An overview of Quest 5.0

30 January 2010

Quest 5.0 is under development, and is substantially improved from previous versions. Although it is still a long way from being released, I thought it would be a good idea to write a series of blog posts discussing how the new system works, and the new capabilities this will bring to the system.

Limitations of Quest 4.x

Quest has grown over the years, from the very limited and somewhat quirky Quest 1.0 back in 1998, to the much more powerful system that it is today. However, it is still based on those foundations laid over a decade ago, and this means that it would be hard to implement some frequently requested features without a fundamental rewrite. This is the reason for taking Quest “back to the drawing board” – Quest 5.0 is a brand new text adventure game system, but taking many cues from the current design of Quest.

Doing more with less

The main idea behind the new version of Quest is that most of its features should be implemented in Quest itself. This is a fundamental change from the way previous versions have worked – in Quest 4.x, there is code for handling the ASL (the Adventure Scripting Language, which is how games define their own logic), and there is also separate code for providing the default behaviour for games, such as what happens when a player takes an object, how to print room descriptions, etc.

By contrast, Quest 5.0 is designed to handle as little default game behaviour as possible. Instead, all this code is written in ASL itself, and defined in a core library. This means that as a game author, you can see exactly how the system works at quite a deep level – and more importantly, you can override this and specify your own behaviour instead.

Many concepts which were separate in previous versions have now been unified. For example, Quest 4.x has separate ideas about rooms and objects, and the player itself is something different again. In Quest 5.0, these are all just objects. An object can contain other objects, and they can contain objects themselves, and so on. So when the player enters a kitchen, the player object moves inside the kitchen object. The kitchen then contains the player, in exactly the same way that a fridge defined in the game might contain a bottle of milk.

Eating one’s own dog food

In writing the fundamental behaviour of Quest in ASL, I have had beef up the power of the language. By “eating my own dog food”, I have had to design ASL to handle many things that previous versions simply couldn’t cope with, with the result that it is now a much more powerful and capable language. Expressions are now fundamental to the way ASL works, for example, and there is built-in support for handling lists.

Technical Preview

I’m very excited by the potential of the new system, and I’m keen to release an early version as soon as possible so I can get your feedback. This will be a very rough “technical preview” version, with plenty of functionality missing – there will be no visual editor and no ability to load Quest 4.x games – though of course these will arrive later. I expect to release this preview version in the next month or two.

Stay tuned this blog for updates, and if you have any questions or ideas then please post to the new Quest 5.0 forum.

Quest 4.1.2 is now available

17 January 2010

Quest 4.1.2 is now available.

This release improves the performance of large games.

It also fixes the following bugs:

  • A run-time error could occur when typing "put on" if that command did not exist.
  • Locked exits weren't working in packaged games.
  • Some container-related messages were not present in the LDF file.

If the JAWS screen-reader is running, QDK now shows the old-style menus and toolbars as these are easier for the screen-reader to work with. In addition there is a new “Go To” menu for JAWS users which makes it easier to select items from the Treeview.

Quest Pro users can download the update from

Non-Pro users can download the update from

Alex's Guide to a New You in 2010

4 January 2010

It’s the beginning of a new decade, so it’s time to sort yourself out. Do you want to be the same old grumpy, boring, fat and stupid you of the noughties? Of course not! So turn your life around, try something new and rid yourself of ugliness using my fantastic guide to a whole new you, for a whole new decade!

Step 1: A Positive Outlook

Yes, maybe you think January is actually a rubbish time to stop your life from being crap. It’s dark and cold, and the memories of a loving, laughter-filled and delicious Christmas are fading, to be replaced by the cold reality of your fat, grey reflection staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.

That’s why it’s time to Think Positive! Yes, you really can ignore reality if you just delude yourself enough! Turn that frown upside down! Those tears are tears of joy! You’re not fat, just cuddly! You’re not ugly, you just have an interesting face! You’re not sad and alone in a big scary world full of people you wish would die - you’re just independent!

At the end of every day, try to think of three good things that have happened to you that day. For example, although today has been a fairly average day for me, I can easily think of three good things about it:

  • Today I wasn't brutally murdered by an escaped maniac!
  • I managed to eat all my breakfast without spilling any down myself! Shame about the cup of tea I had afterwards though.
  • I got a letter! That shows there's someone out there who cares! Even though it was an unscrupulous debt collection agency. Still, as they said themselves, it would be a real shame if something bad happened to my house - they're such caring souls!

Step 2: Rebrand Yourself

So now you’re positive on the inside - it’s time to get positive on the outside too. Cast off your old name and go forth into the brave new world with a moniker that tells everybody who you are, and why you’re so great!

