Distributing Your Game

When you're ready to distribute your game to players, you have a few of options for how to package your game. This document describes the most common ways to distribute a game; of course, you or your players may have specific needs that would best be met by another alternative.

Distributing as a .GAM or .t3 File

The easiest way for you to distribute your game is as a .GAM or .t3 file. Simply compile your game, and distribute the resulting .GAM/.t3 file.

Advantages: Since the .GAM/.t3 file is portable, players can run the game on any type of computer to which the TADS interpreter has been ported. You also don't need to worry about which type of compression software players may have, since they can just copy the compiled game file and play it, without needing any other software besides the TADS interpreter.

Disadvantages: If you're distributing over the Internet, file transfers are slower with an uncompressed .GAM/.t3 file than they would be if you used a compression tool (such as "zip") to compress the file. Furthermore, you can't attach any other files to your distribution, such as a README or a license file, since you're distributing the single .GAM/.t3 file. Also, players must already have a copy of the TADS interpreter or know where to find it, since the .GAM/.t3 file can't be used without the interpreter.

Distributing the .GAM or .t3 File in an Archive

If you want to include other files with your distribution, you can create an archive using one of the common compression tools, such as "zip." This not only makes the distribution smaller by compressing the .GAM file and the other files you include, but also allows you to include several files in a single distribution archive.

Advantages: The files are compressed to make file transfers faster, and you can include multiple files in the distribution. Your distribution is still reasonably portable, because the .GAM file is portable once decompressed, although portability may be limited by the compression format you use.

Disadvantages: Players must have a decompressor that recognizes the format you use; while "zip" (among others) is widely supported, it comes in several variations of differing portability. Players must have a copy of the TADS interpreter, although you can include a README file that explains how to obtain a copy of the TADS interpreter for players that don't already have it.

Distributing a Stand-alone Executable

For DOS users, the MAKETRX (or MAKETRX32 for 32-bit Windows users) program allows you to link your .GAM or .t3 file into a stand-alone exectuable (an .EXE file). Similar tools are avialable on most TADS platforms; check your system-specific TADS documentation for information.

A stand-alone executable version of your game does not require a separate TADS interpreter, so players can run your game directly without needing to obtain any additional software. Your game is complete self-contained.

Advantages: Players do not need to obtain a copy of the TADS interpreter. Many players may find this a lot more convenient, especially if they haven't played other TADS games. Some authors prefer the more finished look of a game built as a stand-alone application.

Disadvantages: Your distribution is much larger because it must include the full interpreter executable in addition to your game. Your distribution is also non-portable, because it can only run on the operating system on which you created the executable.

Distributing with an Installer

TADS for Windows 95 and NT has a tool that lets you build a Setup utility for your game. The installation builder creates a compressed archive file that contains a stand-alone executable version of your game, any additional files you want to include, and a setup program; the archive is then attached to a self-extractor executable.

You distribute the single resulting executable; players simply download and run the executable, which automatically extracts the files and runs the Setup procedure to copy your game onto the player's computer.

Advantages: This distribution option is by far the simplest way for players to install your game. Players do not need a separate copy of the TADS interpreter, since your game is a stand-alone application, and players do not even need any third-party compression software, since the decompressor is built into the distribution. The Setup program uses a familiar user interface to lead the user through the installation process, and creates a "Start" menu item for your game, so this option makes it much simpler and more convenient for players to install and play your game. The installer also automatically makes registry entries for your game to improve the game's integration with the Windows desktop, and provides an Uninstaller to make it easy for players to remove your game from their computers.

Disadvantages: Your distribution is slightly larger than with other options, because it must include the Setup program and the decompression program (these add about 80k to your distribution file size). Your distribution is non-portable, because it uses a stand-alone game executable and the non-portable Setup program.

Using maketrx32 to build a Stand-alone Executable

HTML TADS includes a utility called maketrx32 that lets you create a stand-alone executable for your game. This utility simply combines the TADS interpreter executable and your compiled game into a single file. Because your game is bound into the executable, players can run your game simply by running this single file from the operating system; players don't need to specify any parameters or download any other files to play your game. Many game authors like to distribute their games this way, because it makes installing and playing the games much simpler and more convenient for the player.

The maketrx32 utility works like the traditional maketrx utility that's part of the DOS TADS tools. The new utility has a few extra options, though.

You must run maketrx32 from the DOS command prompt. The maketrx32 command has three main parameters, only one of which is required:

    maketrx32 source game destination

The source parameter specifies the name of the TADS interpreter executable, including the directory path. You don't normally need to specify this parameters, because maketrx32 uses the appropriate interpreter executable from the TADS executable directory (which should be the same directory that contains the maketrx32.exe itself).

The game parameter is required. This specifies the name of your .GAM file, including the directory path if it's not in the current directory.

