Text-based game

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A text game or text-based game is an electronic game that uses a text-based user interface, that is, the user interface employs a set of encodable characters such as ASCII instead of bitmap or vector graphics.

An electronic game is a game that employs electronics to create an interactive system with which a player can play. Video game is the most common form today, and for this reason the two terms are often mistakenly used synonymously. Other common forms of electronic game include such products as handheld electronic games, standalone systems, and exclusively non-visual products.

Text-based user interface type of interface based on outputting to or controlling a text display

Text-based user interfaces (TUI), alternately terminal user interfaces, to reflect a dependence upon the properties of computer terminals and not just text, is a retronym parallel to the concept of graphical user interfaces (GUI). Like GUIs, they may use the entire screen area and accept mouse and other inputs. They may also use color and often structure the display using special graphical characters such as ┌ and ╣, referred to in Unicode as the "box drawing" set. The modern context of use is usually a terminal emulator.

Character encoding is used to represent a repertoire of characters by some kind of encoding system. Depending on the abstraction level and context, corresponding code points and the resulting code space may be regarded as bit patterns, octets, natural numbers, electrical pulses, etc. A character encoding is used in computation, data storage, and transmission of textual data. "Character set", "character map", "codeset" and "code page" are related, but not identical, terms.


Text-based games have been well documented since at least the 1960s, when teleprinters were interlaced with mainframe computers as a form of input, where the output was printed on paper. With that, notable titles were developed for those computers using the teleprinter in the 1960s and 1970s, and numerous more have been developed for video terminals since at least the mid-1970s, having reached their peak popularity in that decade and the 1980s, and continued as early online games into the mid-1990s.

Teleprinter device for transmitting messages in written form by electrical signals

A teleprinter is an electromechanical device that can be used to send and receive typed messages through various communications channels, in both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configurations. Initially they were used in telegraphy, which developed in the late 1830s and 1840s as the first use of electrical engineering. The machines were adapted to provide a user interface to early mainframe computers and minicomputers, sending typed data to the computer and printing the response. Some models could also be used to create punched tape for data storage and to read back such tape for local printing or transmission.

Mainframe computer computers used primarily by corporate and governmental organizations

Mainframe computers or mainframes are computers used primarily by large organizations for critical applications; bulk data processing, such as census, industry and consumer statistics, enterprise resource planning; and transaction processing. They are larger and have more processing power than some other classes of computers: minicomputers, servers, workstations, and personal computers.

Although generally replaced in favor of video games that utilize non-textual graphics, text-based games continue to be written by independent developers. They have been the basis of instigating genres of video gaming, especially adventure and role-playing video games.

In video game culture, an adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving. The genre's focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media, literature and film, encompassing a wide variety of literary genres. Many adventure games are designed for a single player, since this emphasis on story and character makes multi-player design difficult. Colossal Cave Adventure is identified as the first such adventure game, first released in 1976, while other notable adventure game series include Zork, King's Quest, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Myst.

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.


Strictly speaking, text-based means employing an encoding system of characters designed to be printable as text data. [1] :54 As most computers only read binary code, encoding formats are typically written in such, where a bit is the smallest unit of data that has two possible values and each combination of bits in a byte represents. [1] :52 That said, a text-based game is any electronic game whereby information is conveyed as encoded text in the user interface.

A binary code represents text, computer processor instructions, or any other data using a two-symbol system. The two-symbol system used is often "0" and "1" from the binary number system. The binary code assigns a pattern of binary digits, also known as bits, to each character, instruction, etc. For example, a binary string of eight bits can represent any of 256 possible values and can, therefore, represent a wide variety of different items.

The bit is a basic unit of information in information theory, computing, and digital communications. The name is a portmanteau of binary digit.

Although technically graphical when displayed on a computer monitor, text data is sometimes contrasted with graphics as the former is text-only; data representation conveyed via an output device is restricted to a given set of encodable characters and the total number thereof, as well as graphical capabilities. For example, ASCII uses 96 printable characters in its set of 128, [2] :27 whereas ANSI uses both ASCII and 128 additional characters from extended ASCII and allows the text to be variously colored, allowing for further possibilities. [2] :19 Text data also has the advantage of requiring small processing power and minimal graphical capabilities by modern standards, [3] as well as significantly reducing production costs compared to graphical data. [4]

Windows code pages are sets of characters or code pages used in Microsoft Windows from the 1980s and 1990s. Windows code pages were gradually superseded when Unicode was implemented in Windows, although they are still supported both within Windows and other platforms.