I hired a cutting-edge but cheap advertising agency to come up with a new brand. After several minutes of blue-sky thinking and meticulous market research, I now have a new identity to present to the world. Say goodbye to plain old “Alex Warren”, say hello to “Alexwar® sponsored by Anusol”.

Step 3: Change Your Look

Hey, you with the stupid noughties face! Announce your new life to the world with a fresh new look…

Step 4: Give Up Alcohol

You might think that the best way to while away the bleak winter months would be to drink so heavily that you spend much of this early part of the year completely unconscious, and the rest of it utterly oblivious to the misery that surrounds you. Not so! We’re thinking positive, remember? You don’t need alcohol to lull you into your new happy-go-lucky way of life, you just need a mantra.

So, next time you find yourself reaching for that bottle of vodka, just sit down and repeat to yourself, “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m so very happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, so very happy, happy, happy, everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine, I’m happy, I’m not crying, I will be OK, I’m fine, everything is fine, everything is fine” while rocking gently back and forth.

Step 5: A New Career

After following the above steps, you’ll probably turn up to work and realise that it just isn’t fulfilling you any more. And, by complete coincidence, you may find that your current place of employment are more than willing to let you seek out a new life elsewhere. They’ll be simply begging you to leave!

Perhaps you’ll find the job of dreams out there. Maybe you’ll decide that 2010 is the year for nothing but quiet contemplation, perhaps alone in a bedsit or some kind of hospital?

Step 6: Save Money

With your new direction, you’ll have a lot less money coming in, and you won’t be able to rely on your old friends to support you, because they will have stopped speaking to you. But they were useless anyway! They were holding you back, and you don’t want to return to your old ways now - you’ve come too far. Just think positive.

  • Save on transport costs by walking everywhere, or just going nowhere!
  • Eat less! You'll save money, and not be quite so hideously fat!
  • Stop washing your clothes! You may stink, but nobody will complain since nobody talks to you any more anyway! And we all like a bit of peace and quiet - so there's a bonus!

Step 7: Your New Life Awaits

If you’ve followed this guide, you’ll have transformed from a sad, unloved, repugnant waste of space into a much happier one.

May all your dreams come true in 2010 (except those induced by heavy medication).

Most unpopular office sweets ever

12 October 2009

When I was in Hong Kong I went to a shop called Aji Ichiban to pick up some sweets for the office.

I really wanted to pick up some duck kidneys but UK customs forbid importing meat from outside the EU. So, I had to make do with some other weird-looking “treats”, and they turned out to be almost as off-putting.

Usually whenever an email goes out about free food, there is a stampede and very quickly nothing is left. You’d think my colleagues never got fed. This time though, a few hovered around my desk, poking the sweets curiously and only a brave few were tempted to try one, with some trepidation.

It turns out that these sweets are more bizarre and disgusting than most of the food I tried while I was in Hong Kong. “Highlights” of my particular bag of delights were:

  • Liquorice Wampee – this didn't taste at all of liquorice. You know when you're visiting a stately home and there's that kind of musty, old-fashioned smell? These sweets taste like that. It's like eating Henry VIII’s duvet.
  • Ginseng Candy – “like sucking on an incense stick”, said one of my colleagues. I think it was more like licking a school hall floor - kind of woody.
  • Honey Plum – “sweets aren’t supposed to be salty are they?” said a co-worker, before spitting out the enormous seed into a nearby bin.
  • A salty plum stone in a bland boiled sweet which looked like an eyeball – “the worst thing I’ve ever tasted” was one comment, which wasn't far off the mark. Bizarre and disgusting.
  • Lemon tea – this was actually quite pleasant. It was odd to have a sweet that tasted of tea, but it did a great job of refreshing the palate after eating one of the other ones.
  • Preserved strawberries – these were OK. They were just dried-out strawberries, so no unpleasant surprises there.
  • Preserved spiced olive – this sounded like it would be hideous, but it was surprisingly nice - not much of an olive flavour thankfully, just an interestingly tasty mix of sweetness and spice with a hint of savoury.
  • Hawthorne Cake – a sugary wafer, not too bad.
  • Iced hawthorne – just like a sheet of fruit gum.

There were some great grimaces as people munched on what has to be the most unpopular office treat we’ve seen for some time. Mission accomplished!

Here are the leftovers…

Hong Kong Day 10/11 - And Finally...

