AskDefine | Define inform

Dictionary Definition



1 impart knowledge of some fact, state or affairs, or event to; "I informed him of his rights"
2 give character or essence to; "The principles that inform modern teaching"
3 act as an informer; "She had informed on her own parents for years"

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. To communicate knowledge to.
  2. To impart information or knowledge.
  3. To make known.


to communicate knowledge to
to impart information or knowledge
to make known

Extensive Definition

Inform is a programming language and design system for interactive fiction originally created in 1993 by Graham Nelson. Inform can generate programs designed for the Z-code or Glulx virtual machines. Versions 1 through 5 were released between 1993 and 1996. Around 1996, Nelson rewrote Inform from first principles to create version 6 (or Inform 6). Over the following decade, version 6 became reasonably stable and a popular language for writing interactive fiction. In 2006, Nelson released Inform 7 (briefly known as Natural Inform), a completely new language based on principles of natural language and a new set of tools based around a book-publishing metaphor. As of 2007, Inform 7 is still in beta, but has already been used for the release of interactive fiction.

The Z-Machine and Glulx

All versions of Inform generate files in Z-code (also called story files) from source code. These files can then be run by any Z-code interpreter — that is, by any program which properly implements the Z-code virtual machine (or Z-machine) specification. The Z-machine was originally developed by Infocom in 1979 for their interactive fiction titles. Because there is at least one such interpreter for nearly every major and minor platform, this means that the same Z-code file can be run on a multitude of platforms with no alterations.
Andrew Plotkin created an unofficial version of Inform 6 that was also capable of generating files for Glulx, a virtual machine he had designed to overcome many of the limitations of the several-decades-old Z-machine. Starting with Inform 6.3, released February 29, 2004, Inform 6 has included official support for both virtual machines, based on Andrew Plotkin's work. Early release of Inform 7 did not support Glulx, but in August 2006 Glulx support was released.

Inform 6

Inform was originally created by Graham Nelson in 1993. In 1996 Nelson rewrote Inform from first principles to create version 6 (or Inform 6). Over the following decade, version 6 became reasonably stable and a popular language for writing interactive fiction.
The Inform 6 system consists of two major components: the Inform compiler, which generates story files from Inform source code, and the Inform library, a suite of software which handles most of the difficult work of parsing the player's text input and keeping track of the world model. The name Inform also refers to the Inform programming language that the compiler understands.
Although Inform 6 and the Z-Machine were originally designed with interactive fiction in mind, a large number of other programs have been developed, including a BASIC interpreter, a LISP tutorial (complete with interpreter), a Tetris game, and a version of the game Snake.

The Inform 6 compiler

The Inform compiler generates files for the Z-machine or Glulx (also called story files) from Inform 6 source code.

The Inform 6 programming language

The Inform programming language is object-oriented and procedural. A key element of the language is objects. Objects are maintained in an object tree which lists the parent-child relationships between objects. Since the parent-child relationship is often used to represent location, an object which is the parent of another object is often said to "hold" it. Objects can be moved throughout the tree. Typically, top level objects represent rooms and other locations within the game, which may hold objects representing the room's contents, be they physical items, non-player characters, the player's character, or background effects. All objects can hold other objects, so a livingroom object might hold an insurancesaleman object which is holding a briefcase object which contains the insurancepaperwork object.
In early versions of Inform, objects were different from the notion of objects from object-oriented programming, in that there was no such thing as a class. Later versions added support for class definitions and allowed objects to be members of classes. Objects and classes can inherit from multiple classes. Interactive fiction games typically contain many unique objects. Because of this, many objects in Inform do not inherit from any class, other than the "metaclass" Object. However, objects very frequently have attributes (boolean properties, such as scenery or edible) that are recognized by the Inform library. In other languages this would normally be implemented via inheritance.
Here is a simple example of Inform 6 source code.
[ Main; print "Hello World^"; ];

The Inform 6 library

The Inform system also contains the Inform library, which automates nearly all of the most difficult work involved in programming interactive fiction; specifically, it includes a text parser that makes sense of the player's input, and a world model that keeps track of such things as objects (and their properties), rooms, doors, the player's inventory, etc.
The Inform compiler does not require the use of the Inform library. There are several replacement libraries available, such as Platypus and InformATE, a library that codes Inform in Spanish.

Example game

Here is an example of Inform source code that makes use of the Inform library. The following description refers to Inform 6. Inform 7 is almost entirely different. The code sample below is usable in Inform 7, but not without special demarcation indicating that it is embedded legacy code.
Constant Story "Hello World"; Constant Headline "^An Interactive Example^";
Include "Parser"; Include "VerbLib";
[ Initialise; location = Living_Room; "Hello World"; ];
Object Kitchen "Kitchen"; Object Front_Door "Front Door";
Object Living_Room "Living Room" with description "A comfortably furnished living room.", n_to Kitchen, s_to Front_Door, has light;
Object -> Salesman "insurance salesman" with name 'insurance' 'salesman' 'man', description "An insurance salesman in a tacky polyester suit. He seems eager to speak to you.", before [; Listen: move Insurance_Paperwork to player; "The salesman bores you with a discussion of life insurance policies. From his briefcase he pulls some paperwork which he hands to you."; ], has animate;
Object -> -> Briefcase "briefcase" with name 'briefcase' 'case', description "A slightly worn, black briefcase.", has container;
Object -> -> -> Insurance_Paperwork "insurance paperwork" with name 'paperwork' 'papers' 'insurance' 'documents' 'forms', description "Page after page of small legalese.";
Include "Grammar";

