Online and offline

There are rumblings that started a few months back regarding the necessity for competition IF games to be playable both online and offline. A growing number of web-based entries have been submitted to the annual IF comp over the years, not to mention the number of projects aiming to port popular runtime engines like Z-Code to browser-based languages like JavaScript and Flash.

I guess nobody wants to download interpreters like the TADS Player and Frotz anymore. Even with advancements like Gargoyle which virtually removes the burden of choosing the right interpreter for the right game. Even with volunteers having ported the different interpreters to different platforms, including mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

Now we have amazing things like Parchment, which almost magically transforms any Z-Machine game file on the IF Archive into its JavaScript version and play it on the browser, with the game’s performance being no different from being run through Windows Frotz. TADS 2 games have Jetty, a Java-based interpreter that can be run as an applet on the web. However, the “new hotness,” TADS 3, allows games to be compiled “for the web,” to be run using a special web launcher. (It needs some prior setup, but apparently it works, as seen with this game – make sure to click the “Play On-line” button on the far right.) People like Andrew Plotkin are also working on bringing other IF-related formats to the web age, like Glulx and Hugo games.

Being an IF game collector, I’d rather have both options available to players. Not everyone appreciates having to play games online, but having a URL to go to makes it easier for potential players to get into the spirit without having to sort which game should be run by whichever software.

It would also be nice to have zipped copies of web-based games on the Archive for both playing and for record-keeping purposes. A number of games have disappeared during the previous years, where not even the Wayback Machine can retrieve them.

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I remember the first time I played A Mind Forever Voyaging, which was on a rented PC some blocks away from our university. Most PC users were still using Windows 98 then, and the shop I was in was no different. I had read the rave reviews on Home of the Underdogs about the game, and I wanted to play it. I didn’t want to waste time downloading some interpreter for Windows, so I fired up the command prompt, ran the file amfv.exe and pressed Alt+Enter to make it full-screen.

The rest was history. Eventually I did come to rely on Windows-based interpreters, but nothing beats looking at that screen and reading the opening sentences in grayish fixed-pitch fonts on a blue background.

I can only imagine what the coming years will bring to interactive fiction.

Hopefully there will be less grues. And more brass lanterns.