That Handbook Thing

I’ve written a couple of books on music technology. Got paid, even; these were not self-published projects. In recent years, though, the market for that type of book seems to have imploded. New software is released, but the publishers are not bringing out new editions of their how-to books.

The reason is not hard to see. It’s YouTube. Musicians don’t want to read a book. That’s too much trouble. They want to watch a video. It costs nothing, you can see what’s going on, and in ten minutes you’ve learned something.

Twelve years or so ago, I wrote a book called The Inform 7 Handbook. This was not only self-published, it was a free download. (It still is.) It describes, step by step, how to write text adventure games in the Inform 7 programming language.

People are still referring to it on the interactive fiction forum. Part of the reason for its continued relevance is that the documentation built into the Inform IDE is, frankly, rather scattered and lacking in detail. That’s why I wrote the Handbook in the first place. I saw a need for it.

I did an update about six years ago, but now that Inform is officially at version 10, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for a fresh update. The basics of the programming language haven’t changed, but a lot of the periphery has flowered. Heck, I might even upload it to Amazon and charge people a few bucks.

But wouldn’t aspiring game authors rather watch videos? Apparently not. Tonight I wandered over to YouTube and found almost no Inform tutorial videos less than five years old. Okay, there are a couple of new ones by Dennis Jerz. Dennis released one actual text game back in 2001. (He used Inform 6, which is not the same thing at all.) But after watching the first five minutes of his 50-minute video, I can see why video tutorials on this topic don’t fill the need.

It’s not that Dennis is doing it wrong, it’s that there’s no way a video can do it right. The video shows the Inform IDE, which means the text is pretty small. And how can you explain a complex multi-faceted thing like writing game code in a video? Explaining what’s going on would require massive amounts of detail. The video would be endless, and it would be boring. Plus, it’s hard to find the details you need in a five-hour (or 25-hour) video course. Flipping through the pages of a book is much, much faster and easier.

And anyway, the people who write text games are comfortable reading text. It’s a personality type. So a book may be optimal as a tutorial format.

Yeah, maybe I ought to update the Handbook.

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