11 October 2009

Friday 9th October

We got up for breakfast at the Rio hotel, which was an extensive buffet of the usual hotel breakfast fare. All perfectly fine, but we could have done without the panpipe instrumental cover versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bryan Adams being piped into the restaurant - although perhaps, for those who had lost large amounts in the casino the night before, it was the perfect soundtrack for them to weep into their morning coffees.

We got the ferry back from Macau into Hong Kong, and then returned to the hostel and spent the entire afternoon catching up on sleep. At about 6pm we went out and met up for the final time with Will’s friends Syliva and Winnie, and we grabbed a quick snack of some more takoyaki octopus balls, before getting some sushi. We had sea urchin (smooth and buttery); various sashimis - salmon, red snapper (a quite strong but pleasant fishy taste), geoduck (a species of saltwater clam, which didn’t taste of much); and sushi covered in brightly coloured crab roe.

Then we went to a different place for dessert, which was a massive tower of ice crystals like a solid slush puppy, with various flavourings - strawberry, sesame and green tea. The green tea flavour didn’t really taste of anything. There was also a pot of syrup you could pour over the ice, which just made it melt away leaving you with a sweet slush.

We picked up some sweets for our various offices. I would have loved to have picked up the sweetened duck kidneys, but Will reminded me that you probably can’t bring back meat products into the UK (and he was right - there was an announcement when we arrived back at Heathrow about the huge fines and imprisonment you risk by attempting to do so).

We got a bus back down to the harbour to go to the Sheraton again for cocktails with a view, as Syliva and Winnie hadn’t been before - the usual story of not doing the touristy things in your own city unless you’re with visitors. The “Key of Soul” cocktail was nice and fruity, and the non-alcoholic ones were really nice too, but the highlight had to be one called “Elements” which was made from Bailey’s and strawberries. It was like a strawberry milkshake with a kick - delicious.

Perhaps unwisely it was a pretty late night. We didn’t get to bed until about 2am, and we were going to have to check in for our flight at about 6.30…

Saturday 10th October

After about two hours’ sleep, Will’s aunt’s driver Jackie picked us up to take us to the airport. Hong Kong airport is at number ten on the list of biggest buildings in the world by floor space, so that was two ticked off on one holiday (along with The Venetian). It’s nice and modern, but apart from that it’s just another airport. One of the duty-free shops had a bottle of blended cognac on display worth HK$38,000 (about £3000), at what seemed an easily-smashable height. The cognacs in the ingredients all dated from between 1800 and 1930. I don’t know who would ever buy such a thing at an airport - I can only conclude that it was on such prominent display in the hope that someone would break it and have to pay for it. Another shop was called “Caviar & Prunier”. It’s strange how duty-free areas at airports still have this aspirational quality, even though air travel is such a cheap and normal thing to do these days. You wouldn’t get this kind of thing in a bus station.

The plane was half an hour late for boarding, but that was pretty insignificant for a 13-hour flight. It was another pleasant flight with Air New Zealand - I’d happily use them again. Three meals this time - sausage and omelette for breakfast, a ham and cheese sandwich half-way through the flight, and a lunch of chicken curry. On the in-flight entertainment system I watched Frost/Nixon, which I’ve been wanting to watch for a while - an excellent film, and for my non-film-buff, tired self it was nice and easy to follow.

We landed just after 3pm and were home by 5. I felt tired but my body clock seemed correct - it didn’t “feel” like the midnight that it was in Hong Kong. I’d had a bit of a nap on the plane but not for very long.

London smells clean. That’s not something I would ever have expected to say, but there was a notable freshness in the air compared to Hong Kong. The skies are clearer and it’s far less hazy. And the buildings are a lot smaller. It was strange sitting on the train back to Forest Hill and looking out over what seemed like a small town compared to the towering city we’d grown used to.

I think I’ll give myself a break from Chinese food for a while - at home we treated ourselves to a dinner of burger and chips. Not that we couldn’t easily have had that in Hong Kong - there are plenty of branches of McDonald’s, but a large part of this holiday was about trying out the local food. The Chinese takeaway menu waiting on the doormat was actually rather unfamiliar - there’s so much more variety to Chinese food than crispy duck pancakes, sweet and sour and chow mein - in fact these were all things that we hardly saw out there. It just shows how we get a very Westernised version of foreign food, but then maybe that’s because we don’t have much of an appetite for the boney gristle and pigeon’s heads.

Not that we would have tried of half of these things if it weren’t for Will - although there is quite a lot of English around, a lot of people don’t speak it and plenty of menus don’t have any English on them either, so having a Cantonese speaker in the group made it a lot easier, more interesting and fun. In fact we wouldn’t even have gone in the first place without him, so cheers Will!

I’m pretty tired now and wish I had a few more days off before going back to work.

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