Extended ASCII eight-bit or larger character encodings that include the standard seven-bit ASCII characters as well as others

Extended ASCII character encodings are eight-bit or larger encodings that include the standard seven-bit ASCII characters, plus additional characters. Using the term "extended ASCII" on its own is sometimes criticized, because it can be mistakenly interpreted to mean that the ASCII standard has been updated to include more than 128 characters or that the term unambiguously identifies a single encoding, neither of which is the case.


Text-based games trace as far back as teleprinters in the 1960s, when they were installed on early mainframe computers as an input-and-output form. At that time, video terminals were expensive and being experimented as "glass teletypes", [5] and the user would submit commands via the teleprinter interlaced with the mainframe, the output being printed on paper. Notable early mainframe games include Lunar Lander , The Oregon Trail , and Star Trek . [6]

Mainframe computers are computers used primarily by businesses and academic institutions for large-scale processes. Before personal computers, first termed microcomputers, became widely available to the general public in the 1970s, the computing industry was composed of mainframe computers and the relatively smaller and cheaper minicomputer variant. During the mid to late 1960s, many early video games were programmed on these computers. Developed prior to the rise of the commercial video game industry in the early 1970s, these early mainframe games were generally written by students or employees at large corporations in a machine or assembly language that could only be understood by the specific machine or computer type they were developed on. While many of these games were lost as older computers were discontinued, some of them were ported to high-level computer languages like BASIC, had expanded versions later released for personal computers, or were recreated for bulletin board systems years later, thus influencing future games and developers.

<i>Lunar Lander</i> (video game genre) several video games, the player must portion a limited amount of fuel to land on the moon without crashing

Lunar Lander is the name of a genre of video games in which the player controls a spacecraft as it falls towards the surface of the Moon or other astronomical bodies, and must maneuver the ship's thrusters so as to land safely before exhausting the available fuel. In many games in the genre, the player must adjust the ship's orientation, as well as its horizontal and vertical velocities. The first Lunar Lander game was a text-based game named Lunar, or alternately the Lunar Landing Game, written in the FOCAL programming language for the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-8 minicomputer by Jim Storer while a high school student in the fall of 1969. Two other versions were written soon after by other programmers in BASIC. Lunar was converted to BASIC by David H. Ahl, who included all three versions in his 1973 101 BASIC Computer Games; by the end of the decade, the type of game was collectively known as a "lunar lander" game.

<i>The Oregon Trail</i> (1971 video game) 1971 video game

The Oregon Trail is a text-based strategy video game developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) beginning in 1975. It was developed by the three as a computer game to teach school children about the realities of 19th-century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. In the game, the player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon via a covered wagon in 1847. Along the way the player must purchase supplies, hunt for food, and make choices on how to proceed along the trail while encountering random events such as storms and wagon breakdowns. The original versions of the game contain no graphics, as they were developed for computers that used teleprinters instead of computer monitors. A later Apple II port added a graphical shooting minigame.

In the mid-1970s, when video terminals became the cheapest means for multiple users to interact with mainframes, [5] text-based games were designed in universities for mainframes partly as an experiment on artificial intelligence, the majority of these games being either based on the 1974 role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons or inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's works. [7] [8] As with other games, they often lacked functionalities such as saving. Proposed reasons for the absence of the ability to save included the fact that early computer games were often simple and gaming sessions were brief, as well as hardware limitations and costs. This may partly explain why earlier computer games were developed instead under the episodic structure, but such computer games whose source code could be accessed by anyone could be modified, and as designers wrote larger game worlds, gaming sessions lengthened, and the need to resume where left off became inevitable. This started in 1977 with Don Woods' revision of the 1976 text-based adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure (later renamed to Adventure), which saw expanded gameplay and story and, notably, the ability to save. [9]

