extract raw text fragments from interactive fiction glulx gblorb Inform
Last updated a year ago by jcmf .
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extract raw text fragments from interactive fiction glulx gblorb Inform

What is this thing?!

Okay, so, maybe you've written a shiny new text adventure game in Inform 7 and sent the .gblorb out to your testers and then accidentally drop your computer over the side of your boat and the backups are a lie and you don't care that much about the game logic but you really want to get all that prose back. Or maybe you stumbled across an obscure work of interactive fiction and you've gotten really invested but you got stuck halfway through and you've been banging your head against it for weeks but there are no hints or they aren't doing it for you and you've broken down and searched everywhere for a walkthrough or a forum thread, anything, nope, crickets.

Anyway this thing takes the contents of a file containing a Glulx or Z-code game and extracts the text. Typically this includes all of the text visible in the game. It may also include various internal identifiers that might or might not actually be theoretically reachable but are nonetheless in there so the game can try to emit helpful diagnostics in case it finds itself in an unexpected situation and does not know how else to proceed.

Currently supported file formats include Glulx, Z-code versions 3 (.z3) through 8 (.z8), TADS 2 (.gam), TADS 3 (.t3), blorb files containing any of the above (.gblorb, .zblorb, etc), or .zip files containing any of those things.

Try it now.

[I feel like an example would be helpful, for those of us who do not have a suitable input file lying around. Maybe I can come up with one later and stick it here.]

You would think it would be super easy to do this without a special tool -- I mean normally when you have a computer program in some non-human-readable form and you want to see the text it contains, you can run something like the Unix strings command on it, which mostly just looks through the file for any sequence of 4 or more consecutive printable ASCII characters and shows you those. But for Glulx (and Z-code) this tends not to work, because the text is usually compressed. I guess back in the Infocom days it was important to compress in order to be able to fit more game on a floppy disk, and I assume that the practice has persisted in Glulx because it makes it that much harder to cheat. [Erm. Sorry about that.]

Anyway! I think the strategy used by this glulx-strings thing you're looking at is interesting -- normally you'd need a disassembler, basically, but at least right now the ones I've seen seem to be a bit old and stale, and the problem with that approach is that if they see some opcode they don't understand, they can't proceed. Whereas this thing doesn't even try to understand, it just flails around and decodes everything that looks like it might be possibly probably almost certainly a string of text, so it does less but it isn't as brittle. And actually it turns out you can apply a few simple heuristics to greatly cut down on the amount of noise, if you even care, which you probably don't that much really. Though, if you do, by all means read on, because I'm going to talk about it in more detail below. If you care about how the noise reduction heuristics work, I mean. If all you care about is that there is less noise than there would have been otherwise, you don't need to read anything, it just works. I mean it's not perfect, there's still some noise.

My first few drafts of this idea were in Python (and you can still find a working version here, in, but it occurred to me that it would be way better to do this in Javascript, because I am assuming that you are probably a human being and most human beings do not know off the top of their heads how to run a Python program and get it to do something useful, and those who do have some idea of what's involved often have better things to do with their time, whereas if this thing is Javascript it can live on a web page and you can just drag the file onto the page and it can show you the text, bam, done.

And as of this writing, that actually seems to be working.

The source code for the core Javascript library is in this file, oddly enough. I'm thinking that I should move it to a separate file, though, so I can show example output above in a code block without CoffeeScript trying to compile it.

The source for the HTML UI already lives over in index.jade, which is compiled with gribbl, which I created in order to do exactly that task for exactly this project, though I'm hoping to use it for other things too.

Source code

So actually I think I can just write the code right in here, right? And then coffee -cl will extract the code bits and compile them and it'll all be good. Probably!

Let us begin.


Let's start with a thing that can tell us whether a file is even a Glulx file. If you want, you can read the Glulx specification.

The Glulx header is 36 bytes long and starts with the 4-byte sequence Glul (the "magic number") followed by a big-endian version number whose first byte is likely to be zero. (If it isn't zero, the major version number is greater than 255.x.x -- latest is 3.1.2 as I write this -- and major version bumps are likely to break things, so we're probably screwed anyway). I want to check for the zero byte in addition to the magic number so as to avoid being fooled too easily by stray text.

exports.is_glulx = (bytes) ->
  bytes.length > 36 and bytes[0] is 71 and bytes[1] is 108 and
      bytes[2] is 117 and bytes[3] is 108 and bytes[4] is 0

Here, bytes is the file contents represented as a Buffer-like thing, which is to say an array of unsigned bytes.

Now to actually extract strings from Glulx code! What we need is a function that takes a buffer and and... let's make it asynchronous, so it repeatedly invokes a callback with one string each time, and then returns. Not that that's really asynchronous, exactly, but it's... incremental? The caller knows it's got the last string when the function has returned. The callback won't get invoked again later. It's purely synchronous, really, but you might not have to wait as long before you start getting strings back.

Let's call this function, uh, extract_glulx_strings.

exports.extract_glulx_strings = (bytes, cb) ->

This used to do a slow linear search for the Glulx magic, but I've since added proper blorb support, and as of version 4 this function no longer works on .gblorb files. You probably wanted the extract_strings function anyway. It has the same signature as this function, but works on any supported file format, including .gblorb.

