What are some unusual text-based and text-adjacent games?
July 25, 2018 10:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm wondering about unusual computer and video games which are either text-based, or convey a significant portion of their experience in text format. No conventional interactive fiction here, hit me with the strange and unfamiliar. :)

I've been thinking a lot about a sci-fi game called Aurora, which is both fantastically complex and manages to convey 98% of its experience using text-based information of one form or another. Ship designs, planetary data, and even the event log are all available and readable with my screen reader, thanks to a happy accident and Visual Basic.

King of Dragon Pass, and its sequel, Six Ages, are delightful strategy/RPG/simulation games, playable 99% through text. They have a saga which is added to as you play and can be viewed/shared later.

I'm aware of Dwarf Fortress and other games of the "rogue-like," persuasion, but was wondering if there was anything artisanal or obscure or just fun that I might not be familiar with? Accessibility with screen readers is a bonus, though I realize that can be hard to verify. :)
posted by Alensin to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
A Dark Room
posted by moonmilk at 10:48 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I can't recommend Stories Untold enough. Fun, unexpected turns, and a pretty slick solution. One of the few games I've played entirely through in recent years, and in which I found a very satisfying conclusion. Also includes a dump-truck full of nostalgia.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:11 PM on July 25, 2018

MHRD, a game about designing hardware.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:22 AM on July 26, 2018

Epistory (which is probably useless to you, not being screenreader-friendly, but it does answer the question in a literal way)
posted by pipeski at 3:55 AM on July 26, 2018

1999's D&D RPG Planescape Torment contains multiple novels worth of text, although there is a significant visual component to the game. A dedicated fan community kept it alive in the last two decades, and it is easily available for purchase and with mods to run on modern machines.

You may find this website useful: List of longest video game scripts. It tells me that Planescape Torment has 950,000 words of text, and offers the nice comparison that this is close to the amount of words in all of the Harry Potter novels.
posted by seasparrow at 6:32 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Zork series seems to have fallen into the relatively obscure category, judging by the blank looks I often get when mentioning it. But those were some fantastic games. Especially if you got the full game package with the printed Zork tourism guide and such.
posted by eviemath at 7:10 AM on July 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

There was another older one, possibly called Hack, but not the original Hack that Nethack is based on, where you loaded it up and were promoted with a login screen. That is, it was an actual hacking game, in the old fashioned hacking into a computer system sense.
posted by eviemath at 7:12 AM on July 26, 2018

Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail Of It is an old Infocom text adventure whose gameplay is based around surreal wordplay rather than ordinary inventory/dialog puzzles.
posted by DiscountDeity at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kingdom of Loathing is web based and uses frames. That may be an issue with your screen reader, but it is a very fun game.
posted by soelo at 8:04 AM on July 26, 2018

Analog: A Hate Story, a game where you talk to two AIs who help you search through text-based logs to investigate what happened to a derelict generation ship.
posted by waffleriot at 10:17 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember Hack and it was awesome. It's spiritual successor (still mostly text, I think) is called Hacknet and happens to be 80% off on Steam right now. It's . . . artisanal alright.
posted by The Bellman at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fallen London/Echo Bazaar is a web-based game conducted through a primarily textual interface.
posted by eruonna at 11:45 AM on July 26, 2018

Maybe Tau Station?
  • A free, text-based Massive Multiplayer Online Browser Game (MMOBG) set in a vibrant far future universe.
  • Playable from any device with an internet connection. No downloads or plugins required.
  • Designed for players of all abilities, following the AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
I've watched the development of this for a long time, (it's written in Perl and the developers are on the conference circuit). If I remember correctly, it's playable from a text terminal first and the browser part is just a more media-rich experience.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:17 PM on July 26, 2018

The Writer Will Do Something
posted by zoetrope at 12:34 PM on July 26, 2018

I don't think they're that obscure, but there are multiple things from Inkle that are interesting primarily-text-based games. 80 Days has won numerous awards, and is a superb steampunk variation of Verne's 80 Days Around The World. The Sorcery series is a reinterpretation of four classic choose-your-own-adventure books, that uses the medium very effectively (particularly in the third and fourth games - the first is a pretty straight implementation of the book, but the later ones do interesting things with time travel and reloading).

Slightly more obscure - Andrew Plotkin's digital implementation of Meanwhile, a comic by Jason Shiga. Andrew Plotkin has written lots of great interactive fiction as well that you probably already know, such as the classic Spider and Web, that does interesting things with unreliable narration (where you are the narrator...)

Fallen London has already been mentioned. Putting a bit more game around its text is Sunless Sea, also from Failbetter Games, although you have to do a fair amount of ship travel. Cultist Simulator is from the author of Fallen London (although not from Failbetter), and involves a lot of interesting text, but also a lot of time-based clicking on things.

I don't have first-hand experience, but I suspect that 80 Days and Sorcery work well with a screen reader, but Meanwhile, Sunless Sea and Cultist Simulator probably don't.
posted by siskin at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2018

Response by poster: This is great, there are a bunch I haven't heard of. :)

siskin: unfortunately, neither 80 Days nor Sorcery nor Sunless Sea works with any screen reader, as far as I'm aware. :( I'd love to try all three of those, but I think accessibility is perpetually beyond the horizon.
posted by Alensin at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2018

Choice of the Deathless - "a necromantic legal thriller by Max Gladstone, Campbell Award-nominated author of Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. The game is entirely text-based--without graphics or sound effects--and powered by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination."

I got it with last year's Hugo nominations; played it a bit; it seemed good; went back to reading the ebooks and didn't get back to the story-game. (Someday, someone will put interactive fiction in epubs, and I'll read tons of them.)

With Those We Love Alive is a Twine game; it's surreal. (From a review: In a world filled with dead people, you’re pressed into the service of a Empress who’s literally monstrous. Her introduction, rising from black waters – “Her larval skin floats across the lake like the carcass of a pale leviathan” – sets the tone for a world where things are nightmarish but no one bats an eyelid. Horrors, violence, and death are everyday.)

Derelict has good reviews; it's an SF horror story.

Steam has a list of text-based games.
Itch.io has lots of Twine games, but they don't separate text-only from ones that have heavy graphics.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:43 PM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not a computer/video game, but text based rpg: Quill is a Letter-Writing Roleplaying Game for a Single Player. It requires writing materials and a single d6 (or similar randomizer; a physical die isn't important.)

It's been released into the public domain, so there are several variations and followups:

* Quill: Love Letters, which uses unisex names for the characters who are romantically involved;
* Quill: Coal and Parchment is centered around dwarves from the Home, from a different RPG.
* Quill: Shadow and Ink is the Lovecraftian horror variant.
* Quill Noir has a 30s pulp setting.
* Quill: White Box brings in classic fantasy adventurer characters.
* Quill Quest: The Warlord's Downfall is a scenario supplement; the letters are to recruit a pack of heroes to go on an adventure.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:08 PM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

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