Realistic graphics, artificial intelligence, next-level physics, low-latency multiplayer, virtual reality — these are the hallmarks of modern AAA gaming. Some games are even starting to push the limits of photorealism!
But even the most beautiful games can’t match the boundless creativity of human imagination. And that’s where text-based games still shine. Yes, even now!
Known as interactive fiction, text-based games combine the best of two worlds: books and interactivity. They’re like choose-your-own-adventure stories on crack, and they’re perfect for those who want to create interactive stories without pouring lots of time or money into art and sound assets.
Interested in making text-based games of your own? The process is a lot easier than you think (though the actual creation may take a while). All you need is to pick one of the following text game engines and let your mind roam free.
Twine is a desktop app that lets you create interactive stories and export them as web pages so you can upload them and share them with the world when you’re done and ready. You don’t need any coding experience for simple, basic stories.
Twine is straightforward to learn, aided by the official Twine wiki which has a series of screencasts to help you get started. The official reference guide is also quite informative. The wiki also has details on how you can publish your stories on the web for free.
For even more support, or if you just want to hang out with other Twine users, you should check out the official Twine forums. Here you can discuss the Twine engine, share your works-in-progress, and discover new tips and tricks to help you become a better storyteller.
Download — Twine for Windows, Mac, Linux, Web (Free)
You don’t need to have programming experience to do well with QUEST, but you’ll probably pick up on programming concepts along the way once you start using QUEST’s built-in scripting language for handling complex logic. With it, you can add sound effects, music, images, and even video.
QUEST games can be created with the desktop app or the web app, and all games can be exported to the web and played online. What’s really nice is that you can even sell your QUEST games if you want to — there are no commercial restrictions.
Also note that QUEST is open source and licensed under the MIT License, which means you can download the source code and modify it however you want, creating your own fork if you don’t like the direction of the QUEST development team.
But QUEST’s best selling point is that it has one of the most active communities of all the text game engines currently available. Specifically, the official QUEST forums have regular traffic and new posts on a daily basis. If you want community, QUEST might be the best choice.
Download — QUEST for Windows, Web (Free)
ADRIFT is one of the oldest functioning options for creating your own text-based games. Its unique selling point is pretty clear: absolutely no programming experience needed, even if you want to create non-trivial narratives.
The beauty of ADRIFT is that everything is driven by the GUI, meaning drag-and-drop selections, folder navigation, drop-down menus, etc. All characters, events, objects, variables, etc. are click-to-set-up, making ADRIFT one of the easiest systems to use.
The only downside (a relatively small one at that) is that ADRIFT games can only be played through the ADRIFT Runner application. The good news is that ADRIFT is cross-platform, and you can even create games through a web interface, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.
Download — ADRIFT for Windows (Free)
Other Text Game Engines Worth Checking Out
If none of the above appeal to you, don’t fret yet. These aren’t the only text game engines out there! You’d be surprised at how many alternatives exists — this niche genre is incredibly passionate.
Inform is one of the best-known engines, but we didn’t include it as a Top 3 option because it hasn’t been updated since late 2015. The software still works though, so if you want to give it a try, don’t hesitate to do so.
inklewriter is a web-based text game engine that’s easy and fun to use. You can combine it with graphics to create graphical adventure games, but beware that it may be a lot of work to do that!
If you want to graduate beyond text games, you should check out these free game development tools that will ease the learning curve of making 2D and 3D games.
Which text game engine appeals most to you? Did we miss any good alternatives? Do you have a story in mind that’s begging to be written? Share with us down in the comments!
Originally written by Joel Lee on March 18, 2013.