Introduction to HTML TADS

This document is a brief introduction to HTML TADS, a text adventure interpreter based on TADS.

HTML TADS Documentation Overview

For your browsing convenience, here's a list of the documentation included with HTML TADS.

If you're interested in porting HTML TADS to a new operating system, you can refer to the porting notes (which you need not consult to write or play games with HTML TADS).

Contacting the author

If you encounter any problems, or would like to offer suggestions for improvements, please contact the author at When reporting a problem, please provide as complete a description as possible of the problem and the exact steps needed to reproduce it.

For more general advice and information about interactive fiction, you may be interested in consulting the usenet newsgroup, which is concerned with all aspects of interactive fiction, and in particular the technical and artistic details of designing and developing adventure games.

What is HTML TADS?

HTML TADS is an interpreter for games created with TADS, the Text Adventure Development System. HTML TADS is an extension of the standard TADS interpreter that allows a game author to use HTML markups to control the appearance of the game.

HTML TADS is simply a different user interface on the standard TADS interpreter engine. You create a game for use with HTML TADS in the same way as with the standard TADS; the only difference is that you can use HTML markups to format the text of your game.

HTML TADS allows a TADS game to use many features that have not traditionally been available in text adventure systems:

What software do I need?

If you've installed the TADS Author's Kit for Windows, you already have everything you need to create and run HTML TADS games. If not, you'll need the following software:

You might also want TADS Workbench, if you're using Windows. This is a development environment that integrates the interactive TADS Debugger with the full HTML TADS display environment, facilitating debugging and testing of games that use HTML formatting. This is included in the TADS Author's Kit.

If you're using TADS 2, you'll also want the TADS Author's Manual, which provides information on how to develop a game with TADS. You should be able to get the Author's Manual in electronic form from the same place you got TADS; try the Interactive Fiction Archive at ( if you're not sure where to look. The manual is also available on the Web in HTML format (thanks to Neil K. Guy, who converted the manual from the original TeX version) at You may also want to get a book on HTML version 3.2, so that you can learn how to use HTML to format your game's display.

If you're using TADS 3, you'll want the User's Manuals. These are bundled with the "full documentation" version of the TADS 3 Author's Kit, or can be downloaded separately. You should be able to find these at the IF Archive or through the site.

Once you have the software and manuals you need, refer to Getting Started with HTML TADS for an introduction to using the HTML features in HTML TADS.

Since HTML TADS is an extension to the normal TADS, you can use what you already know about TADS to write a HTML TADS game -- refer to Converting a Game to HTML TADS for information about how to put HTML features in your existing TADS games.

Compatibility between HTML TADS and standard TADS

HTML TADS is an extension of the standard TADS. The core language system is the same in both versions; the only difference is the way the two systems interpret and display text. Even though HTML TADS uses a very different display system than the standard TADS, the two versions are highly compatible.

Playing standard TADS games with the HTML interpreter: HTML TADS is fully compatible with games written for the standard TADS. Standard games will naturally not take full advantage of the HTML features, but HTML TADS interprets all of the standard TADS formatting codes correctly. With a standard TADS game, HTML TADS simply acts as a Windows version of the interpreter.

Playing HTML-enabled games with the standard interpreter: Recent versions (2.2.4 or higher) of the standard TADS interpreter also provide a degree of compatibility with games written for HTML TADS. Refer to this document for details.

Whither the standard TADS?

I don't want to use terms like "old-style" to describe existing, non-HTML TADS games, because HTML TADS is just one variation of TADS; the standard TADS will continue to exist, and some authors may choose to write new games using the standard TADS system. HTML TADS is not yet implemented on as many operating systems as the standard TADS interpreter, and probably won't ever be as widely ported as the standard TADS interpreter due to its additional complexity. As a result, some authors will want to use the standard system so that their game can be played by more people.

I plan on continuing to support the standard TADS; fortunately, supporting both the HTML and standard versions will will involve very little additional work beyond only the HTML version. HTML TADS uses exactly the same interpreter engine as the standard TADS; the only difference is in the user interface code. So, as changes are made to the TADS language and the interpreter system, they'll more or less automatically show up at the same time in the standard and HTML versions of TADS. The only area that will probably receive less attention than it would have in the absence of HTML TADS is in enhancing the standard TADS DOS interpreter environment's user interface; however, because of the widespread deployment of the TADS interpreter, the user interface has been essentially frozen for several years anyway, so this isn't really going to change anything.


One of the main improvements that TADS authors have been requesting for some time is more control over formatting, ideally including support for graphics and sound. There are many ways I could have added these features, but the emergence of HTML as a ubiquitous text formatting language made it a clear choice.

HTML is a "markup language" that's become widely used, thanks to the popularity of the World Wide Web. HTML documents are text files that have embedded "markups," which are special sequences within the text that specify formatting commands. The language has been refined over several years based on the experiences and needs of a vast number of users, and it's proved to be very flexible and useful.

I chose HTML as the new formatting language for TADS because of these advantages. I didn't want to invent a new markup language; even though HTML isn't perfect, it would be difficult to do so much better that it would justify the work of creating a new language and the cost to game authors of learning a new language.


HTML TADS incorporates several high-quality third-party libraries that made possible some of its sophisticated graphical features. In particular, HTML TADS incorporates the work of the Independent JPEG Group; the PNG Reference Library, developed by Andreas Dilger, Guy Eric Schalnat, and other Contributing Authors; the ZLIB compression library, written by Jean-loup Gailly and Mark Adler; and, in the Windows version, the amp MPEG audio decoder by Tomislav Uzelac; the libvorbis reference Ogg Vorbis decoder by Xiphophorus; and the reference MNG library, libmng, by Gerard Juyn. The author would like to express his appreciation to the developers of these libraries for their fine work and their generosity in making their work freely available.

The author would like to thank everyone who has offered bug reports, suggestions, advice, and encouragement during the course of this project. All of your ideas have made this a much better system than it ever could have been otherwise.

For their comments and suggestions during the HTML TADS development process, the author wishes to express his appreciation to David Baggett and Andrew Plotkin. For their help and patience testing early versions of the software, I'd also like to thank G. Kevin Wilson and Neil deMause.

Special thanks go to Chris Nebel, for first suggesting to me the idea of using HTML as a formatting language for text adventures, and for his work porting TADS to the Macintosh; and to Iain Merrick and Andrew Pontious, for bringing HyperTADS to Macintosh. Finally, I'd especially like to thank Neil K. Guy, author of The Golden Skull and of the acclaimed 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition entry Six Stories, and Stephen Granade, author of the delightful and award-winning 1998 IF Competition entry Arrival, for their pioneering work with this software, as well as their long-standing generosity in sharing their TADS expertise with other game authors.