How to reach a wider audience: turn IF games into one-click executables

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Janos

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Jul 26, 2006, 5:03:10 AM7/26/06
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I started to write this reply to the thread concerning compiling tads 3
games into executables, but I think this warrants a thread of its own.

Eric Eve wrote:

> What I think Digital Humanities Quarterly would *really* like is the
> ability to host an IF work on their server and have their readers
> play it through their browsers. I'm assuming that this simply isn't
> possible for TADS 3 games (and I'm not sure it would necessarily be
> a very good idea in any case for a game as substantial as AHA). But
> am I right in thinking this is possible with z-code games (clearly
> that question isn't aimed at Mike!)? If so, and I can't come up with
> a solution acceptable to DHQ for All Hope Abandon, finding a
> suitable z-code game for them to host might be the best way forward.

Actually, to go off in a tangent, I think that lack of systems like this
is the main reason IF is still a pretty fringe form of art. Playing and
even finding games is still much too technical and it keeps many people
from getting to try out IF. The tragedy is that this includes a great
deal of people who would get a huge kick out of IF, such as those who
study literature, read a lot or are interested in word art but not
computers as such. I've heard of univesity level literature professors
who dabble into interactive literature and who haven't even heard about
IF (and who, according to a friend who knows a couple, would "cream
their jeans if they found out about it").

There was a thread, I think a year ago, where someone asked what could
be done to raise the profile of IF. The main tool for that is developing
systems that compile the games into click-and-play standalones, or
what's better, into a form where you can play them on your browser. I
work as a computer and a games journalist, so I have some insight to the
different kinds of audiences out there, and I have friends who work on
casual and multiplayer games. When I tell about the compiler-gamefile
-division of IF, what I get are snorts and "good luck with getting
people even try those" kinds of comments.

Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous for computer savvy people to think that
installing an interpreter might be an unsurmountable step for some
people, but it's just a sad fact. I'm at home in Windows, Linux and Mac
-systems and initially *I* found it an irritating hassle to figure out
what interpreter to use to play different games.

I think I used this example in the previous thread too: take an average
computer user and ask him or her to Google "puzzle games" and see how
long it takes for him or her to be playing. Then subsitute the search
with "interactive fiction"...

--
Janos

Emily Short

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Jul 26, 2006, 5:12:59 AM7/26/06
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Janos wrote:
> I started to write this reply to the thread concerning compiling tads 3
> games into executables, but I think this warrants a thread of its own.

> There was a thread, I think a year ago, where someone asked what could


> be done to raise the profile of IF. The main tool for that is developing
> systems that compile the games into click-and-play standalones, or
> what's better, into a form where you can play them on your browser.

This is in fact possible with several systems. For TADS 2, there is the
Jetty interpreter (http://www.drizzle.com/%7Edans/if/jetty/) and for
z-code, zplet (http://sourceforge.net/projects/zplet/); also a Java
Glulx interpreter by Jon Alfred Zeppieri, though I don't know that it
has any special name.

Several sites online host interactive fiction games for play,
including, most extensively, http://www.ifiction.org/.

Janos

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Jul 26, 2006, 5:26:43 AM7/26/06
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Emily Short wrote:

> This is in fact possible with several systems. For TADS 2, there is the
> Jetty interpreter (http://www.drizzle.com/%7Edans/if/jetty/) and for
> z-code, zplet (http://sourceforge.net/projects/zplet/); also a Java
> Glulx interpreter by Jon Alfred Zeppieri, though I don't know that it
> has any special name.

I'd only like to see these used more often, or perhaps I have been
looking in the wrong places :) Something that would be really great
would be to see the IF Comp games as easily distributable standalones or
browser games, which would make it easy to recommend quality games for
the less computer savvy people.

> Several sites online host interactive fiction games for play,
> including, most extensively, http://www.ifiction.org/.

Yep, this is a great site and I'd like to see it updated more often.

--
Janos

ChicagoDave

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Jul 26, 2006, 10:07:01 AM7/26/06
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Janos wrote:
> Actually, to go off in a tangent, I think that lack of systems like this
> is the main reason IF is still a pretty fringe form of art. Playing and
> even finding games is still much too technical and it keeps many people
> from getting to try out IF.

I agree with this sentiment. I think the reasons for virtual machines
and the separation of game file/interpreter is entirely moot in this
day and age. Who cares if you have 200 executables that range in size
from 50kb to 500kb? If you asked most people that play games what a
virtual machine is they're likely to give a full-on blank stare.

If all of the archived games were available as executables, with their
own icon that shows up on your desktop, the games would be far more
accessible to people outside of the IF community.

We have game players like Zoom that have made things a bit easier, but
I don't think it goes far enough. Instead of trying to make the
customer come to you, why not go _to_ the customer?

Ease of use, packaging, and availability are all critical components of
building a wider audience.

David C.

Gregory Weir

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Jul 26, 2006, 10:33:34 AM7/26/06
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Janos wrote:
(snip)

> Eric Eve wrote:
>
> > What I think Digital Humanities Quarterly would *really* like is the
> > ability to host an IF work on their server and have their readers
> > play it through their browsers.

(snip)

> Actually, to go off in a tangent, I think that lack of systems like this
> is the main reason IF is still a pretty fringe form of art. Playing and
> even finding games is still much too technical and it keeps many people
> from getting to try out IF.

I've always been surprised at the difficulty that people have with the
interpreter/gamefile duality. There's difficulty with the need to
download a separate application to run a z-file, but people are
accustomed to the need to open documents using Microsoft Word.

I think that, while bundling game files with interpreters would help a
lot, that's something that is on the head of the author or the
distributor, unless someone makes an automated way to bundle
already-compiled games into executables. Online interpreters are nice,
too, although they have their own issues. So it would be nice if there
are other ways to improve the situation.

One thing we can do is change our terminology a bit. "Interpreter" is
kind of a confusing term. I think that "IF Player" or something along
those lines would resonate a bit more with the average computer user.
You need a music player like Winamp or iTunes to play an mp3 file, and
you need an IF Player like Gargoyle to play an IF game file. I think
that the recent trend of all-in-one IF players (interpreters) will help
this.

Another thing is to add a little something to the websites. Two
updates to Baf's Guide would smooth the process considerably. First,
highlight the most recent game file download link a little better; use
a little disc icon or something that tells the user "Download me!"
Second, add a section that says "This is a z-code file. To open it,
you will need an IF player that supports this format. We recommend
Windows Frotz." Put in a link to the interpreter. I know it's
unpleasant to play favorites, but I see it as a matter of priorities:
play favorites, or lose users?

Of course, I don't see this as the biggest obstacle to expanding IF's
audience, but that's another story.

Gregory Weir

Tor Andersson

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Jul 26, 2006, 11:37:29 AM7/26/06
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Gregory Weir wrote:
> Janos wrote:
> (snip)
> > Eric Eve wrote:
> >
> > > What I think Digital Humanities Quarterly would *really* like is the
> > > ability to host an IF work on their server and have their readers
> > > play it through their browsers.
>
> (snip)
>
> > Actually, to go off in a tangent, I think that lack of systems like this
> > is the main reason IF is still a pretty fringe form of art. Playing and
> > even finding games is still much too technical and it keeps many people
> > from getting to try out IF.
>
> I've always been surprised at the difficulty that people have with the
> interpreter/gamefile duality. There's difficulty with the need to
> download a separate application to run a z-file, but people are
> accustomed to the need to open documents using Microsoft Word.

Maybe it has something to do with interactive vs passive files?

I likewise have difficulty believing this is a difficult concept for
users to grasp. Has anybody actually verified that this is a problem,
or are we just guessing?

> I think that, while bundling game files with interpreters would help a
> lot, that's something that is on the head of the author or the
> distributor, unless someone makes an automated way to bundle
> already-compiled games into executables. Online interpreters are nice,
> too, although they have their own issues. So it would be nice if there
> are other ways to improve the situation.

I don't think bundling games with interpreters is the way to go.
There are too many platforms out there to support them all.
Likewise, there is usually more than one interpreter for each platform,
and which one to use is a highly personal choice.

