Monday, March 02, 2009

[IF and Linux] Inform 7

What is it?

Inform 7 is a new but already widely used interactive fiction language, but also the IDE which has been developed in tandem with this language. (It is not the now version of Inform 6, which it hardly even resembles. The name is a bit confusing.) In terms of writing interactive fiction, Inform 7 is probably the most important application, so it is a top priority for IF on the Linux desktop.

Availability for Linux

When Inform 7 came out, there were a Windows and a Mac OS X version, but no Linux version. (I wrote Fate on Windows.) Today, however, there is a Linux version, thanks to P. F. Chimento; it is written to integrate well with Gnome, and is available as a .rpm for Fedora 10 and as a .deb for Ubuntu 8.10. These packages will presumably also install on other version of Fedora/Ubuntu and on other distributions that use either .rpm or .deb. You can also try to compile new packages from source, which is available from SourceForge.

Finally, there is a command line version of the interpreter available for various hardware architectures, thanks to Adam Thornton--but I won't be talking about that.

Ease of install

If your distribution is supported, installation is trivial. You download the package, double click, maybe give your root password, and that's it.

(The only way to make installation easier would be to get Inform 7 accepted into the official repositories of the major Linux distribution. But since the compiler is not free software, I don't see this happening--which is a shame.)

Functionality

Linux Inform 7 has almost everything that the Windows and OS X versions have: a source window with syntax highlighting, a fully functional index, the ability to compile and play the game within the IDE, and so on. As far as I know, only three things are missing:

1. "Blessing" a part of the skein so you can check whether your transcript changes as you change your code. I never used this in the Windows version, so I don't miss it.
2. You can only play one game at a time within the IDE. If you are working on several projects, you must stop one game before you can play the other. This too is only a minor annoyance.
3. The current interpreter doesn't support Unicode (it is an older version of Gargoyle), which means that it cannot handle indexed text. This is a major annoyance, but I have heard that it will be solved in the next release of Inform 7.

All in all, the functionality of Inform 7 under Linux is good, and chances are that it will soon improve to very good.

Overall

Using Inform 7 under Linux is a good experience, which will probably become even better soon.

(Screenshots

Does anyone know a way to add screenshots to a blogger post that is not a pain to use?)