Channels are only the Beginning

Posted: July 10, 2010 in Blogroll, interactive fiction, Textfyre
Tags: , , , , ,

So somewhere way back a couple of years ago, Jesse McGrew helped build FyreVM with a new IO layer we called Channel IO. This has turned out to be extremely useful, especially when building different kinds of user interfaces.

Recently at work I’ve been tasked with designing and building a customer service chat system. The best way to do this is using AJAX Long Polling and the best way to do that is to use a Comet library based on the Bayeux Specification. All of this is some older networking patterns being reworked into existing and future HTML specifications and the underlying pattern is a publication subscription model.

All of my research on Comet got me thinking about Channel IO and that got me thinking about Zifmia and how best to serve many users a particular IF game or to even allow them to play the same game at the same time. It also got me thinking about how we implement output in Interactive Fiction.

Leaving the Zifmia impact for another post, I want to focus on IF output and this has been something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, even outside of the Comet stuff.

In an IF game we have different targeted locations of output. Channel IO handles this great. We can direct text to a main channel, a location channel, a score channel and in the UI place these pieces of text where we want them. Now I’m wondering if we can’t dig deeper into the IF engine and provide a completely different output paradigm. I believe Emily and a few others have actually done things like this in their code, but I think the pattern should be extended as a standard layer.

The idea is to output textual parts given some meta data. Let’s focus on what we consider main output. anything that shows up in the main window. However, we want this process to work for any channel.

The different kinds of parts include sentences and items with descriptions. The meta data might include things like “sentence beginning”, “sentence end”, sentence middle”, “can be preceded”, “can be followed”, “must be listed separately”, and “must be output with a pattern” (and the pattern is somehow included in the meta data).

From here we allow the author to identify pieces of output beyond using just a “say” or “print” command. Possibly:

say “From the crib you hear a wimpering toddler” as sentence-beginning, can-be-preceded.

The result is likely to be some type of markup that has to be processed within the VM.

The idea is that within the IF game, the author is less concerned about format and more concerned about content. The question is, can a post-output processor be smart enough to string everything together properly? Does this break down the talent of an author or does it enable them to do interesting things?

The reason I bring all of this up is that I continue to think of alternate user experiences, server based IF, as well as mobile device output.

The idea is obviously not well-formed, but bothered me enough that I needed to blog about it.

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