Using the BANNER Feature in HTML TADS Games

BANNER is a tag from HTML 3.0 that allows a document to create a non-scrolling area on the screen, and display arbitrary HTML markups within this area. HTML TADS uses BANNER, with a few extensions, to implement the "status line" that traditional text adventure games display across the top of the screen to show, for example, the current location and score.

The BANNER feature is similar to the "frames" feature that many browsers provide, but is more suitable for HTML TADS games than frames. (HTML TADS does not support frames.) The fundamental difference between BANNER and frames is that the contents of a banner are specified directly within the main HTML text stream, whereas a frame simply contains a pointer to a separate URL, which provides the contents of the frame. Using a separate URL doesn't fit into the HTML TADS model, so frames are not appropriate. Fortunately, BANNER provides the same type of functionality, and is a good fit for the way HTML TADS works.

BANNER is a container tag. The markups between the <BANNER> and </BANNER> tags are the contents of the banner. A banner can contain almost anything, but cannot contain a TITLE tag or another BANNER tag (banners cannot be nested; another <BANNER> tag within a banner is ignored).

Banner ID

BANNER takes an ID attribute that lets the document assign the banner an identifier. The identifier value is arbitrary; its purpose is to name the banner, so that subsequent BANNER tags can refer to the same area on the screen. When HTML TADS formats a BANNER tag, it first looks to see if it already has a banner on the screen with the same identifier; if so, it clears all of the markups out of the area that the banner is using on the screen, and formats the new contents. If no BANNER with the given ID is present, HTML TADS creates a new banner area, and displays the contents of the banner in the new area; the system remembers the ID of the new banner, so that subsequent tags can replace the contents of the banner with a new display.

The ID feature is useful for banners that are updated from time to time, since it allows you to replace the contents of the banner while leaving it at the same position on the screen. This is how status lines are implemented in HTML TADS -- the status line is simply a banner at the top of the screen, and on each turn, the game replaces the status line contents to show the new game status.

Banner Positioning

The BANNER tag takes an ALIGN attribute that specifies where the banner goes on the screen. Four values are possible: TOP, BOTTOM, LEFT, and RIGHT; the default value is TOP. These values determine where the banner goes, as follows:

Each banner effectively splits the input window in two. Initially, before there are any banners, the input window takes up the entire area of the main HTML TADS window. The first banner you display divides the window into two pieces, according to the banner's alignment. For example, if the first banner you display is TOP-aligned, the main window will look like this:

    First Banner Contents    

    Input Window    

Each subsequent banner splits the remaining input window further. Note that this means that every banner is rectangular, and the input window is always rectangular. Banners can never fragment the window in such a way as to leave part of the window unused.

For example, if you now display a second banner, this time with LEFT alignment, the window will change to look like this:

    First (TOP) Banner Contents    

    Input Window    

Note that the order of the banners in the example above is important, in that it determines that the first banner takes up the full width of the main window, and the second banner is shortened vertically by the size of the first banner. If you wanted to achieve the opposite effect, you would simply reverse the order of the banners -- you'd display the LEFT banner first, and the TOP banner second. This would achieve a window layout like this:

Second (TOP) Banner Contents

    Input Window    

Note further that in none of the cases above are any of the windows overlapping. Banners are always sized to fit the areas that they're allocated, and the banners tile the available area.

Coloring the Banner

You can specify the text and background colors of a banner using a BODY tag within the banner. You can also use BODY to specify the background image for the banner. A BODY tag within a banner affects only the banner, so the each banner and the main input window can all have different color settings.

Size Attributes

BANNER takes HEIGHT and WIDTH attributes that let you specify the size of the banner on the screen. Because banners are always constrained in one dimension according to their alignment, only one of HEIGHT or WIDTH will be meaningful for a particular banner.

For a horizontal banner (ALIGN=TOP or BOTTOM), only HEIGHT is meaningful, because horizontal banners always occupy the full width of the input window. For a horizontal banner, if no HEIGHT attribute is present, BANNER sets the size of the banner's screen area to be the same height as the contents. If a HEIGHT value is provided, it specifies the height of the banner in pixels. You can also specify the height as a percentage of the main window height, by placing a percent sign ("%") after the height value. For example, to create a banner that takes up the bottom quarter of the main game window, you'd write something like this:

    <banner id=myBanner align=bottom height=25%>

The HEIGHT attribute can also be set to the value "PREVIOUS", rather than a pixel or percentage height. This specifies that, if banner is already being displayed (i.e., the ID matches the ID of a previous BANNER), the height is left unchanged. If HEIGHT=PREVIOUS is specified and the banner is not already displayed, the default behavior applies (i.e., the banner's height is set to the height of the contents). For banners that are frequently updated, HEIGHT=PREVIOUS is usually desirable, because this makes the banner's screen area remain stable. The default status line implementation uses HEIGHT=PREVIOUS to keep the status line fixed in position throughout the game.

For a vertical banner (ALIGN=LEFT or RIGHT), only WIDTH is meaningful. As with HEIGHT, WIDTH can specify a width in pixels, a percentage of the main window's width, or the special value "PREVIOUS". If WIDTH is not specified for a vertical banner, the system sets the width of the banner to the minimum width in which each "unbreakable" item will fit (individual words and pictures are unbreakable because they can't be split across multiple text lines).

If you're having trouble making a banner's spacing and sizing come out exactly the way you want it, you may want to consider using a table within the banner. Tables give you the most direct control of spacing and sizing in HTML. Using a table may be especially helpful with a vertical (LEFT or RIGHT) banner, since you'll probably want to be especially conservative with screen space in a banner running down one side of the main window.


