One of my Internet friends is putting together an online tutorial on TADS 3, a programming language for interactive fiction. I approve. I’ve written games in both TADS 3 and Inform 7 (and in Inform 6, come to think of it). My experience has been that T3 looks fairly intimidating, especially if you don’t already have some experience in programming. It’s extremely powerful, but in order to learn to use the tools in the toolbox, some effort is required.
Inform 7, conversely, goes out of its way to look easy. But as you dig deeper, you’ll find that certain things in Inform are surprisingly messy or ill-defined. Inform is harder than it looks, while TADS is easier than it looks. At the end of the day, they’re probably about equal in terms of the amount of intellectual effort that’s required — and TADS gives you a greater return for your intellectual investment.
Eric Eve has written three book-length tutorials on TADS 3. They’re excellent. The program also comes with a Technical Manual, a System Manual, and a Library Reference Manual. Learning where to find things in these six information sources is a challenge in itself — but once you learn your way around, you’ll find that the documentation for T3 is more complete than the documentation for I7. (My I7 Handbook was inspired by in no small part by Eric’s Learning T3.)
Though my friend initially mentioned her project as “TADS 3 for Dummnies,” it isn’t that. Most of it (in the draft that I’ve seen, anyway) is an exploration of T3’s class library, a big chunk of code that provides a framework with which to develop your game. Eric’s TADS 3 Tour Guide is also organized in a way that proceeds through the class library, but it makes very little attempt to explore any of the classes thoroughly, as it’s also organized around the process of writing an example game. I like the idea of a TADS 3 Library Road Map. I think it’s needed.
But I also like the idea of “TADS 3 for Dummies” (though of course that’s a trademarked name). I’m toying with the idea of writing a very concise 20-page “Immigrants Naturalization Guide” for people whose only experience has been writing games (or attempting to) in Inform 7, but who are wondering whether they might actually be happier with T3, if only they could figure out where to start.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about writing code. It’s about writing a story. The code is just a means to an end. Emily Short has posted a detailed outline of a book that hasn’t yet been written, which talks about interactive fiction writing from the perspective of the fiction writer. Maybe I should be exploring that instead. Maybe people who want to write interactive fiction can find their own way into an authoring system that suits them. But I do think it’s a shame that so many of them seem to get sucked into the Inform 7 whirlpool without giving TADS a fair shake. It’s easier than it looks, folks. Honest.