Games that imitate an actual computer environment

This IFDB list might also be of interest to you, even if it perhaps not 100% what you are asking for:


Another Infocom game in the same format as AMFV, Bureaucracy, also has a computer-within-a-computer simulation. Initially it seems very simple, but that’s deceptive; it reveals itself late in the game to be fairly involved, and is necessary to engage with to solve the final puzzles.

Be warned, though, Bureaucracy is… misanthropic in a lot of unappealing ways, of which perhaps the most offensive is its racism.

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Cosmoserve by Judith Pintar is the all-time classic of this genre. Inspired by it I have made my own attempts. In English I can suggest BYOD and Empyreum, and if you can read a bit of Spanish, check out whoami as well.

There’s another Spanish game, Universo Digital, which takes place inside a CPU, and the mechanics involve writing interrupt handlers in a simplified machine code.


Yeah, and depending on what aspects you care about, these might be related:

  • Open Sorcery: Twine story about being an “elemental firewall: a creature of intertwined magic and code”
  • Junior Arithmancer: not a computer environment, but a puzzle game about limited programming-ish instructions to build up digit sequences, so feels spiritually related to a mini-Zachtronics game to me…
  • Digital: A Love Story: Ren’Py: this is getting a little further afield but I’d still consider it interactive fiction.
  • Hypnospace Outlaw: You’re an “enforcer” on a faux '90s online space: still further afield in terms of interface, but…

If you like that sort of thing, there were a couple of related NarraScope talks this year:


In Infocom’s Suspended, the protagonist is a human failover/override that is roused (only slightly, they are in a metal cylinder) when an earthquake causes a major failure in the computers that control the planet Contra’s weather, transportation, and food production systems.

Entombed within the heart of a vast underground data center, the player must command the robots used for control, monitoring, and maintenance of the facility to stabilize and ultimately repair the failing systems.

Suspended is the only Infocom title (someone correct me if needed!) that features an in-game rationale for its text interface: the protagonist and the robots communicate, terminal-style, in text.

Suspended - Details (

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There’s Dunnet, which is embedded in Emacs. It also has an entry in IFDB.

Portal, back in the old days. (Not the Valve one.) The archetypical “exploring a database” narrative game. Portal - Details

In the parser realm, has anyone mentioned Bad Machine? Bad Machine - Details

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Both Portals are fantastic games!

Thanks for all the suggestions, also, what in your opinion would be the best way to create such a game, in a parser based or other? Not just emulating a terminal in a parser-based system which is basically what it is, but say a more complex UI.

I have found that in Twine, Sugarcube can be used effectively as a Model-View-Controller framework.

You can have passages defining data structures (M), view templates that depend on object state (V) and application logic (C). The “goto” macro is used for routing and “include” can create page fragments like header, footer and body. I have used this pattern for all my Twine games, you can have a peek at any of them with the Twine editor. whoami and MetaComp have command parsers built entirely within Twine.

Example of an emulated email client, from whoami

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(I was typing this while n-n was posting, so there’s some overlap.)

You could check out Twine, if you’re generally aiming for a choice-based game, or Inform 7 & Vorple, if you’re aiming for a parser-based game; but it’s also easy to use extensions to make a choice-based game in Inform.

With Twine, you generally have HTML/JavaScript/CSS at your disposal (although the details of using arbitrary JavaScript depend a bit on the specific “story format” you’d use within Twine), so you can replicate various sorts of UI with enough effort.
If you want to emulate a command-line, you’ll probably have to hook up a suitably visually disguised text input box to a custom parser built in JS, so that might turn out to be fiddly, but doable. Depending on the scope of your project, you might only need a very limited subset of fictional Operating System commands?

If you use Inform 7 and Vorple, which allows you to interface with JS, you get a full parser-based engine for free, plus the possibility to do your UI with HTML/JavaScript/CSS.

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You might be interested in this presentation on diegetic games from this year’s Narrascope. It discusses their design and things like how it’s hard to have an initial hook with wiki-likes.

I attempted to recreate a computer interface in Computerfriend and found it quite difficult: I originally wanted to approximate Windows 98 but ended up with something much less pretty when I realized my HTML & CSS knowledge would not be sufficient. It’s definitely possible for a decent programmer to do better in Twine (design the desktop layout and make clickable links that lead to new passages), but the more advanced the system the harder the task. A functional corner clock or search bar would be prohibitively difficult.


Suspended and Bad Machine are the two I was going to recommend. I know I’ve played a handful of others that try to emulate a computer system of some sort (i.e. you’re actually using ls and cd and such) but none of them stick out especially strongly in my mind.

Endless, Nameless by Adam Cadre simulates a dial-up BBS RPG.

Re: Dragon by Jack Welch is set in an email program.


I recently played an adventure game called One Dreamer which is about making an indie game. It sort of takes place inside the game while you’re fixing bugs in the game code. Not a full Zachtronics-style programming puzzle game, but it has something of the same flavor.

Rover’s Day Out had a lot of Unix shell commands that you can use at the end of the game.

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Here are a few, whether you consider all of them IF is a matter of judgment…

  • Stories Untold - The first part is actually IF, but the other parts use computers or systems too, I think
  • Her Story - You get a imitated PC desktop with a few apps, plus a keyword system though it’s overshadowed by the FMV clips
  • Deus Ex Ceviche - by Tom Lento and Chandler Groover, some sort of fish and floppy disk thing, pretty complicated I think
  • Arc Symphony - by Matilde Park and Penelope Evans, presents itself as a Usenet newsgroup
  • Okinawa Online - My own game, made in Sugarcube…it has keyword-based navigation, similar to Her Story
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy - A first-person game, definitely not interactive fiction—but you get a terminal with a full command line to work with and you can hack doors, gun turrets, cameras, etc.

Depending on how much similarity to a real GUI you want, Sugarcube for Twine is useful. As others have noted you can use text boxes to make a keyword system. I posted some simple code that does that here earlier this year.

You can also use Sugarcube’s dialog system to imitate pop ups or windows—albeit without drag and drop features like in a true desktop.


Thank you all, I’m definitely got more ideas than I bargained for!

There is a third part to this, but I believe it’s a different issue so I’ve created a separate thread for it.

In the 8-bit days, there were quite a lot of games that emulated a dial-up BBS system. That sort of “hacker” game wasn’t really considered a text adventure at the time; although at least a couple of them were written with text adventure creation systems.

It wasn’t unusual for a “hacker” game to form a separate part of a larger software experience, with links to either a more traditional text adventure or an arcade action game.

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