Look at the graphical adventure world. SCUMM is doing just fine,
and is a hell of a lot more convenient than finding a DOS emulator
to play old LucasArts games. That's an important point: future
compatibility.

> One thing we can do is change our terminology a bit. "Interpreter" is
> kind of a confusing term. I think that "IF Player" or something along
> those lines would resonate a bit more with the average computer user.
> You need a music player like Winamp or iTunes to play an mp3 file, and
> you need an IF Player like Gargoyle to play an IF game file. I think
> that the recent trend of all-in-one IF players (interpreters) will help
> this.

I like this analogy. It also plays into my earlier comment about
multiple
interpreters. How many people are satisfied with WMP, and how many
use a different media player like iTunes, WinAmp or VLC or mplayer
or whatever the flavor of the months is?

> Another thing is to add a little something to the websites. Two
> updates to Baf's Guide would smooth the process considerably. First,
> highlight the most recent game file download link a little better; use
> a little disc icon or something that tells the user "Download me!"
> Second, add a section that says "This is a z-code file. To open it,
> you will need an IF player that supports this format. We recommend
> Windows Frotz." Put in a link to the interpreter. I know it's
> unpleasant to play favorites, but I see it as a matter of priorities:
> play favorites, or lose users?

I would prefer if the websites recommended Gargoyle or Spatterlight,
but that's a given :)

Recommending an IF player that works for all the popular formats
is also a lot fewer downloads and format maze navigation than
recommending a different player for each format.

Tor

Eric Eve

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Jul 26, 2006, 11:49:18 AM7/26/06
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"Tor Andersson" <tor.an...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1153928248.9...@p79g2000cwp.googlegroups.com...

> I likewise have difficulty believing this is a difficult concept
> for
> users to grasp. Has anybody actually verified that this is a
> problem,
> or are we just guessing?

Well, it's a problem for me in that the editors of DHQ seem quite
exercised by it, and are in two minds whether to accept All Hope
Abandon for then on-line journal on the strength of it. They
obviously *think* that it'll be a problem for their target
readership, and that concern does seem to echo others that have been
expressed in other contexts on r*if.

-- Eric


Andrew Plotkin

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Jul 26, 2006, 12:09:12 PM7/26/06
to
Here, Janos <jano...@removethis.gmail.com> wrote:
>
> There was a thread, I think a year ago, where someone asked what could
> be done to raise the profile of IF. The main tool for that is developing
> systems that compile the games into click-and-play standalones, or
> what's better, into a form where you can play them on your browser.

The Babel spec (which grew out of discussions about metadata in the I7
compiler, but now encompasses several IF systems and the IF Archive)
has the seed of a better IF playing model. It's not implemented yet,
but Zoom has parts of it.

The model is iTunes rather than stand-alone executables: a way to
browse a list of games (from Baf's, from the Archive, wherever) and
then select one to play. There would be no distinct download step, and
no notion of "the IF game" as a separate file on your computer (unless
you explicitly asked for it).

The document is at <http://babel.ifarchive.org/>. I got a little ways
towards implementing this on the Archive side, but it got swamped by
other projects (and by delays in moving the Archive box to a faster
network connections, which we really need to do first).

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
If the Bush administration hasn't thrown you in military prison without trial,
it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're patriotic.

Rikard Peterson

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Jul 26, 2006, 1:03:57 PM7/26/06
to
"Gregory Weir" wrote in
news:1153924414.8...@m73g2000cwd.googlegroups.com:

> One thing we can do is change our terminology a bit.
> "Interpreter" is kind of a confusing term. I think that
> "IF Player" or something along those lines would resonate
> a bit more with the average computer user.

I like the ring of that.

--
Rikard
http://www.trumgottist.com/

Josh Lawrence

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Jul 26, 2006, 1:48:55 PM7/26/06
to
Tor Andersson wrote:
>
> I likewise have difficulty believing this is a difficult concept for
> users to grasp. Has anybody actually verified that this is a problem,
> or are we just guessing?
>

I can confirm that it's been a difficulty getting people I think would
like IF to actually play IF (outside of what's thankfully available to
play through a browser). It's not the concept is hard to grasp, it's
that it's clearly a pain to do. The previous analogies of where this
same procedure is needed are not quite applicable, either. Opening up
Word files is not something usually done for fun, it's done for
productivity (business productivity or creative productivity, or both).
Itunes is an all-in-one stop that manages downloading, organizing and
playing of the individual files for you. And even mp3 files are now
usually universally playable by built-in system media players on
various OS's, so you are really only collecting the mp3 files -- you
can then decide if you want a fancy player that lets you organize them,
etc.

I think an IF player that truly had the all-in-one functionality of
iTunes would be a huge step, and perhaps the Babel spec will allow
that.

I also think improvement on the web-browser based IF interpreters is
important, as that seems the most immediate solution for both
ease-of-use and cross-compatability (though that will still be an
issue, of course) -- just send someone the link to the game. And of,
course, more IF games available for through-browser play would be great
-- Iffiction.org does have a lot online, but it's sad that it stops at
2000.

> > Another thing is to add a little something to the websites. Two
> > updates to Baf's Guide would smooth the process considerably. First,
> > highlight the most recent game file download link a little better; use
> > a little disc icon or something that tells the user "Download me!"
> > Second, add a section that says "This is a z-code file. To open it,
> > you will need an IF player that supports this format. We recommend
> > Windows Frotz." Put in a link to the interpreter. I know it's
> > unpleasant to play favorites, but I see it as a matter of priorities:
> > play favorites, or lose users?
>
> I would prefer if the websites recommended Gargoyle or Spatterlight,
> but that's a given :)
>
> Recommending an IF player that works for all the popular formats
> is also a lot fewer downloads and format maze navigation than
> recommending a different player for each format.
>

I agree.

Also, sites that highlight particular IF games in appealing ways, such
as Adam Cadre's showcase of his own works:
http://adamcadre.ac/if.html

and the Oxford Pissheads IF 'favorites' pages:
http://diden.net/~maga/intfiction.htm

can help the cause of getting IF attention.

Josh

Janos

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Jul 26, 2006, 2:41:55 PM7/26/06
to
Tor Andersson wrote:

> I likewise have difficulty believing this is a difficult concept for
> users to grasp. Has anybody actually verified that this is a problem,
> or are we just guessing?

I doubt it very much that anyone has done a commercial grade study about
IF, but believe it, system like this is very hard to access for an
average user. When you know how to use computers and understand the
interpreter-code -difference, it's easy to get sort of speed blindness
about using a computer. I talked with people who have made market and
usability studies about casual and on-line games. The absolute maximum
you can force an user to do is to install a program with a simple wizard
to talk him or her through, and that's it. After that there's a massive
drop of people who are willing to go through the trouble. The worst
possible thing is to offer them a dozen alternative programs to run the
games.

> I don't think bundling games with interpreters is the way to go.
> There are too many platforms out there to support them all.
> Likewise, there is usually more than one interpreter for each platform,
> and which one to use is a highly personal choice.

Nothing prevents people from publishing standalones AND the code used by
the interpreter as a sort of continuity backup.

> I like this analogy. It also plays into my earlier comment about
> multiple
> interpreters. How many people are satisfied with WMP, and how many
> use a different media player like iTunes, WinAmp or VLC or mplayer
> or whatever the flavor of the months is?

Well, music is something people want to consume more than IF. People are
willing to jump through a couple of hoops to listen to their favourite
music, but IF is in the position where it has to be made very accessible
for people to grasp it.

--
Janos

Janos

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Jul 26, 2006, 2:45:44 PM7/26/06
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> The model is iTunes rather than stand-alone executables: a way to
> browse a list of games (from Baf's, from the Archive, wherever) and
> then select one to play. There would be no distinct download step, and
> no notion of "the IF game" as a separate file on your computer (unless
> you explicitly asked for it).

Damn, I certainly like the sound of that. Might be the kind of killer
application that makes IF games accessible for the grand public.