Text-based games were also early forerunners to online gaming. From the late-1970s [3] :79 until the worldwide dominance of the Internet in the mid-1990s, home computer users could still interact remotely with other computers by using dial-up modems, connecting them via telephone wires. These computers were often directed via text-based terminal emulators [10] to hobbyist-run bulletin board systems (BBSes), which tended to be accessible—often freely—by area codes to cut costs from more distant communications. [11] Without a graphical program for clients, most online computer games could only run using textual graphics, [10] and where the user did have such a program, the often limited bandwidth of the modem made downloading graphics much slower than text. [3] :79 Online games designed for BBSes initially used ASCII as the character set, but since the late-1980s, most BBSes employed colored ANSI art as the graphical standard. [3] :79 These online games became known as "BBS door games", as connecting to a BBS opened the "door" between the client and the games on the BBS. [10]

However, terminal emulators are still in use today, and people continue playing MUDs (multi-user dungeon) and exploring interactive fiction.[ citation needed ] The Interactive Fiction Competition was established in 1995 to encourage development of and explore independent interactive fiction titles, and has since held annual competitions for who can develop the best such game. [12]


Although text-based games are not limited to any specific genre, [4] several notable genres started as and were popularized by text-based games.

Text adventure

Text adventures (sometimes synonymously referred to as interactive fiction) are text-based games wherein worlds are described in the narrative and the player submits typically simple commands to interact with the worlds. [13] Colossal Cave Adventure is considered to be the first adventure game, and indeed the name of the genre adventure game is derived from the title. [14] :13 As text-based adventure games reached their peak in popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s, [13] notable text-based adventure titles were released by various developers, including Zork [14] :15 and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Infocom. [14] :17


An MUD (originally Multi-User Dungeon, with later variants Multi-User Dimension and Multi-User Domain), [15] [16] is a multi-user real-time online virtual world. Most MUDs are represented entirely in text, but graphical MUDs are not unknown. [17] MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, hack and slash, interactive fiction, and online chat. Players can read or view depictions of rooms, objects, other players, non-player characters, and actions performed in the virtual world. Players typically interact with each other and the world by typing commands that resemble a natural language.


A procedurally generated dungeon in Rogue, a 1980 text-based video game that spawned the roguelike genre Rogue Screen Shot CAR.PNG
A procedurally generated dungeon in Rogue, a 1980 text-based video game that spawned the roguelike genre

The roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video games, characterized by randomization for replayability, permanent death, and turn-based movement. Many early roguelikes featured ASCII graphics. Games are typically dungeon crawls, with many monsters, items, and environmental features. Computer roguelikes usually employ the majority of the keyboard to facilitate interaction with items and the environment. The name of the genre comes from the 1980 game Rogue . [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

ASCII art art genre

ASCII art is a graphic design technique that uses computers for presentation and consists of pictures pieced together from the 95 printable characters defined by the ASCII Standard from 1963 and ASCII compliant character sets with proprietary extended characters. The term is also loosely used to refer to text based visual art in general. ASCII art can be created with any text editor, and is often used with free-form languages. Most examples of ASCII art require a fixed-width font such as Courier for presentation.

A Bulletin Board System or BBS is a computer server running software that allows users to connect to the system using a terminal program. Once logged in, the user can perform functions such as uploading and downloading software and data, reading news and bulletins, and exchanging messages with other users through public message boards and sometimes via direct chatting. In the early 1980s, message networks such as FidoNet sprung up to provide services such as NetMail, which is similar to email.

A MUD is a multiplayer real-time virtual world, usually text-based. MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, hack and slash, player versus player, interactive fiction, and online chat. Players can read or view descriptions of rooms, objects, other players, non-player characters, and actions performed in the virtual world. Players typically interact with each other and the world by typing commands that resemble a natural language.

Roguelike subgenre of role-playing video games

Roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video game characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player character. Most roguelikes are based on a high fantasy narrative, reflecting their influence from tabletop role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

<i>Rogue</i> (video game) 1980 video game

Rogue is a dungeon crawling video game by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman and later contributions by Ken Arnold. Rogue was originally developed around 1980 for Unix-based mainframe systems as a freely-distributed executable. It was later included in the official Berkeley Software Distribution 4.2 operating system (4.2BSD). Commercial ports of the game for a range of personal computers were made by Toy, Wichman, and Jon Lane under the company A.I. Design and financially supported by the Epyx software publishers. Additional ports to modern systems have been made since by other parties using the game's now-open source code.

The computer art scene, or simply artscene, is the community interested and active in the creation of computer-based artwork.

