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Skyrim rendered in text (medium.com)
459 points by ellinokon 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

Perhaps the next project can be rendering Medium.com as text, so I can read it on mobile. As it is, when I zoom in, random parts of the page expand on top of the text for what can only be lazy/incompetent web developer reasons since even the large font and loads of whitespace fetishists would have a hard time justifying that.

I know your pain.. But are you talking about the Medium App? Or just viewed with a mobile browser?

You can zoom in app?

For images, yes. Don't think that you can zoom the text. At least I've not seen it yet. (Android App)

The game itself is here: https://egamebook.com/vermin/v/latest/

I just played a round while I was on the train - it's _really_ good! Not only the play, but even the presentation of "loading" the next part of the game below the current text, as if it were any other book, is perfect for playing on mobile.

I think this could really open up a whole new genre. Personally, I'd love to have a variant of this that I could interact with through my (in-home-corporate-surveillance-microphone-product-of-choice). I love interactive fiction, adventure games and DnD, so this really presses a lot of buttons for me, and if I could play a game with my voice rather than listening to podcasts while working all day, I think that'd be the sweetest spot of all.

Excellent work, OP!

It sounds like what you are looking for is something like Steve Jackon's Sorcery series, but adapted for a computer. If so, you're in luck! It's available for Android[1] and iOS[2]. If you do like it, there's a few sequels as well.

Edit: I see StavrosK beat me to it by a few hours...

1: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.inkle.sorc...

2: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sorcery/id627879091?mt=8

Sorcery is mentioned in the article. And I agree, it's an excellent game series.

Just going through the game and I really enjoy it! This is absolutely my cup of tea, despite not being much into D&D. This guy curates an amazing set of playlists for D&D backgrounds, I had fun syncing them with what was happening in the game: https://open.spotify.com/user/bezoing

edit: finished moments after writing the comment. I want more of this! Do you mind setting up a mailing list if you don't have one?


Thanks for playing Insignificant Little Vermin. You took Orcthorn but didn't destroy the iron monster. You are leaving Mount Bloodrock with swords, spears and no shield. You are seriously injured and exhausted. Briana is wounded. The important thing, though, is that you survived. Congratulations!

Thanks! Yes, there is a low traffic mailing list. On mobile so can't share the link but if you open the game again and click the Info button, it's there.

I just want to say that I was thoroughly impressed by the vision you sought to achieve, and equally impressed with the presentation. Your 5 years of research were not wasted!

The way the game flowed downwards complements the mechanics quite well, allowing you to backtrack if you forgot an important detail, and providing a moment of suspense as you wait to see what is materializing.

This begs for the addition of more components than just text, choices, and the dice. "Minigames", as I believe you phrased it. Think something somewhere between Undertale and what you have now.

The writing was strong, varied, fun and descriptive without being too prosy. My only complaint in that respect was that the early dialogue for your character is a bit terse and constrained, but it seemed to get better late game.

Combat was good, with interesting choices. There was a moment of intense satisfaction from the realization that I indeed felt that sense of agency you were aiming for.

The UX itself was inspired. Very clean look. Good bit of polishing in the cracks and crevices, and it shows. From the help icons next to the choices, to the detailed and generous colored artwork, to the health display, to the way you slowly introduce features in a way that seems natural to the story and not forced.

And the dice. Oh, the dice. Probably the coolest thing I've seen in a while. You actually found a way to make a rudimentary random number generator look visually appealing, and created a sense of tension that ebbs and flows. This is extremely hard to pull off in the digital format, because with physical dice you have this connection to the universe.

Whether you roll high or low, you feel a sense of fairness as the universe does not play favorites. You can see and feel all of the factors that determine the outcome, like wind, air pressure, the texture and weight of the die and surface. You also feel like you can influence the outcome to a degree by adjusting things like how you roll, how high you drop, blowing on / kissing your hand, etc. With digital dice, it usually feels hollow and fake, as you know the only thing determining whether you win is a single line of code. You don't feel any agency.

The idea of having more or less hearts depending on the likelihood of success sets the initial level of tension. This wanes to make room for the excitement of chance, of expectation of reward.

As the hearts begin to slow and lock into place one by one, and never the same boring way, the tension rapidly increases to its peak before even more rapidly falling flat and dissolving into either excitement or disappointment. This entire experience is modulated by the lightly colored text below the prompt that hints at how likely you are to succeed. Highly probable? The disappointment stings that much worse. Not likely? The satisfaction from nailing that strike is peerless.

This is probably my favorite mechanic of the entire game as it provides the backbone for an experience designed around manipulating your thoughts and emotions. Like slot machines at a casino, the moment of anticipation is greater than the reward, and affects your behavior and aversion to risk, leading you to sometimes feel that it is best to stick to the shadows and stay quiet, and other times playing you for the fool by causing you to get too bold in your actions before putting you back in line with a terrible roll. It would serve the experience well to focus on maximizing the dynamics it introduces to the world.