First check to see if this file is Glulx; if it isn't, return without invoking the callback, to indicate that we couldn't extract any strings.

  if not exports.is_glulx bytes then return

Okay, so at this point bytes[0] should be the first byte of the Glulx header and VM address space. Pointer addresses are always in bytes, even if the type being addressed is larger than one byte, because there are no alignment requirements. The basic types we care about are unsigned 8-bit and 32-bit numbers. 8-bit is trivial:

  u8 = (addr) -> bytes[addr]

32-bit unsigned numbers are going to be a bit of a pain because Javascript bitwise operators return signed 32-bit results, but we can just use addition and multiplication instead I suppose:

  u32 = (addr) ->
    u8(addr)*0x1000000 + u8(addr+1)*0x10000 + u8(addr+2)*0x100 + u8(addr+3)

What's next? Skipping ahead to section 1.4 of the spec, the header contains a few useful addresses. "RAMSTART" is useful because it marks the end of read-only memory, and there isn't likely to be any interesting code or data after that point. "Decoding Tbl" is useful because we need it to decode compressed strings, and also because, at least in the files I've looked at (which were presumably generated by recent versions of the Inform 7 compiler), all of the code seems to live between the header and the string decoding table, and all of the actual strings seem to live between the string decoding table and RAMSTART. Now of course there's nothing preventing future versions of Inform or hypothetical other compilers from doing things differently, but there's also nothing preventing them from (say) using the setstringtbl opcode, or from obfuscating strings in some other way, and I'm far too lazy to design this program in such a way as to make it totally foolproof. In fact, there is this famous result in computability theory that... whatever, let's not even go there, it doesn't matter. Instead let's do this:

  ram_start = u32 8
  string_table_start = u32 28
  string_table_size = u32 string_table_start
  string_table_end = string_table_start + string_table_size
  huffman_root = u32 string_table_start+8
  header_size = 36
  code_start = header_size
  code_end = string_table_start
  data_start = string_table_end
  data_end = ram_start

Okay! Now let's make some string-decoding routines! Section 1.6.1 lists three kinds of strings: unencoded strings, unencoded Unicode strings, and compressed strings. Now actually we probably only really care about compressed strings, as far as I can tell, but the other two look easy so what the hell.

Let's start with unencoded strings. These start with 0xe0 followed by a NUL-terminated ISO-8859-1 string, meaning that each unsigned byte stands for the Unicode code point of the same number. This routine takes the address of the string itself (the byte after the 0xe0) as its argument, as well as an explicit callback to which to send the decoded string, to make it easier to reuse it for the Huffman decode routine later.

If we can't find the zero terminator, let's just skip invoking the callback, rather than raising an exception or whatnot, because we want to try to extract as much as we can.

  decode_u8 = (addr, cb) ->
    chars = []
      if addr > data_end then return
      byte = u8 addr
      if byte is 0 then return cb chars.join ''
      chars.push String.fromCharCode byte
      addr += 1

Next is unencoded Unicode strings, which I guess are big-endian UTF-32 or whatever. Same basic idea. Maybe there's some clever way to combine these two routines but I'm just going to write it out:

  decode_u32 = (addr, cb) ->
    chars = []
      if addr > data_end then return
      code_point = u32 addr
      if code_point is 0 then return cb chars.join ''
      chars.push String.fromCharCode code_point
      addr += 4

Now for the interesting part! Huffman encoded strings... well, the Glulx spec explains it quite well, actually; there's no need to even go look at the Wikipedia article on Huffman coding. Basically we read the string one bit at a time and use the result to decide which branch of a binary tree to go down, and the contents of the next binary tree node tell us what to do next. I'm going to treat an unknown node type the same way I treat direct/indirect references: I'm going to treat each of those things as a hole in the string, basically, meaning that I'm going to divide the string we're currently decoding into two halves at that point and attempt to emit both halves. In practice this doesn't seem to come up at all; if the current Inform compiler uses such highfalutin' constructions, I haven't seen them in the wild yet. Though I haven't looked very hard.

This routine could proably just use the enclosing routine's cb unconditionally, because we're not going to reuse decode_huffman for some other purpose like we're about to with decode_u8 and decode_u32, but what the hell, may as well try to be consistent, right?

  decode_huffman = (addr, cb) ->
    pieces = []
    tree_node = huffman_root
    bit_offset = -1
      bit_offset += 1
      if bit_offset is 8
        bit_offset = 0
        addr += 1
      bit = (u8(addr) >> bit_offset) & 1
      assert u8(tree_node) is 0
      tree_node = u32 tree_node + 1 + 4*bit
      switch u8 tree_node
        when 0 then continue
        when 1 then return cb pieces.join ''
        when 2 then pieces.push String.fromCharCode u8 tree_node+1
        when 3 then decode_u8 tree_node+1, s -> pieces.push s
        when 4 then pieces.push String.fromCharCode u32 tree_node+1
        when 5 then decode_u32 tree_node+1, s -> pieces.push s
          cb pieces.join ''
          pieces = []
      tree_node = huffman_root

Hmm, I think that assertion I stuck in there is only guaranteed to hold if we first ensure that the Huffman table is non-trivial. And actually there are lots of ways the whole thing could blow up if we get a valid-looking Glulx file that happens to have an invalid Huffman table. Maybe it would be best to validate the whole tree up front? I'm not going to stress about that too much right now, but I might want to come back to this, because it occurs to me that, with no bounds checking in this code, we could easily end up trying to loop forever. I would rather assert or raise an exception.

