Examples of "cinematography" in text games?

I’m looking for examples of cinematographic techniques in text games. As an example of what I’m talking about, I’ll point to the introductory sequence in the unfinished game Obituary by Drew Mochak and Johnny Rivera. The game pauses for a keypress on the phrase “your child is waiting” with white text on black background, then clears the screen and proceeds with that same phrase (in a different situation) using black text on a white background. This is analagous to a match cut in a film.

That’s a very embryonic example. Are there other primarily text games that do anything that could be considered analogous to cinematography?


It can be a little more difficult in parser games where the author has less control of the actual text so transitions tend to go more prose-novel-y, although Inform 7 does easily allow for a cold-opening and then a title-drop, which is cool. Fade-ins and other transitions can also be accomplished via “press any key” or sly manipulation of a room description to hide things from the player initially as they “wake up” or recover from unconsciousness.

One of the best uses of flashback is Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web.

It’s a bit easier to do physically cinematic transitions in choice-engines such as Twine (or even parser using Vorple) - These games get the advantage of CSS and HTML and built-in macros for physical fade-ins, delayed text, shaky/blurry/developing text. Overuse of these is never good - there’s nothing worse than being done reading and waiting for more text the author has decided to delay.

But judicious use of text styling and pacing can be great - especially if it’s diegetic. Say if we’re waiting for important information to download and there’s a progress bar AND a bomb also ticking… Or using an old computer with a dodgy processor involves a slight delay as lines of green text in a monospaced font appear on-screen line by line - that can be immersive and almost like an INSERT SHOT: of a computer screen.

Withholding selective information can be like directed camera-shots. In Cannery Vale (which is a choice game) the player wakes up in a hotel room and there’s a lot of important information they need to know before scrambling away to explore. In most games you’d get a list of stuff to do that the player will lawnmower. Usually you’d put the choices you want them to take in order, but there will always be players who intentionally avoid a critical path.

To combat this, I purposely withheld the choices to leave the room and even some of the extra features like the phone and the tv initially to focus the player like a tutorial and make sure they got necessary information, and to increase a bit of initial claustrophobia that would be ruined on move one if the player throws open the door and misses everything I’ve set up for them to see first.


You’re probably better off looking at graphic novels and things like that.


I don’t remember why in terms of specific examples, but I remember thinking a lot of Adam Cadre’s work was cinematic when I was writing an essay on him.

He does a lot of weird visual tricks like stacking sentences in length order, using color changes to represent perspective changes, doing ‘voice-overs’ with outside voices discussing a doubly-fictional scenes, etc. I think he had a background in scriptwriting or film (like Hanon) and so maybe that’s where he gets it from.

A different example might be Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus does stuff like Title Cards and has a structure very similar to films, with a short opening sequence from the villain perspective, followed by a title card and switching to the main protagonist.


Even Cowgirls Bleed makes me think of single-take movies like “Birdman”…since the text advances on hover rather than click, it scrolls along consistently with no return, unless you’re being really careful.

20 Strokes makes me think a little of slideshow films like Chris Marker’s “La Jetee.” In this case, the game does not always advance automatically, but sometimes changes depending on whether you wait. I assume both are meant to be rewatched or replayed due to their short length and the unsatisfying “fail states” they describe, too.

Additionally, both of the above games use large text in short segments and so are more like movies, while other games use long pages of text and are more like books IMO.

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I should clarify that I’m looking for examples of visual (or perhaps audio) effects, not narrative techniques.

Mathbrush mentions Cadre… I would count the various color changes by section in Photopia as being analagous to color filter techniques in cinema because of the way that color affects the viewer/reader’s mood. Even more so because the color is linked to the setting (red for Mars, blue for water, green for forest, etc.).

Title cards are less clear; I would tend to think of them as more like the dividing pages for parts of a book unless there is something more than just a “page” of static text of the same type as the rest of the game. If the titles were animated (fading in and out, for example), that would count.

@Mathbrush, is your essay on Cadre publicly available?


I think it’s this:

The whole series (and more!) is on his IF Wiki page:



It’s publicly available (Mike posted a link as I write this) but I don’t think I wrote about the cinematography thing in it.

Are you interested in Twine examples or specifically parser?

I’m primarily thinking of parser, but Twine examples would be of interest as well. Something like Nosebleed (which I haven’t played but which I understand communicates an important part of the story visually via the dripping blood effect) might be considered as loosely analagous to a close-up shot of the splatter.

