Graham Nelson has released the long-awaited fourth edition of the Inform Designer’s Manual, the documentation/almanac of this powerful, open-source, and extremely multiplatform object-oriented language for creating interactive fiction (a.k.a. text adventure games, a term falling into deprecation as an increasing number of IF works aren’t games per se).
You can download the manual as a PDF file for now. I consider it worth reading by anyone interested in the history and design of computer adventure games, whether or not they’re interested in actually programming interactive fiction with Inform, due to the long and insightful “The Craft of Adventure” section — sub-book, really — that makes up much of the manual’s latter half, studying the techniques and trails blazed by pioneers of this genre, from its roots in AI research labs in the 1970s, through the works produced by today’s Internet-based IF community.
Graham’s announcement, as seen on the newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction:
From: Graham Nelson
Subject: Inform Designer's Manual, 4th Edition Date: Tue, 01 May 2001 23:25:44 +0100 The Inform Designer's Manual: Fourth Edition Now downloadable at http://www.gnelson.demon.co.uk/inform/DM4.pdf (and shortly to become available at ftp.gmd.de) Today is Inform's eighth birthday, and the fourth anniversary of the third edition of the Designer's Manual, a book which has evolved continuously since 1993. This new edition is both entirely rewritten and greatly expanded: freshly edited, checked and proofed, and fully cross-referenced and indexed. The book is typeset as a 3.1M PDF document, which can be browsed using the Adobe Acrobat Reader. (Acrobat is free to download and comes preinstalled on almost all modern PCs and Apple Macintoshes.) Hyperlinks within the book allow quick jumping to follow references to other chapters, sections or pages, to jump from an exercise to its solution or from an index entry to the passage being indexed. The sections are bookmarked for convenient browsing. Even those who aren't interested in Inform as a design system for interactive fiction may still like to read Chapter VIII, which begins with a concise history of the genre 1972-1999 and broadens into a critical study of the literature. Major improvements since previous editions include: * Updating to cover Inform 6.21 with library 6/10, including the new features for strict error checking and Infix debugging; * The example game "Ruins" is doubled in size and completed into a working game, with a given step by step solution and a map; * Fifty further exercises, with complete solutions; * Three new chapters: first, the rough notes of the old Translator's Manual have been substantially rewritten to form a new chapter on writing or customising language definition files to languages other than English, or to modified versions of English; * Secondly, a chapter on the Z-Machine gives far greater detail on assembly-language programming, and special effects like sounds and timed keyboard-reading; * Thirdly, the book concludes with a critical history of interactive fiction 1972-1999, and essays on game design; * Many sequences of rules, such as what exactly happens when the player arrives in a new room, and exactly how the parser resolves ambiguous noun phrases, are described more fully; * The semantic rules of the world model are laid out in full; * References at the end of each section include descriptions of the 70 or so library extensions by third parties; * A bibliography gives designer, publisher, date, format and availability notes on every game discussed in the book; * Tables at the back of the book, and a simplified Appendix, make reference easier; * The index has been entirely remade, annotating entries to clarify them: thus a typical entry reads "PronounValue (library routine), 251, 342", with the second reference in bold face as the Appendix page on which the specification of the routine appears; and each page reference hyperlinks to the page in question. (Quite a lot of the long-time regulars of rec.arts.int-fiction will find their names in the index, by the way.) Despite the six-inch heap of paper proofs and the extraordinary amount of detailed checking by the editor and proof-readers, it would be idle to hope that the book is free of error. We kept finding odd things even in the last week of this two-year revision. So this is release 4/1 of the Fourth Edition, and I shall feel reasonably free to make corrected releases as time goes by. Readers are welcome to email me any errata which turn up. I should like to express enormous thanks to the team who have made this book happen: in particular, to Gareth Rees, Andrew Plotkin, Toby Nelson, Torbjorn Andersson, Dave Doherty, Michael Baum and many others. And also to thank Mike Berlyn, for his support and encouragement, and to thank... oh, many other people, only some of whom are named in the Introduction, but all of whose contributions were greatly appreciated. Graham Nelson University of Oxford April 1993 -- April 2001 -- Graham Nelson Oxford, United Kingdom