Oh, but I should probably at least pull in the assert module before trying to use it, right? Damn. Well, it's not too late, we haven't called decode_huffman yet, so I'll just do it now:

  assert = require 'assert'

Wish I'd thought of that earlier. Ah well. Maybe I can move it up later. I'll have to clean up all this text, too.

Now I think we have all the ingredients we'll need to finally do the thing! We're going to loop through every possible u32 in the code area and see whether it points to something that might be a string. If so, we'll try to decode the string using the appropriate routine defined above. This ends up emitting strings in the order in which they appear in the code, which turns out to be a good thing, I think -- I have seen at least one file in which the strings themselves were alphabetized, which is not nearly as interesting an order in terms of presenting related strings together. Whereas going in code order tends to show strings that get used together as part of the same larger message in their proper order, and tends to group thematically related strings together.

It would be easy to deduplicate strings -- we could refuse to decode the same address twice, or we could do the decoding but deduplicate the actual contents of the strings. Again, I feel like either kind of deduplication would be a mistake, because the repeated strings often provide valuable clues about what the heck is going on. Plus it's slightly easier not to deduplicate. So, we don't.

To be safe, though, let's provide the callback with the address of each string, as well as the address of the code pointer that pointed to each string, as additional positional arguments, so the caller can deduplicate or reorder if they really want to. Since this is Javascript, nobody will notice or care if we pass extra arguments that wind up going unused. In the weird case where we split a compressed string into pieces because it contained wacky placeholders, all of the pieces will have the same code and data addresses, so the caller will have a clue about what's going on, in case someone cares.

Of course, you'll have noticed that the routines above only invoke their callbacks with one argument. So we'll need a wrapper or something. And actually this will provide an opportunity to take care of another niggling issue that's been bothering me: You will also have noticed that the above routines can invoke their callbacks with an empty string in a few corner cases. That doesn't really ever seem like a helpful or meaningful thing to do, so I'm just going to filter those out in the wrapper. In practice I'm not sure if it matters either way, since I bet those corner cases don't come up in any of the real files I'm likely to try, but whatever.

  for code_addr in [code_start...code_end]
    data_addr = u32 code_addr
    unless data_start <= data_addr < data_end then continue
    wrapped_cb = (s) -> if s then cb s, data_addr, code_addr
    switch u8 data_addr
      when 0xe0 then decode_u8 data_addr+1, wrapped_cb
      when 0xe1 then decode_huffman data_addr+1, wrapped_cb
      when 0xe2
        if 0 is u8(data_addr+1) is u8(data_addr+2) is u8(data_addr+3)
          decode_u32 data_addr+4, wrapped_cb

The return at the end is there to talk CoffeeScript out of helpfully building up an array of all the accumulated callback return values and returning it.


Gosh, now I kinda want to see if I can make this work for Z-code. Let's have a look at the Z-machine specification... wow, this looks intimidating. Makes you appreciate Glulx more, doesn't it?

First off, can I even identify a file with Z-code in it? Section 11 and Appendix B offer some clues, but this looks pretty thin.

Golly, it looks like the file command on my Mac can identify these .z8 files, no problem. Let me see what it's doing... yeah, okay, it's ignoring the first 16 bytes and looking at the next four bytes. Or three out of four. Certain bits thereof. Gosh. Okay.

You know what, I'm going to further restrict this by the version number in the first byte. Supposedly files older than version 3 are quite rare, and the strings are encoded in a slightly different way, and I don't want to deal with that, surely? Maybe I'll come back and add support for versions 1 and 2 later. I guess it's not impossible that it'll happen.

exports.is_zcode = (bytes) ->
  bytes.length >= 0x40 and bytes[0] >= 3 and
      (bytes[0x10] & 0xfe) is 0 and
      (bytes[0x12] & 0xf0) is (bytes[0x13] & 0xf0) is 0x30

Okay, now let's see if we can extract some strings. First we check the header, and look up the version number and the location of the abbreviations table.

The Z-machine expresses most addresses in bytes (though not all), so I'm just going to define a u16 that takes a byte address and use that everywhere. I won't bother to define a u8; we can just use bytes[addr] for that.

exports.extract_zcode_strings = (bytes, cb) ->
  if not exports.is_zcode bytes then return
  u16 = (addr) -> bytes[addr]<<8 | bytes[addr+1]
  version = bytes[0]
  abbrev_addr = u16 0x18

Initialize the alphabet and Unicode tables. The story file is supposed to be able to override these, but maybe I'll worry about that later.