I could keep going, but I'll stop. Great game, I subscribed to the mailing list and eagerly await the sequel. If the scope of the sequel is large enough, it will set the bar quite high and pave the way for others to innovate.

If you could use a few hours of help a week with programming, design, or development of new mechanics, I would love to help you pioneer this interesting new twist on an old genre.

If you like this, try Sorcery!, the mobile apps (and books, I think) it's based on. They are also quite good.

Oh that kind of text!

First I thought it would be about rendering with ascii characters, like text mode quake


Too bad this gem is gone from the internet now, so that's an archive link :(

For yet another kind of action game in text see Doom, the Roguelike [1], which I've found thoroughly enjoyable.

[1] https://drl.chaosforge.org/

A long time ago I wanted to port Quake 3 to a MUD. Like literally play Longest Yard or another map.

    "You enter a room. xxxSniperKid82xxx is in the room holding a railgun."
$ "Equip rocket launcher."

    "You equip the rocket launcher."

    "xxxSniperKid82xxx approaches you with a buzzsaw glove."
$ "Fire rocket launcher at xxxSniperKid82xxx"

    "You fire the rocket launcher at xxxSniperKid82xxx. It misses. You take splash damage."

That second link seems to download just fine, shouldn't be hard to get it running again? :)

Report back with your findings please if you try, please?

I downloaded the Shareware game files and used DosBox to extract them (archive.org had them compressed in a DOS version of the game). I found a copy of sdlquake and had to do some minor modifications to get it compiling and assembling on a 64-bit host. Also something about a null pointer dereference in connection with finding the local hostname.

Compiled a copy of SDL with aalib support. Copied it into the game directory, along with the sdlquake binary.


That gave me quake in text mode, and would also run in a regular terminal.

I tried to run it, but it's looking for a Quake executable called "squake", which I don't have and didn't manage to find.

QuakeOne has squake [0], the tar.gz contains only the executable, so you might end up coming back there looking for some more gear.

[0] http://quakeone.com/q1files/downloads/

Hmm yeah, now it's complaining about libm.so.5 missing...

That should be part of libc 5.3, which would be hell to install side-by-side whichever version you currently have. Not a rabbit-hole to go down lightly.

Maybe an old (2011-ish) Linux distro in a VM would be the way to go. If you want the effort. (I obviously don't feel like pursuing it myself).

Hmm, unfortunately I don't have the time right now, as I have to go. I'll leave my computer on, though, so if someone wants to help out, you can access it through tmate at https://tmate.io/t/f9Z36rpEkS8CSsHxwpZGlAl1d.

The few files I have are on a dir on my desktop, the superuser password is passw0rd. Thanks!

Could you rename your quake executable to that?

I think that the original squake was written against svgalib. So the ttyquake package contains a libvga that's probably a shim, translating the output to aalib.

Most Quake ports use OpenGL, SDL, etc for graphics, and won't work directly with the ttyquake files. Which is why I described using sdlquake to achieve the same effect, in my other comment.

Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to install the game files for Ubuntu and gave up after ten minutes or so.

And during that project, I realized that text stories are fractal. Unlinke in videogames (which need a steady update method), in text we don’t actually need to stick to a single level of abstraction.

Very cool, this is one of the most original things I've read about this year. The example he gives is different levels of commands and details during combat. Zelda 2 (I think) had a similar thing going from map view to side view for combat. But this is for text adventures. Mind blowing really.

Thanks! Author here.

I think quite a few videogames have different levels. For example, I remember an old 1990s game called Wargasm where you could both be the general and the soldier. It was a lot of fun.

Most videogames don't go there, though, because it's more straightforward to use the game at a single "level". Even if they do have multiple levels, though, I don't think they ever go with more than 2 or 3. That would be just too confusing.

In text, though, this is natural. Even in non-interactive books, you have things like "Conan wants revenge > Conan is on his way to Stygia > Conan meets cobras > Conan is being attacked by the King Cobra > King Cobra's attack goes above Conan's head > Conan thrusts sword upward".

Scope variance is actually really common in mobile games as well as RPGs and simulation. All of them share the same kind of design goal of bending time to fit a certain play session or inner/outer game loop length. More "immersive" games ignore the logistical problems of extreme detail and offer tools like time compression, but designing for accessibility bends things the other way, towards providing a spliced-up timeline where events don't have to happen in any particular order apart from one that builds up a sensible narrative.

Hence you have the existence of things like equipment screens that can be popped up mid-battle, pausing everything to let you think about how to divide up loot. And the energy model in mobile F2P, which doesn't make a lick of sense but enforces limited session length and progression. You can take this even further when you think about power up items in pretty much any game.

