The history of a Zorklike programming interpreter is a tale of language, art, code and literature

Originally published at:


If you’re interested in interactive fiction, Jimmy Maher’s Digital Antiquarian blog is a fantastic read covering almost every aspect of early games and the platforms they ran on.

So much research into the games from the mists of time - not just Zork, but Hunt the Wumpus, the history of the PC, Atari VCS Adventure, Psygnosis…

(Warning, it might just consume your life)


Decades and decades ago, maybe 1984 or so, I wrote a text adventure (“Radley Manor”) in BASIC, adapting a source code listing in one of the early personal computer “fun” magazines. I later ported it to INFORM, adding a lot of detail.

I’m working on, on and mostly off, a much more elaborate INFORM game about a kid’s last day at a sleep-away summer camp. It’s really tricking ironing out details and interactions. I last put the effort down while trying to implement a coffee maker; the camper-character needs the coffee A) to stay awake the whole night so all the mischief can be done, and B) if he drinks the pot he hallucinates a meeting with Abraham Lincoln, who provides valuable clues.

And I need to polish up the introductory dream-sequence, set on the first day of school where the player realizes he’s wearing pajamas and also has a faceless clown chasing him.

I’m retired now and I should REALLY get cracking on that project.

PS Just checked, INFORM doesn’t appear to be on my Linux package list. Time to download the latest . . .


anybody have a good reference on the differences between inform and tads?

If you treat source code as literature, you’re going to have a damn small audience - especially if your magnum opus is written in COBOL. Particularly because it’s not written to be read directly. It’s written to be compiled and executed.

well, I’ve perused the Inform7 manuals, and this looks really special. It’s like no other language I’ve encountered before, yet looks very easy to understand.The real test,though is not in the reading, but in the writing.


If you want to play some new examples of interactive fiction, check out IF Comp:

Some of these games are written in Inform, others with other tools.


Not that I know of. I used TADS for a little while but really remember nothing about it.* INFORM was more scripty and flexible.

I suspect you’d get more support and guidance from the INFORM community, if that helps.

*(Oh, man . . . I just remember printing up TADS manuals on my dot-matrix printer, and binding the smeary output in paper covers. Recycled them all long ago.)

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I suspect that what I’m looking for in a programming language is something that my code editors of choice will understand.

NO. I will not use NOTEPAD.EXE. I like my syntax with highlights. IDEs can be spiffy, too.

Atom, and Visual Studio Code are what I like to use.

Yeah, it’s stupid, but “Am I using the right tools” is a distraction that eats at my imagination

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Well, here’s one:
The BIGGEST difference is that TADS is more of a “traditional” programming language, and LOOKS like a standard programming language. Inform 7 is a “natural language” programming language, and for the most part reads like regular old English.

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The Inform 7 IDE is truly magnificent. Truly.

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fascinating. Well, sinceI don’t have any allegiance to either one-- and the “literate programming” style sounds like it would be fun to try-- I’ll download inform7 and have a go at writing a few rooms.

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Neither are plays, but I’ve read more than I’ve seen. I leave whether that’s a good or bad thing for the reader to decide.


A quick visit to duckduckgo turned up Inform 7 syntax highlighting packages for TextMate, Sublime Text, and, yes, Atom. So you should be good.

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You can search for “poems written in inform7” to see compilable inform7 source code as independently verbal art.

I do find inform7 somewhat fascinating, being a realisation of Knuth’s notion of literate programming, and the fact it has to deal with some of the same natural language phenomena I deal with in my day job.

The fact that it’s not actually free/open software seriously puts me off it though. (and given its original release in 2006, I’m not holding my breath.)

Oh but it is if it’s meant to last! I work on a meteorological program which is over ten years old and which is constantly adapted to read new input data, create more output products, and provide more analytical tools for its users.

It takes all of our efforts to fight back the tide of entropy and keep the codebase clean and readable - because we know we’ll be reading it again, next week, next month, next year. Legibility, clarity, and consistence of style are everything.


With all the file formats that VS will syntax highlight, there’s probably a meta way to roll your own. The problem is in locating the one blog post that explains how to do it clearly and simply, and isn’t outdated. (Stackoverflow answers will always be wrong in some subtle way.)

Or we could reduce this to a previously solved problem. :joy:

For fans of languages for writing adventure type games, I should mention ScottKit which is based on the engine for Scott Adams’ adventure games. I believe there is binary for Adams’ original games. It’s a surprisingly simple language given how clever some of the games were.

The only adventure game I ever read was Crowther’s first version which I gather was written as therapy after his divorce. (He and his ex-wife had been spelunkers.) It was in 1970s FORTRAN, but surprisingly readable.


I prefer raw text editors, but I’ve been playing with the latest VScode a litle and I think it’s very nice! You don’t have to load any extensions if you don’t want to, and the git integration seems pretty good.

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I think I love you.