Oxford Tools Meetup

As promised, some highlights from today’s Oxford tools meetup:

Eric Eve took us through a demonstration of adv3lite, his slimmer library for TADS 3 for users who don’t want or don’t need all the features of adv3. It’s designed to be intentionally moderate in what it models, not intended to grow to encompass all possible features. Among the things he demo’d: adv3lite

  • does away with some high-end but perhaps less frequently needed features of the adv3 library such as postures, sections of a room, and complicated connectors between rooms
  • provides Inform-7-esque handling for scenes (albeit with a TADS syntax)
  • has a concept of regions and “sense regions”: this provides a way of doing sense passing that is a bit less fiddly than the one in the main adv3 library, in that information about a particular sense can be passed throughout a contiguous area
  • offers a more advanced conversation engine than adv3, including intelligent behavior about whether typed input should be directed to the parser or should be treated as conversation towards the NPC
  • handles six tenses and all persons/numbers for story narration
  • handles three-object commands, and commands with text input strings as one of those (e.g., “write ‘hello world’ on paper with blunt pencil”)
  • does not use the transcript function of adv3, but has an alternative way of collating reports for actions on related objects so that they can be printed together in an attractive way
  • can be used even without roughly half of its component modules for a VERY stripped-down library experience

Graham Nelson showed us features of the upcoming build of Inform, with the target release date of April 30, 2014. These include:

  • indexed text is no longer a different type from text, which means that anything that can be done with indexed text (the manipulation of regular expressions, etc.) can now be done with any text property in a game
  • floating point numbers are now handled natively in Inform
  • Inform now does global named constants, and has a sleeker way of defining global variables
  • Inform is able to put the story into various tenses and persons, so it is possible to change the story text output to, say, third person plural past tense, if you wish (and to change this during play); this was previously possible only with custom library message extensions
  • Inform now provides richer facilities for doing adaptive text in general so that extensions can also easily be written to change their tense and person
  • Inform has built-in algorithms for conjugating English verbs to help produce adaptive text smoothly
  • A new “responses” system provides a way to override any library message text or any message from a properly formatted extension, without having to replace the entire rules in which the text appears
  • The first groundwork has been done towards creating international versions of Inform, including some experiments with French verb formation; this does not constitute a total translation of Inform so far, but is necessary preparation with a view towards eventually translating the whole system
  • The supporting materials have been extensively revised, the index panel improved, and a full index for the documentation provided
  • There is now a panel in the IDE for Extensions, including an App Store-like system called the Public Library for downloading them from the Inform website. This panel allows the author to view which extensions are installed and which are in the library; to install or update extensions with a single click; and even to download the entire Inform extension collection at once, if that’s desired
  • The Mac IDE has been overhauled quite a bit, with Toby Nelson (brother of Graham) also working on it: the search box much improved, syntax coloring sped up so that typing an open bracket no longer produces a major stall, and various longstanding glitches removed

Afterwards, there was some discussion about the “what do you want in a tool” question of the last few days, and several people agreed that they felt there would have been more answers about commercial IF if the question had been differently framed.

We talked about the desirability of being able to publish IF to mobile device apps more easily, for which none of the parser systems currently have an easy solution. We also talked a bit about Inform potentially building choice-based games, and about the rise of such games in general.

Thanks to everyone who came, and especially our presenters. The next meetup will be April 8 in London, on dialogue and character modeling.

9 thoughts on “Oxford Tools Meetup”

  1. Well, what *do* people want in terms of commercial IF? Are we expecting anything parser-based to pop up on Steam any time soon? (I personally feel Counterfeit Monkey is good enough to go up there.)

    1. Depression Quest did the Steam Greenlight thing, I believe.

      The main thing that came up in discussion today was just the ease/difficulty of rolling standalone apps for sale.

      1. Oh, sorry, I missed out the phrase “parser-based” there.

        I wouldn’t want to stop anyone else trying, but my own sense is that parser games are simply not wide-appeal enough for Steam.

      2. Dunno, some REALLY specialized stuff has passed through now. Greenlight (which is supposedly going away anyway) is not the only route here.

  2. Emily, thanks so much for reporting on this event for those who could not attend. I’m excited about the prospects of an updated Inform7 to eliminate the quirkiness of indexed text. (Getting better performance in the Mac IDE is a nice bonus.) But I do wonder how much these and other changes will wreak havoc on existing Inform7 source code for extensions and for games. Looking forward to more info in the coming month.

    1. The amount of havoc-wreaking is likely to depend on what exactly the game is doing and how far along it is. I’ve got a couple of small WIPs that I was able to move easily and smoothly over to the new version. On the other hand, I haven’t attempted to convert Counterfeit Monkey, partly because it’s so big and partly because it’s using Custom Library Messages to do a lot of things that the new library response system will handle in a different way.

      One of the things I’m doing at this point myself is converting a bunch of my own extensions to be compliant with the new version, which should help us give a clearer picture of exactly how much work is typically involved.

  3. Thanks so much for these reports. Great to hear what y’all are talking about. :)

    I think there is a special kind of madness that extension authors have. I have a million things to do right now and all I can think about is updating my extensions for the new build of Inform. They will be SO COMPLIANT.

  4. I am sure extension authors have a particular challenge in getting updates done in a timely fashion. Hopefully some of the lessons you learn can be turned into helpful articles for game authors on how to take advantage of new capabilities in Inform7. Perhaps the Inform7 team can give beta access to a few of the more popular extension and game authors to ease everyone’s pain.

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