I think it's relatively common to the RPG genre to have multiple levels going on in a game. Minigames are a hallowed feature of most Final Fantasy installments, for example. Crafting might also be considered somewhat of a game.

_Fractal_ design, though, implies some element of self-similarity between the levels – and that definitely seems like something more rare!

Mode[0] or view switching in video games was common for a long time, primarily as a solution to technical or pacing problems. The overworld travel mode in Zelda 2 was useful so players could travel further, faster. Those overworld maps were pretty common, Ultimas 1-5 used them, and the sixth one finally presented a single unified interface [1]. The platformer Mario games also used overworlds to allow players to select levels from Super Mario Bros 3 until Super Mario 64. Super Mario Bros 1 had warp pipes presented without a perspective change, but by SMB3, the developers had more complicated gameplay ideas about what level selection looked like.

What the author presents here is not a change in view or mode, but a refinement of scope. Gameplay doesn't change, but the level at which the player interacts is more granular.

A video game example that comes to mind is strategy games, such as Crusader Kings 2. In that game, players will dictate their armies' movement, and, when that movement causes conflict, the game will bring the battle to the player's attention. Players can then zoom in and pick specific tactics within the battle to enhance their odds, directing the flanks.

If the game allowed players to further zoom in, down to the level of individual soldiers and their actions, that'd be an even more granular presentation.

Mode switching is less common today, since it causes a disjointed player experience and requires assets be created to represent content in different modes.

0: (in the sense Larry Tesler would mean: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Tesler)

1: http://www.filfre.net/2017/04/ultima-vi/

I wonder how difficult it would be to adapt this game to read the text adventure out loud and allow visually impaired kids to play it. The author here has done tremendous work into the mechanics of a text-based game, and I think it would be a relatively small task to port it to an "audio-based" game.

Every year I volunteer at as event at the University of North Carolina CS department called Maze Day. Students build games, which blind and handicapped children come and play on certain day. I think the children that visit in this event would LOVE a game like this, if it became accessible.

Blind dev here and I played through it. Might need a touch up here and there but it's moderately accessible as-is. Text-based games are great for VI people.

Author here. I'm surprised (and very happy!) you were able to play through. I know accessibility is one thing I haven't given enough attention to.

If you have specific suggestions for improvement, I'm all ears.

I'm getting feedback that as the game grows, it'll need a map. Are there any best practices for map navigation for blind people?

Not an expert in visual impairments but this discussion made me curious. It seems like 'tactile drawings' is a related phrase/concept.

Here was a cool guide for using gimp and photoshop to produce them. https://wiki.vcu.edu/display/texturepalettehapticslab/Develo...

I had never thought of the need to remove perspective. Interesting!

Hey, sorry, don't check my responses very often, but reach out to me at pa tr ick sm yth0 1 @ gmail.com if you want to talk accessibility. I'm partially sighted so I cheated a bit when I played through the first time, but just fired up NVDA and could play fairly easily, though some things could be improved. Was happy to see you used alt text for images and some semantic markup that makes landmarks on the page, good stuff.

If you have a few minutes please try my very early prototype text game at lab.brlewis.com and let me know if you see similar touch ups needed there.

Feel free to reach out to the email I gave OP when you're further along. Took a look and has a nice MUDdy feel but was frustrated that "look" wasn't implemented yet :)

Back when I played (text-based) MUDs I knew several blind players who played using screen readers. Some MUDs had features to support this, e.g. ability to disable extended descriptions. The savvy players wrote scripts that processed the text to extract the most important data during movement and combat. Some of them were quite good in player vs player.

Author here. At one point I made a big pivot towards just text + options. Before, I had complicated systems for what I called Forms (basically, minigames).

Once you have only text + options, that's when you need to start thinking about player agency and repetitiveness. So I'm glad I did that because otherwise I'd have made a bad version of Sorcery! instead of what Vermin is today.

That said, it's always tempting to add more functionality and UI. For example, both beta testers and then players noted how hard it was to orient oneself in the game. This would be solved by a map (perhaps in a sidebar) but then this makes the game less accessible again.

Still pondering what the best way is.

I don't think that would be difficult. In fact I think it would have a side benefit of improving the design of a text game... you could work on developing it with your eyes closed and the quality of the descriptions would become more apparent

Taustation is a neat scifi text adventure that's under active development. They do regular blog posts on a variety of topics from gameplay, UI, artwork. They've made it a big point to make sure it is as friendly as possible to visually impaired individuals. I'm not sure about support for blind individuals though.

I actually thought the same thing, and wondered if it would somehow be possible to automate this kind of transliteration (?) of existing games to a text format... if you could somehow automate the author's thought/abstraction process to generate a text game from an existing game, this could be a HUGE boost for people who need screen readers.

