Roger Firth's IF pages
Cloak of Darkness
One question which regularly appears on the Usenet newsgroup dedicated to authoring Interactive Fiction, rec.arts.int-fiction, is some variant on "How do I start? Which authoring system is best?". Unfortunately, the question is difficult to answer succinctly, for no one system is "better" than the rest. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, simply employing alternative approaches and techniques to address differing goals. A system that perfectly suits one author may well be wrong -- maybe too intimidating and complex to program, maybe too basic and limited in scope -- for another author's background experience or creative aspirations. The most sensible guidance that the IF community can offer is: "Do a little research; read the FAQ, study the systems' documentation, look at some sample code, and select one that you're comfortable with".
Having said that, the number of prospective authoring systems (see the lists at members.tripod.com/~virtual_cat/games/ and www.ambrosine.com/resource.html) is frighteningly long, making exhaustive comparison effectively impossible. So, limit your options to the systems mentioned here, which between them cover probably 99% of text adventures currently being written (with, to be frank, Inform, TADS and ADRIFT accounting for the lion's share).
Also, be aware that your choice could be affected by factors -- maybe important to you, maybe not -- which aren't immediately apparent. For example, you may later regret opting for an authoring system with few active users, if that makes it difficult to obtain assistance or to share others' code. If you choose a system supported only on a single platform, you risk losing a significant proportion of your potential audience. These and other issues are discussed at Stephen Granade's brasslantern.org in Choosing a Text Adventure Language; also at that site, you'll find Eric Mayer has a completely different perspective on Easy IF Languages. And, you're likely to get some more subjective local advice by calling "Hello, Sailor".
This site tries to help in your evaluation, by presenting the same (very small) game using a range of authoring systems. The implementations have been made reasonably consistent, so as to facilitate comparison. As well as the game source -- which in a Version 4 browser is supplemented with popup annotations -- we sometimes provide information on how it was compiled, present a transcript showing it being run, and try to mention some real games that you might also like to try.
The following 'mainstream' implementations are in active use today:
These are minority-interest systems which haven't yet found widespead acceptance or whose moment has passed. I wouldn't recommend them for IF beginners:
There are also a few curiosities available; I haven't tested them, there are no descriptive pages, and they're not guaranteed to be complete working implementations:
Inventors of new authoring systems are welcome to contact email@example.com with details (but don't be too hasty -- publication here is entirely at my discretion, and won't be considered until a new system is complete and has been in active use for at least six months).
The example game, "Cloak of Darkness", is specified below. Thanks to the wonders of Java applets, you can play the Inform version online, using either Matthew Russotto's Zplet (uses Java 1) or Wei-ju Wu's ZMPP (needs Java 2) without the need to download anything.
The various implementations have been made as similar as possible. That is, things like object names and room descriptions should be identical, and the general flow of the game should be pretty comparable. Having said that, the games are implemented using the native capabilities of the various systems, using features that a beginner might be expected to master; there shouldn't be any need to resort to assembler routines, library hacks, or other advanced techniques. The target is to write naturally and simply, while sticking as closely as possible to the goal of making the games directly equivalent.
"Cloak of Darkness" is not going to win prizes for its prose, imagination or subtlety. Or scope: it can be played to a successful conclusion in five or six moves, so it's not going to keep you guessing for long. (On the other hand, it may qualify as the most widely-available game in the history of the genre.) There are just three rooms and three objects.
And that's all there is to it...
Thanks to Stuart Allen, Mike Arnautov, Steve Breslin, Neil Cerutti, Al Golden, Stephen Griffiths, Mark Hughes, John Menichelli, Todd Nathan, Roger Plowman, Roddie Ramieson, Robin Rawson-Tetley, Dan Shiovitz, Kent Tessman, Alex Warren and Campbell Wild for contributing versions of "Cloak of Darkness". Not forgetting the special debt of gratitude we owe to those who created the authoring systems, without whom we'd probably still be adventuring in FORTRAN.