--
Janos

Paolo Maroncelli

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Jul 26, 2006, 2:51:01 PM7/26/06
to
Janos:

>The absolute maximum
>you can force an user to do is to install a program with a simple wizard
>to talk him or her through, and that's it. After that there's a massive
>drop of people who are willing to go through the trouble.

I can confirm this. Last week a friend of mine had seriuos trouble
understanding, downloading and using an interpreter to run an IF game for the
first time. I am talking about a well educated, graduated person, not too
confident with computers but really interested in Interactive Fiction.
So, the problem is clear and present.

PaoloM

Janos

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Jul 26, 2006, 2:52:52 PM7/26/06
to
Gregory Weir wrote:

> Of course, I don't see this as the biggest obstacle to expanding IF's
> audience, but that's another story.

Hmm. I think that a very major step in selling a product is to make it
as accessible as possible for the intended audience. If we compared the
situation, say, to an attempt to get home users move to Unix-like
operating systems, I'd say that in usability IF is now on the level of
early-90 Linux. What we need is the equivalent of Mac OS X :)

--
Janos

Mike Snyder

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Jul 26, 2006, 3:12:35 PM7/26/06
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"Tor Andersson" <tor.an...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1153928248.9...@p79g2000cwp.googlegroups.com...

> I likewise have difficulty believing this is a difficult concept for


> users to grasp. Has anybody actually verified that this is a problem,
> or are we just guessing?

It's a real problem. It's not a problem for *everybody* no, but as it was
pointed out, some people who might enjoy IF will miss out because they don't
know how to find and install an interpreter. Yeah, it seems like an easy
thing to do, but as we move further and further away from a world where
people actually know how their computer software works, fewer and fewer
people are going to jump through even the smallest of hoops to "try out"
something new.

I couldn't quite walk my mom through taking a screenshot of something she
wanted to print off a CD of x-rays. When it came to downloading and
installing a graphics program so she could cut-and-paste the results of a
print-screen, she was lost.

I've had people tell me that it's impossible to open my IF walkthroughs
because Windows tells them there is no associated program. Telling them
"it's just a plain-text with a .sol extension" file works half the time. For
the others, they have no idea how to open their text editor directly, go to
file->open, pick "all files", and then locate the walkthrough they saved. In
fact, in some cases, I'm just emailing it out as a .txt file. Makes their
life much easier.

I've had people ask me how to go about running my more recent works of IF,
when their OS doesn't know what a ".hex" file is. Some have given up --
they've *told* me they've given up -- without ever successfully installing
the Hugo runtime engine.

I was going about things the wrong way back when I wrote my IF in QB, but it
did have one advantage. You didn't have to install anything. Although today,
I'd have to go it one further and write or use an install wizard. I've had
people ask me what they were supposed to do with the .ZIP file, or where
they were supposed to put its contents, or how they were supposed to
"launch" the game (an .exe file) after they extracted from the archive. I
stopped being amazed at this quite a while ago.

Best case scenario is if IF that can be played entirely on the web (which is
possible with some IF platforms even now). People are able to manage their
web browser well enough, and it's something they get familiar with from the
start.

The ifiction.org site is a good start. If it were me, I'd consider spicing
up the main page to make it more appealing to first-time visitors (and maybe
making the "games" link, hidden within the body of the text, more visible).
Granted, I haven't used the site much, but a quick peek tells me it's the
right idea. How about a site that has online play for other platforms? How
about getting Adrift and Hugo to run on the web, maybe in GLK versions
(yeah, I looked at this for Hugo a while back, and decided I didn't have the
motivation to tackle it at the time).

David C's IF CD is another good idea. I think I played around with an
earlier .ISO. I'm not say get people to figure out how to burn .ISO to a CD
(they'd just as easily be able to install an interpreter, making it a
non-issue), but maybe make the CD's yourself and hand out to interested
friends. I don't remember if the entire things runs straight from the CD,
but I think it does.

---- Mike.


Robin Johnson

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Jul 26, 2006, 3:34:32 PM7/26/06
to

Janos wrote:
> There was a thread, I think a year ago, where someone asked what could
> be done to raise the profile of IF. The main tool for that is developing
> systems that compile the games into click-and-play standalones, or
> what's better, into a form where you can play them on your browser.

Will you people NEVER recognise my genius? :-)

http://www.versificator.co.uk

(Okay, so it's not a particularly *good* system. But it can be done.)

Robin Johnson

Janos

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Jul 26, 2006, 3:41:52 PM7/26/06
to
Robin Johnson wrote:

*golf clap* :)

--
Janos

Peter Mattsson

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Jul 26, 2006, 4:35:04 PM7/26/06
to
On Wed, 2006-07-26 at 16:09 +0000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> The model is iTunes rather than stand-alone executables: a way to
> browse a list of games (from Baf's, from the Archive, wherever) and
> then select one to play. There would be no distinct download step, and
> no notion of "the IF game" as a separate file on your computer (unless
> you explicitly asked for it).
>
> The document is at <http://babel.ifarchive.org/>. I got a little ways
> towards implementing this on the Archive side, but it got swamped by
> other projects (and by delays in moving the Archive box to a faster
> network connections, which we really need to do first).
>
> --Z

I'm in the early stages of implementing an IF story browser Firefox
extension. The idea is that it will offer an iTunes-like interface to
the user's local story library, as well as one or more online libraries
(e.g. the IF Archive), with the ability to launch stories from either
source. (If the user selects a story from a remote library, it will be
automatically downloaded and added to the local library in the
process.)

Babel provides almost everything that is required, but -- unless I've
missed something -- it isn't clear how such a browser should go about
retrieving a complete inventory from a library. If I'm reading the spec
right, all the metadata will be held in one place, but in the form of
separate files for each story. Is there also to be a single-file version
for browsers to download? (It would certainly be possible simply to
download every file individually, but I'm guessing that wouldn't be very
kind to the server.) If so, will there also be periodic update files, to
save browsers having to re-download everything to keep up-to-date?

On a related note, having read the rest of this thread, I'm also
considering how to guide users through installing an appropriate set of
interpreters. One way would be to bundle up a complete set for each
platform in an installer, which the browser setup wizard could offer to
download and launch. From my point of view, it would make sense to host
these at the IF Archive as well, and ideally provide a means to notify
browsers when they are updated (providing an easy way to keep users
up-to-date).

I'm hoping that the end result of all this will be a system that
combines the best qualities of local and internet play. For example, if
a user came across a storyfile on the internet, they could simply
double-click on it and the browser would take care of downloading the
story, adding it to their local library and launching an appropriate
interpreter. The only real downside -- apart, in this case, from the
need to use Firefox -- would be the need to go through an initial
install process. However, that could be made very straightforward, and
it would mean that the user always had access to their local library.

One last point: a system like this could completely hide the
storyfile/interpreter duality from users; would this ultimately be a
good thing? To use the iTunes analogy, songs can be in one of several
formats (e.g. mp3, ogg vorbis, aac), and this can be hidden most of the
time, but it becomes an issue when e.g. copying them to a portable
player that doesn't support all the same formats that the main system
does. With songs, the solution is to transcode them to an appropriate
format, but that's not possible for IF. Should the browser make clear
from the outset that stories come in several formats, just as songs do,
or will that confuse more people than it helps?

Cheers,

Peter

Andrew Plotkin

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Jul 26, 2006, 4:47:51 PM7/26/06
to
Here, Peter Mattsson <peter.m...@xyzzylineone.net> wrote:
> On Wed, 2006-07-26 at 16:09 +0000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> > The model is iTunes rather than stand-alone executables: a way to
> > browse a list of games (from Baf's, from the Archive, wherever) and
> > then select one to play. There would be no distinct download step, and
> > no notion of "the IF game" as a separate file on your computer (unless
> > you explicitly asked for it).
> >
> > The document is at <http://babel.ifarchive.org/>. I got a little ways
> > towards implementing this on the Archive side, but it got swamped by
> > other projects (and by delays in moving the Archive box to a faster
> > network connections, which we really need to do first).
>
> I'm in the early stages of implementing an IF story browser Firefox
> extension. The idea is that it will offer an iTunes-like interface to
> the user's local story library, as well as one or more online libraries
> (e.g. the IF Archive), with the ability to launch stories from either
> source. (If the user selects a story from a remote library, it will be
> automatically downloaded and added to the local library in the
> process.)
>
> Babel provides almost everything that is required, but -- unless I've
> missed something -- it isn't clear how such a browser should go about
> retrieving a complete inventory from a library. If I'm reading the spec
> right, all the metadata will be held in one place, but in the form of
> separate files for each story. Is there also to be a single-file version
> for browsers to download?

