Converting a TADS 2 game to HTML TADS

This document describes the steps to converting an existing TADS game to take advantage of HTML TADS. See the introduction for more information on HTML TADS. Note: this material only applies to TADS 2 games. Since TADS 3 is always in "HTML mode," it's really not possible to write a "non-HTML" TADS 3 game in the first place, so conversion simply isn't a factor.

Learning HTML

You don't actually need to know much HTML to use HTML TADS, since the normal TADS formatting sequences (\b, \n, \t, and so on) work the same way in HTML TADS as they do in the standard TADS. In fact, you should probably continue to use the standard TADS formatting sequences wherever you can, since this will make it easier to move your game to the standard TADS system if you decide to do so at some point.

However, you will need to learn HTML to the extent that you want to use HTML features with TADS. An HTML tutorial and reference is, as they say, beyond the scope of this document. Fortunately, one of the benefits of HTML's popularity is a copious supply of documentation. You should have no problem finding a book on HTML for almost any level of expertise at your local bookstore, and a great deal of introductory and reference information is available free on the web.

Learning HTML TADS

For the most part, you should be able to apply your knowledge of standard HTML to writing games with HTML TADS; most of the tags related to formatting work the same as they would in any other HTML renderer. However, there are a number of areas where HTML TADS differs from standard HTML, particularly with tags that define the document structure, and you'll eventually want to familiarize yourself with these differences as you start to use the more advanced features; refer to HTML TADS Deviations from Standard HTML Specifications for complete details.

Playing an existing TADS game with HTML TADS

You can use HTML TADS to play a standard TADS game. Since all of the standard formatting sequences work in HTML TADS, a standard game will play the same way it does on the normal interpreter. There's probably no good reason to play a standard game with HTML TADS, since nice standard interpreter versions are available for most of the GUI platforms already, but you can use HTML TADS this way if you want to.

HTML Debugging

HTML is a computer programming language, so it has a strict syntax that must be obeyed in order for it to work correctly.

When HTML TADS encounters syntax in your HTML that it can't understand, the system will normally simply ignore the entire tag sequence. This has the generally desirable effect of leaving the surrounding text intact, but the incorrect markup will not do what you wanted it to do.

When you're writing a game, you might find it desirable to see any errors in your HTML tags. HTML TADS provides a debugging window for this purpose. To enable the debugging window, you use a system-specific option; on Windows, add the -debugwin switch on the command line when you start HTML TADS:

    htmltads -debugwin mygame.gam

The debug window will show you HTML errors as they occur, along with the line of text that contains the error (this is a line of text that your game displayed).

Note that the debug window is automatically included when you run the new HTML TADS Debugger for Windows 95/NT, so you won't need to include the -debugwin option when you run your game with the debugger.

Steps in converting a game

Since standard games play unchanged on HTML TADS, you can convert a game to HTML TADS incrementally; that is, you can start off with a very small set of changes to your game, and add features at your own pace.

The "\H+" sequence

To start using HTML features, the first thing you must do is tell HTML TADS that your game is going to use HTML. To enable old games to play unchanged, HTML TADS starts up in "compatibility" mode, which means that it passes through all of the text in the game to the display without HTML interpretation. In order to get HTML TADS to start interpreting HTML markups, you need to send a special formatting code. At the beginning of your game, at or around the first line of your init() routine, you should put the following TADS code:


This doesn't actually display anything on the screen, but it does tell HTML TADS to enter HTML mode. From this point on, HTML TADS will interpret HTML markups in your game, allowing you to use the full power of HTML to format your game's display.

You can also convert a game more incrementally by turning on HTML only when you want to use it, and then turning it off again. To turn HTML back off, use the "\H-"; sequence. If you only want HTML functions in a few limited places, you can turn HTML on and off selectively, to avoid any impact on the rest of your game. However, if you're developing a new game for HTML TADS, you'll probably find it easier to turn on HTML mode at the beginning of the game and leave it on at all times.

Note: if you use the "\H+" sequence in your init() function, you should be careful to also use it in your restore-game code, since it is possible under certain circumstances for the interpreter to bypass your init() function entirely. This happens when the user starts the interpreter by opening a saved game file directly from the operating system shell, which is supported on some systems.

Special characters: < and &

When HTML mode is active, two characters become special, because they introduce HTML sequences. The first is the less-than sign, <, which introduces an HTML tag. The second is the ampersand, &, which introduces a character specifier sequence.

You probably won't have a lot of either of these characters in your game's text. Any that are present, though, will have to be converted to special character sequences that tell HTML that you want to display these characters.

You need to convert each less-than sign to this sequence of characters:


You need to convert each ampersand to this sequence of characters:


Note that the special embedded expression syntax, which uses "<<" and ">>" to delimit an expression contained within a double-quoted string, does not need to be changed, and in fact must not be changed. You should continue to write embedded expressions just as you always have. For example:

    sdesc = "The blackboard has an equation scribbled
             on it: x &lt; << blackboard.xValue >>"

The reason that you don't need to change the "<<" sequence for an embedded expression is that this syntax is used only by the TADS compiler. The compiler recognizes embedded expressions and removes them from your strings before the strings are placed in your .GAM file. HTML tags, on the other hand, are handled by the HTML TADS interpreter. Since the "<<" sequence of an embedded expression is removed at compile time, the HTML TADS interpreter never sees it, hence it doesn't need to be changed for HTML.

The status line

One of the limitations of the standard TADS is that its status line format is rather inflexible. While this simplified game development, it made it impossible to get effects beyond the normal status line display.

HTML TADS removes this limitation. In HTML TADS, the status line is entirely under your control. HTML TADS provides a "banner" feature, which lets you designate that a block of text is displayed in a panel at the top of the window; this panel can be as large or small as you like, and can contain anything that you can use in the main HTML window -- fancy formatting, graphics, and any other HTML features. In fact, you can go beyond this by using multiple status lines -- you can have as many banners as you like (although this is obviously limited by the available window area). You can also make status lines come and go as needed throughout the game.

There is a small price to pay for all of this new flexibility, though: you must do all of the status line formatting. Whereas the status line formatting is done automatically by the user interface in the standard TADS, in HTML TADS the game author must provide HTML markups to format the status line.

Fortunately, adv.t has built-in support that will automatically generate the necessary HTML commands to emulate the standard status line style when in HTML mode. You can replace this with your own status line formatting if you want, but for simplicity the default handling is available. To enable the default status line formatting with HTML markups, recompile your game (assuming it includes adv.t) with the preprocessor symbol USE_HTML_STATUS defined:

    tc -D USE_HTML_STATUS mygame.t

(If you're using a Macintosh, use the dialog "define preprocessor symbols" to define this symbol. Open the dialog and enter USE_HTML_STATUS on a line in the list of symbols to define.)

Refer to the room object's statusLine routine (the one defined within the #ifdef USE_HTML_STATUS section) to see how the traditional status line formatting translates to HTML. If you want to customize the formatting, simply replace room.statusLine with your own implementation, using the replace TADS language feature. If you're not using adv.t in your game (or you're using your own version of adv.t), you can copy that snippet of code from adv.t to your own game.