...procedural content is not for "lazy developers". It’s not there to free you from creating content. It’s there to let content react to the player. You still need a lot of it.

This is a very good lesson for game developers. Too many games rely on procedurally generated content, which can be boring to a player if it seems random instead of being a result of some interaction (see No Man's Sky).

I really enjoy NMS but many aspects are boring. The generated landscapes are predicable, why is the climate on every planet uniform across the whole planet?

NMS is an example of bad procedural generation. Cellular automata, by nature, is a slow[1] algorithm, so it's hard to run automatas for every single planet you create. It's certainly possible, but as we've seen from NMS it's not straightforward to implement.

[1] Actually you can heavily optimize cellular automata for cache, but a K dimensional automata will be in O(N^(K+1)) so assuming a 2D world, it's O(N^3). So, it's not scalable. If you look at procedural world generations in big scale, like dwarffortress, you'll see that they're one time operations that take a very long time. NMS is tricky, since you need to keep doing this multiple times.

I first thought the author used real-time CNN + RNN to generate descriptions of the rendered Skyrim scene and showing only that one to the player.

Exactly what I was thinking, which sounds like an interesting project in itself.

Similar, but I thought maybe they had just pulled the dialogue trees, locations, etc.

There are still several hundred once prominent MMOs called MUDs that came about in the 1980s and are all text based. They deal with these sorts of problems in very diverse and creative ways. If you've never played one, I might suggest Duris, Land of Bloodlust.

It's old-school, beautiful, huge world and incredibly delicate, strategic and fun combat. It's a race wars, so RvR style full player killing and full player looting. Rough game :p but makes modern MMOs look like Fisher Price editions.

They can be found there for instance:


I've played Aardwolf which is, from my limited experience, a good introduction (lots of people 24/7, helpers, tutorial).

The great thing about MUDs is that you don't need 2D/3D/audio artists, so the resources go to the engine and world building.

Some MUDs are focusing on role play, like Sindome. It's fascinating to listen people talking about how to RP:


Author of the article (and the game) here. I didn't mention MUDs because I didn't want to scare away people with more concepts, but of course they are a huge part of what I consider interactive fiction.

I'm not sure if any MUD worked with something I'd call a "fractal story", though. The combat I remember was fun but it was always "you miss X. X hits you." I didn't play all MUDs, of course, so I'd love to know if there are any examples from that era.

I think most MUDs definitely fall under what you described as "kill bandit," (as do many graphical MMOs), but I do recall a few exceptions. I remember God Wars II, for example, as a game that had more complex and interactive combat: http://www.godwars2.org

>makes modern MMOs look like Fisher Price editions.

From the point of view of the MMORPGs the MUDs don't look or sound much like anything. Literally.

> Good text cannot have too much repetition. Repetitive text is boring. Try writing up everything that happens in the first five minutes of some Super Mario gameplay with prose that is fun to read. It’s impossible.

This is true. But I still smile when I think of the phrase:"The Blue Yeek/Kobold/it/<other> dies in a fit of agony." (Originally encountered in Moria, now to be found in Moria/umoria/Angband).

Mildly relevant: https://thebutterfly.deviantart.com/art/Moria-Filthy-Street-...

Relevant: apt install moria


(which actually looks rather interesting as they claim having ported the code forward and tidied up quite a bit)

[ed: I think there's another option for repetition: automatic success after a certain number of successes - similar to "auto-haggling" in shops in Moria - once you've haggled a certain number of times with a certain shop keeper, the game will "fast-forward" to settling the transaction without any interaction. This gives flavour (haggling in stores) and avoids (too much) grinding (forcing the player to go through routine, static interactions)).

In the context of this post, it'd mean a low-level/young character would go through detailed actions to trap a rabbit, then automatically be able to trap a rabbit, but fight with an orc, then be able to "kill the orc", but need to detail the actions for fighting a band of orcs, then struggle to kill a dragon, but being able to simply "take out the orc war band" (with a suitable description, based on the adapted play style, from the "micro-managed" fights: "You sneak around upwind of the band, and after setting out a dozen arrows in front of you - take rapid aim and let fly a precise volley and the orcs. The last warrior realize their scout has fallen to your first arrow, just as your last pierces his left throat - and all is quiet except for the wet death rattle of the final fallen." Or something equivalent involving a fireball or charge and sword dance.]

> It’s easy to come up with “You hit orc for 15 HP”. It’s much harder to come up with many versions of “your blade misses the orc”.

Dwarf Fortress has epic fight descriptions. Weapons getting stuck, severed body parts, grabbing said severed body parts and bashing the opponent with them... it does verge on too much detail though. There's also no concept of HP, deaths occur through e.g. bleeding out, organ failure, etc.

