Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deus ex Z-machine

With all the hype surrounding the upcoming Kindle Development Kit (anyone seen it, BTW?), it's no wonder the Kindle boards are filled with application requests galore.  It would seem that like the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, the range of applications requested run the gamut: from clocks to ports of Doom. Kindicts obviously have their personal favorites, but there is one application that deserves to be front-and-center: Z-machine.

The Zetetic Z-machine
For those who don't know, a Z-machine is a virtual machine developed by Infocom in 1979 to be able to port their text-based adventure games to virtually any platform.  The "Z" in Z-machine stands for Zork - one of Infocom's original games.  Z-machines have been developed for virtually every platform: 15 desktop OSes, 10 portable OSes, emacs, Java, and JavaScript, and they have been deployed on everything from mainframes to watches.  Z-machines have become a rite of passage of sorts for new devices.

Requests, Anyone?
Since the Kindle is primarily a book-reading device, a Z-machine interpreter seems like a natural fit, since the games are generally considered interactive fiction of sorts.  The one requests on the mobileread.com site is from April, 2009 and is met with the conclusion that since a JavaScript version is available, people could just play that.  There is one other thread, but that is for the iLiad reader (which, apparently, has a native Z-machine).

The JavaScript version, while sufficient in the interim, does not take full advantage of the Kindle's display capabilities, nor does it address the Z-machine issue for non-US Kindles, since wireless web access is blocked for all but Wikipedia and the Kindle store.

App Store Woes
If someone does port a Z-machine via the KDK, it may be blocked by Amazon, since it may be seen as an application that enables the skirting of copyright - something which Amazon has no experience with.  Still, the KDK may be the best opportunity to realize a native Z-machine on the Kindle.  If Amazon does not allow the application to be deployed through the app store, then there is little doubt that it will be deployed via the 'alternate' app deployment method that is bound to crop up.

Kindicted fully supports a native Z-machine port, and will be an early adopter and reviewer of what can be considered one of the most natural application fits for the Kindle.


  1. >play IF game
    What do you want to play IF game on?


  2. Love the idea and when I got my Kindle in 2009 this was one of the first "geek killer applications" that came to mind. Of course IP will be an issue with an open "player" when it comes to things like Infocom classics. But there are also many free IF games available. Otherwise the application could be offered as a closed bundle together with one or a collection of Infocom classic games.

  3. Trying to buy "Blue Lacuna" on Amazon ... Not working out. You'd think ifAuthors like Aaron Reed and Emily Short would be eager to self-publish the old catalog of such work.