The destination parameter is the name of the stand-alone executable version of your game that you want maketrx32 to create. If you don't specify this parameter, maketrx32 simply replaces the .GAM extension of your game file with the .EXE extension for executable files. So, if your game is called c:\games\MyGame.gam, the utility will create c:\games\MyGame.exe by default.

You can also specify some options. The options must precede all of the filenames. The options are:

Setting the Saved Game Extension

On Windows, the desktop shell (Windows Explorer) uses the suffix of a file's name to associate the file with an application. These file associations are stored in the system "registry" (an internal system database that Windows maintains). The Windows Explorer uses filename suffix associations for a number of purposes, including determining the icon that a file displays, and the program to launch when the user opens the file.

When you install HTML TADS, the TADS "Setup" program creates several filename associations. First, it associates the suffixes .GAM (for TADS 2 games) and .t3 (for TADS 3 games) with the HTML TADS interpreter executable, so that the HTML TADS Interpreter automatically is automatically launched any time you open a file whose name ends in .GAM or .t3 (by double-clicking on the file in a desktop window, for example). Second, the Setup program associates the suffixes .SAV (for TADS 2) and .t3v (for TADS 3) with the HTML TADS Interpreter as well, but adds a flag that specifies that this is a saved game file to be restored. This allows players to start a game and restore a saved position with the single action of double-clicking on the saved game file.

When you create a stand-alone executable for your game, HTML TADS provides a feature that lets you make a similar association for your game's save files. Because the Windows filename association is based on the filename suffix, however, you can't create an association for .SAV or .t3v suffixes for your games. If you created your own .SAV or .t3v association, the original HTML TADS associations would be lost, because Windows can only handle one application association for each filename suffix. This is obviously a problem, because if two games both did it, they'd be battling it out for control over the suffix if they were both installed on the same machine. Players could only install one such game on their systems at a time.

Fortunately, HTML TADS has a feature that lets HTML TADS itself coexist peacefully with your stand-alone game, and lets your game coexist peacefully with other games. This new feature allows you to choose your own saved game suffix. By choosing your own suffix, you can make your own saved game files uniquely associated with your stand-alone executable, so that they won't be confused with saved games created by the HTML TADS interpreter or by stand-alone games.

Choose a suffix

To use this feature, the first step is to choose a suffix of your own. Obviously, you shouldn't use .SAV or .t3v, because those are taken by HTML TADS itself. You should make your suffix as descriptive as possible. For Deep Space Drifter, for example, we might want to choose "DeepSave" as the suffix. Note that on Windows 95 and NT, the suffix is not restricted to the old DOS three-letter limit, so you can use enough letters to make the suffix descriptive.

Using a descriptive suffix not only will make your saved game files somewhat friendlier for your players, but will help reduce the chances of colliding with another game's suffix. There's no procedure for "registering" suffixes on Windows, but you can reduce the odds of creating a conflict with another program by choosing a suffix that is as desriptive of your files as possible.

Setting the suffix in your executable

Once you've chosen a suffix, you can use maketrx32 to set the suffix in your stand-alone executable. The utility has an option, -savext, that lets you specify this. For example, to generate a stand-alone executable for Deep Space Drifter that uses the suffix ".DeepSave", you would use this command:

    maketrx32 -html -savext DeepSave deep.gam

Note that you do not include the leading period in the suffix specification.

Setting the registry entry

The final step is to set the registry entry associating your suffix with your stand-alone executable. Fortunately, HTML TADS will do this for you automatically. HTML TADS will set the registry entry in one of two ways: either the HTML TADS Setup program for your game will make the entry when the player installs your game, or your stand-alone executable will make the entry the first time it runs.

If you distribute your game with a Setup program as described below, the Setup program will automatically create the appropriate registry entries. The advantage of using the Setup program is that the corresponding Uninstall program will automatically remove the registry entries if the player uninstalls your game.

If you don't use a Setup program, the HTML TADS executable will notice that the registry entries are not present, and make the entries itself. This process is transparent to the player, but has the disadvantage that the entries will remain in the registry indefinitely, because there is no Uninstall program to delete the entries. For this reason, if you distribute your game as a stand-alone executable, you should consider including the automatic Setup program in your distribution.

Creating a Custom Game Installer

If you're planning to distribute your HTML TADS game as a stand-alone executable, you may want to build a custom installer for your game rather than simply distribute the executable and associated files. Using an installer has several advantages: players can install your game without any third-party decompression software and without needing to refer to any documentation; the installer automatically makes entries in the Windows registry that improve your game's integration with the Windows desktop; the installer creates an Uninstaller that players can use to remove your game from their systems with a single action. Overall, using an installer can give your game a much more professional feel, and makes it accessible to a wider audience of players by making it behave like a typical Windows application.

HTML TADS includes a utility, mksetup, that lets you build a custom installer for your game without any programming. You need only specify a few configuration parameters, and mksetup will build the installer. The resulting installer is suitable for disk or Internet distribution, because it is bundled as a single executable file (all of the files that you need to install for your game are compressed and bound into the executable). Players need only download and run the executable, or run it directly off a disk or CD-ROM, to install your game.

