Multimedia TADS vs Text-only TADS

TADS interpreters come in two varieties: text-only and multimedia, also known as "plain" and "HTML." If you're confused about the differences, or about which kind of interpreter to use for which game, read on.

The difference in a nutshell

The difference between HTML TADS and plain TADS boils down to one thing: the display capabilities.
  • Multimedia TADS can display graphics, play sound effects, use fancy text formatting (such as italics, boldface, different fonts, and different font sizes), and perform advanced text layout.
  • Text-only TADS can only display text, not graphics, and can only do simple text formatting (such as highlighted text).

The core TADS "engine" is identical in both interpreters. This means that you can play any TADS game with either type of interpreter. Even if a game includes graphics and sound, a text-only interpreter will still run it - it will simply omit the multimedia elements from the display. And a multimedia interpreter is perfectly happy to run a game that doesn't include any graphics.


Starting in TADS 3.1, you can create games that run in an ordinary Web browser rather than a TADS interpreter. A game designed for Web play can run in client/server mode, so that the game itself (and the TADS interpreter) runs on a server machine somewhere on the Internet, and the player accesses the game from a separate client machine using a Web browser.

You don't have to install any TADS interpreter to play a client/server Web game - you just need a regular Web browser.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need to install both kinds of interpreter to play different games?

No. If there's a multimedia interpreter for your platform, you can use it to play any TADS game. The multimedia interpreters are "universal" - they can play all TADS games, whether they use the advanced multimedia features or not.

If your platform doesn't yet have a multimedia TADS interpreter, or you prefer use a text-only interpreter for some other reason, you can still play most TADS games with a text-only interpreter. Multimedia games will generally work fine, and will simply omit any graphics and other multimedia effects. Of course, a game could be hard to play without its graphics (for example, if the graphics contain clues necessary for making progress in the story), but most authors aware that not everyone has access to a multimedia interpreter, so most games use graphics as enhancements rather than as essential story elements.

How do I know which interpreter to use for a given game?

See the previous question - simply install the most capable interpreter for your platform. Choose a multimedia interpreter if one is available, otherwise a text-only version. You can use that one interpreter for all TADS games.

Exactly which interpreters are which?

The multimedia interpreters include:

  • HTML TADS (Windows)
  • HyperTADS (Mac OS 9)
  • CocoaTADS (Mac OS X)
  • QTads (Unix, Linux, Mac OS X)

The text-only interpreters include:

  • PocketTADS (PocketPC/WinCE)
  • FrobTADS (Unix/Linux)
  • Unix TADS (Unix)
  • MacTADS (Macintosh)
  • MaxTADS (Macintosh)
  • WinTADS (Windows)
  • Amiga TADS (Amiga OS)
  • TADS for BeOS (BeOS)

See the Downloads page for links to the available interpreter packages.

There isn't a multimedia interpreter for my operating system. Can I still play HTML TADS games?

Yes, although you won't see graphics and other multimedia features. As explained above, a text-only interpreter can still run a game that was designed for HTML TADS, and will simply omit any multimedia features the game uses. Most multimedia games are still playable in text-only mode, since most authors realize that some players won't have multimedia access, so they use graphics as an enhancement rather than a requirement for playing the game. It's certainly possible to design a game where the graphics or sound effects are so integral to the game play that you can't proceed without them, but in practice this seems rare.

Isn't a GUI interpreter the same as a multimedia interpreter?

Not necessarily. Even on a GUI operating system, the interpreter has to include special programming to handle the TADS multimedia features. Virtually all of the modern dedicated TADS interpreters do include full multimedia support: HTML TADS on Windows, CocoaTADS and QTads on Mac OS X, and QTads on Linux are all fully multimedia-enabled.

However, there are a few multi-system interpreters that run on GUI systems but are limited to text-only TADS support, such as Zoom, Gargoyle, and Spatterlight. The multi-system interpreters are convenient because they let you play games for multiple IF authoring systems with a single app, but unfortunately none of them currently support the TADS multimedia features.

Which interpreter should I use on Windows?

The official TADS interpreter for Windows is HTML TADS. This is a full multimedia interpreter that's actively supported and is up to date with the latest TADS engine and display features.

Gargoyle can play games for several authoring systems besides TADS. Gargoyle also has some special typography features designed to enhance its visual appeal. You might find Gargoyle especially convenient if you play games from several systems. However, be aware that Gargoyle doesn't currently support any multimedia TADS features - it's a text-only TADS interpreter.

(You might also come across WinTADS if you're searching the IF Archive or other download sites. This is an older text-only version for Windows that is no longer supported.)

Which interpreter should I use on Mac OS X?

CocoaTADS and QTads are full Multimedia TADS interpreters for Mac OS X.

Zoom and Spatterlight can play games for several authoring systems besides TADS. You might find a multi-system interpreter especially convenient if you play games from several systems. However, be aware that neither Zoom nor Spatterlight currently support any multimedia TADS features - they're both text-only TADS interpreters.

(You might also encounter MacTADS if you're searching the IF Archive or other download sites. This is an older text-only Mac interpreter that is no longer supported.)

Which interpreter should I use on Linux/Unix?

If you're running a GUI desktop or X Windows, QTads is the best bet, because it has full multimedia support. If your system is strictly text-based, use FrobTADS.

Which compiler do I use to write HTML TADS games?

There's only one TADS compiler - you use the same version to write text-only and multimedia games. There's absolutely no difference in the TADS tool set for text vs multimedia; it's just a matter of writing the extra multimedia formatting instructions in your game's source code.