Babel doesn't cover the format of an IF library, and
babel.ifarchive.org is not itself a library. It's not really meant for
"download the whole universe at once".

The idea, I think, would be that the user browses games via some other
means -- the Archive or Baf's Guide or the ADRIFT game collection or
wherever. (The Archive lets you download its entire index as an XML
file. That's horrible, and part of my upgrade plans involve better
ways to do that.) The service provides IFIDs as part of its index
information. The browser can then go to babel.ifarchive.org with the
IFID and do the rest of the job.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't subjected you to searches without a
warrant, it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because of
the Fourth Amendment.

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Jul 26, 2006, 6:34:52 PM7/26/06
to
On Wed, 2006-07-26 at 20:47 +0000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> Here, Peter Mattsson <peter.m...@xyzzylineone.net> wrote:
> > I'm in the early stages of implementing an IF story browser Firefox
> > extension. The idea is that it will offer an iTunes-like interface to
> > the user's local story library, as well as one or more online libraries
> > (e.g. the IF Archive), with the ability to launch stories from either
> > source. (If the user selects a story from a remote library, it will be
> > automatically downloaded and added to the local library in the
> > process.)
> >
> > Babel provides almost everything that is required, but -- unless I've
> > missed something -- it isn't clear how such a browser should go about
> > retrieving a complete inventory from a library. If I'm reading the spec
> > right, all the metadata will be held in one place, but in the form of
> > separate files for each story. Is there also to be a single-file version
> > for browsers to download?
>
> Babel doesn't cover the format of an IF library, and
> babel.ifarchive.org is not itself a library. It's not really meant for
> "download the whole universe at once".
Maybe I've misunderstood, but I read the spec to mean that the iFiction
format could be used as a sort of database format by browsers (as Zoom
already does). All I was really thinking was that, if the IF Archive
provided its index (or at least the part of it that relates to story
files) in iFiction format, browsers could download it. It would be a
large file, but it would only need to be done once (assuming that
incremental update files were also provided). The advantage is that the
browser could then present the user with the entire contents of the
Archive to choose from, obviating the need to ever go to there directly.
In thinking of something along the lines of Linux package managers (e.g.
Synaptic) which behave in this way, and which I find quite useful.

>
> The idea, I think, would be that the user browses games via some other
> means -- the Archive or Baf's Guide or the ADRIFT game collection or
> wherever. (The Archive lets you download its entire index as an XML
> file. That's horrible, and part of my upgrade plans involve better
> ways to do that.) The service provides IFIDs as part of its index
> information. The browser can then go to babel.ifarchive.org with the
> IFID and do the rest of the job.

Why don't we offer people the choice? The planned browser would also
support this approach, but I'd like to try a completely browser-centric
approach as well and see what people prefer. If you could see your way
to offering the storyfile part of the index in iFiction format, the
browser could do the rest. Even a restricted version (providing just
IFID, title, headline, author, year, genre and group for each story,
say) would be enough to populate a story list, and further details could
be downloaded on demand.

Cheers,

Peter

Paolo Maroncelli

unread,
Jul 26, 2006, 7:37:42 PM7/26/06
to
Mike Snyder:

>Best case scenario is if IF that can be played entirely on the web (which is
>possible with some IF platforms even now). People are able to manage their
>web browser well enough, and it's something they get familiar with from the
>start.

Personally I don't believe in web IF gaming. IMHO what people need is this
scenario:

- download game
- install game
- double click on an icon

To achieve this result, the best solution may be to bundle the interpreter and
the game.

PaoloM

Emily Short

unread,
Jul 26, 2006, 7:41:14 PM7/26/06
to

Paolo Maroncelli wrote:
> Mike Snyder:
>
> >Best case scenario is if IF that can be played entirely on the web (which is
> >possible with some IF platforms even now). People are able to manage their
> >web browser well enough, and it's something they get familiar with from the
> >start.
>
> Personally I don't believe in web IF gaming.

In my experience it's not so bad if the game is pretty short and
simple, but for anything long it starts to get cumbersome -- I would
rather have my save files on my own machine.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Jul 26, 2006, 8:32:19 PM7/26/06
to
Here, Peter Mattsson <peter.m...@xyzzylineone.net> wrote:
> On Wed, 2006-07-26 at 20:47 +0000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> > Here, Peter Mattsson <peter.m...@xyzzylineone.net> wrote:
> > >
> > > Babel provides almost everything that is required, but -- unless I've
> > > missed something -- it isn't clear how such a browser should go about
> > > retrieving a complete inventory from a library. If I'm reading the spec
> > > right, all the metadata will be held in one place, but in the form of
> > > separate files for each story. Is there also to be a single-file version
> > > for browsers to download?
> >
> > Babel doesn't cover the format of an IF library, and
> > babel.ifarchive.org is not itself a library. It's not really meant for
> > "download the whole universe at once".
>
> Maybe I've misunderstood, but I read the spec to mean that the iFiction
> format could be used as a sort of database format by browsers (as Zoom
> already does). All I was really thinking was that, if the IF Archive
> provided its index (or at least the part of it that relates to story
> files) in iFiction format, browsers could download it.

It will provide an index. But the details have not been worked out,
and the Babel document will not specify them. ifarchive.org and
babel.ifarchive.org are different services, and we are trying to
maintain a clear notion of what each one does.

What will actually happen is that there will be some kind of index
file supplied by the Archive -- this will not be part of the babel
service. It will not contain iFiction files directly, but it will
contain IFIDs for each game, so you can get what you want with a
double lookup.

Now, given the babel layout, you'll probably also be able to look at
http://babel.ifarchive.org/metadata/ and *see* a list of IFIDs. I'm
not sure whether to encourage that or discourage it. The point is that
providing a list of games is a separate function, and the babel
service is never going to do it *well*. Something else will; maybe
something new, maybe not.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

It used to be that "conservatives" were in favor of smaller government,
fiscal responsibility, and tighter constraints on the Man's ability to
monitor you, arrest you, and control your life.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jul 26, 2006, 11:08:38 PM7/26/06
to
"Paolo Maroncelli" <pmaro...@racine.ra.it> wrote:
> Personally I don't believe in web IF gaming. IMHO what people need
> is this scenario:
>
> - download game
> - install game
> - double click on an icon
>
> To achieve this result, the best solution may be to bundle the interpreter
> and the game.

That's the easiest way to do it now, yes. As others have mentioned, there
are two big drawbacks with this approach. First, there's the overhead of
creating and storing the multiple OS-specific bundles for every game, and
some potential confusion for the player in having to pick which one to
download. Second, there's the malware risk of having to trust not just a
few terp authors, but every game author.

The vision for the "itunes-like browser" that's been mentioned a few times
(the vision I have in mind, at least) is that it'll solve the installation
problem for end users, without all the drawbacks of bundling a terp in every
game.

The ideal as I see it is that the end user would only have to manually
install the super IF player app, and from that point on all matters of
installation would be invisible - games would be downloaded on demand and
cached in a suitable local directory, and even the interpreter engines would
be downloaded, installed, and updated automatically as needed, without any
user intervention. That last part is maybe a bit iffy from a malware
perspective. But given that the total number of terps will never be that
large, I'm optimistic that this could be addressed to most people's
satisfaction, maybe with a centrally maintained list of trustworthy terps or
something like that. And anyway, it's a heck of lot less risky than
downloading a bundled terp in every game.