The x at the start of a2 is a placeholder for an escape sequence that can't be overridden. The newline following it is literal, but we aren't supposed to let story files override that one either.

  a0 = 'abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz'
  a2 = 'x\n0123456789.,!?_#\'"/\\-:()'
  unicode_table = [
    0x0e4, 0x0f6, 0x0fc, 0x0c4, 0x0d6, 0x0dc, 0x0df, 0x0bb,
    0x0ab, 0x0eb, 0x0ef, 0x0ff, 0x0cb, 0x0cf, 0x0e1, 0x0e9,
    0x0ed, 0x0f3, 0x0fa, 0x0fd, 0x0c1, 0x0c9, 0x0cd, 0x0d3,
    0x0da, 0x0dd, 0x0e0, 0x0e8, 0x0ec, 0x0f2, 0x0f9, 0x0c0,
    0x0c8, 0x0cc, 0x0d2, 0x0d9, 0x0e2, 0x0ea, 0x0ee, 0x0f4,
    0x0fb, 0x0c2, 0x0ca, 0x0ce, 0x0d4, 0x0db, 0x0e5, 0x0c5,
    0x0f8, 0x0d8, 0x0e3, 0x0f1, 0x0f5, 0x0c3, 0x0d1, 0x0d5,
    0x0e6, 0x0c6, 0x0e7, 0x0c7, 0x0fe, 0x0f0, 0x0de, 0x0d0,
    0x0a3, 0x153, 0x152, 0x0a1, 0x0bf

Okay fine, somebody noticed that em dashes weren't working in Z-code games, and I think it's because they need a custom Unicode table, so let's see if we can make that work. Let's see, section hmm, header extension table... aha, this is helpfully defined over in section, not that either section seems to mention the other... here, let's try this:

  if version >= 5 then do ->
    return if not hdr_ext_table = u16 0x36
    hdr_ext_words = u16 hdr_ext_table
    return if hdr_ext_words < 3
    return if not unicode_addr = u16 hdr_ext_table + 6
    unicode_table = for i in [0...bytes[unicode_addr]]
      u16 unicode_addr + 1 + 2*i

Now we can make a routine that decodes a string at a given byte address and returns it (along with its end address), or returns null if we can somehow tell that there's no valid string starting at that address. I guess I'll try to be a bit strict about it, because the clues for where to find strings seem a bit less reliable than they did for Glulx.

You can read about the gory details in section 3 of the spec, but the basic idea here is that every string is always represented as a sequence of 16-bit words. Each such word contains three 5-bit values representing characters and/or fancy escape sequences, plus one bit indicating end-of-string. Some of the codes are "shifts" affecting how the next code is interpreted (e.g. uppercase), that are also used to harmlessly pad out the end of a string whose length isn't a multiple of three or whatever. There are also ways to refer to the "Unicode table" and the "abbrevation table" mentioned above.

The no_abbrev flag is there to help us avoid accidentally recursively expanding abbreviations forever.

  decode_string = (addr, no_abbrev) ->
    a = a0
    abbrev = tenbit = null
    pieces = []
      if addr + 1 >= bytes.length then return
      v = u16 addr
      addr += 2
      for shift in [10, 5, 0]
        z = (v >> shift) & 0x1f
        if abbrev
          aa = 2 * u16 abbrev_addr + 2*(32*(abbrev-1) + z)
          piece = decode_string aa, true
          abbrev = null
          if not piece then return
          pieces.push piece.s
        else if tenbit
          tenbit.push z
          if tenbit.length < 2 then continue
          zscii = tenbit[0]<<5 | tenbit[1]
          tenbit = null
          if zscii >= 252 then return
          else if 155 <= zscii < 155+unicode_table.length
            pieces.push String.fromCharCode unicode_table[zscii - 155]
          else pieces.push switch zscii
            when 11 then '  '
            when 13 then '\n'
            else String.fromCharCode zscii
        else if z is 0
          pieces.push ' '
          a = a0
        else if z in [1..3]
          if no_abbrev then return
          abbrev = z
        else if z is 4 then a = a1
        else if z is 5 then a = a2
        else if z is 6 and a is a2
          tenbit = []
          a = a0
          pieces.push a[z-6]
          a = a0
      if v >> 15 then return {addr, s: pieces.join ''}

Wow, this spec is confusing.

  • What's with the abbreviation table address in the header being a byte address? Is it allowed to be odd?

  • It isn't clear to me what's supposed to happen if an abbrevation immediately follows a shift. Do we apply the shift to the first letter of the abbreviation? Do we shift the first letter following the abbreviation? Do we do neither of those things? Is there some other even more frightening possibility I haven't even considered?

  • The format of the abbreviation table is unclear -- what's with "abbreviation strings" vs "abbreviation table" in the example memory map at the end of section 1? Maybe there's supposed to be a table length in there or something, rather than just lauching straight in to the list of pointers? If so, is this described somewhere? Where?

Okay, so! How do we find strings? I originally tried to do something similar to what we were doing for Glulx, scanning the entire address space for things that looked like an instruction to print a single specific string, but it turns out this doesn't work very well for Z-code -- too many things look like valid pointers, so there's a lot of noise, and, worse, it turns out to be both possible and pretty common to compute the address of a string, so I was missing a bunch of strings. Thanks to Andrew Schultz for bringing this to my attention.