Notable games developed in Inform 6 or earlier versions

Inform 7

On April 30 2006, Graham Nelson announced the beta release of Inform 7 to the newsgroup. Inform 7 consists of three primary parts: The Inform 7 IDE with development tools specialized for testing interactive fiction, the Inform 7 compiler for the new language, and "The Standard Rules" which form the core library for Inform 7. Inform 7 also relies on the Inform library and Inform compiler from Inform 6. The compiler compiles the Inform 7 source code into Inform 6 source code, which is then compiled separately by Inform 6 to generate Glulx or Z-code story file. Inform 7 also defaults to writing Blorb files, archives which include the Z-code together with optional "cover art" and metadata intended for indexing purposes. The full set of Inform 7 tools are currently available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows and Linux. The March 25 2007 release added command line support for Linux, and new releases now include an IDE using the GNOME desktop environment under the GNOME Inform 7 SourceForge project. The language and tools remain under development; the March 25 2007 release included a number of changes to the language.
Inform 7 was named Natural Inform for a brief period of time, but was later renamed Inform 7. This old name is why the Inform 7 compiler is named "NI."

The Inform 7 IDE

Inform 7 comes with an integrated development environment (IDE) for Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. The Mac OS X IDE was developed by Andrew Hunter. The Microsoft Windows IDE was developed by David Kinder.
The Inform 7 IDE includes a text editor for editing Inform 7 source code. Like many other programming editors it features syntax highlighting. It marks quoted strings in one color. Headings of organizational sections (Volumes, Books, Chapters, Parts, and Sections) are bolded and made larger. Comments are set in a different color and made slightly smaller.
The IDE includes a built-in Z-code interpreter. The Mac OS X IDE's interpreter is based on the Zoom interpreter by Andrew Hunter, with contributions from Jesse McGrew. The Microsoft Windows IDE's interpreter is based on WinFrotz.
As a developer tests the game in the built-in interpreter, progress is tracked in the "skein" and "transcript" views of the IDE. The skein tracks player commands as a tree of branching possibilities. Any branch of the tree can be quickly re-followed, making it possible to retry different paths in a game under development without replaying the same portions of the game. Paths can also be annotated with notes and marked as solutions, which can be exported as text walkthroughs. The transcript, on the other hand, tracks both player commands and the game's responses. Correct responses from the game can be marked as "blessed." On replaying a transcript or a branch of the skein, variations from the blessed version will be highlighted, which can help the developer find errors.
The IDE also provides various indices into the program under development. The code is shown as a class hierarchy, a traditional IF map, a book-like table of contents, and in other forms. Clicking items in the index jumps to the relevant source code.
The IDE presents two side-by-side panes for working in. Each pane can contain the source code being worked on, the current status of compilation, the skein, the transcript, the indices of the source code, a running version of the game, documentation for Inform 7 or any installed extensions to it, or settings. The concept is to imitate an author's manuscript book by presenting two "facing pages" instead of a multitude of separate windows. was the first Inform 7 game released to be public. It was released as part of the "Mystery House Taken Over" project.
On March 1, 2006, Short announced the release of three further games: Bronze (an example of a traditional puzzle-intensive game) and Damnatio Memoriae (a follow-up to her award-winning Inform 6 game Savoir-Faire) were joined by Graham Nelson's The Reliques of Tolti-Aph (2006). When the Inform 7 public beta was announced on April 30, 2006, six "worked examples" of medium to large scale works were made available along with their source code, including the three games previously released on March 1.
Emily Short's Floatpoint was the first Inform 7 game to take first place in the Interactive Fiction Competition. It also won 2006 XYZZY awards for Best Setting and Best NPCs. Rendition, by nespresso (2007), is a political art experiment in the form of a text adventure game, forcing the player to confront their own complicity. Its approach to tragedy has been discussed academically by both the Association of Computing Machinery and Cambridge University.

Further reading

* The bible of Inform is Graham Nelson's Inform Designer's Manual: it is a tutorial, a manual, and a technical document rolled into one. It is available online for free at Inform's official website, and two printed editions are available: a softcover (ISBN 0-9713119-0-0) and a hardcover (ISBN 0-9713119-3-5).
  • The Inform Beginner's Guide by Roger Firth and Sonja Kesserich (ISBN 0-9713119-2-7) attempts to provide a more gentle introduction to Inform. It is available for free at Inform's official website.* The SPAG Interview - An interview with designers Graham Nelson and Emily Short about the development of Inform 7. This interview was made shortly before its release and published on the same day as the initial release.


External links

inform in German: Inform
inform in Spanish: Inform
inform in French: Inform
inform in Italian: Inform
inform in Dutch: Inform
inform in Polish: Inform
inform in Portuguese: Inform
inform in Finnish: Inform

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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