The game browsing and automatic download part is already here, and I expect
it will become ubiquitous once babel.ifarchive.org is fully operational.
Omni-terps of the Spatterlight variety (i.e, terps that incorporate most of
the popular VM engines) are a good intermediate step - that approach largely
eliminates the need for the end user to install lots of different terp
packages, but the user might still find herself needing to install updates
to the omni-terp frequently to keep up with all of the incorporated engines.

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com


Torne

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 9:32:47 AM7/27/06
to
Mike Roberts wrote:
> That's the easiest way to do it now, yes. As others have mentioned, there
> are two big drawbacks with this approach. First, there's the overhead of
> creating and storing the multiple OS-specific bundles for every game, and
> some potential confusion for the player in having to pick which one to
> download. Second, there's the malware risk of having to trust not just a
> few terp authors, but every game author.

A central archive on the Web could eliminate both these problems (at
least for files on the central archive): have the user tell the archive
what OS they use (with it defaulting to guessing using User-Agent) and
then let them browse all the games. When they pick one, the server
creates, on the fly (and probably caches) a self-contained interpreter
+ game bundle appropriate to that OS. You can even control the
availability of the games in the list depending on whether there is a
known matching interpreter for that OS.

This can be made particularly trivial for the server if you abuse the
relevant executable specifications for the OSes enough to allow the
game file to simply be concatenated onto the end of the interpreter's
binary (or installer) - this is possible on many OSes, perhaps not all.

You have a small runtime overhead (can be made very small by
concatenation) that's offset by caching, but don't have to store N
times as much data. The player, 99% of the time, will be browsing the
archive from the computer they intend to run the game on, so the
automatic interpreter choice will be correct and they need not
understand the issue. There's no need to trust the game authors, only
the archive operator. And, the game's raw data file is trivially
available as well for people who already have an interpreter of their
choice.

The iTunes-style player is a great idea, but having the archive take
care of it all on the server side may be a good stopgap, and may even
be *more* accessible.

I don't know which interpreters support bundling, or what is required
to do it at the moment: but, I suspect various of the Glx terps
(Gargoyle and so on) could easily be modified to support this.
Appending data by blind concatenation is certainly possible on Windows
- adding more data doesn't impact the exe running at all, and then if
nothing else the program can mmap() itself, look at its header to
determine its 'real' length, and then start reading the data from the
next byte.

Just an idea :)

--
Torne Wuff
to...@wolfpuppy.org.uk
the electric wolf puppy

Zellyn Hunter

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 9:58:08 AM7/27/06
to
Tor Andersson wrote:
> I would prefer if the websites recommended Gargoyle or Spatterlight,
> but that's a given :)
>
> Recommending an IF player that works for all the popular formats
> is also a lot fewer downloads and format maze navigation than
> recommending a different player for each format.

I'd just like to jump in and say a quick thanks for Gargoyle. The only
problem I've found with it is that it's spoiled me - I'm now unable to
play IF in anything less pretty!

Zellyn

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 1:42:45 PM7/27/06
to
On Thu, 2006-07-27 at 00:32 +0000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> What will actually happen is that there will be some kind of index
> file supplied by the Archive -- this will not be part of the babel
> service. It will not contain iFiction files directly, but it will
> contain IFIDs for each game, so you can get what you want with a
> double lookup.
>
> Now, given the babel layout, you'll probably also be able to look at
> http://babel.ifarchive.org/metadata/ and *see* a list of IFIDs. I'm
> not sure whether to encourage that or discourage it. The point is that
> providing a list of games is a separate function, and the babel
> service is never going to do it *well*. Something else will; maybe
> something new, maybe not.

Bootstrapping a list of IFIDs into a complete set of metadata is fine
for a browser, but I thought it would be considered antisocial
behaviour. Baf's currently lists 2912 games, a number of which have
ports to several different platforms, or several distinct releases. Even
if it only happens once, having each instance of a browser throw several
thousand queries at the IF Archive server in quick succession doesn't
sound clever. A better plan might be to bundle a set of metadata with
the browser, so that it only needs to worry about additions to the
archive since it was packaged, but this approach will ultimately --
assuming users take to it -- still end up sending a fair amount of
queries to the Archive, something I was trying to avoid.

Although babel.ifarchive.org and ifarchive.org are different services,
surely it doesn't make sense to have them do things differently just for
the sake of it? For example, one way forward might be to have the master
index xml format broadly follow the iFiction format, where appropriate.
In other words, where a piece of information would also be found in a
game's iFiction file, it could be tagged the same way. The index would
miss a number of tags that would normally be found in an iFiction file,
and would have a number that have no equivalent in the iFiction spec,
but it would potentially allow an iFiction parser straightforwardly to
extract information from the index. From my point of view, if the index
contained title, author, year and genre information (say) for each game,
this would be enough to allow a browser to present a list of games to
the user. It could then download iFiction files on demand, rather than
having to have all of them to hand at all times.

Alternatively, if you decide on an index format that doesn't contain all
the information a browser would want, I could look into setting up my
own server, to provide a more appropriate index to any browser that
wants it. Would that be a better plan?

You say that babel was never designed for this and cannot do it well;
does that mean you have any thoughts about how the job might be done?

Cheers, and thanks for listening,

Peter

Stebbins

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 2:45:31 PM7/27/06
to
Paolo Maroncelli wrote:
> Personally I don't believe in web IF gaming.

The internet may not be the best place to play IF, but it can
definitely be effective at hooking newcomers. I discovered the wonders
of IF by playing the games on Zarf's website. If I hadn't gotten that
sample, and had had to download the game files and interpreter just to
try out the medium, I wouldn't have given IF a second thought. Of
course, I would never go back to playing IF online now, but we
shouldn't underestimate the importance of making games available
online.

There ought to be a website (and maybe there already is, I don't know)
that hosts a selection of popular/acclaimed works of IF that can be
played in a web browser. These should be fairly short pieces that can
be played through in one sitting, like "Shade" or "Galatea". Making a
few good games easily available like this will definitely help increase
general awareness of IF, and a lot of people will be intrigued enough
to download some interpreters so that they can play more games.

We can't expect people to go out of their way to play IF unless we show
them how rewarding it is.

~Stebbins

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 4:24:53 PM7/27/06
to
Here, Peter Mattsson <peter.m...@xyzzylineone.net> wrote:
> On Thu, 2006-07-27 at 00:32 +0000, Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> > What will actually happen is that there will be some kind of index
> > file supplied by the Archive -- this will not be part of the babel
> > service. It will not contain iFiction files directly, but it will
> > contain IFIDs for each game, so you can get what you want with a
> > double lookup.
> >
> > Now, given the babel layout, you'll probably also be able to look at
> > http://babel.ifarchive.org/metadata/ and *see* a list of IFIDs. I'm
> > not sure whether to encourage that or discourage it. The point is that
> > providing a list of games is a separate function, and the babel
> > service is never going to do it *well*. Something else will; maybe
> > something new, maybe not.
>
> Bootstrapping a list of IFIDs into a complete set of metadata is fine
> for a browser, but I thought it would be considered antisocial
> behaviour. Baf's currently lists 2912 games, a number of which have
> ports to several different platforms, or several distinct releases. Even
> if it only happens once, having each instance of a browser throw several
> thousand queries at the IF Archive server in quick succession doesn't
> sound clever.

One query that grabs an archive of thousands of results, as a single
file, is equally bad. Outgoing bandwidth is going to be the limiting
factor. Separate queries can at least be throttled -- but it would be
much better to set up a browser that doesn't do this at all. Caching
this stuff client-side is great, but it should be combined with a
fetch-on-demand model.

(The one thing iTunes doesn't do, after all, is dump you a complete
catalog so that you can browse it.)

> Although babel.ifarchive.org and ifarchive.org are different services,
> surely it doesn't make sense to have them do things differently just for
> the sake of it? For example, one way forward might be to have the master
> index xml format broadly follow the iFiction format, where
> appropriate.

We looked at that, but it turns out that the Archive index stores a
pretty different set of data. I think it will be better to take a
relational approach: different "tables" related by the IFID "key".

> You say that babel was never designed for this and cannot do it well;
> does that mean you have any thoughts about how the job might be done?