I don't think it's too much of a problem to be somewhat repetitive with the miss; if you're missing enough that the repetitiveness is getting to you, you're probably doing something wrong. You can also borrow from the pen and paper games and have critical misses with adverse effects -- overbalance, enemy counters, etc.

The digital version of Sorcery! has the coolest text descriptions of combat short of Dwarf Fortress.

You "fight" by committing a certain amount of regenerating energy each round. If you commit no energy, you're actively defending. Mechanically, there's no such thing as a miss in the system (although when you lose a round, sometimes it might be described as a miss). There are combat description pools explicitly handling cases where both combatants defend, where one attacks and the other defends, and when both attack but one overpowers the other. And the description pools are unique for every fight since of course a manticore and an assassin fight differently.

The descriptions also are modified by the health of the combatants. In a fight with a manticore, the descriptions progressively showed the manticore becoming fearful as I started damaging it, then limping and struggling to fight as it got closer to death. Even though there was no mechanical difference, the descriptions really sold it.

This is so much better than I expected. I thought it was yet another person who put libcaca in front of a game but this. THIS! This is awesome!

I used to love playing on the MOO and other MUDs and this brings me right back there. Excellent!

Agreed. I was really pleasantly surprised about how wonderful this was.

It brings me back to my years as a teen playing Graphical MUD's like The Realm Online, basically a text adventure with some wonderful pixel art and a point-and-click adventure interface UI. Made by Sierra in the late 90's, sold to Codemasters, ruined by Codemasters, and then re-sold to a private family instead of a development studio. The game slowly died thanks to a lack of even a SINGLE programmer...until recently:

If you've never played The Realm Online, I highly recommend looking into the newly formed private servers, there are two of them (Sacred Temple / MistWalkers ) with a ton of changes since the people who own it have long since abandoned the game.

Back in the 90s, we use to run text-based adventure games called MUDs (e.g, PennMUD, TinyMUD, Islandia). Funny how it's circling back.

Programming areas in a TinyMUD instance was my first experience with pseudo OOP as a 14 year old. Unfortunately my ambitions were larger than my practical knowledge at the time, but I was lucky to have some laid-back adult admins who indulged my interest and gave me a little corner of the world to develop.

This is a bit off topic, but you might just love http://www.SDF.org

Pop over and join us at https://www.reddit.com/r/MUD/

You'll see that MUDs are still alive and kicking (Just!)

If anyone is interested in the Sorcery! series mentioned in the article, I highly recommend them. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but with a highly polished board game feel. Once you finish one, you can bring your character over into the next in the series. The devs (Inkle) also were the ones who made 80 days, which won some amount of awards.


"...an arrow slams into the ground less than an inch from your knee."

Nice touch there :)

Context for those who haven‘t played Skyrim: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/i-took-an-arrow-in-the-knee

>But let’s face it, combat is a big part of what makes Skyrim fun. So “kill bandit, kill archer” doesn’t quite cut it.

I beg to differ.


Yea I had to mod the fuck out of Skyrim to make the combat fun, and even then... eeeh

I actually enjoyed stealth/archer as long as I didn't go too deep into the stealth tree, making me literally undetectable.

Mage got fun when I found a hotkey mod. Combined with Apocalypse spells, I could switch through a bunch of fun spells really quickly. Kind of felt like playing an Elementalist in Guild Wars 2 when I got it right.

Sword and board... never fun lol. Just running around lopping people's heads off gets old fast.

This is very impressive, and left me longing for more!

I'm not sure this is the direction you want to take, but I'll throw the idea in anyway. The format seems perfect to allow for user-made extensions:

- Content creation requires lots of work, but the kind of work that many are able to pull of, unlike videogame-like artwork.

- Being web-based, it should be possible to just link to new content: no need for downloads, plugins, etc.

Combining these two, you could pull off a kind of "wikipedia-like" game. I'm envisioning a game where there is a "known world" (where you enter initially). This would be your content. At the edges, you can venture into the uncharted parts of the world (link to people-contributed content/worlds/adventures). These outward links could be randomized among user-submitted worlds. If some of those worlds becomes so good you want to officially sanction it, you can then announce it as "charted" and incorporate it to the known world, with a permanent non-random entry point.

In my head, this would be very good because it would let you focus on the mechanic possibilities (which you seem to enjoy the most), freeing you from the content creation task while still building interesting game(s).

OP, check out the Fabled Lands gamebook series (there's a fan-made Java app which has the six books currently published of the planned 12-book series, which also nicely handles all the bookkeeping). It doesn't solve your "interesting combat" problem, but it is the only case I know of where traditional IF (paper books, no less!) has done a truly open world RPG.

You can for instance become a sailing merchant just by buying a boat and trading at the various ports. Or you can pursue various quests. I ended up being a street ruffian because I found a loop that involved me getting jumped in an alley and beating my attackers which was surprisingly lucrative and repeatable.