You run mksetup using a command line like this:

    mksetup setup-info-file output-exe

The setup-info-file is a text file that contains all of the parameters that define your installer. The output-exe is the name of the installer executable file to create; this is the file that you can distribute to players. For example, if you create a text file called DeepSetup.Info that contains the installer parameters for Deep Space Drifter, you can create the installation program as DeepInstall.EXE using this command:

    mksetup DeepSetup.Info DeepInstall.EXE

Since it would have been cumbersome to specify the number of parameters needed by the installer builder on the command line, mksetup reads the parameters from a configuration file. The format of the file is simple: each line of the file contains a parameter name, an equals sign, and the parameter value. Blank lines are ignored, as are lines that start with a pound sign ("#"), so you can use a pound sign to begin comment lines.

The following parameters are required in every setup configuration:

GAM = gam-file-name
This specifies the name of the .GAM file for your game. The installer builder will automatically build a stand-alone executable from your game, so you need only specify the .GAM file itself.

SAVEXT = save-file-suffix
This specifies the filename extension to use for saved game files that are created by your game. Refer to the section on saved game extensions for details on why this setting is necessary and how you can choose a suitable extension. The save-file-suffix value must not contain a period.

NAME = display-name
This is the name of your game as it is to be displayed by the installer. You should use the full human-readable version of your name; for example, for Deep Space Drifter, you would simply use "Deep Space Drifter".

The following parameters are optional:

EXE = exe-name
This is the filename to be used for your stand-alone executable. Do not include a path name, because this is simply the root name of the .EXE file that is to be installed on the player's computer (you don't specify a path here, because the player will choose the path when installing the game). The install builder always creates a stand-alone executable for your game, so this parameter is provided so that you can choose its root filename. If you do not specify this parameter, the install builder uses the root name of your .GAM file, with the ".GAM" suffix replaced by ".EXE".

ICON = ico-filename
Uses ico-filename as the Windows Explorer desktop icon for the stand-alone executable version of your game. The icon file that you specify must contain a 32-by-32 pixel, 16-color large icon, and a 16-by-16 pixel, 16-color small icon; any other icon formats in the file will be ignored. This works the same way as the -icon option for maketrx32. If you don't specify this parameter, your stand-alone executable will use the default HTML TADS interpreter icon.

LICENSE = license-text-filename
Specifies the name of a text file that contains license and copyright information for your game. The license file will be copied onto the player's computer after installing the game, in the same directory as the rest of the game's files; in addition, the installer will display the license file for the user to read during the installation process. If you don't have a license file, simply omit this parameter. If you do have a license file, but you don't want to show it to the user during the installation process, include the license as an ordinary file with a FILE parameter.

PROGDIR = default-program-directory
Specifies the default program directory that the installer will use to install the game onto the player's computer. This is only a default setting; the player will be able to select a different directory during the installation process. If you don't specify this parameter, the default value is used by appending your game's display name (set with the NAME parameter) to "C:\Program Files\"; for example, if your display name is "Deep Space Drifter", the default program directory will be "C:\Program Files\Deep Space Drifter".

STARTFOLDER = default-startmenu-folder
Specifies the default Start Menu folder for your game's icon. The installer will automatically create a folder in the player's Start Menu, and put an icon for your game in the folder; this lets players start the game easily using the Start Menu. This parameter is only a default; players will be able to choose a different folder during the installation process. By default, the Start Menu folder is the same as your game's display name (set with the NAME parameter).

FILE = filename
Adds the given file to the install set; the file will be compressed and added to the install archive contained in the output executable, and will be installed on the player's computer in the program directory. The filename parameter can include the path to the file, if the file isn't in the current directory; the path is used to find the file, but is ignored at install time, since the file will always be installed in the player's program directory.

Sample Install Script

The sample install script below creates an installer for Deep Space Drifter.

    # DeepSetup.info - install script for Deep Space Drifter.
    # Run with a command like this:
    #    mksetup DeepSetup.info DeepInst.EXE

    # the display name of our game during installation
    name = Deep Space Drifter

    # our game file is in DEEP.GAM, and we'll build DEEP.EXE from it
    gam = Deep.GAM
    exe = Deep.EXE

    # use a custom icon for DEEP.EXE on the desktop
    icon = deep.ico

    # use *.DeepSave for our saved game files
    savext = DeepSave

    # display a license file during setup
    license = license.dsd

    # default installation directory
    progdir = C:\Program Files\Deep Space Drifter

    # default "Start" menu folder
    startfolder = Deep Space Drifter

    # include the game overview file and our current readme file
    file = deep.doc
    file = readme.dsd

    # include the TeX documentation as well
    file = deepdoc.tex
    file = deephint.tex