A door in a bulletin board system (BBS) is an interface between the BBS software and an external application. The term is also used to refer to the external application, a computer program that runs outside of the main bulletin board program. Sometimes called external programs, doors are the most common way to add games, utilities, and other extensions to BBSes. Because BBSes typically depended on the telephone system, BBSes and door programs tended to be local in nature, unlike modern Internet games and applications.

Text mode is a computer display mode in which content is internally represented on a computer screen in terms of characters rather than individual pixels. Typically, the screen consists of a uniform rectangular grid of character cells, each of which contains one of the characters of a character set. Text mode is contrasted to all points addressable (APA) mode or other kinds of computer graphics modes.

<i>Sword of Fargoal</i> 1983 video game

Sword of Fargoal is a 1982 video game by Jeff McCord, published by Epyx.

ANSI art is a computer art form that was widely used at one time on BBSes. It is similar to ASCII art, but constructed from a larger set of 256 letters, numbers, and symbols — all codes found in IBM code page 437, often referred to as extended ASCII and used in MS-DOS and Unix environments. ANSI art also contains special ANSI escape sequences that color text with the 16 foreground and 8 background colours offered by ANSI.SYS, an MS-DOS device driver loosely based upon the ANSI X3.64 standard for text terminals. Some ANSI artists take advantage of the cursor control sequences within ANSI X3.64 in order to create animations, commonly referred to as ANSImations. ANSI art and text files which incorporate ANSI codes carry the de facto .ANS file extension.

<i>Mystery House</i> 1980 video game

Mystery House is an adventure game released by On-Line Systems in 1980. It was designed, written and illustrated by Roberta Williams and programmed by Ken Williams for the Apple II. Mystery House is the first graphical adventure game and the first game produced by On-Line Systems, the company which would evolve into Sierra On-Line. It is one of the earliest horror video games.

Dungeon was one of the earliest role-playing video games, running on PDP-10 mainframe computers manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation.

Kelton Flinn American video game designer

Kelton Flinn is an American computer game designer who is a major pioneer in online games. He is a co-founder of the seminal online game company Kesmai, which they began in 1982. His best known title is the first graphical multi-player online game offered by a major service, Air Warrior (1987).

A random dungeon is a dungeon in a role-playing video game which is procedurally generated by the computer using an algorithm, such that the dungeon is laid out differently every time the player enters it, and a player often never plays through quite the same dungeon twice, as there are innumerable possibilities for how they generate.

The history of massively multiplayer online games spans over thirty years and hundreds of massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) titles. The origin and influence on MMO games stems from MUDs, Dungeons & Dragons and earlier social games.

Online games are video games played over a computer network. The evolution of these games parallels the evolution of computers and computer networking, with new technologies improving the essential functionality needed for playing video games on a remote server. Many video games have an online component, allowing players to play against or cooperatively with players across a network around the world.

A variety of computer graphic techniques have been used to display video game content throughout the history of video games. The predominance of individual techniques have evolved over time, primarily due to hardware advances and restrictions such as the processing power of central or graphics processing units.

Linux console Console of the Linux kernel.

The Linux console is a system console internal to the Linux kernel. The Linux console provides a way for the kernel and other processes to send text output to the user, and to receive text input from the user. The user typically enters text with a computer keyboard and reads the output text on a computer monitor. The Linux kernel supports virtual consoles - consoles that are logically separate, but which access the same physical keyboard and display. The Linux console are implemented by the VT subsystem of the Linux kernel, and do not rely on any user space software. This is in contrast to a terminal emulator, which is a user space process that emulates a terminal, and is typically used in a graphical display environment.


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  16. Hahn, Harley (1996). The Internet Complete Reference (2nd ed.). Osborne McGraw-Hill. p. 553. ISBN   0-07-882138-X. [...] muds had evolved to the point where the original name was too confining, and people started to say that "MUD" stood for the more generic "Multi-User Dimension" or "Multi-User Domain".
  17. Bartle, Richard (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds . New Riders. p. 3. ISBN   0131018167. Confusingly, although the term MUD applies to virtual worlds in general, the term MU* does notit is used strictly for text-based worlds. The introduction of computer graphics into the mix therefore caused a second spate of naming, in order to make a distinction between graphical MUDs and text MUDs.
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