There are also some quests which actually change the state of the world (this is done in a book by having you write a word on your character sheet and then directing you to different sections depending on the words you have on your sheet).

I wonder could to do this backwards?

Create a system knows the setting/contexts etc of a text adventure game and renders a scene?

edit: perhaps authors could add other tags/meta the user would not see but would add to the description

I did some experimentation there - coded a turn based combat sistem and bolted on a real time combat. It's a magnitude easier than what proposed here, because you can code statefulness on the combat turns and that'll render quite fine and coherently. The only glitch that I had was at target switch (it's a 4x space themed coffee breaker) where you can see the ship smapping to the new target and that's it - but the nature if the turn sytem means I can easily code in a turn skip on target chane and tween the rotation.

but if you want a prime example, the dwarf fortress visualizers take that concept to an incredible heights.

Diablo started out as a turn-based game and to change it to real time it seems like they basically just made the turns advance automatically via a game state tick call (20 times a second or whatever) and tweaked how long actions took so it looked like the player and world were acting simultaneously.


I have long been puzzled by the "combat doesn't work in interactive fiction" conclusion that is common in the IF community.

Combat in Skyrim is of the "simulated presence in a cyberspace" form, but there are many successful video games with turn-based combat (ex. Hyperdimension Neptunia, Atelier Rorona, etc.) that could be mapped directly to a text-based interface.

Back in the early 2000's there was this driver/library to output any graphics in ASCII instead of framebuffer or whatever.

A colleague had a Linux box at home with a TV Tuner PCI card. We would SSH from the University's lab and watch TV-on-ASCII-over-SSH to the amusement of the people around us.

Sounds so simple and silly today, but it was a fun way to learn back in the day :)

That would have been interesting, if a bit rehashy.

This is a guy blurfing at length about text game design. The "Skyrim" is just thrown in there as a callback to something recognizable but has almost zero to do with Bethesda's game.

I'm actually excited to see how this project turns out. I used to play these little text RPGs on my dad's Blackberry, and this kind of reminds me of those. I'd love to see a full game of this.

How important do you think illustrations are to this kind of text game? I would think omitting illustrations would free up a lot more time for expanding and improving the prose.

I kinda liked them, personally.

They were used sparingly, and only at clear "milestones", which made me take a step back instead of scrolling from action to action.

Working on a very similar problem, although multiplayer. Really really cool to follow someone's trial and error at this level of detail, with thought process and everything.

Very excited for the "next generation" of Interactive Fiction games, and the actual game is very well polished in every regard. Great work.

Already wondering if you could port a text game this procedurally sophisticated to a 1980s platform like Apple ][.

When I clicked this article, I was expecting to see that someone had gotten Skyrim working with AAlib.

I only saw screenshots but looks great! A Fallout version would be incredible.

... Why not just Dwarf Fortress?

Its time to stop!

How old is the author I wonder? Did he not play Wizardry or any other similar game back in the 80s/90s, which implemented exactly this kind of gameplay? Wizardry 7 had so much - good quality - text in it (probably enough to fill a book) that it significantly accelerated my English learning at the time as a non-native English speaker. And the fighting system was very similar to what the author arrived at in the end.

I for one would be very happy to see the return of this style of gaming - I haven't played computer games for so long, mostly because they are just all the same, 3D action and no substance. I would gladly read / interact with fantasy fiction like this though.

The author describes themselves as a "gamebook enthusiast" and mentions IFCOMP, so they're very much operating within the knowledge of the genre.

What the article really is is a deconstruction, presented as to a novice; he's asking what interactional elements and primitives are required of both video-action and text-interactive games, in order to produce an action-IF game.

> because they are just all the same, 3D action and no substance

What do you count as "substance"? Have you played The Witcher 3? Life is Strange? Until Dawn? They are games with heavy narrative where your choices impact the direction of the story (in Until Dawn, any and all of the 8 characters can die or survive, depending on your choices). Or games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, which, at first glance, are just action games, but when you look beneath the surface, they hide extremely rich and deep storylines (but its up to you to dig for it if you so wish) and incredible environmental storytelling. Or a game like Machinarium, which manages to tell its story purely through pictures. Or The Last of Us, which, while its a 3D action game (kind of), is the first game that, for me, surpassed movies in atmosphere, storytelling and getting me emotionally invested in the characters.

My point is that games have moved on and there are a lot of games out there that aren't "3D action with no substance". A lot of indie games aren't even 3D or action. There's a vast spectrum of games out there, I bet there's plenty that you would, in fact, enjoy.

> I for one would be very happy to see the return of this style of gaming

I used to play MUD's back in the day and even worked on my own MUD engine a few times. My most recent toy was about two years ago, but I abandoned it because I felt it was too depressing if I was the only one playing a multiplayer (text based) game. :(

What is it you are looking for in such a game, out of curiosity?