Well, I've already mentioned the idea of using Baf's Guide as an index
service. It has searches and all that -- surely that could be adapted
for use by a game browser.

(Possibly you thought I meant "browse it in a web browser"? I didn't
-- I meant have the game browser do searches via some kind of exported
API. Could be HTTP queries returning XML, or whatever.)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

If the Bush administration hasn't subjected you to searches without a warrant,

it's for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're innocent.

peter.m...@lineone.net

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 6:24:36 PM7/27/06
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> (The one thing iTunes doesn't do, after all, is dump you a complete
> catalog so that you can browse it.)

I guess I'm really thinking more of Linux package managers, which do
dump you a complete catalogue (usually much bigger than an IF library
would be) for you to browse.

> Well, I've already mentioned the idea of using Baf's Guide as an index
> service. It has searches and all that -- surely that could be adapted
> for use

> (Possibly you thought I meant "browse it in a web browser"? I didn't
> -- I meant have the game browser do searches via some kind of exported
> API. Could be HTTP queries returning XML, or whatever.)

This makes sense, though you'd need to limit the number of results
returned. One thing that would worry me, though, is that you might end
up serving *more* data this way, if too many users submit too many
broad searches. (I'm not sure how much help a client-side cache would
be in this situation.)

The other thing about this approach is that it makes the searches less
dynamic, because you have to keep going back and forth to the server
for results. For example, I've become used to the Firefox 'Find in This
Page' function, which instantly updates with each keypress. By
comparison, even entering a search term and clicking 'OK' seems kludgy.

The more I think about it, the more I'd like to try my way and see how
it goes (directing users to a different server, not the Archive). At a
guess, an index composed of just the basic info on each game (e.g.
ifid, title, author, genre) should amount to no more than 1Mb or so,
which is quite manageable by modern standards. It would almost
certainly require less bandwidth than, say, bundling an interpreter
with every game, as has been suggested elsewhere in this thread.

Anyway, all this is a bit moot until there's more metadata to play
with. The idea of semi-automatic translation from Baf's has been raised
before; is there any reason not to set that rolling? Even if it takes a
while for people to actually have the time to do much, we could perhaps
start soliciting volunteers.

Cheers,

Peter

Mike Snyder

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 6:31:27 PM7/27/06
to
"Stebbins" <moja...@yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:1154025931.2...@i42g2000cwa.googlegroups.com...

> Paolo Maroncelli wrote:
> > Personally I don't believe in web IF gaming.
>
> There ought to be a website (and maybe there already is, I don't know)
> that hosts a selection of popular/acclaimed works of IF that can be
> played in a web browser. These should be fairly short pieces that can

http://www.ifiction.org

---- Mike.


Brian Slesinsky

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 7:04:07 PM7/27/06
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> (The one thing iTunes doesn't do, after all, is dump you a complete
> catalog so that you can browse it.)

It does, however, let you search and browse songs in the iTunes music
store in a way that's fairly similar to browsing your local collection.

To make search work, you need to either download enough information
about each game to do the search locally, or else have an online search
engine. Downloading 10MB of metadata isn't a nice out-of-the-box
experience for people on slow networks, so it probably needs to be
online.

(A quick hack to get something working might be to convert the data
into Google Base format and upload it to Google.)

- Brian

Tor Andersson

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 7:16:15 PM7/27/06
to

peter.m...@lineone.net wrote:
> Anyway, all this is a bit moot until there's more metadata to play
> with. The idea of semi-automatic translation from Baf's has been raised
> before; is there any reason not to set that rolling? Even if it takes a
> while for people to actually have the time to do much, we could perhaps
> start soliciting volunteers.

http://ccxvii.net/spatterlight/download/md-bafsguide.zip
http://ccxvii.net/spatterlight/download/md-bafsguidenorev.zip

With and without reviews in the description field; 232kb and 64kb.

Tor

Stebbins

unread,
Jul 27, 2006, 10:48:36 PM7/27/06
to

Aha. It seems I am behind the times.

[...peruses website...]

Hmm. It seems this website is even more behind the times than I.

For starters, the design is terribly sparse. Sparseness seems to be a
common theme among a lot of IF websites. Considering the nature of the
games we are trying to publicize, I suppose it makes sense. But plain
black text on a white background isn't going to attract anyone's
attention.

Second, this website does nothing to highlight modern IF. Of the five
main links in the Games section, three are dedicated exclusively to
"old school" IF. As for the remaining two, "Interpreter Abuse" is
unlikely to mean anything to the average computer user, and "Awards and
Competitions" stops in the year 2000.

Most importantly, the site doesn't do nearly enough to draw attention
to _good_ IF. Sure, there is a XYZZY Awards section, but how many
people outside of this community know what a XYZZY Award is? Suppose a
casual web-surfer decides to visit the IF Comp pages. The placing for
each game is listed underneath the game's hyperlink, but the games are
listed alphabetically. That drastically increases the odds that the
casual web-surfer will play something like "1-2-3..." instead of
scrolling through the list to find the top placing game (which, in the
case of Comp 2000, would be a fruitless search anyway). Call me crazy,
but I don't think Chris Mudd would make the ideal IF ambassador.

In short: Yes, this is a collection of IF online. But it's out-of-date
and isn't newbie friendly.

essell

unread,
Jul 28, 2006, 8:36:49 AM7/28/06
to
I agree that:

1. A single, universal IF Player is the ideal to be strived for,
although I'm sure it's easier said than done.

Online is nice, but feels temporary, distant, and well... like reading
a website. It's nice to have the stuff you want on your computer, as
with mp3s.

2. That the website could do with a redesign to make it a little more
attractive, accessible and functional to new and current users alike.
Is it someone / people on here that run / designed it? I'd be
interested in helping out if the opportunity is there.

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Jul 28, 2006, 1:15:45 PM7/28/06
to

Good work! Would it make sense to break this up into individual iFiction
files and start populating babel.ifarchive.org/metadata with the
results? (For that matter, would it be a good time to suggest that all
games that are added to the Archive from now on should include at least
a basic iFiction record? That should also make it easier to keep Baf's
up-to-date.)

If we do this, someone -- ideally the games' authors, otherwise a team
of volunteers -- should probably go through this metadata and tidy it
up. Being auto-generated, it's inevitably going to be a little off in
places. (The most obvious thing that comes to mind is that a number of
games included ancillary files -- e.g. feelies -- and these should be
noted in the metadata.)

The other thing that's a little awkward is that any game with more than
one release in the Archive has one record per release. For the purposes
of identifying a given file, this is fine, but it's a little awkward for
a browser (which will want to offer the latest release by default). For
z-code files, the release number is built into the IFID, but that's not
the case with e.g. TADS files. If a TADS game has had, say, three
releases, there's no way to tell from the auto-generated data which one
is the most recent. In these cases, it would be useful if someone could
add release information. (In practice, this could be done automatically,
by assigning a release number of 1 to the oldest file, 2 to the
next-oldest, etc. The release numbers wouldn't be correct, but they
would at least let browsers pick the right file. The numbers could be
corrected later.)

The last thing to do after that would be to populate
http://babel.ifarchive.org/download/IFID (another job that could be done
automatically) and we could get started offering an iTunes-like service.

Looking back at the above, it looks like getting a service going
shouldn't be too hard, but getting everything perfect will probably take
a while!

Cheers,

Peter

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Jul 28, 2006, 1:30:09 PM7/28/06
to
On Thu, 2006-07-27 at 16:04 -0700, Brian Slesinsky wrote:
> To make search work, you need to either download enough information
> about each game to do the search locally, or else have an online search
> engine. Downloading 10MB of metadata isn't a nice out-of-the-box
> experience for people on slow networks, so it probably needs to be
> online.

Thanks to Tor's hard work, it seems that getting basic metadata for the
current Archive would be a 64kb download, with more complete data taking
232kb. (Tor's data seems only to include those games playable on modern
'terps -- so no MS-DOS games or the like -- but (a) those are the ones
most people will be interested in and (b) it still amounts to data on
almost half the Archive.) These figures will undoubtedly rise over time,
particularly if a significant amount of cover art is added (and people
want to see it in their browser) but they give an idea of the ballpark
we're likely to be playing in.

