Inform - Welcome - Introduction




3. Which design system is best?

Although many rival systems have been created since 1980, critics are generally agreed that few have really engaged with what is quite a difficult problem, the modelling of an imaginary world. That is as far as consensus goes.

Since 1995 the two most popular choices have undoubtedly been Inform and TADS (the excellent Text Adventure Design System by Mike Roberts), but Hugo, Alan, ADRIFT and Quest are also popular, and many more are listed on the IF Wiki, at the bottom of the authoring system category page. It's probably worth taking a personal look rather than taking anybody's word for it.

Bear in mind that the system which is easiest to learn may not be the most flexible and practical when it comes to serious game design. Inform, TADS, Hugo and so on are all complex systems, but this is because they attempt to solve a complex problem in its full generality. (Besides, you don't need to learn the whole thing at once.)

To advertise Inform a little: Inform games have a user interface as good as that in the best commercial products of the 1980s, and its model world understands rooms, items, vehicles, duplicates, containers, doors, things on top of other things, light and darkness, switching things on and off, opening, closing and locking things, looking up information in books, entering things, scoring and much more.

Perhaps Inform's strongest feature is a parser which is very highly programmable: its behaviour can be customised at every level. It resolves ambiguities, can clarify its input by asking questions ("Which key do you mean...?") and copes properly with plurals, pronouns, vagueness and conversation. Indeed, the parser has been configured to play in natural languages other than English, and even to parse Inform code at the game's command prompt (which enables a rather powerful debugging facility called Infix to work).

Seen as a programming language Inform combines impressive abstract features (such as full object orientation, message passing, data encapsulation, object creation and deletion at run-time) with a practical, down to earth approach. The Inform Designer's Manual assumes no prior knowledge of any kind of computer programming, and the new Beginner's Guide makes the way easier still.

Inform is free and the games it produces can be sold without royalty, subject only to trivial restrictions (such as that they include a small banner announcing themselves as Inform-written games): see the Designer's Manual for details. It compiles code very quickly and has a large and active user base. It's an open-source project and versions are already available for every major operating system since the 1990s and for five European languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish).

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Last updated 30 March 2002. This site is no longer supported; information may be out of date.
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This page was originally managed by Graham Nelson (graham at gnelson demon co uk) assisted by C Knight.