Instead, let's first focus on finding strings that could be targets of the "print_paddr" instruction, without even trying to figure out which code prints them. (Even TXD just prints these strings without ever necessarily figuring out what refers to them, and it's doing a lot more work than I'm willing to do.) We're going to cheat and rely on the fact that the compiler puts all these strings in the same region, which we will eventually refer to as bytes[strings_start...strings_end]. Let's scan the whole address space for the largest such region we can find.

  strings_start = strings_end = 0
  align = if version >= 8 then 8 else if version >= 4 then 4 else 2
  do ->
    addr = 0
      if addr % align != 0 then addr += align - (addr % align)
      if addr >= bytes.length then break
      start = end = addr

So far our next candidate region (bytes[start...end]) is empty. See how far we can extend it. We start by skipping over the next potentially valid string. We'll just look at the end-of-string bit, which is the most significant bit of every even-numbered byte. We're guaranteed to find this, unless we hit the end of the story file first, in which case this must not have been a valid string after all.

      is_valid_string = true
      while addr < bytes.length
        while bytes[addr] < 128
          if addr >= bytes.length then break
          addr += 2
        if addr >= bytes.length then break
        addr += 2
        end = addr

Okay, we found the end of what might be a string in the string table! So far so good. The string table could end here, and it would be valid, for all we can tell. But if the table extends past this point, then the only thing between here and the next aligned string should be zero padding. This is totally cheating but it seems to work pretty well. This next bit is basically what lets us distinguish between the actual string table and random garbage.

        is_valid_pad = true
        while is_valid_pad and addr % align != 0
          if addr >= bytes.length then break
          if bytes[addr] != 0 then is_valid_pad = false
          addr += 1
        if not is_valid_pad then break
        end = addr

If our current candidate region is larger than our previously winning candidate, go with this candidate. If there's a tie, go with the latest candidate, since Inform seems to like to put the strings table later in the file.

      if end - start >= strings_end - strings_start
        strings_start = start
        strings_end = end

Now let's extract all the strings from the string table we found.

  do ->
    addr = strings_start
    while addr < strings_end
      s = decode_string addr
      if not s
        addr += align
        cb s.s, addr, addr
        addr = s.addr
        if addr % align != 0 then addr += align - (addr % align)

And now let's finish up by scanning the rest of the address space for strings inlined into code with the "print" or "print_ret" instructions, in case there's something interesting hiding in there.

  do ->
    code_addr = 0
    while code_addr < strings_start
      code_addr += 1
      if bytes[code_addr] not in [178, 179]  # print, print_ret
      if not s = decode_string data_addr = code_addr + 1
      cb s.s, data_addr, code_addr
      code_addr = s.addr

Wow, this seems to work a lot better than what I had before! Let's see if Andrew Schultz can find any obvious problems with it....


It turns out that Z-code can come in Blorb files too, and the method I was using to find Glulx in a .gblorb was ugly and slow and didn't generalize super well, so let's make a thing that can extract useful information from blorb files. I actualy found an npm module that claims to do this, but it looks like it absolutely wants to do its own file I/O, rather than letting me pass in a byte buffer, boooo. Also it looks super complicated. Surely we can do better? For certain highly specialized values of "better"?

At some point it might be cool to be able to extract images as well as text. Let's maybe lay the groundwork for that now.

We'll need to consult the Blorb spec and the IFF spec. Actually I'm finding all of this pretty difficult to understand, but looking back and forth between the Blorb spec and the first few bytes of an actual .zblorb file is helping me put things in the right context, I hope.

First a thing that can tell us if we're even looking at a blorb file at all. Looks like 12 of the first 16 bytes are fixed, which should be plenty.

exports.is_blorb = (bytes) ->
  magic = 'FORM....IFRSRIdx'
  if bytes.length < magic.length then return false
  for ch, i in magic
    if ch is '.' then continue
    if bytes[i] != ch.charCodeAt 0 then return false
  return true

Next I think what we want is a routine that takes a blorb and maybe some optional arguments describing which resources we might be interested in, and invokes a callback (synchronously, before returning) for each matching resource it finds.

exports.unblorb = (bytes, opts, cb) ->

I want to be able to pass the buffer or the callback in as named options instead of as positional arguments. Basically all of the arguments are optional, they just aren't all optional at once....

  if bytes.bytes or bytes.buffer
    [bytes, opts, cb] = [bytes.bytes or bytes.buffer, bytes, opts]
  cb or= opts.cb or opts.callback or opts

I'm running into trouble a bit later on trying to get this to work in a browser. Aren't typed arrays supposed to have slice? Maybe I can get Browserify's Buffer shim to help me out here? Yes, this totally seems to fix the problem:

  if not bytes.slice then bytes = new Buffer bytes

Make sure this is a blorb.

  if not exports.is_blorb opts.bytes then return

There are going to be some big-endian 32-bit integers in here. IFF spec makes it sound like they're signed but I'm going to ignore that and pretend they're unsigned, even though signed would be a bit easier because I could use Javascript bitwise operators, but whatever, this isn't hard:

  u32 = (addr) -> (bytes[addr]*0x1000000 + bytes[addr+1]*0x10000 +
    bytes[addr+2]*0x100 + bytes[addr+3])

IFF also likes to have four-byte IDs that are really ASCII strings.

  id = (addr) ->
    (String.fromCharCode(bytes[addr + i]) for i in [0..3]).join ''

Go through the resource table. It has both a number of bytes and a number of 12-byte entries; let's use whichever is effectively smaller.

  offset = 24
  stride = 12
  count =
    Math.min u32(20), Math.min(u32(16)-4, bytes.length-offset) // stride
  for i in [0...count]
    entry = offset + stride*i
    usage = id entry
    number = u32 entry+4
    chunk_start = u32 entry+8

Figure out resource type and size. Quietly ignore it if it's out of bounds.

    if not chunk_start then continue
    res_start = chunk_start + 8
    if res_start > bytes.length then continue
    type = id chunk_start
    res_size = u32 chunk_start+4
    res_end = res_start + res_size
    if res_end > bytes.length then continue

If the caller asked for a particular resource usage, number, or type, filter out non-matching entries. Otherwise, invoke the callback.

    if opts.usage and opts.usage != usage then continue
    if opts.number? and opts.number != number then continue
    if opts.type and opts.type != type then continue
    cb {usage, number, type, bytes: bytes[res_start...res_end]}


Can we do TADS? I just ran across a TADS 3 game and I tried running strings on it and the results were disappointing.

