This Is Your Game on Mugs

Sometimes an upgrade is a mirage. Sometimes cool new features remain tantalizingly out of reach. [Note: This piece has been edited on Jan. 26 to reflect new information.]

I’m getting ready to enlist testers for my almost-completed interactive fiction game, “The White Bull.” I’m hitting what I hope is only a speed bump. At the moment the picture is rather murky. And the speed bump (if that’s what it is) has nothing to do with my work. It’s packaged in the development system. It’s … a feature.

One of the main reasons I decided to go ahead and finish this project, which had been languishing on my hard drive for a couple of years, was the release of TADS 3.1. TADS is a very slick system for writing text adventure games, and the 3.1 release enhances its power in some cool ways. Games compiled using 3.1 will be playable in a web browser, for instance, without the need to download anything. This is a huge step forward, as it makes TADS more competitive with Inform.

But wait — there’s less.

If I understand the documentation correctly, there are two ways to deploy a game for web play. You can upload it to the IF Archive and create a page for it on IFDB. The IFDB server, which is operated by TADS developer Mike Roberts, will make your game publicly available for online play. Alternatively, you can set up your own server.

I so thoroughly do not want to learn how to set up my own server.

The tricky bit is, how am I to test the web features of a game before it’s released? The word “test” does not appear anywhere in the documentation page on setting up your game for web play. What that page does say is, once the game is compiled, players don’t have to play it online — they can download it and play it stand-alone in the old-fashioned way, using an interpreter program installed on their own computer.

That’s nice — but the first question that might occur to a savvy reader is, “Will the features of the game as it appears when  running on a remote server and being displayed in my browser be the same as the features that show up in the interpreter software that I’ve installed on my local machine?”

The answer would appear to be, “Don’t count on it.” Nikos Chantziaras has updated the cross-platform QTads interpreter for compatibility with 3.1 games, and in my tests it appears to work very well. Yay, Nikos! However…

My game has music. I’m hoping to find a graphic artist to do a few illustrations too, but the music is already built into the game. Of course, the music playback does need to be tested. My current information is that some web browsers will play mp3 files but not ogg, some will play ogg but not mp3, and some will play both. In order to test all of the configurations, then, I will need a private server that is not the IFDB server.

Except, there’s no reason even to worry about that, because the TADS web playback system doesn’t currently support audio playback. So I can’t give my users the option of web-based gameplay. There’s a theory floating around that I might be able to embed Javascript in the game so as to get audio output, but there is zero documentation on how one might go about this.

Oh, well. It was a nice concept while it lasted. Maybe someday TADS will have the features I need for online play. In the meantime, at least I got off my ass and finished writing the game, and people will be able to play it by downloading QTads.

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