on Oct 31, 2008
The creators of Inform call it, “A Design System for Interactive Fiction Based on Natural Language”. I wrote about it two years ago after giving it a try, and I pegged it for what it is: A programming language. At the time I said that trying to pretend that Inform wasn’t a programming language was misleading and likely to lead to frustration, and I also said that it can’t work. I have been proven both right and wrong. I asked Susan about her experience using Inform and she had this to say:
That said, there are many ways to work around your problems. So even if you can’t get something to work the way it should, you can usually find a different way to achieve the exact same result.
Frustrations with the compiler, gripes about the way it’s parsed, problems with formatting, developing workarounds… sure sounds like a programming language to me. It’s a programming language with inscrutable rules that lures non-coders in with promises that they’ll be able to make an interactive fiction game without needing to program.
Susan sounds like a lot of programmers I’ve known (including the one that I see in the mirror every morning) who complain about the eccentricities and shortcomings of their chosen language.
But I must also eat some crow:
I, too, expected Inform to be much easier to use. I never expected to feel like I was programming… but Inform is definitely a programming language, no question. That said, it’s a language that’s far easier for non-programmers to pick up.
It is is programming language, but it’s a programming language that’s accessible to non-programmers. It does work. Susan made a game, and is planning another. The world of gaming is enriched, which is always the result of getting better tools. I was harsh on Inform, but you can’t argue with success.
As a coder I find the Inform syntax to be too formless, too vague, too… analog for my tastes. But then, I’m not the target user. I’m the guy the language was specifically not designed for. All the other languages were made for people like me, and this one is aimed at everyone else.
And just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back up, here is another link to Phantom of the Arcade.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.