Aha, yes, check out the T3 VM Image File Format spec. There's an "xor mask."

All right, let's do this. You know the drill.

exports.is_t3 = (bytes) ->
  magic = 'T3-image\x0d\x0a\x1a'
  if bytes.length < magic.length then return false
  for ch, i in magic
    if bytes[i] != ch.charCodeAt 0 then return false
  return true

Okay, that was the thing, so next we need to do the thing. I'm assuming that the only thing we care about is the constant data pool pages? I do see an opcode that prints an inline string, but the claim is that it's the only such thing and that it's mainly used for debugging, or something, so right now I don't want to bother.

Let's just, uh, dump anything that appears in a constant data pool and looks like moderately well-formed UTF-8. Break on NULs and control characters, on the theory that those aren't likely to appear in strings and if they do who cares. I mean probably there are newlines but we can split on newlines, nobody is going to be upset if we do that, surely.

Going to lean on the Buffer constructor to do the UTF-8 decode for us. It looks like it quietly replaces invalid sequences with code point 0xfffd, good old REPLACEMENT CHARACTER, the little question mark in a diamond that shows up when something went wrong, so I'll just, uh, split on those too, I guess? I stuck a try in there just in case it occasionally decides to be less quiet, because the API docs I'm looking at seem suspiciously thin and I'm feeling paranoid.

Maybe in some later version I can scan bytecode for string start addresses and use that to help disambiguate? I wonder if that would even produce noticeably better results. Maybe. It does seem like at least some of these strings are just shoehorned together with no separator. Lengths must be elsewhere.

exports.extract_t3_strings = (bytes, cb) ->
  if not exports.is_t3 bytes then return
  for i in [0...bytes.length - 17]
    if bytes[i+0] != 67 then continue  # C
    if bytes[i+1] != 80 then continue  # P
    if bytes[i+2] != 80 then continue  # P
    if bytes[i+3] != 71 then continue  # G
    block_start = i + 10
    block_size = (bytes[i+4] + 0x100*bytes[i+5] + 0x10000*bytes[i+6] +
    if block_size <= 7 then continue
    if block_start + block_size > bytes.length then continue
    pool_id = bytes[block_start] | bytes[block_start+1]<<8
    if pool_id != 2 then continue
    xor_mask = bytes[block_start + 6]
    data_start = block_start + 7
    data_end = block_start + block_size
    encoded = []
    for j in [data_start...data_end]
      b = bytes[j] ^ xor_mask
      if b >= 32
        encoded.push b
      if not encoded.length then continue
      data_addr = j - encoded.length
      decoded = try new Buffer(encoded).toString()
      encoded = []
      if not decoded then continue
      for s in decoded.split '\ufffd'
        if s then cb s, data_addr

Okay, yeah, that last part where I use the same data_addr for all the pieces after splitting on decode errors seems a bit unfortunate. I guess it wouldn't be that hard to just do the UTF-8 decode by hand, so we could keep closer track of what came from where. Especially if... am I reading this right, that this thing doesn't believe in >16-bit code points? I understand that people were somehow able to fool themselves fifteen years ago, but... or is this a Windows thing maybe? Funny how there are stll all these pockets of 16-bit Unicode frozen in time. All from a certain era, I guess. Anyway maybe I should just expect it to be UTF-8 with like surrogates in it. Ew, no, I refuse to assume that. How hard could it be to just decode proper UTF-8? Will whatever's rendering the glyphs quietly deal with any surrogates that might crop up, or will I be expected to normalize?


Oops, here's a TADS 2 .gam file. Doesn't seem to work. strings doesn't like it. Completely different format, apparently. I haven't been able to find documentation for the file format, but this Jetty thing has source code. I'm mostly interested in

I should probably just make a general-purpose function that checks whether a thing starts with a certain byte sequence.

exports.is_tads2 = (bytes) ->
  magic = 'TADS2 bin\x0a\x0d\x1a\x00'
  if bytes.length < magic.length then return false
  for ch, i in magic
    if bytes[i] != ch.charCodeAt 0 then return false
  return true

exports.extract_tads2_strings = (bytes, cb) ->
  if not exports.is_tads2 bytes then return

So let's see. Looks like we're going to want to read through this in order, mostly? Sometimes from bytes, and sometimes from decrypted buffers that we extracted from inside it. I'll define decryption later. First, let's make a thing to keep track of our current position and extract unsigned little-endian numbers while advancing that position. I see something about the 32-bit thing being signed but that seems dumb and is inconvenient for me because it complicates my bounds-checking, so I'll pretend it's unsigned, as usual.

