Scenario Tutorial

This section describes how to get a map ready for scripting addition and how to write simple Lua scripts. It goes trough all the concepts required to get you started writing cool widelands scenarios and campaigns.

Designing the Map

Wideland’s map files are plain directories containing various different files that describe a map. Normally, widelands saves those files in one zip archive file with the file extension .wmf. To add scripting capabilities to maps, we have to create new text files in the scripting/ directory of the map, therefore we want to have the map as a plain directory, so that we can easily add new scripting files. There are two ways to achieve this:

  1. Set the nozip option in the advanced options inside of Widelands. Widelands will now save maps (and savegames) as plain directories.

  2. Manually unpack the zip file. To do this, do the following:

    1. Rename the file: map.wmf->

    2. Unpack this zipfile, a folder map.wmf will be created.

Now create a new directory called scripting/ inside the map folder.

Hello World

The language widelands is using for scripting is called Lua. It is a simple scripting language that is reasonable fast and easy to embed in host applications. We will now learn how to start the map as a scenario and how to add a simple Lua script to it. For this create a new text file and write the following inside:

print "###############################"
print "Hello World"
print "###############################"

Save this file inside the maps directory as scripting/init.lua.


When we talk about text files, we mean the very basic representation of characters that a computer can understand. That means that any fancy word processor (Word, OpenOffice and their like) will likely produce the wrong file format when saving. Make sure to use a plain text editor (like Notepad under Windows, nedit under Linux and TextEdit under Mac OS X). If you have programmed before, you likely already have found your favorite editor….

Now we try to start this scenario. We can either directly select the map when starting a new single player game and mark the scenario box or we manually tell widelands to open our map as a scenario directly from the console. This is very convenient if you need to test drive the same map over and over again: Open up a command line (Terminal under Mac OS X/Linux, Cmd under Windows) and cd into the widelands directory. Now start up widelands and add the scenario switch like so:

./widelands --scenario=path/to/map/mapname.wmf

Widelands should start up and immediately load a map. Look at it’s output on the cmdline (Under Windows, you might have to look at stdout.txt) and you should see our text been printed:

Hello World"

So what we learned is that widelands will run the script scripting/init.lua as soon as the map is finished loading. This script is the entry point for all scripting inside of widelands.

A Lua Primer

This section is intentionally cut short. There are excellent tutorials in Luas Wiki and there is a complete book free online: Programming in Lua. You should definitively start there to learn Lua.

This section only contains the parts of Lua that I found bewildering and it also defines a few conventions that are used in this documentation.

Data Types

Lua only has one fundamental data type called table. A Table is what Python calls a dictionary and other languages call a Hashmap. It basically contains a set of Key-Value combinations. There are two ways to access the values in the table, either by using the d[key] syntax or by using the d.key syntax. For the later, key must be a string:

d = {
   value_a = 23,
   b  = 34,
   90 = "Hallo"

d.value_a -- is 23
d['value_a'] -- the same
d['b'] -- the same as d.b

d[90]  -- is "Hallo"

b.90 -- this is illegal

Tables that are indexed with integers starting from 1 are called arrays throughout the documentation. Lua also accepts them as something special, for example it can determine their length via the # operator and they can be specially created:

a = { [1] = "Hi", [2] = "World }
b = { "Hi", "World" }
-- a and b have the same content

print(#a) -- will print 2

Calling conventions

Calling a function is Lua is straight forward, the only thing that comes as a surprise for most programmers is that Lua throws values away without notice.

function f(a1, a2, a3) print("Hello World:", a1, a2, a3) end

f() --- Prints 'Hello World: nil  nil  nil'
f("a", "house", "blah") --- Prints 'Hello World: a  house  blah'

f("a", "a", "a", "a", "a") --- Prints 'Hello World: a  a  a'

The same also goes for return values.

function f() return 1, 2, 3 end

a = f()  -- a == 1
a,b = f() -- a == 1, b == 2
a,b,c,d = f() -- a == 1, b == 2, c == 3, d == nil

Another thing that comes to a surprise for some developer is the syntactic sugar that Lua adds to calls. The following rules apply: If a function is given exactly one argument and this argument is either a string or a table, the surrounding parenthesis can be left out. This makes for something similar to optional arguments. The following two lines are equal

some_function{a = "Hi", b = "no"}
some_function({a = "Hi", b = "no"})

The first one though is often used for functions that take mostly optional arguments. A second use case is for strings:

print "hi"
print("hi") -- same

We use this in widelands to our advantage to implement internationalization via a global function called _() (an long standing gettext paradigm):

print _ "Hello Word" -- Will print in German: "Hallo Welt"
print( _("Hello World")) -- the same in more verbose writing


The most important feature of Lua that widelands is using are coroutines. We use them watered down and very simple, but their power is enormous. In Widelands use case, a coroutine is simply a function that can interrupt it’s execution and give control back to widelands at any point in time. After it is awoken again by widelands, it will resume at precisely the same point again. Let’s dive into an example right away:

use("aux", "coroutine")

function print_a_word(word)
   while 1 do

run(print_a_word, "Hello World!")

