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The Geek on Skates

Best gameplay mechanics/interface for text-based games?

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Hey, happy Friday! :)

I've been learning to use the cc65 compiler for 8-bit systems, and playing with simple text-based games in C.  This has been a lot of fun, and the end result is I games that run on modern systems like Linux and Windows, and also retro systems like the Commodore 64!  Eventually I want to learn 6502 Assembly and get to know the hardware of my favorite platforms inside-out and backwards, but you gotta start somewhere.  Baby steps (lol).  I even wrote a little library for that (I'll be open-sourcing it when it's finished - still buggy on Windows lol).  And I'm a writer so this project has been a lot of fun!

But now I'd like to take it to the next level.  One great thing about text-based games is they actually have 2 niches where they're still relatively popular: (1) retro gamers like me, and (2) people who are blind.  And since I'm just one guy and building games is not my full-time job, it just seems like the best fir for right now.  And apparently, people are still creating them; there are some examples on my blog.  But most of these are web-based, and some are extremely different from what you'd think of when you hear "text-based game".  So I'd like to build some really good-quality text adventures, maybe make a few bucks on Steam or give them away on my website and throw in a donate button (lol); the idea of making money's not a real concern, but I do think I could create some cool games and I'd like to get them out there.

But what makes text games fun?  Obviously there's not a whole lot of documentation on the subject, cuz even small studios (5-6 devs) can do better than just text.  And just because I may enjoy a game doesn't mean players will.  So here are a couple specific questions, that I'd just like to get your two cents on, if that's cool:

1. How much description?

For example, some games (like Zork) have a lot of description of where you are, what's around, and stuff like that.  As a writer I think I naturally lean more in that direction, cuz even a little immersion in a text-based game is hard to accomplish otherwise.  But on the other hand, some games described everything in 2-3 word sentences, and as a player I guess that might help move things along faster... but then again it could also be just because they ran on 2 KB of RAM (lol).  But as a player, I could see where too much text could be boring if it's repeated too often.

2. What kind of interface?

Some games work like what I have so far, where you type in short commands like "go north", but others do it in one key, like "n" for north.  Words make it easier to do more (and you can have two commands that start with the same letter), but single-key commands can probably speed things up a bit.  There's also a third option: menus.  In some games you are given a set of pre-defined options, like those "choose-your-own-ending" books.

Maybe it varies by genre?  Like if I'm writing a story-heavy game, menus are the way to go; but if I were doing something more open-world, commands might be a better fit.  And if there were any kind of timing involved, one-letter commands are best.  lol idk, that's why I'm asking for your opinions. :)

3. Any example games I could try, or good places to get more info on the subject?

  • I've found there are few good tutorials on the cc65 compiler, most of it's just documentation of the command-line options (which is a huge help, but not when you got questions about its headers/library, or which systems can support the standard C library etc.).
  • And again, there seem to be even fewer on writing decent text games.
  • Not to mention, sometimes the best way to find out what's fun is to goof off and play games (lol); so if you can recommend some good example games, I'd be all for it!

But anyway, sorry for the stupid-long post, and have an amazing weekend! :)

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Hello, sounds like a lot of fun!

As for your questions, it's probably useful if you split the problem of "what to make" from "how to make it".

The former question is about "what should the user experience", and "how do I achieve that", as in "what game mechanics can provide such an experience". A sort-of outside-view of what you're trying to achieve, combined with a big-blocks inside view. This is known as Game-Design. You may want to head over to that sub-forum, and read a couple of resources there (never been there much, so specific pointers are tricky for me).

The latter question is about how to actually program those big blocks in whatever language you desire on whatever platform you want. This is all about tools (compilers, assemblers, editors), code, objects, debugging, and deployment of actual software. This is discussed in various "Programming" sub-forums. This forum is one of them, but there are specific other sub-forums for common related topics. Programming questions are also discussed at the Beginners sub-forum, although that's usually about more basic programming questions.

Finally, money and steam are more business-related, you may lurk in the Game Business sub-forum for a while :)

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Okay, I apologize if I've asked tis in the wrong place.  If I need to break it up into 3 different questions on 3 different forums I could do that... only thing is I'm actually not a beginner (I know C well and I've been writing software for 5-6 years now lol) so I may need to pick another spot for the cc65 stuff.  Anyway, again sorry if I've stepped on any toes; I will do more research on the ideal place(s) for future questions before posting.

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