>Or games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, which, at first glance, are just action games, but when you look beneath the surface, they hide extremely rich and deep storylines (but its up to you to dig for it if you so wish) and incredible environmental storytelling

In a similar vein, Overwatch, one of the biggest 3D action games at the moment, has gameplay that exists entirely as non-canon action segments borrowing characters from the world. But it's still not shallow; there's a ton of worldbuilding in the environments, voice interactions between characters that hint at shared histories, and stories told in Blizzard's incredible animated shorts.

Just because something looks like a shallow action game doesn't mean that's all it is!

Related: the most recent animated short, Honor and Glory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQfk5HykiEk

I'm slightly mistaken! There was a temporary 3-week event last November with a 4-player PvE story as Overwatch agents going on an actual mission. But other than that, gameplay has been all non-canon.


Should be another one this year, we'll see what they do with it.

Anyway, expanding on what I said in the previous comment, it's a neat narrative structure. Rather than "here's a game, go play the story" they've given us a game and then having released it are now telling more of the story out in bits and pieces. New map, new comic, new animated short, new character, new voice lines, anything like that related to the game is a chance to flesh out the world, its history, and where the conflict between Overwatch and Talon is headed.

I think my favorite part of it is the environmental storytelling. Every level has some significance to one or more of the characters (video from the previous comment takes place at Eichenvalde), and there are bits and pieces of lore scattered throughout. The name that we see being carved into the bar at the beginning of the video exists in-game at the start of the level (and has been there since launch). In the present-day, with the non-flashback portion of the short having now taken place, the Overwatch emblem that Reinhardt sets on the armrest now exists in-game at the same location.

On another level (Ecopoint Antarctica), you can see the cryo-chamber where all of Mei's colleagues went to sleep in the pods to wait out a storm, and then never woke up. There's an animated short telling that story as well.

What's remarkable about the game is how well it functions as "just an action game" with bright colors, fun characters, really great gameplay, and gorgeous level design. But if you want to look into it deeper, there's a pretty big world with some heavy stuff going on.

I'm going a bit fanboy here, but if you're into shooters definitely check this one out.

Author here. I played Wizardry games in the 1990s. How is the combat system in Wizardry similar to what I'm arriving at with the "fractal stories" concept?

I actually brought up a Wizardry 7 gameplay video just to make sure I'm not remembering it wrong, and here's the text:


Not what I'm going for at all. This looks more like the "Try #5" (D&D-style actions).

If what you mean is that Wizardry had great writing (not in combat, but elsewhere), I'm not disputing that. But Wizardry was a videogame. I'm trying to build a text game.

Once I grokked where you were going with this article, my first thought was the awesome King of Dragon Pass [1]. Technically it looks very simple; I'm not sure whether it was implemented as a webpage, but it definitely could be. Where it succeeds better than any other RPG I've ever encountered is in forcing you to roleplay as a bronze age tribal chieftain, because "act according to the worldview and ethics of a 21st-century westerner" just isn't on the menu. The Gloranthan heroquest elements (where your characters try to LARP mythological stories as a form of ritual magic) are wonderfully out there.

Curious whether you've played it, and if so, how close it comes to the sort of thing you're aiming for.

[1] http://store.steampowered.com/app/352220/King_of_Dragon_Pass...

I love King of Dragon Pass! It was definitely an inspiration (although I found out about it only after I set out to build this whole thing) and at one point I wanted my game to be basically a king/lineage simulator with options to "zoom in".

Later I figured that what works better is to have a "Conan the Barbarian / Elric / Fafhrd+Mouser simulator" that can "zoom out" to higher levels. The problem with kingdoms is that spacial relations matter _a lot_, and so that's not something you want to base your gameplay on with a text game. That's why King of Dragon Pass has a map as one of the central pieces of UI.

But yeah. Huge fan of King of Dragon Pass here.

> The problem with kingdoms is that spacial relations matter _a lot_, and so that's not something you want to base your gameplay on with a text game.

You're rekindling my enthusiasm for this sort of thing (I gave up on Sorcery! about halfway through Book 4 when it took rewind away, and Sunless Sea after carelessly dying 20+ hours in on ironman), but I don't think I'm as focussed on just-the-text as you.

The main appeal for me is the scope for extreme fluidity of scale and timestep, and that's perfectly compatible with maps and other informational graphics. I've played way too many CRPGs where you spend 75% of your time just trudging from A to B and back without making any decisions at all.

>... through Book 4 when it took rewind away

They took the rewind but you still have multiple revivals in case you die (and you keep your items and knowledge!) similarly to going back by Lorag in Book 2 so it's not that hard.

My complaint wasn't that it made it hard, it was that it made it tedious. Having to play through large stretches of the game again just to change one decision wasn't fun, and the threat of that discouraged experimentation.