  class Stream
    constructor: (@buf, @base = 0, @pos = 0, @end = @buf.length) ->
    len: -> @end - @pos
    eof: -> not @len() > 0  # true if @len() becomes NaN!
    skip: (len) -> @pos += len
    seek: (addr) -> @pos = addr - @base
    tell: -> @base + @pos
    u8: -> if @eof() then throw new Error 'eof' else @buf[@pos++]
    u16: -> @u8() + 0x100*@u8()
    u32: -> @u16() + 0x10000*@u16()
    copy: (len = @len()) ->
      if len > @len() then len = @len
      new Stream @buf, @base, @pos, @pos += len
    bytes: (len = @len()) -> (@u8() for i in [0...len] when not @eof())

And I guess strings are encoded in... whatever Java's default platform encoding might typically have been in 2002? Let's go with ISO Latin 1, I guess? I hope we don't need CP1252 for this.

    str: (len) ->
      (String.fromCharCode byte for byte in @bytes len).join ''
    extract: (len) ->
      data_addr = @tell()
      s = @str len
      if s then cb s, data_addr

We're going to need to be able to skip over some NUL-terminated strings, I guess? Let's make things to skip past a particular byte and/or extract the string in between.

    skip_past: (byte) ->
      while @u8() != byte
        if @eof() then return
    extract_to: (byte) ->
      start = @pos
      @skip_past byte
      len = @pos - 1 - start
      @pos = start
      @extract len
      @skip 1

Make a Stream representing the whole input file:

  stream = new Stream bytes

And use it to extract the magic number, and the version. Because I just decided that those are kinda like strings and we may as well show them.

  stream.extract_to 0x0a
  stream.skip_past 0
  stream.extract_to 0

Now some flags. If this bit is set (and apparently it almost always is?), we need to enable "decryption." Or "encryption," same thing, it's symmetric that way.

  decrypt = if stream.u16() & 8 is 0
    (buf) -> buf
    xor_seed = 63
    xor_inc = 64
    decrypt = (bytes) ->
      xor_value = xor_seed
      for byte in bytes
        byte ^= xor_value
        xor_value += xor_inc
        xor_value &= 0xff

Timestamp is a string? Extract it!

  stream.extract_to 0

Okay, now we read various named blocks and do exciting things with them.

    name = stream.str stream.u8()
    next_pos = stream.u32()
    block = stream.copy next_pos - stream.tell()
    if block.eof() then return
    switch name
      when '$EOF' then return
      when 'XSI'
        xor_seed = block.u8()
        xor_inc = block.u8()
      when 'OBJ' then while not block.eof()
        type = block.u8()
        id = block.u16()
        switch type

Object types 1 and 2 are functions and, uh, objects. Both start out similarly: there's a length, there's ... another copy of the same length, for some reason? Jetty ignores the first one, so let's just do that. And then the given number of "encrypted" bytes.

          when 1, 2 then do ->
            block.skip 2
            len = block.u16()
            addr = block.tell()
            buf = decrypt block.bytes len

And now we can extract strings! Could just scan for ASCII at this point, or we could do a full parse, or... gosh, whate are we even looking for in here?

Looks like strings can appear in bytecode (after the OPCSAY (29) or OPCPUSHSTR (31) opcode, either of which can appear in a function object or a CODE object, the latter of which can be a LIST element), or in a SSTRING (3) or DSTRING (9) property, or in a LIST with an SSTRING element.

In all of these cases, the actual string is immediately preceded by a u16 length. The opcodes and the SSTRING list element have the opcode or type byte right before the length, making identification easy. The SSTRING or DSTRING properties have a (useless?) flag byte before the length, and another u16 length before that (which will be two more than the actual string length, because it excludes the flag byte but includes the other length bytes), and then the type byte before that. Which is an even more distinctive pattern.

So I'm going to blindly scan for some lazy superset of the above patterns, and then throw out the ones that have unlikely-looking control characters in them, to weed out almost all of the false positives.

            for byte, pos in buf
              if byte not in [3, 9, 29, 31] then continue
              data_start = pos + 3
              data_len = buf[pos+1] + 0x100*buf[pos+2] - 2
              data_end = data_start + data_len
              if (data_len >= 2 and
                  data_end+1 <= buf.length and
                  buf[data_start+1] is (data_len-2) & 0xff
                  buf[data_start+2] is (data_len-2) >> 8)
                data_start += 3
                data_end += 1
                data_len -= 2
              if data_len < 0 then continue
              if data_end > buf.length then continue
              bad = false
              chars = for b in buf[data_start...data_end]
                if b <= 3 then bad = true
                String.fromCharCode b
              if bad then continue
              cb chars.join(''), addr + data_start

The rest of the object types are boring -- you can tell, because they don't bother to "encrypt" any of their contents.

          when 10  # XFCN
            block.skip block.u8()
          else  # 7, 8 are "func/obj predecl"
            block.skip block.u16()

None of the other block types is interesting either. Skip to the next block: next_pos

That's it! Seems to work! Probably!


