R.A.I.L. was the Rainbird Adventure Implementation Language. It was a text adventure authoring language that was initially going to be used to create three or four text adventure games, with at least one of them scripted in-house. Once the games were published, the intention was then to publish the language itself.
The development version of R.A.I.L. ran on a 8086 PC and used a ‘C style’ programming language. It had a very sophisticated parser and was designed to challenge the likes of Infocom and Level 9. It could handle a long list of attributes for objects, including different sizes, weights, volumes, colours etc.
Some items could be defined as ‘ghost’ objects that had no real substance, like smoke. Other objects could be seen from locations beyond their current location. For example, a lit lamp would be visible from a distance if placed in a dark location. Doors were special objects with specific properties for allowing passage between different locations.
R.A.I.L. could heavily compress descriptive text to a fraction of its original size, and it would have also handled graphic illustrations with ease. There was talk about releasing additional library disks with new routines once the language was published, similar to the add-on 'overlays' that Gilsoft released for the Professional Adventure Writing System on the Sinclair Spectrum a few years earlier.
Paul 'The Axeman' Coppins was the resident adventure expert at TelecomSoft, and he was pretty much dedicated to testing R.A.I.L. exclusively until the decision was made in mid-1988 to cancel the project when it reached version 0.31.
It was a massive shame that R.A.I.L. was cancelled. A lot of effort from both sides had gone into it already. R.A.I.L. had great potential and a few of us in the development department were looking forward to collaborating on an adventure game design or two. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
One of the main issues with R.A.I.L. was that it was an adventure programming language rather than a menu driven system like Incentive's STAC (Atari ST) . Even though it would have produced technically advanced adventure games, it might have proved difficult to use for a beginner. That main issue, coupled with the diminishing commercial viability of text entry adventure games probably contributed most to the premature end of the project.
Graphical adventure games like the King's Quest series from Sierra were on the verge of taking over the genre in the late eighties, and text adventures had had their day by then. If R.A.I.L. had been produced maybe 2 years earlier then it might have done well.
Now thanks to the kind generosity of John Jones-Steele, you can download the (unfinished) R.A.I.L. system for yourself!
R.A.I.L. was instigated at the 1987 PCW Show and was in development for seven months between 20th November 1987 and 21st June 1988. It was written by John Jones-Steele, an industry veteran who (amongst many other projects) had previously collaborated with Level 9 Computing to create the Macintosh version of the KAOS text adventure system that was used in their 16-bit adventure Knight Orc (and subsequently in Gnome Ranger, Gnome Ranger 2: Ingrid's Back!, Lancelot and Scapeghost).
John also ran his own successful software publishing business called Abersoft and had worked in the past on a Spectrum version of the classic Adventure game, and had also worked with Pete Moreland on an 8-bit text only adventure called Mordon's Quest.