Anything that couldn’t be replicated in parser (even theoretically, using Glulx or Z6 graphical and audio effects) would be of lesser interest for my purposes but still notable.


In that case, Blue Chairs by Chris Klimas does some really interesting text display things to simulate drug trips, and Winter Wonderland does snow, colors, etc.


Babyface by Mark Sample.

It’s a little difficult when you are looking for “visual” cinematography tricks in parser engines - by design parser games are usually outputting pure text which is formatted by the player and there’s less chance to do anything visual with it.

Outside of Vorple, but that’s using the same CSS/HTML tricks that Twine natively has access to. So if you’re going for cinematic there’s a lot more examples in Twine and choice engines. Most authors looking to do specifically cinematic tricks understand that parser is a more prose-form and is natively going to employ novel/book conventions for transitions, like simple chapter breaks, as opposed to kinetic film transitions.


We used to do little tricks back in the 8-bit days with fonts, colours, pauses/timing and simple sounds but modern games tend to be played through a wide selection of interpreters/systems so you can’t rely too heavily on having direct control over those sorts of elements.


Although Adventuron does give you that control over those elements in a parser engine, which is one of the reasons I like it (and probably one of the reasons others hate it). So simple ‘cinematic’ effects with animation and sound are very achievable (like in the introduction to this game (One Last Thing... by Dee Cooke) which is just one I happen to remember that does this). It’s also easy to embed videos, like the title sequence to Custard & Mustard’s Big Adventure (for which I’m still awaiting my Academy Award actually. Must have been delayed by the postal strikes).


Do you mean the static ASCII snowflake display in the title screen, or is there some animated effect somewhere? (It has been a long time since I played it.)


Mostly just the title, although there are some other effects.

I started Ryan veeder’s little match girl 2 today and there was a timed title screen with credits and some color changes, definitely had the cinematic feel.


If I remember correctly, doesn’t Color the Truth also start with a scene from the villain’s perspective, before displaying a title card (or the standard Inform banner, in this case) and switching to the point of view of the main protagonist?
It’s been some time since I played the game, so I could be completely off.

Yeah! I was imitating some other games I had seen do that, like Photopia. I’ve done it in a few recent games, like my seedcomp seed; I think it’s fun

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Consideration of the various suggestions put forward has somewhat clarified what I’m seeking. For visual elements, the key feature that I’m looking for is that they are portrayed in a way that’s complementary to the content of the text. Colored text counts. Moving text counts. ASCII animation using characters only for drawing purposes (like that old telnet-based rendition of “Star Wars”) is of interest but doesn’t really qualify because at that point it’s really animation, which can use proper cinematographic techniques (even if only in a limited way via ASCII). Actual video would be of no interest – aside from the fact that it couldn’t be done in Z6 or Glulx, the idea is to find methods analagous to cinematographic techniques.

The blood splatter effect in Nose Bleed is still hard to decide. Even though it’s a graphical effect and not text, it definitely tells part of the story through visual communication in a way that is complementary to the text. I can imagine something similar being done in Z6 or Glulx, both of which can handle mouse events and do realtime effects.

Sound (and/or music) is non-visual and complementary to the visual medium, so it is also of interest for the way that it can be used to communicate emotion and/or additional information to the player. I think pretty much anything goes here and would still be of interest, but not every use would count. For example, looping background music to set the mood would potentially qualify (being comparable to the filter technique analog of Photopia’s colored scenes), but I don’t know that I would consider its use to be pseudo-cinematographic unless the music varied meaningfully across scenes.

@mathbrush: The series of three screens after drinking the contents of the bottle in the introductory scene Blue Chairs is an example of the type of thing I’m looking for – thank you. I don’t know the name of the technique, but it’s analagous to the kind of looping, fragmented pandemonium of voices on a soundtrack that is frequently used as a film trope to portray extreme disorientation and/or psychological stress for the viewpoint character.


The online version of Absence of Law has music, with different music for every scene (like western music for a shootout with cowboy robots and haunting music for a mysterious grotto). I had to alter the Quixe files to get them to play different music based on the output of the status line.


There’s a kind of “cutscene” with synchronized text and music in A Matter of Heist Urgency, which mathbrush cited as “rare in parser games” in his updated review on IFDB.

I am curious to know of any other games that do similar things. I haven’t run into anything like that in text games before – it’s more like what might be found in a LucasArts game (minus the graphics) and has a tight link between action and soundtrack.

(Incidentally, I had not tried Absence of Law before and enjoyed it. Thanks for pointing it out!)