Monday, 30 September 2013

Ongoing Glossary

CYOA: An abbreviation for 'Choose Your Own Adventure'. As per the famous books with that branding, when I say CYOA in these reviews, I mean that the game mechanism involves reading some prose, then choosing one option from a menu of discrete choices about how the story should proceed.

IF: It stands for 'Interactive Fiction'. Text games, text adventures, parser-driven games, interactive stories, graphic adventures, choose your own adventures on computers... these are the things which come under the Interactive Fiction umbrella. Delivery of a game partially or fully by text prose and the use of some kind of text-based interaction are probably the classic hallmarks of IF, along with an explicit lack of real-time action content.

Glulx: (Before you read this, perhaps scroll down and read about Z-Code, the precursor to Glulx.) A Glulx game is most often driven by a parser. I.E. You type in English commands to control your character, commands like 'embrace Edward Cullen' or 'put the blue keycard in the blue slot'. Glulx games are created with Inform, a long serving and popular IF programming language. Glulx is the most modern format for Inform games, so it supports games of infinite size, the inclusion of multimedia and other technically helpful features. Perhaps confusingly, a Glulx game isn't necessarily going to be longer than a Z-Code one – it may just be using the format to benefit from one of Glulx's features. Some of these features aren't yet supported by online interpreters, so you need to play some Glulx games offline to get the full experience.

Glulx game files have the suffix .gblorb

Glulx games run in a virtual machine which in turn runs on pretty much any modern computer. So to play one of these games, you just need to download a Glulx-capable IF interpreter which will run on your computer of choice, plus the game file. Open the game file in the interpreter and you're off. Hang on to the interpreter to run any other Glulx game in the future.

The relatively tedious part is picking your interpreter in the beginning. They all have cute names and do things slightly differently, but all you'll care about at first is whether the one you pick will run the game. Here are some good interpreters for Glulx games:

Gargoyle, for Mac OS X, Windows, Unix/Linux (Pros: Also runs Z-Code games and other formats, visually attractive. Con: Can be annoying to change preferences.)
Filfre, for Windows (Pros: Anecdotally rated best for visually impaired users. Also runs Z-Code games.)
Windows Glulxe or Wingit, for PC
Zoom, for Mac OS X (Pro: Also runs Z-Code games. Con: Can't do sound.)
Zoom, for Unix/Linux (Pro: Also runs Z-Code games. Con: Can't do sound.)

Quest: A newish (only relatively speaking!) system for playing and creating adventures. Quest games can utilise any mix of text input, hyperlinks, graphics and sounds their authors want.

Quest games can be played online in a web browser or offline in a Windows-only interpreter program, so Mac users must play Quest games online. One problem though: I've observed that not all Quest games run without bugs in their online incarnations, though I expect one day they will. So for now I advise Windows users to play Quest games offline.

To play a Quest game online, you just go to its website.

To play a Quest game offline, you need to download the Quest interpreter (from here) and install it. Then download the game file and open it up from within the interpreter, or just drag and drop the game file on the interpreter icon.

StoryNexus: An online delivery and creation system for all kinds of browser based games. Text, graphics, audio, virtual cards, RPG - you can do all kinds of stuff. To play, you just visit a particular StoryNexus game's site and log in with one of your Facebook, Twitter or a StoryNexus account: http://storynexus.com/s

Twine/Twee: A programming system for creating hyperlink-based games which run in web browsers. To play these games you generally just visit the game's site then read words and click words.

Twee/Twine: See 'Twine/Twee'. I believe that the distinction between Twee and Twine is more relevant for game-makers than players.

Undum: Undum is a system which delivers CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) type games which run in web browsers. In an Undum game, the text of each choice you make typically (and prettily) slides into place as part of an ongoing narrative in the window, while unchosen choices disappear. To play an Undum game you just go to its website, read words and click words.

Z-Code: A Z-Code game is most often driven by a parser. I.E. You type in English commands to control your character, commands like 'stab Edward Cullen' or 'put the red keycard in the red slot'. Z-Code games are created with Inform, a long serving and popular IF programming language descended from the Infocom code which ran games like Zork. Z-Code games are typically of small to medium size, but can go longer. Bigger Inform-made games (or ones with multimedia content) are delivered in a format called Glulx (see earlier on this page).

Z-Code game files have suffixes like .z5 or .z8 or z(some other number) or .zblorb

Z-Code games run in a virtual machine which in turn runs on pretty much any modern computer. So to play one of these games, you just need to download a Z-Code-capable IF interpreter which will run on your computer of choice, plus the game file. Open the game file in the interpreter and you're off. Hang on to the interpreter to run any other Z-Code game in the future.

The relatively tedious part is picking your interpreter in the beginning. They all have cute names and do things slightly differently, but all you'll care about at first is whether the one you pick will run the game. Here are some good interpreters for Z-Code games:

Gargoyle, for Mac OS X, Windows, Unix/Linux (Pros: Also runs Glulx games and other formats, visually attractive. Con: Can be annoying to change preferences.)
Filfre, for Windows (Pros: Anecdotally rated best for visually impaired users. Also runs Glulx games.)
Zoom, for Mac OS X (Pro: Also runs Glulx games. Con: Can't do sound.)
Zoom, for Unix/Linux (Pro: Also runs Glulx games. Con: Can't do sound.)
Frotz, for Windows
Frotz, for iOS (Just search 'frotz' in the app store)
JFrotz, for Android phones

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