Even on dial-up, people could retrieve 232kb in 1-2 minutes, and
subsequent updates would be a lot smaller. With these figures, I'd say
that downloading it all and searching locally makes sense. It would also
mean that dial-up users could search while offline, select the games
they'd like to add to their local library, then go online and get them.

Cheers,

Peter

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Jul 28, 2006, 1:34:50 PM7/28/06
to
On Fri, 2006-07-28 at 05:36 -0700, essell wrote:
> 2. That the website could do with a redesign to make it a little more
> attractive, accessible and functional to new and current users alike.
> Is it someone / people on here that run / designed it? I'd be
> interested in helping out if the opportunity is there.

I'd also be interested in helping out with any redesign.

Cheers,

Peter

Mantar, Feyelno nek dusa

unread,
Jul 29, 2006, 10:53:09 PM7/29/06
to
On Fri, 28 Jul 2006 05:36:49 -0700, essell wrote:

> Online is nice, but feels temporary, distant, and well... like reading a
> website. It's nice to have the stuff you want on your computer, as with
> mp3s.

I've heard about these MP3 things, but they're too much hassle. I'm not
fooling with them until everyone decides on one player, and it's included
in the MP3s. *g*

Richard Bos

unread,
Jul 30, 2006, 6:58:20 PM7/30/06
to
peter.m...@lineone.net wrote:

> Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> > (The one thing iTunes doesn't do, after all, is dump you a complete
> > catalog so that you can browse it.)
>
> I guess I'm really thinking more of Linux package managers, which do
> dump you a complete catalogue (usually much bigger than an IF library
> would be) for you to browse.

Because we all know how comfortable the general public is with the Linux
installation and configuration process, right?

Richard

Mantar, Feyelno nek dusa

unread,
Jul 30, 2006, 7:53:19 PM7/30/06
to
On Sun, 30 Jul 2006 22:58:20 +0000, Richard Bos wrote:

> peter.m...@lineone.net wrote:
>> I guess I'm really thinking more of Linux package managers, which do
>> dump you a complete catalogue (usually much bigger than an IF library
>> would be) for you to browse.
>
> Because we all know how comfortable the general public is with the Linux
> installation and configuration process, right?

Um. Have you /tried/ it in the last five years? You browse through a
catalog of software, mark the little checkbox next to something you want,
and hit the install button. A minute later it's ready to run. Terribly
complicated, hmm? Why, I bet you need a degree from MIT to do that.

Now if he were talking about compiling from source you might have a
point, but he's not, and even so, it's generally a lot easier,
out-of-the-box, to compile from source on Linux than on most other OSes,
since you tend to have the necessary development setup available from
those afore-mentioned checkboxes to make it possible. But that's a whole
different discussion.

--
- Mantar --- Drop YourPantiesSirWilliam to email me.

Taz

unread,
Jul 30, 2006, 8:46:39 PM7/30/06
to

It's not the actual difficulty we have to contend with though. Hell,
getting IF to work on your computer is easy. It's the percieved
difficulty. Getting people to step outside of their comfort zones as
far as computers are concerned is not an easy task. It's very rare to
find someone who's willing to try something different, let alone wants to.

I've started pimping IF on a geek website I'm a part of, and even then I
had requests for simplification. =/

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 7:32:58 AM7/31/06
to
On Mon, 2006-07-31 at 10:16 +0930, Taz wrote:
> I've started pimping IF on a geek website I'm a part of, and even then I
> had requests for simplification. =/

What sort of problems were people having? No self-respecting geek should
have any difficulty with the technical business of installing a terp and
starting a game on it, so this must, as you say, be down to perceived
difficulty. If so, we just need to find the right way to explain things.
Do you have any tips/insights?

Cheers,

Peter

Taz

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 8:48:39 AM7/31/06
to

In this case I think it was more down to lazyness than difficulty. Once
I posted in the following format:
link to terp
link to game it plays (and short explanation)
link to game it plays 2 (and short explanation)
A few more people tried it (or said they're try it - no feedback so far =/)

So laziness is also a factor.

Other than using a simple format to introduce people (as I tried to do)
I'm not sure what we could do.

I've already posted here about my love for 'Adventure Blaster.'
Something like that that includes the terps, some good games with a
short explanation, hints and walkthroughs would be ideal for introducing
people to IF. It's everything they need in one downloadable file with
installer. If it worked on XP I'd be using that to introduce people.

I think if we* built something along those lines with some good IF intro
games we would have more success getting people to try IF (an program
that springs to mind is 'A bear's night out'). Once we have them hooked
*insert evil laugh* they will realise how easy it really is.

*I say we in the 'someone else' sense because my coding and technical
skills are nil, though I'd be prepared to work on an interface.

PS I use terps because I don't know what programs like the z-machine
etc are called generically. I'm guessing that's it - but what does it mean?

Taz

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 8:54:36 AM7/31/06
to

In this case I think it was more down to lazyness. Once I posted in the

following format:
link to terp
link to game it plays (and short explanation)
link to game it plays 2 (and short explanation)

A few more people tried it (or said they'd try it - no feedback so far =/)

So laziness is also a factor.

Other than using a simple format to introduce people (as I tried to do)
I'm not sure what we could do.

I've already posted here about my love for 'Adventure Blaster.'

It includes the terps, some good games and a short explanation, hints
and walkthroughs. It would be ideal for introducing people to IF. It's

everything they need in one downloadable file with installer.

If it worked on XP I'd be using that to introduce people.

I think if we* built something along those lines with some good IF intro

games we would have more success getting people to try IF (a program

that springs to mind is 'A bear's night out'). Once we have them hooked
*insert evil laugh* they will realise how easy it really is.

*I say we in the 'someone else' sense because my coding and technical
skills are nil, though I'd be prepared to work on an interface.

PS I use terps because I don't know what the name for programs like the
z-machine is. I'm guessing that's it - but what does it mean?

Message has been deleted

Taz

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 9:02:56 AM7/31/06
to
Taz wrote:
> In this case I think it was more down to lazyness. Once I posted in
the
> following format:
> link to terp
> link to game it plays (and short explanation)
> link to game it plays 2 (and short explanation)
> A few more people tried it (or said they'd try it - no feedback so far =/)
>
> So laziness is also a factor.
>
> Other than using a simple format to introduce people (as I tried to do)
> I'm not sure what we could do.
>
> I've already posted here about my love for 'Adventure Blaster.'
> It includes the terps, some good games and a short explanation, hints
> and walkthroughs. It would be ideal for introducing people to IF. It's
> everything they need in one downloadable file with installer.
>
> If it worked on XP I'd be using that to introduce people.
>
> I think if we* built something along those lines with some good IF intro
> games we would have more success getting people to try IF (a program
> that springs to mind is 'A bear's night out'). Once we have them hooked
> *insert evil laugh* they will realise how easy it really is.
>
>
>
> *I say we in the 'someone else' sense because my coding and technical
> skills are nil, though I'd be prepared to work on an interface.
>
>
>
> PS I use terps because I don't know what the name for programs like the
> z-machine is. I'm guessing that's it - but what does it mean?

I would like to add that this is easily expandable. Say include 10
games at first and If it takes off then it would be relatively easy to
expand upon. People can download games and use them with their
'Adventure Blaster' (Anyone want to come up with a new name? =p).
Afterall the data is all available on Baf's (the review and rating and
often hints and walkthroughs as well).

Janos

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 1:11:11 PM7/31/06
to

I don't think the operative word is difficulty, but accessibility. As
Taz below said, it's a matter of laziness, and I don't think any amount
of explaining is going to help that.

Hmm, I think a nice example would be a situation where a sports-crazy
pal is trying to get you interested in soccer and baseball and there are
some exciting games coming up which he thinks you might like. Except
that to watch them you have to phone into to the cable company to
subscribe to fictional free sports channel packs, some of which
specialize in soccer, some baseball. The chance of you just happening to
spontaneuously tune in and watch a game went down like the Titanic. It's
an extra step of effort for geeks and non-geeks alike.