I agree, experimentation was the best part of the series although I think they felt the need of making it harder since this is the finale. Personally it really made me concentrate on what's happening not to die. Sadly there is no way around it even in New Game +. And when I want to explore just one thread (e.g. Aliizi) deaths just get in the way... ;)

King of Dragon Pass has a lot of problems as a game, but as a roleplaying experience (where 'role' doesn't just mean 'tank' or 'ranged DPS' or such) it really has no equal, IMO. What I find fascinating is that the challenge, which is to play a very specific role (what are the expectations of my tribe/patron deity), is far more interesting than what we get in more open "play however you want!" games.

> I haven't played computer games for so long, mostly because they are just all the same, 3D action and no substance

If that's your opinion of them then I don't think you've investigated them much, and are just jumping to conclusions.

I still play all the time and there's some truth to them all being the same. They get more and more polished on a UI level, and more realistic looking, but remain static mechanically.

For example, Skyrim doesn't do much mechanically that Ultima Underworld didn't. Ultima proper did all of that from a different perspective for a long while before that, too. The Witcher 3 is my absolute favorite RPG at least since Skyrim and probably supercedes it, but again, it's just super polished, it doesn't do much that's really new, that I haven't seen before in an RPG or other game. You pick speech options from dialogue trees, loot dead things, and fetch quest items, but you're in a cardboard world. The monsters just wait for you to come slaughter them, they're set-pieces whose purpose is to sit there until you arrive, then bite you. The world reacts largely in a single specific way: you win.

Actually, I thing modern RPGs have regressed, Ultima VI's keyword-based dialogue was better than our modern dialogue trees. You could speak in natural language about a variety of topics, some of which were hinted at by the NPC with highlighted words, and others you had to figure out for yourself. (you could just type "troll" or you could type "What can you tell me about the troll?" or "I have seen a troll, and need advice, can you help?", it was more fun and interactive)

I'm hyped for Underworld Ascendant, because just maybe they'll break some new ground for a change. "A living ecosystem", but with people who can (and have) backed up that claim. I don't see much else on the horizon -- the indies are our only hopes! AAA can't afford to lose now, so it's all cookie cutter sequels there, only the indies can afford the risk.

I think a huge, huge part of the problem is that games cost so much and carry so much risk now. Ultima Underworld got a full sequel _ELEVEN MONTHS LATER_. You could move faster and try more then, because art didn't cost so much, there was no motion capture, no voice acting, it was cheap to make a game. If a sequel flops now you can't just try again, you lost $75,000,000 dollars and are now bankrupt.

Anyway, here's a link to a free, breathtakingly good book on the history of CRPGs from the 70s through today: https://crpgbook.wordpress.com/

> I still play all the time and there's some truth to them all being the same. They get more and more polished on a UI level, and more realistic looking, but remain static mechanically.

I think the progress is more meta, trough merging and creation of whole new genres making them more approachable and lowering the learning curve, instead of singular technical feats or "gameplay innovations".

Some of that is enabled through the adoption of new technology, our modern flood of 3D shooters wouldn't be imaginable without the mouse having itself established as a PC peripheral first.

In the end, it's also always a question what a game strives for. If it strives to simulate some kind of reality with its own internal workings, like many RPG's do, then there won't be much room for gameplay mechanic innovation, most of it will boil down to making these realities more convincing trough gfx/sound/system interactions.

At least if you don't strive for a complete simulation and end up with something like Dwarf Fortress, where the sheer number of mechanics (for the simulations sake) ends up being part of the allure. A modern alternative to that would be something like Rimworld, which has comparable simulation but tries to package it into something way more approachable.

> it doesn't do much that's really new, that I haven't seen before in an RPG or other game.

You might like the game Prey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prey_(2017_video_game) It does a few new things. Not too much, but has some original ideas. And the sci-fi story is quite good.

I will try it eventually and have heard good things, I'm just disappointed they didn't let Human Head finish it -- I really like their original 2006 Prey, and Rune when that was new, too.

Oh my. I just looked up Human Head on wikipedia, and while they got Prey taken off them, they're working on a Rune sequel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Head_Studios My day has just been made.

Get-off-my-lawn sentiment aside, it seems strange that the author doesn't even acknowledge the vast field of text-based games that already exist, and that predate the modern retro fascination with interactive fiction. I'd love to see how their mechanics compare to the ones he worked out for his game.

> modern retro fascination with interactive fiction

There's a modern fascination with interactive fiction? I know there's long been a niche community around it - some of the first non QBASIC programming I did was futzing around with Inform 6. I wasn't aware that it had become a hip thing though

Author here. When referring to text adventures I didn't mean just the ones that came in the past few years, of course. When I say "text adventure" I mostly mean things like Zork and MUDs.

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