What’s Crochet?

Crochet is a tool for creating and remixing interactive media: applications, games, interactive books, animations, and so on. This is generally called a “programming system”.

What differentiate Crochet from other programming systems is that it tries very hard to make the experience of using it as safe and privacy-respecting as possible. Even if you download random pieces of code from the internet and include in your own application. Even if you run a game some stranger has sent you on social media. Even if you’re not very familiar with computer security. Even if you have absolutely no idea of what you’re doing.

One of the core principles of Crochet is that you should feel safe to experiment with your computer as much as you want, without having to worry about questions like: “If I install this application, will it try to steal my files?” or “What if I try this and it breaks my computer?”

There’s nothing particularly wrong with wondering about these questions. But life is a lot better if you don’t need to worry about them, because the tool you’re using tries to give you a safe environment for experimentation. Crochet aims to be that kind of tool.

What is a programming system?

So I mentioned that Crochet is a “programming system”. But what does that mean, really?

Well, “to program” something means that we create something that the computer can understand. This is generally going to be some kind of interactive application, like a game or an interactive book. But interactivity isn’t always necessary or wanted. We might want to create digital media that has no user interaction: like mixing a digital comic book with sounds and some animation. Or even something like a visual novel with no choices.

Sure, some of these could well be a movie. They could be created in a video editor program. Crochet just gives you a different tool to approach this kind of creation, which might or might not be more interesting for you. That said, this book and other Crochet materials focus more on interactive media, since that’s the point where you usually need to reach out for a programming tool.

But what does it mean for it to be a “system”?

This one is a bit trickier. I did mention that Crochet is “a tool”. But more accurately, Crochet is really “a set of tools”. Just like office suites come with several different tools that may complement each other. Crochet is the same. Each tool has one different purpose in the creation of interactive media.

This “set of tools” becomes a “system” by making them work together rather seamlessly. The tools are meant to work together. You might find yourself generating dialogues with Surface Crochet, then using this dialogue in an interactive fiction you wrote in Novella, and you test and develop the game within Purr.

Surface Crochet, Novella, and Purr are some of the tools you will find in the Crochet system. And anything you create will likely use many of them. But that doesn’t mean you need to learn everything about these tools in order to get anything done—indeed, some times you might not even realise you’re using a different tool, because they’re all part of the system. And they all support some specific creation workflows. And these workflows will most likely use only part of the tool.

You learn and think in terms of these workflows, rather than the individual tools themselves. Most of the time.

How is Crochet safe?

For most applications you install or run in your computer, the application is able to do anything that you, yourself, would be able to do. It can read any file. Delete any file. Download malware from the internet. Or even just upload your personal files to random places—and you would have no say in any of this.

Which is why, when you install or run an application, you must trust that it will do no evil, right? If you just install applications from well-known companies, from people you trust, surely you must be on the safe side, right?

Things are not so simple, sadly. Even when applications may not, themselves, be evil, they may include bugs which allow outsiders to abuse your computer in the same way. For example, a bug in something like Chrome’s auto-update feature could be abused to download and install malicious programs from the internet—as if the malicious program was simply Chrome.

And bugs aren’t even the only way malicious programs may end up in your computer. Even when you only install applications from trustworthy sources, and these applications go to lengths to protect against these kinds of bugs, they will still include components that were created by other people. And these components will not always follow the same rigorous and safe development practices as the people you’re trusting. There’s a chance that an attacker will target these smaler components, in the hopes that they can get malicious programs into common applications unnoticed—this kind of attack is, in fact, becoming more common nowadays.

As an independent creator, you’re likely going to be relying a lot on parts that were not made by you, or by the people who made Crochet. The same concerns apply here. It would be easy for someone to sneak malicious code into a component that you use, and that malicious code would then affect both you and the people consuming the things you make, causing all kinds of havoc.

Because Crochet aims to support a remixing culture—where creators are encouraged to modify other people’s creations—, this scenario becomes much more common. And so Crochet takes a different approach than most tools here by being a “safety first” tool. What this means is that, instead of just allowing any component to do whatever it wants, they are only allowed to do what you explicitly decide they can do.

This is similar to how modern phone OSs work. For example, when you try to run an application on your phone that requires access to your photo library, your phone will ask if you want to grant that access or not. Crochet does a similar thing, and whenever you use a component made by someone else, you’ll see what that component can do, and get to decide if that sounds like a reasonable risk.

We discuss all of this in details in the Security chapter.

What can I do with Crochet?

So if Crochet is a tool for creating interactive media, what exactly does that mean? What can you really make with it?

Crochet was originally designed—and still heavily leans towards—creating video games. Particularly story-based ones, with characters that may be controlled by an AI. So you’ll find tools that can help you build interactive fiction, visual novels, RPGs, and other kind of simulation games.

But as Crochet evolved, it also became practically usable for other purposes as well: things like software verification, automating tasks in a computer, procedural generation of content (things like a Twitter bot), and even building tools for programming languages.

What can I not do with Crochet?

Crochet is what’s called a “general purpose programming system”. In theory, this would mean that you can create anything with it. In practice, things don’t really work like that.

Once you step away from the tasks mentioned above you’ll find that it becomes increasingly difficult to get anything done. So, sure, you could turn the knobs enough in Crochet to make music with it, but you’d find no tool, documentation, or community support to do so—you’d be on your own. You’d have to build most things from the scratch. And that’s far more effort than most are willing to spend.

It’s possible that, in the future, Crochet gains more tools and communities that expand what you can do with reasonable effort. But for now, you should consider anything outside of the things mentioned above as outside of the realm of things you’d do with Crochet.