But yeah, with the computer-savvy audience, starting to call
interpreters as "IF-players" or something similar is not a half-bad
idea. Gamers have a precedent in Steam and Stardock Central, for example.

--
Janos

Tor Andersson

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 1:31:58 PM7/31/06
to
Peter Mattsson wrote:
> On Thu, 2006-07-27 at 16:16 -0700, Tor Andersson wrote:
> > peter.m...@lineone.net wrote:
> > > Anyway, all this is a bit moot until there's more metadata to play
> > > with. The idea of semi-automatic translation from Baf's has been raised
> > > before; is there any reason not to set that rolling? Even if it takes a
> > > while for people to actually have the time to do much, we could perhaps
> > > start soliciting volunteers.
> >
> > http://ccxvii.net/spatterlight/download/md-bafsguide.zip
> > http://ccxvii.net/spatterlight/download/md-bafsguidenorev.zip
> >
> > With and without reviews in the description field; 232kb and 64kb.
>
> Good work! Would it make sense to break this up into individual iFiction
> files and start populating babel.ifarchive.org/metadata with the
> results? (For that matter, would it be a good time to suggest that all
> games that are added to the Archive from now on should include at least
> a basic iFiction record? That should also make it easier to keep Baf's
> up-to-date.)

You'll have to ask the archive maintainers about that.

> If we do this, someone -- ideally the games' authors, otherwise a team
> of volunteers -- should probably go through this metadata and tidy it
> up. Being auto-generated, it's inevitably going to be a little off in
> places. (The most obvious thing that comes to mind is that a number of
> games included ancillary files -- e.g. feelies -- and these should be
> noted in the metadata.)

This is the biggest problem with the files; a lot of the data is off in
some places.
Especially true for those games with translations. There is no
correlation in
Baf's database between translated title, language, and game file.

I didn't even try messing with ancillary files or cover art.

The source I used for generating this is on my web page, if someone
else
wants to tinker with it. Beware that it requires that you download
almost all of the ifarchive (roughly 500mb) to do the necessary
munging.

http://ccxvii.net/repos/babelminer/

Tor

Adam Thornton

unread,
Jul 31, 2006, 7:53:35 PM7/31/06
to
In article <PQqzg.28374$9Z3....@reader1.news.jippii.net>,

Janos <jano...@removethis.gmail.com> wrote:
>I don't think the operative word is difficulty, but accessibility. As
>Taz below said, it's a matter of laziness, and I don't think any amount
>of explaining is going to help that.
>
>Hmm, I think a nice example would be a situation where a sports-crazy
>pal is trying to get you interested in soccer and baseball and there are
>some exciting games coming up which he thinks you might like. Except
>that to watch them you have to phone into to the cable company to
>subscribe to fictional free sports channel packs, some of which
>specialize in soccer, some baseball. The chance of you just happening to
>spontaneuously tune in and watch a game went down like the Titanic. It's
>an extra step of effort for geeks and non-geeks alike.
>
>But yeah, with the computer-savvy audience, starting to call
>interpreters as "IF-players" or something similar is not a half-bad
>idea. Gamers have a precedent in Steam and Stardock Central, for example.


So, yeah, then iTunes maybe *is* the right paradigm.

Which means that it's a multisystem terp like Gargoyle or Spatterlight.
The default interface pane is "Games I know about". Loading a new file
copies (or symlinks) it into your library, and if there's zBlorb data,
then you get Name, Author, Genre, maybe "My Rating", "Play Count", and
"Last Played."

However, *if* you have a sufficiently fat pipe then it connects to the
moral equivalent (minus the crippling DRM) of iTMS; it downloads some
sort of index file from the Store (which would, I guess, mbe
mirror.ifarchive.org or somesuch), and based on that Index, decides
which games it can and cannot play. Then it presents those as choices
to the player--with Cover Art and all, if it's zblorbed (because, if
it's zblorbed, then there should be a way to extract the Cover Art and
appropriately thumbnailize it, and include *that* as an adjunct to the
Index).

Double-click on the game you want, and the app throws up a progress bar
as it downloads the game file, copies it into your library, and then
starts it.

Yeah, this doesn't help much if all you have is dialup--but then neither
does iTMS.

Adam

Janos

unread,
Aug 1, 2006, 12:34:28 AM8/1/06
to
Adam Thornton wrote:

>> But yeah, with the computer-savvy audience, starting to call
>> interpreters as "IF-players" or something similar is not a half-bad
>> idea. Gamers have a precedent in Steam and Stardock Central, for example.

> So, yeah, then iTunes maybe *is* the right paradigm.

Yep, the more I hear about it, the better the whole idea sounds. In
addition to making playing easier, it addresses the second problem,
finding and promoting the damn games :P

--
Janos

Richard Bos

unread,
Aug 2, 2006, 3:40:31 PM8/2/06
to
"Mantar, Feyelno nek dusa"
<mantar....@YourPantiesSirWilliamfrontiernet.net> wrote:

> On Sun, 30 Jul 2006 22:58:20 +0000, Richard Bos wrote:
>
> > peter.m...@lineone.net wrote:
> >> I guess I'm really thinking more of Linux package managers, which do
> >> dump you a complete catalogue (usually much bigger than an IF library
> >> would be) for you to browse.
> >
> > Because we all know how comfortable the general public is with the Linux
> > installation and configuration process, right?
>
> Um. Have you /tried/ it in the last five years? You browse through a
> catalog of software, mark the little checkbox next to something you want,
> and hit the install button. A minute later it's ready to run. Terribly
> complicated, hmm? Why, I bet you need a degree from MIT to do that.

No, but you need to be willing to see beyond the FUD that "it's
Leyenooks, therefore it's haaaard!" This is not a willingness I've
frequently encountered in the general public. Most of them can hardly
find their way around the Windows desktop, let alone anything that
breaks the mould slightly.

Richard

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Aug 2, 2006, 5:56:56 PM8/2/06
to
On Mon, 2006-07-31 at 23:53 +0000, Adam Thornton wrote:
>Yeah, this doesn't help much if all you have is dialup--but then neither
> does iTMS.

You'd be surprised (I was). Tor auto-generated metadata for a large part
of the archive from Baf's guide, and the resulting file, when zipped,
was 232kb. It seems to include all games playable on a modern terp, and
includes the reviews in the description field. That figure's bound to
rise over time, especially as we tidy it up and fill it out, and it
doesn't include cover art, but it does give an indication of the kind of
figures we're talking about. Remember, too, that any player will only
have to download all this once: after that, they'll only need to fetch
periodic updates.

At a guess, if we can keep the download below about ~1Mb or so, even
dial-up users will probably be happy with it as a one-off (it'll still
be no more than a 5min download for most people). Add to that the fact
that most IF is also around the 100-200kb range -- tiny, compared to a
single mp3 -- and you've got a pretty good proposition for dial-up
users.

Cheers,

Peter

Peter Mattsson

unread,
Aug 2, 2006, 6:26:57 PM8/2/06
to

Linux used to be for technical users only, and the impression's stuck in
a lot of people's minds. However, I think most people haven't formed an
impression one way or the other with IF -- there can be no FUD if you
haven't thought about it -- and if we present them with something like
iTunes I think they'll go along with it.

To be frank, the main FUD we have to conquer is the impression that IF
is just two-word-parser, tersely-described treasure hunts. If we can get
past that, I don't think people need have a problem with the technical
side.

Cheers,

Peter

ChicagoDave

unread,
Aug 2, 2006, 8:40:24 PM8/2/06
to
> Peter Mattsson wrote:
>
> You'd be surprised (I was). Tor auto-generated metadata for a large part
> of the archive from Baf's guide, and the resulting file, when zipped,
> was 232kb.

This is all very easily solved with an intelligent web service.

The client program maintains all of the game info and a
last-update-date. This is sent to the web service on Baf's Guide. The
web service looks for all entries with a "last-update-date" greater
than the input date and returns only those records.

So the client program can do a background check on start and see if
there are any new games and notify the user accordingly.

You have new games!
You have new reviews!

David C.

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