May 14, 2009

Interactive Fiction and Linux

I have only just recently revisited the world of Interactive Fiction (or Text Adventures if you will), and have been looking at the number of different IF-engines and applications that are available.  I didn't realise so many formats have been adopted.

 What actually prompted me to get back into it was a review I read on Adventure Gamers for 1893: A World's Fair Mystery. For a text adventure to rank amongst their top games was inspiring, so I sought out a demo of it and then had to find something to run it on.

 1893 AWFM was written for the TADS2 (Text Adventure Development System version 2) system, and, as it happens, a match for TADS2 comes up in Ubuntu's repositories.  I ran the game from the terminal and what I was met with was a simple application shown in the terminal, displaying text from the game.  It all works fine, but it's not what I saw in the screenshots on the review.  There was pictures, and it wasn't horribly mono-spaced like what I was seeing.

 Looking into it further, it appears that this particular game incorporates a feature the majority of TADS2 games don't: HTML content, allowing the display of pictures and partitioning of the screen.  Obviously the command-line app I was using wasn't up to the job, so I tried looking at other applications which would support it.  It turns out that there are only 2 applications which support TADS2 with multimedia: one for Windows called HTML TADS, and one for Mac (pre OSX) called HyperTADS.  What? Nothing for Linux at all? There is currently only one option for Linux users: HTML TADS under Wine, which does work, but it's surprising that there isn't a native app.

 But for TADS2 games which don't have any HTML content, there are alternatives:

QTads is a QT-based app which is similar to the console version, but uses nicer fonts by default, which can be changed, along with a few other features.

FrobTADS is another console app which is pretty similar to the other TADS2 app.

I actually left it at that to start, but last week I found something called Gargoyle.  It still doesn't offer HTML rendering, but it does sport a very very nice sub-pixel unhinted font rendering.  It's very easy to read the text, but even better than that, it runs a multitude of IF-engines thanks to the number of included interpreters (the site quotes these as Agility, Alan 2 and 3, Frotz, Glulxe, Hugo, Level 9, Magnetic, Scare, TADS2 and 3.)  You can get it from either the Google Project page or, if you have Debian, Ubuntu or Mandriva and don't want to compile it yourself, from here.  The Google Project page does have TADS multimedia functionality currently listed in the issues section so it may still be implemented in the future.  However, after trying the 1893 AWFM demo in HTML TADS under Wine, I was hooked, and liked it so much that I sent off for a full version from the publisher.

 If you want to try out some Interactive Fiction for yourself, try browsing the games on IFDBIFWiki or reading the SPAG (Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games) e-zine.

Or, if you're feeling creative, why not create one yourself.  The Inform 7 IDE for Gnome has pre-built packages to install for Fedora, Arch, Ubuntu and Debian. (note: I found the Ubuntu version on there to not quite work for Jaunty Jackalope, so if you're also on Ubuntu 9.04, try getting the Ubuntu2 version from the SourceForge project page).  The Inform 7 IDE has built-in comprehensive documentation and an impressive set of tools to help create, test and design interactive fiction.  Also, the natural language used to program it might interest those who are usually daunted by other programming languages.  Who knows, you could be in the running for an XYZZY award later this year.

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