Zarfplan: October, more or less

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tagged: interactive fiction, zarfplan, zarf, if

Plan for the month: create a major new subsystem, supporting shortcut actions! Outcome: ...part of it. Sorry. This month was a "missed expectations".

What threw me off track was -- well, in part, I admit, The Fool and his Money. It came out last week, after ten years of development, and it's a heck of a game. (See my review from a couple of days ago.)

But that game was released on the 25th, so no, it didn't devour the entire month. The larger time-sucker was a series of improvements and bug fixes to the Inform 6 compiler. This is the IF development language that I started out using. (Well, really I started out using BASIC, and then got serious with Inform 5. But Inform 6 is an evolutionary improvement on Inform 5 -- it's still "the same language", whereas Inform 7 is a whole new deal.)

I6 has been largely superseded by I7, and development on it has mostly ceased, although it's still invisibly present in the I7 toolset. (The I6 compiler is I7's low-level code generator.) Nonetheless, some people still use I6 in its own right. It so happens that a couple of months ago, David Griffith picked up the thread of I6 development, and has been working on a new I6 release -- the first since 2004.

David's work required some new I6 compiler features. I've handled most of the (sporadic) I6 code work in the past few years, so I was in the best position to pick up those requests. While I was in there, I grabbed a bunch of other code cleanup I'd been meaning to do. There went the first two weeks of October.

These updates will primarily benefit I6 authors; most of them will not affect I7 authors. One exception: I added an optimization to reduce the game file size by omitting unused functions. Right off the bat this knocks 6% off the size of Hadean Lands. (The I7 compiler inserts some features that I'm not using, and is also imperfectly efficient about building support code for the classes in my code. Turns out that these total about 6% -- more for smaller I7 games.)

So, okay, this is not a crucial milestone in HL development, but it was important and I didn't want to roadblock David's work. So now it is done.

Returning to HL, I got through a chunk of the shortcut-action feature. The game can now track all the objects you find, and answer questions of the form "Where the heck did I leave X?" Not as trivial as it sounds: the answer might be "You transfigured it into Y, then hammered that into a Z, and then threw it into a furnace, so tough luck, buddy." If you type "RECALL X", the game will actually tell you all of that.

(Okay, it won't say "tough luck". That would be unkind.)

This sort of tracking is necessary, because you might type "CREATE FOO POTION" -- this being after you've learned how to make the Foo Potion and gone through the ritual at least once. So now the game is willing to do all the work for you... but it knows you need an X. Where the heck did you leave that? If X is in another room, you have to be able to get there; but if you've thrown X in a furnace, the game will have to explain why the Foo Potion is now a problem for you.

This is a fairly standard recursive-dependency problem, and it's not going to kill me. I just have to crank through it, and I have now cranked as far as "Where is X?" Cranking will continue.

I've started the next bit, the "walk to room Q (where X is)". But just like an hour ago, and only so that I can get up tomorrow morning in an already-rolling mood, rather than "Ungh, gurk, must start a major new feature, maybe after lunch." Always leave a sentence unfinished before bedtime, sort of thing.

I shall endeavor to get all the shortcutting code finished in November, and hopefully before the end of the month, so I can post a more encouraging update then. Merry Halloween.

As you are well aware, tomorrow is the second anniversary of the Hadean Lands kickstarter going live. I continue grateful to you all. While admittedly distracted by The Fool and his Money, I have taken some lessons from it. One: don't announce a release date that you can't make good on. Two: the game is finishable. No matter what anybody says. I'm really sure that it won't take me ten years.