Inform 7 Is a Hit

Today was the first meeting of my class for kids in how to write interactive fiction. The kids got into it much more quickly than I expected — they seem to take to Inform 7 very naturally, and they seem to be enjoying it a lot. This is exciting!

Imagine eight kids around a dining-room table, each with a laptop. They range in age from 11 to 13. I had given them some advance idea of what to expect by providing games that they could play, and several of them had already finished playing “Mrs. Pepper’s Nasty Secret,” which I suggested they start with because it’s newcomer-friendly. A couple of others had no idea what to expect, so I explained about navigating from room to room and examining objects.

We got Inform installed on the computers with barely a hitch. I showed them how to use the interface, and they were off and running. Each of them created a room, then started adding a few objects to the room. One boy had been reading the manual ahead of time, and by the time I came around the table to look at his screen, he already had an instead rule in his code.

I asked each of them to imagine a setting for a story. The initial rooms they came up with ranged from the Millenium Falcon to a gerbil cage. This is definitely part of the fun — seeing what each of them comes up with when their imaginations have free rein. They immediately started wanting to do complex things: “How can I create a character I can talk to?” “How can I have a string outside of the gerbil cage that you can climb down?” (Having the main character be a gerbil is quite interesting. As I pointed out to them, the default response to “pick up X” would have to be something like, “You can’t do that. You don’t have any hands.”)

I also found, as I had expected, that Inform’s verbose, “helpful” compiler error messages are no more useful than standard compiler error messages. The most common error I saw today in the kids’ code was forgetting to put a period at the end of a sentence. Seemingly a simple, obvious thing, but the compiler had no idea what the problem was.

I would not want to be trying to teach this class using TADS 3, nor Inform 6, nor any other IF language. Inform 7 is absolutely the right tool for the job. The “natural language” paradigm makes it very approachable, as does the slick IDE.

I encouraged them to read the manual … but I have to say, one of the first specific questions I heard was about creating a new command (an action, in Informese). This is chapter 12 in the manual, which suggests that some other way of ordering the material might be good — and the process is not explained in a thorough, systematic way in chapter 12. Even after one 90-minute class, I can see that a manual with a different type of organization might be better for the kids — perhaps some sort of “how do I do this?” document that gives all of the steps needed to do a given thing in one tidy package.

I’m having as much fun as the kids — and as an added bonus, they’re paying me! In one day I made more money on interactive fiction than I ever expected. My main worry now is that they’re moving so fast, by next week they may know more than I do. Well, not really, but I was truly amazed at how quickly they “got it,” and I think Graham Nelson deserves all the credit for that.

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2 Responses to Inform 7 Is a Hit

  1. James Jolley says:

    Hi Jim,

    I’m so glad your enjoying Inform again. It’s always amazing when something like that comes together and i’m so glad the kids are enjoying the system. you know my views on it so i’ll not carry on here, but I have to say that the system is ideal for anyone who has an open mind.

    P.S, glad you made money off of it as well. Good business sense there.

  2. Ron Newcomb says:

    >>One boy had been reading the manual ahead of time, and by the time I came around the table to look at his screen, he already had an instead rule in his code.

    The Force is strong in this one. Obe-Jim Kenobe taught him well.

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