So, uh, gosh, I ran into this ADRIFT game (blorbed, no less!) and I ran strings on it and it found some XML but it wasn't very satisfying XML so I did a bit of digging and... gosh. Yeah. Doesn't look like there's a public spec. Seems decidedly secret, in fact! A few people reverse-engineered some earlier versions of the file format, though, in order to make their own interpreters, so they could play games on non-Windows platforms. Sounds like the effort required was pretty high, and the punch line (from my perspective) involved some combination of zlib and Visual Basic's PRNG.

So I could probably somehow get this to work with ADRIFT 3.8/3.9/4 files, but I haven't happened to run in to any of those recently, so for now I'm waiting until that happens naturally.

More interesting would be ADRIFT 5, the latest, but if anyone's reverse-engineered that one yet, I haven't seen it. Maybe because there's that Mono version of the official thing that allegedly runs on Linux and even on OS X even though it says it's untested but like what could possibly go wrong, right? I mean I can't blame the ADRIFT people (person?), like I have a Mac and I don't really want to be the first one to test it either. That can't be right, I bet lots of people have tested it, I bet it works fine. I just... I hate installing software, you know? Meaning Mono, in this case. Plus my computer is really old and won't take OS upgrades anymore so it's pretty far behind at this point and the odds of any given thing actually working are... well, I don't know, I mean, sometimes something will work. Like, node still works, apparently.

So, okay, I guess what I would realistically need is a decent disassembler for, uh, what do you even call it? .NET? And there seem to be some of those floating around, but they seem to be Windows-only. Not even Mono. I know, right? And, gosh, I don't know. That doesn't sound like a fun thing to try to make happen on a weekday evening.

But if any of you fine folks ever happen to manage to figure out how to deobfuscate one of these ADRIFT 5 TAF files to the point where strings works (or whatever, like maybe it'll end up being UTF-16-LE or something, I could totally see that), just, like, contact me through GitHub or whatever.


Lots of Inform games are published on the web now, using the Quixe interpreter. The ones I've seen generally base64-encode the game file and embed it in a small Javascript wrapper. Seems like it might be nice to be able to extract those as well, no?

Let's see, how to proceed? Looks like this thing only has two different wrapper scripts, at least right now. I don't want to have to come back and change this later, though, so maybe we can try for something a bit more general? But I don't want to slow things down too much.

Let's first take a quick look at the first few bytes to see if there are any non-ASCII characters, so we don't waste our time on something that isn't JS:

exports.unbase64 = (bytes, cb) ->
  for i in [0...Math.max(200, bytes.length)]
    if bytes[i] > 0x7e then return

Now let's look for any base64-looking sequences that are long enough to be potentially interesting. Probably easiest to optimistically convert the whole shebang to text up front, so we can use a regular expression.

  buf = new Buffer bytes
  for match in buf.toString('utf8').match(/[a-zA-Z0-9\/+]{999,}=?=?/g)
    if match.length > 999
      cb new Buffer match, 'base64'


And finally, a function that extracts strings from any of the above types of file.

exports.extract_strings = (bytes, cb) ->
  exports.extract_glulx_strings bytes, cb
  exports.extract_zcode_strings bytes, cb
  exports.extract_tads2_strings bytes, cb
  exports.extract_t3_strings bytes, cb
  exports.unblorb {bytes, usage: 'Exec'}, (resource) ->
    exports.extract_strings resource.bytes, cb
  exports.unbase64 bytes, (payload) -> exports.extract_strings payload, cb

Actually why don't we make it work for .zip files too? I think there's a library....

  if require('is-zip') bytes
    require('zip').Reader(bytes).forEach (entry) ->
      exports.extract_strings entry.getData(), cb

To be polite, I've exported the other functions too, but that's the one you probably want.


There is now a web UI in index.html, built from index.jade.

This module also defines a node CLI that I was using to see see if this still works after translating it from the Python. Might remove it later, or not. You could run this as coffee -l foo.gblorb, I suppose, or as node README.js foo.gblorb.

I should probably move this to its own file, though.

Hmm, so, how do we check whether we're being invoked directly as a node.js script, as opposed to being required by someone else's script? Right:

if module is require.main
  fs = require 'fs'
  for file in process.argv[2..]
    bytes = fs.readFileSync file
    exports.extract_strings bytes, (s) ->
      s = s.trimRight()
      if s then console.log s

I'm applying trimRight because leading whitespace can sometimes be interesting, but trailing whitespace is hard to even see, except if it's a trailing newline of course, in which case it's just annoying, at least when presented in this way. I'm waiting until this late in the game to trim because it's easy to imagine someone wanting to build something on top of extract_strings that did care about trailing whitespace. I figure if you're using this CLI wrapper but you're piping it into something else and you want it to not trim, you'll just hack it up to not trim. And maybe use '\x00' string terminators instead of console.log's newlines, or something.

Hmm... the output doesn't seem to be completely identical to the Python version. A few of the false positives in the test file I tried are missing. I suppose if I were feeling ambitious I would track down the discrepancy and fix either that version or this one.

For a large-ish Glulx game (Hadean Lands), it looks like the Javascript version runs in less than 10% of the time the Python takes, even though the Python version is leaning more heavily on C modules (struct and re) to try to help speed up things that the Javascript version is just doing by itself. Javascript (and node in particular) tends to be much faster for this kind of compute-heavy stuff, because so many resources get poured into improving the JIT, because web browsers.


Copyright (c) 2015 Jacques Frechet

The MIT License (MIT)

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.


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