, enough money that artwork, sound, and game can all be professionally done, and that alongside with Hadean Lands we’ll see a number of parser IF works on Steam.
As a developer, I would very much like to see a fully integrated graphical IDE for I7. I’d also very much like to see true multi-media and web support within the development framework. I would like this to be able to deliver this in a standardised way, with a professional (yes, yes, I know - CoG - someone should give them some investment!) and commercial wrapper through an opaque mechanism to the player. Whether this is based on a 30 year old Z-machine or not. Then I’d like to make some money from a parser IF game.
I have the strange notion that the popularity of a game (or any piece of art, really) isn’t defined by it’s medium, but by the unique expression of its author. If Neil Gaiman put his name on a parser IF game, it would make money – but not because it’s parser IF. Not so say that you have to be Neil Gaiman to get noticed – only that if you offer something unique, no matter what the medium, then you’ll get noticed.
I also think that if you want to make parser IF because of it’s unique capabilities – the freedom to explore in increasing complexity within an interactive environment, using the medium of prose and writing to convey it – then parser IF is a good choice. I also take the stand that if money is goal #1 for an artist or author, and not passion, then that’s a doomed project from the start. But then, I’m an idealist. (Notice, I didn’t add “rich” before idealist. )
Absolutely! The free tools are awesome, and the community that has built them up is too. I absolutely didn’t mean to come off as snippy! (re-reads previous post to make sure about lack of snippiness…)
However, I’m going to stand by my premise on this. I do believe that ‘interactive fiction’ can be sufficiently commercialised to be ‘successful’ in it’s own frame of reference and have an active and thriving consumer base. I also think that there is the potential, to attract a new development crowd into the I7 development fold if, as we’re seeing with Quest and Twine, we provide a simpler, more accessible ‘ecology’ for access.
And for free…hmmm…wouldn’t it be great to see a funded development of an IF development toolkit (based on I7) and the commercial and delivery framework to make it successful?
Inform7 is actually pretty accessible, and there are a ton of extensions that make it pretty easy to use for making simple parser games. It’s also incredibly robust, and can feature complicated functions and equations that can be used to make large-scale games. So, it’s already there, IMO. Commercialization? Hm. I’m sorry, but when I hear that word I think micro-transactions, and shudder, auto-tune.
Adding to what Emily said: the Z-machine is now a buried option in the I7 IDE. Authors are not expected to ever create or see .z5, .z8, .ulx, or .zblorb files. You can release a web game without seeing the term “Quixe” except in a web page credit line. Trizbort and Fweep are somebody else’s fault.
What I’m saying is, this is getting better, not worse.
There are obviously plenty of places where it is not yet very good.
I am particularly interested in how both the Inform development experience and the Inform game-play experience can be improved. Not the same problem, obviously.
(Let’s take for granted that “You should be able to compile TADS, Quest, and Adrift games in the Inform IDE” is a problem which will not be addressed in the near future.)
The game-play problem has become acute for me, as you know if you saw my recent blog post. In the near future I will need Mac and Windows packages of Hadean Lands which launch into the game, play smoothly, and look nice on all modern hardware. This is not something that the IF community has prioritized in the past – we like our multi-interpreters and game files – but if I am going to put HL on Steam, it’s gotta happen.
(And every time I say this, it comes off as slagging – or worse, whining at – David Kinder and the other interpreter maintainers. Sorry! It’s only coming up more often because, well, it’s coming up more often.)
Hah! Request? It’s a demand! And I want it all for free!
Actually, re-reading my previous post, it did come off a bit like that. Poor choice of phrasing only, I assure you. I was more addressing general ‘expectations’ of new entrants (developers or players).