Choosing a Text Editor for writing ALAN 'interactive fiction' games


The freeware ALAN authoring system is a programming language designed to make writing 'interactive fiction' as easy as possible. You can write ALAN interactive fiction using any text editor program. A simple text editor called Notepad is installed along with Windows on every PC. Notepad is okay for writing ALAN games but there are better text editor programs available. Using one of these more sophisticated text editors will make learning and using ALAN much easier.

This webpage lists Windows text editor programs that provide nice writing environments for developing ALAN interactive fiction games. From this page you can download any of these programs that you wish to try plus 'syntax highlighting' files and instructions to customise the programs specifically for ALAN.

I think the two best ALAN writing environments for Windows computers are AlanIDE and Crimson Editor.  Textpad, Fed and ConTEXT are other feasible alternatives that you might like to consider.  (For Apple Macintosh try AlanIDE. For Linux try AlanIDE and FED; at some stage soon I want to set up the 'Kate' Linux editor too.)

 AlanIDE    * * * * *

Thomas Nilsson, the author of the ALAN language, also provides a nice 'development environment' for ALAN called the AlanIDE. AlanIDE is freeware and can be downloaded from Thomas's ALAN Homepages website.

(The AlanIDE runs on the 'portable' Java system which means it can run nicely on Apple Macintosh and Linux computers as well as Windows PCs.)  

The greatest advantage of AlanIDE is that it provides a structured view of your interactive fiction programming so you can select an item from the structure outline on the left of the screen and jump straight to that item's definition in the program you're writing. (See the screenshot.)

The biggest disadvantage is that AlanIDE does not 'wordwrap' paragraphs of text. I find this a bit of a problem because I spend a lot of time writing and re-writing paragraphs of description in my ALAN games and it is a nuisance having to also stop and manually realign the text I've mangled. I suggest you try AlanIDE as your first ALAN editor, if you don't like it, for this reason or some other, then try next option listed here.

Installation Instructions for AlanIDE
Setting up AlanIDE on your PC can be confusing. So I once wrote step-by-step setup instructions in a message to the ALAN email discussion group. These long instructions may give the impression that the process is complicated but I was really just trying to mention every possible step involved. So grab those instructions, print them out if you can, and follow your way through them.

If you want to write ALAN games, give AlanIDE a go. It's a nice 'authoring' environment.
ALAN-IDE text editor

 Crimson Editor   * * * * *

Crimson Editor is a freeware "programmers' text editor." There are many such programs available but, as an Alan editor, Crimson stands out for me because it can be configured to 'understand' Alan sourcecode almost as well as AlanIDE -- it can highlight Alan language words, compile and play Alan games from within the editor. And the clincher is that it dynamically wordwraps paragraphs of descriptive text which is the one thing AlanIDE cannot do.

The only potential downside is that Crimson Editor is not currently being actively developed. This is not a big problem because the program has all the features it needs to work with ALAN and there is an active discussion forum for users questions at the Crimson Editor website.

I have created the various Crimson configuration files requires to set up Crimson Editor to work with ALAN. You can download those files from this webpage so it will only take you minutes instead of the hours that it took me to configure Crimson to my liking.


Setting up Crimson Editor for writing ALAN games
Setting up Crimson so that it 'understands' ALAN involves a bit of fiddling about but it's not too bad. There's more detailed instructions included in the syntax configuration zipfile but here's an overview:
  • Download and run the Crimson Editor installer from the Crimson Editor homepage.
  • Download the zipfile containing my ALAN-specific configuration files for Crimson Editor.
  • Uncompress that zipfile to a temporary location on your PC
  • Open the 'readme.txt' file included in the zipfile
  • Move the config files to the various Crimson Editor setup folders specified in the ReadMe file.
  • Edit the 'Compile' and 'Play' Tools settings within Crimson if your ALAN programs aren't installed in the same place as mine.
It is well worth the few minutes it takes to set up Crimson Editor to work well with ALAN. It's a good editor and when customised feels like it was written just for ALAN!
Crimson Editor

 TextPad    * * * * *

TextPad is as good an ALAN text editor as Crimson Editor is.  However TextPad is shareware rather than freeware so you should be paying for a licensed copy if you use it for longer than its one month trial period. The price is about $35US. If you're comfortable with that, then it is certainly a viable alternative to Crimson Editor.

Setting up TextPad to work with ALAN is similar to Crimson -- you need to setup 'compile' and 'play' menu items, define file associations, install the TextPad ALAN syntax highlighting configuration file and so on. I haven't provided step-by-step instuctions for TextPad setup though the concepts are the same as Crimson so with TextPad's built-in Help and some tips from the Crimson instructions above, I'm sure anyone can configure TextPad to work very nicely as an ALAN editor.
TextPad text editor

 ConTEXT   * * * * *

ConTEXT is a good freeeware text editor. It was the Windows text editor I was most familiar with when I started this ALAN syntax-highlighting project so ConTEXT was the first editor I configured for writing ALAN games.

However I do not really recommend it as an ALAN text editor because it doesn't wordwrap descriptive paragraphs properly. I include it here because I'd created a syntax highlighting file for it before I realised that the wordwrap wasn't as good as Crimson Editor and it had no other compelling feature for ALAN authoring. I've used ConTEXT for other text-editing activities at both home and work. It seems to be a very solid and useful product.

ConTEXT is under active development so maybe some day a nice paragraph wordwrap feature may be added to its feature-set. Then this ConTEXT syntax highlighting configuration file may become really useful.


ConTEXT text editor

FED    * * * * *

The FED text editor, written by Sean Hargreaves, is a bit different from the other editors here. It has been around for a long time and its appearance is rather old-fashioned though its feature-set is quite rich. I really like it but this might be because I've used it since I was running an MS-DOS PC. People brought up on WIndows may find FED's user interface a bit unusual.

The main advantage of FED is that as well as being configurable to compile, play, wordwrap and syntax-highlight ALAN files like the other Windows editors listed here, is that has 'text-folding' (so you can collapse blocks of text down to single lines so you can more easily see a broad overview of your file's structure.)

Another distinguishing feature is that there are MS-DOS and Linux text-console versions.

Here's the FED syntax highlighting configuration file.
FED text editor


Last Update: May 2007. (Please contact me (My email address is stevgrif  (at actrix.co.nz) if you have any comments , corrections or suggestions. Thanks.)