The BORDER attribute lets you specify that the banner should be drawn with a border at its inside edge. For a TOP banner, the inside edge is at the bottom; for a LEFT banner, it's at the right edge; for a BOTTOM banner, it's at the top; and for a RIGHT banner, it's at the left edge.

You may want to use a border if the banner is the same color as the window that appears just inside it (this adjacent window may be another banner or may be the main game window). BORDER takes no value; if it's specified, a border is drawn, otherwise the banner is drawn without a border.

Removing a Banner

The REMOVE attribute specifies that a banner is simply to be removed. The banner currently being displayed whose ID matches the ID specified in the <BANNER REMOVE> tag is removed from the screen. When <BANNER REMOVE> is specified, <BANNER> is not a container, so no </BANNER> tag is allowed.

The REMOVEALL attribute specifies that all banners are to be removed. When this attribute is used, no ID is needed, since every banner will be removed. This tag is useful for abrupt global changes, such as restarting the game, when you want to reset the display to its initial state.

Interaction with UNDO, RESTART, RESTORE

If you use banners, you may find certain aspects of banner behavior confusing. To understand how banners interact with certain operations that make abrupt changes to the overall state of the game, you must keep in mind that banners are part of the display, and not part of the game state.

Certain commands make sweeping changes to the game state directly, without going through any of the steps that your game would normally go through. In particular, UNDO, RESTART, and RESTORE all update the internal state of the game to some previous game state. However, these commands will not affect any banners you have displayed, because banners are part of the display state, not the game state, and these commands never affect the display state.

Banners are thus not affected by UNDO, RESTART, and RESTORE for the same reason that text displayed previously on the screen is not affected. If you type UNDO, the text that was displayed by the command being undone is not erased from the screen - more text is simply added after it. The same holds for banners.

Depending on how you use banners in your game, you may find this behavior undesirable. For example, if you use a banner to display a picture of the current location, it's a problem if the picture isn't updated when you restore a game.

If you have banners that you use to display information that changes in response to changes in game state, the best approach to dealing with UNDO, RESTART, and RESTORE is to update the banners on each turn from within a daemon. This will ensure that the banners will always show the correct state at the start of each turn. (This is effectively how the status line works, incidentally; the status line is updated whenever a new command line is about to be read, so it always displays the correct information even though its contents aren't part of the game state and thus aren't updated by UNDO, RESTART, or RESTORE.)

Alternative approaches could work just as well, depending on your game. For example, if you have banners that change infrequently, you could define a routine to update the banners to the current state, and explicitly call this routine whenever something happens in the game that would affect the banners. You could then add a call to this routine to the action methods for the undo, restart, and restore deepverb objects (using the modify mechanism to change the adv.t object definitions).

Example of a Status Line

The default status line implementation in adv.t uses BANNER to provide a status line similar to the style used in the standard TADS interpreter.

    statusLine =
        "<banner id=StatusLine height=previous>
        <body bgcolor=statusbg text=statustext><b>";


        "</b><tab align=right><i>";

        say(global.score); "/";
        say(global.turnsofar); " ";

The first line contains the BANNER tag. This uses the default TOP alignment to make the status line a horizontal band at the top of the main window. It also gives the banner the ID "StatusLine", so that the same banner window can be reused every time the status line is updated. (The ID "StatusLine" isn't anything special -- it's just a way identifying the banner so that each update goes to the same window. You can use any ID you want for each banner, as long as each banner has a unique name relative to the other banners in your game.)

The second line uses the BODY tag to set the banner's background and text color. These use the appropriate parameterized color settings for the status line.

The next line calls the statusRoot method to display the room's name (usually via its sdesc property, although some rooms override this to provide additional information, such as "in the raft").

The next line uses the <TAB ALIGN=RIGHT> tag to align the remainder of the current line against the right edge of the banner window. Whenever the window is resized, the system will reformat the text so that it's aligned properly in the available space.

The next two lines display the current score and the number of turns played so far in the game.

Finally, the last line closes the banner. Since BANNER is a container tag, the closing </BANNER> is required, so that the system can figure out where the banner's contents end and the rest of the main window's text resumes.

Example of a Command Bar

You can use BANNER to provide a list of simple commands that's always displayed. As an example, here's some code that displays a list of commands in a vertical banner at the left edge of the window.

    "<banner id=CommandBar align=left width=75>
    <body bgcolor=yellow textcolor=black>
    <br><a href='inventory'>inventory</a>
    <br><a href='score'>score</a>
    <br><a href='look'>look</a>
    <br><a href='go north'>go north</a>
    <br><a href='go south'>go south</a>";

    // add other commands as desired


Because of the dynamic nature of banners, you can extend the command bar by always updating it with a set of commands relevant to the current situation. You can do this by adding to the status line code, for example, and building a new banner on each turn with the same ID (which has the effect of replacing the old banner, but keeping the same screen area), and containing the commands currently available.

Splitting a Banner Area

You may find yourself in a situation where you want to divide a banner into two pieces, to achieve a layout something like this:

Banner 1Banner 2

    Input Window    

The BANNER feature doesn't provide a direct way of doing this. However, you can achieve a similar effect using a single banner that contains a table. To do this, simply specify a table with one row and two cells:

    "<table width='100%' cellspacing=0 cellpadding=0>
    <tr align=center valign=middle>
    <td bgcolor=yellow>This is the left half
    <td bgcolor=green>This is the right half