If you put this code into our init.lua file from the earlier example, you will see “Hello World!” begin printed every second on the console. Let’s digest this example. The first line imports the coroutine.lua script from the auxiliary Lua library that comes bundled with widelands. We use two functions from this in the rest of the code, namly sleep() and run().

Then we define a simple function print_a_word() that takes one argument and enters an infinite loop: it prints the argument, then sleeps for a second. The sleep() function puts the coroutine to sleep and tells widelands to wake the coroutine up again after 1000 ms have passed. The coroutine will then continue its execution directly after the sleep call, that is it will enter the loop’s body again.

All we need now is to get this function started and this is done via the run() function: it takes as first argument a function and then any number of arguments that will be passed on to the given function. The run() will construct a coroutine and hand it over to widelands for periodic execution.

These are all of the essential tools we need to write cool scenario scripts for widelands.


Keep in mind that widelands won’t do anything else while you’re coroutine is running, so if you plan to do long running tasks consider adding some calls to sleep() here and there so that widelands can act and update the user interface.

Let’s consider a final example on how coroutines can interact with each other.

use("aux", "coroutine")

function print_a()
   while 1 do

function change_a()
   while 1 do
      if a == "Hello" then
         a = "World"
         a = "Hello"

a = "Hello"

The first coroutine will print out the current value of a, the second changes the value of the variable a asynchronously. So we see in this example that coroutines share the same environment and can therefore use global variables to communicate with each other.

Preparing Strings for Translation

If you want your scenario to be translatable into different languages, it is important to keep in mind that languages differ widely in their grammar. This entails that word forms and word order will change, and some languages have more than one plural form. So, here are some pointers for good string design. For examples for the formatting discussed here, have a look at data/maps/MP Scenarios/Island Hopping.wmf/scripting/multiplayer_init.lua in the source code.

Marking a String for Translation

In order to tell Widelands to add a string to the list of translatable strings, simply add an underscore in front of it, like this:

print _"Translate me"

Strings that contain number variables have to be treated differently; cf. the Numbers in Placeholders section below.

Translator Comments

If you have a string where you feel that translators will need a bit of help to understand what it does, you can add a translator comment to it. Translator comments are particularly useful when you are working with placeholders, because you can tell the translator what the placeholder will be replaced with. Translator comments need to be inserted into the code in the line directly above the translation. Each line of a translator comment has to be prefixed by -- TRANSLATORS:, like this:

-- TRANSLATORS: This is just a test string
-- TRANSLATORS: With a multiline comment
print _"Hello Word"

Working with Placeholders

If you have multiple variables in your script that you wish to include dynamically in the same string, please use ordered placeholders to give translators control over the word order. We have implemented a special Lua function for this called bformat that works just like the boost::format function in C++. Example:

local world = _("world") -- Will print in Gaelic: "saoghal"
local hello = _("hello") -- Will print in Gaelic: "halò"
-- TRANSLATORS: %1$s = hello, %2$s = world
print  (_ "The %1$s is '%2$s'"):bformat(hello, world) -- Will print in Gaelic: "Is 'halò' an saoghal"

Numbers in Placeholders

Not all languages’ number systems work the same as in English. For example, the Gaelic word for “cat” conveniently is “cat”, and this is how its plural works: 0 cat, 1 or 2 chat, 3 cait, 11 or 12 chat, 13 cait, 20 cat… So, instead of using _ to fetch the translation, any string containing a placeholder that is a number should be fetched with ngettext instead. First, you fetch the correct plural form, using the number variable and ngettext:

pretty_plurals_string = ngettext("There is %s world" , "There are %s worlds", number_of_worlds)

Then you still need to format the string with your variable:

print pretty_plurals_string:format(number_of_worlds)

If you have a string with multiple numbers in it that would trigger plural forms, split it into separate strings that you can fetch with ngettext. You can then combine them with bformat and ordered placeholders.

Handling Long Strings

If you have a really long string, e.g. a dialog stretching over multiple sentences, check if there is a logical place where you could split this into two separate strings for translators. We don’t have a “break after x characters” rule for this; please use common sense here. It is easier for translators to translate smaller chunks, and if you should have to change the string later on, e.g. to fix a typo, you will break less translations. The strings will be put into the translation files in the same order as they appear in the source code, so the context will remain intact for the translators.

Also, please hide all formatting control characers from our translators. This includes HTML tags as well as new lines in the code! For an example, have a look at data/campaigns/atl01.wmf/scripting/texts.lua