Upping The Story-Telling Game With Dialog And The Å-Machine

During the decades since Infocom released their interactive story game Zork to world-wide acclaim for microcomputers, the genre of interactive fiction (IF) is still immensely popular, with a surprising number of modern IF works targeting Infocom’s original Z-Machine runtime for 8-bit micocomputers. We’ve seen a number of improved runtimes and languages for the platform over the years, with [Linus Åkesson]’s Dialog language a newcomer.

Covering the technical details about the language in this thread at IntFiction, the interesting aspect about this language is that while it has a compiler that compiles it to Z-code for the Z-Machine, [Linus] has also implemented a new runtime, called the ‘Å-Machine‘, since ‘Å’ follows ‘Z’ in the alphabet (if you’re Swedish, that is). This runtime should allow for larger stories and other features that make better use of more resources, while still allowing smaller stories to work on old hardware. Unfortunately the only Å-Machine implementation at this point is written in JavaScript, which is not known to work particularly well on Commodore 64 or even Amiga 500 systems.

As for Dialog itself, its documentation provides a detailed overview of the language’s capabilities, which claims to be inspired by both Inform 7 and Prolog. Its goals are to be easy to follow, with a minimal number of language concepts, and high performance. As the documentation notes, many Z-Machine based stories exist today that are unplayable on vintage hardware due to lack of optimization.

We covered Zork and the Z-Machine a while ago in some detail. We think it’s great to see that there’s still so much interest in the platform. Maybe someone will write an Å-Machine implementation for a Commodore or MSX system one of these days to see how it compares to Infocom’s Z-Machine. Here’s to another few decades of the Zork-legacy.

Mergers And Acquisitions: Dialog Buys Atmel

Dialog Semiconductor has announced their acquisition of Atmel for $4.6 Billion.

In recent years, semiconductor companies have been flush with cash, and this inevitably means consolidation. NXP and Freescale merged in March. In June, Intel bought Altera for $16.7 Billion just a week after Avago bought Broadcom in the largest semiconductor deal ever – $37 Billion.

The deal between Dialog and Atmel is not very big; the combined revenue of both companies should be $2.7 Billion, not even in the top-20 semiconductor companies by revenue. However, Atmel is an extremely big player in the Internet of Things and the nebulous ‘maker’ market. Dialog’s portfolio is complementary to Atmel’s, focusing on mobile platforms such as smartphones, e-readers, and tablets. The future is in the Internet of Things, and Dialog wants to get in on the ground floor.

Dialog’s current portfolio is focused mainly on mobile devices, with Bluetooth wearables-on-a-chip, CODEC chips for smartphones, and power management ICs for every type of portable electronics. Atmel’s portfolio is well-established in automotive, smart energy metering, and the maker movement. While the Arduino may be Atmel’s most visible contribution to the industry, the Arduino itself is just a fraction of Atmel’s sales in this space. Atmel parts can already be found Internet of Things products like the LightBlue Bean (an 8-bit AVR), and the Tessel 2 Internet of Things board (a 32-bit Atmel ARM).

Curiously, neither Dialog nor Atmel have many sensor or MEMS products, and the future of wearables, portable electronics, and the Internet of Things will depend on these sensors. STMicroelectronic produces both the microcontrollers and sensors that are packed into phones. TI is nearly a full-stack hardware company, able to produce everything that will go into a wearable or Internet of Things device, all the way from the power regulator to the microcontroller. Although this may be seen as a shortcoming for Dialog and Atmel, both companies combined are still many times smaller than the likes of Avago/Broadcom or NXP/Freescale there’s plenty of room for more acquisitions to round out their future needs.

As for what changes will come to Dialog and Atmel’s portfolio, don’t expect much. Unlike the NXP and Freescale merger where both companies have a lot products that do pretty much the same thing, the portfolios of Dialog and Atmel build on each other’s strengths. You’ll have your 8-bit AVRs for a few more decades, and with Dialog’s focus on connectivity, we can expect even more tools for building the Internet of Things.