Andrew Plotkin

From Academic Kids

Andrew Plotkin, also known as Zarf, is a computer programmer, game designer, and puzzle enthusiast. His games include the tabletop Icehouse game Martian Go, the Macintosh puzzle game System's Twilight, and several works of interactive fiction; he also wrote StonerView, a re-creation of SGI's ElectroPaint screen saver.

Andrew Plotkin's works of interactive fiction have earned a reputation for difficulty and cruelty, but also for high quality. He has received 12 XYZZY awards. His first publicly released work was A Change in the Weather (1995), which won first place in the Inform category of the first annual Interactive Fiction Competition. The game modeled scenery in great detail but frustrated players with its tremendous difficulty; similarly, the sprawling, surreal So Far (1996) could lock players out of victory easily early on.

More recent games by Andrew Plotkin have been more generous to the player. The near-future spy-thriller Spider and Web (1998), the Hunt the Wumpus-inspired Hunter, in Darkness (1999), and the unnerving one-room Shade (2000) are more linearly structured and more forgiving than his earlier works. Similarly his latest work, The Dreamhold (2004) is intended gently guide new players into the conventions of interactive fiction while remaining quite a puzzle as is shown by its wining the XYZZY award for Best Puzzles.

Several of Andrew Plotkin's works defy traditional interactive fiction categorization and can only be regarded as experimental. The Space Under the Window (1997) is a poetic work structured similarly to hypertext; Lists and Lists (1996) is an Inform port of the Scheme programming language; Lighan ses Lion (2001), an entry in Emily Short's Walkthrough Competition, is a linguistic puzzle akin to Carl Muckenhoupt's contemporary work The Gostak (2001).

Andrew Plotkin is not only an author but also a subject of interactive fiction, and a fictional account of his life can be played in J. Robinson Wheeler's XYZZY award-winning Being Andrew Plotkin (2000), which is based loosely on the movie Being John Malkovich (1999).

Contributions to interpreter standards

Plotkin is responsible for three contributions to the growing body of interactive fiction interpreter software. First, he defined the Glk standard, an API for interactive fiction I/O. Interactive fiction ordinarily is produced for a virtual machine which can be emulated in different operating systems. Glk defines a standard means by which interpreters can provide input/output services on different platforms.

Second, Plotkin defined the Glulx virtual machine, a replacement for the venerable Z-machine standard. The Z-machine was created by Infocom and became a de facto standard for modern interactive fiction; most of Plotkin's own works were produced for it using the Inform programming language by Graham Nelson. As new works of interactive fiction began to reach the limits of the Z-machine, Plotkin defined the Glulx virtual machine to fit the Inform language Nelson had designed. (In an example of code reuse, Plotkin delegated the input/output capabilities of Glulx to Glk.) The Inform compiler is now able to produce programs for either the Z-machine or Glulx.

Lastly, he created a standard for packaging sound and graphics files with interactive fiction games called blorb. The standard is currently used by many z-machine and glulx interpreters.

External links


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