Mailbag: Multimedia in Spanish Text Parser IF

Hi Emily,

I thought you might be able to shed some light on this question:

Text parser IF tends to rely heavily on the text for narrative, and uses little by way of multimedia.  Until you get to Spanish parser IF… here, multimedia is much more common. Spanish-language games often incorporate video, pictures, or sound effects.  Is there a reason behind this (possibly due to Spanish-language games using different engines better suited to multimedia?).  Or is there another reason?  Can Inform and similar platforms support these elements as well?

[Ed note: at the request of the asker, the original question has been re-written from a longer, less anonymous format.]

Several points here. One: for a lot of English-speaking IF fans, the defining IF of the commercial age came from Infocom in the early to mid 1980s, and almost all of their work was without illustration. There were a handful of late exceptions, but they were generally not considered Infocom’s best work.

Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur (Infocom / Bob Bates, 1989)

In Spain, by contrast, the golden age of commercial IF came just a few years later, on different hardware. Adventuras AD was publishing illustrated interactive fiction and setting expectations somewhat differently for hobbyist fans to follow. So most likely there was a certain amount of founder effect at work, in terms of what interactive fiction fans wanted to build.

Perhaps as a result of this, or perhaps coincidentally, Spanish language IF games have been written with an overlapping set of tools to Inform. Superglus for instance is a tool that compiles to the Glulx virtual machine, but uses a different, non-Inform parser.

And, in fact, the French and Italian IF communities have also traditionally done more with multimedia parser games than the Anglophone community — I’ve put a few links about this below as well.

Can Inform and similar platforms support these elements as well?

Yes, they can, though historically it was quite a bit of effort to get them set up. That’s less true now.

TADS and Hugo were ahead of Inform in their graphics handling, back in the day: TADS offered a version called HTML-TADS that allowed embedded images and other features, and a few late 90’s games explored the possibilities here: see for instance NK Guy’s Six Stories, which uses images and sound effects in-line with the text, or 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery, which draws on historical archives and features contemporary photos of many of the locations in the game. Robb Sherwin also wrote a number of illustrated games in Hugo, with an intentionally scruffy graphical aesthetic; and Hugo creator Kent Tessman made a commercial graphical game called Future Boy!, complete with voice acting.

For Inform, the main option for many years was Glulx, but games in Glulx were significantly harder to set up and bundle than conventional z-code games; when I was building City of Secrets, a game with a fairly limited range of imagery and menu support, I needed quite a bit of advice and help from other members of the community to get everything to work; and then there were a lot of minor discrepancies in how Glulx interpreters worked, which meant that you could get certain effects with, say, borderless windows or partially transparent PNG files that would work in one interpreter but look like total garbage in the next. It was a bit of a nightmare to try to achieve something attractive in this format, and many people decided it wasn’t a major goal to try.

There were a few standout games produced in the 2000s anyway. Carma did a lot of difficult effects that weren’t much replicated for some time afterward. Everybody Dies, where the illustrations are a key part of the story. A few other English-language games with graphics, such as The Moon Watch and Beyond, were actually written in or translated into English by authors from the Italian IF community.

The arrival of Inform 7 helped a little, at least in the sense that it became easier to set up parser IF to make use of Glulx. By the time I was building Alabaster, a few years on from City of Secrets, I still had to worry about interpreter discrepancies but had to do much less work to get a Glulx game started at all.

Meanwhile, some people in the English-speaking IF community who wanted to updated the look of text adventures became more interested in making interpreters that did a decently attractive job of typography on almost all games. The Gargoyle interpreter, for instance, was originally built with the motive of making standard text games look pleasant on the screen, with no special authorial intervention.

Recent English-language IF does incorporate quite a lot more art, sound, and other multimedia features than it used to. There’s now a “best use of multimedia” category in the XYZZY Awards, for instance, which is a relatively recent change. But that shift has happened at the same time as the shift towards doing more hypertext interaction, so multimedia parser games remain comparatively uncommon.

However, the tech to produce multimedia parser games has improved significantly, and now makes it possible to attach a parser game to all the standard affordances of a modern web browser.

I’d recommend anyone interested in this to take a look at Juhana Leinonen’s Vorple, which allows Inform 6 or Inform 7 to drive a web-based front end with art, videos, text that is removed from the screen again after it’s been shown (which is surprisingly hard to do in a conventional Glulx interpreter). IFDB lists these games produced with Vorple, if you’re interested in seeing what it can do. Hugo Labrande has also made a nice intro video for it:

Other resources:


One thought on “Mailbag: Multimedia in Spanish Text Parser IF”

  1. I’m finalizing an Inform7 game with nice old pixel graphics and pixelated fonts (running eventually in a bundled Lectrote) that wants to mimic old-style graphic text adventures. More in the next few weeks (when I’m done making the graphics, which are time consuming).
    The game will use the full Inform parser, so no problem on the usability side.

    Ps: as you have probably seen in Slack, there is a sort of new renaissance in 8-bit IF, thanks to the efforts of a German guy and some of the original English coders. I’ve just finished playing a game made in 2019 with a very nice retro feel but no big drawbacks in the engine.

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