The ”not text” aspect

I released a game on Steam about a month ago. I’d describe it as almost purely text-based. There is a simple map that expands as you explore, but that’s all.

After having spent a lot of time adding visual elements, some dynamic elements like transitions, and music/sound, I’ve become curious about something:

What percentage of the IF-community are ”purists”, prefering text-only games? And how many appreciate - from time to time - an experience where textual narration intermingles with other methods for description and mood-setting?

This question goes back to the eighties, I think. I remember the widely popular Magnetic Scrolls games that made ”team Infocom” worried about the future of their beloved artform.

Any thoughts on this?


I personally like point & click adventures and pure parser games, but I don’t like mix (text adventures with graphics).

1 Like

Things like Infocom’s Arthur (images for the rooms, or a map) are absolutely my favourite, as long as it’s done well. If it isn’t, it can be worse than just text. Another great example is the BBC’s version Hitchhiker’s Guide.

(As you can see from above there’s quite a drastic difference between good implementation of images, and a bad one.)

1 Like

As a developer who is pretty much exclusively targeting the retro community, my answer might be very 80s centric.

I think the target audience for text only games and text games with graphics is not the same. Sure, there is an overlapping of players rooted in both preferences but that doesn’t mean they’re identical.

I’ve made this (as players tell me) sophisticated Infocom style text only game (Hibernated Director’s Cut) which has more than 20.000 downloads on itch and I also created a text-graphic style adventure called The Curse of Rabenstein which has a significant higher number of downloads (around 30.000). If you follow up with analyzing the players of both games you notice that many actually played both but Rabenstein dragged in a significant amount of players which I probably would have never been able to approach by going text-only. Again, this is very 80s and retro-scene centric so it might not be the same for players that look for modern aesthetic with retro concepts runninng on current hardware.

I think Magnetic Scrolls did a great job in targeting a broad audience. I remember many of their games (if not all) could turn off the graphics by typing GRAPHICS OFF. So if it wasn’t for you, you could opt in for your mind drawing the pictures instead.

Back in the day graphics did not make a better adventure, I am only considering parser games a la Magnetic Scrolls in that statement, but since computers were evolving and there was a decline in the acceptance and success of adventure games, adding graphics helped the genre survive probably up to the early or mid-90s.

These days you’re probably not doing something wrong with graphics when there is an option to exclude them from being displayed. And for sure it addresses a broader player base. On the other hand many people still prefer going text only so there must be something about it. Let the player decide. For me it’s pretty much like in the good old Infocom advert: the mind draws the best pictures.

I suppose I’m a text only “purist”, if only because I use a screenreader, and the text-only games are almost guaranteed to work for me. Games which include graphics can work, but it really depends on the platform and how the game was made.


Personally I’m not especially fussed one way or the other; it’s just that often, I find that the graphics in IF are not that compelling, and I usually prefer no graphics to mediocre ones.

This isn’t surprising and isn’t really a critique - the skills to make a good text game and the skills to make good graphics are fairly distinct, and the single-author norm of our little corner of the world means that it’s kind of unreasonable to expect someone to be great at both things! And I’ve definitely seen lots of games that make graphics work - a lot of Adventuron stuff has a lovely aesthetic, I find. But to me, text-only is usually a safer approach.


I’m probably a text adventure ‘purist’, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like graphics. On the contrary, I love an illustrated text adventure and have fond memories of all the illustrated text adventures I played on the 8-bit Atari 800/XL/XE and 16-bit Atari ST back in the 1980s. Four of my Adventuron games have graphics and I would add graphics to all my games if only it wasn’t so time consuming and I was good at graphics.

I’ve written a couple of (unpublished) Glulx games with graphics and one of those has sound. Nowadays, I use PunyInform. Unfortunately, that doesn’t have Glulx support, so no graphics or sound, which is a bit of a bummer.

1 Like

As a starting point, I think it is good for text games to be accessible to screen reader users. This isn’t always possible. I can’t think of a good text alternative to a large map, for instance, though there may be one. If there was a parser game with a puzzle that could only be solved by looking at a picture, I would hope there could be a satisfying workaround for screen reader tech. A text description that doesn’t blurt out the solution, for instance.

More generally,

Not everyone is going to be situated to include good art in their games. I could never have done the art for RTE myself, for instance. Unless there’s an available collaborator who has a strong vision for the source material, it may be hard to get everything working together.

This isn’t a comment on your game; just a general one. I think there can be an art to text effects, too. Presentation of text can be harder than one might guess. I think timed printing of text in particular can be a touchy thing. Even here the devil is in the details!

My answer is a bit wishy-washy: if it is done well, I can enjoy “not text” quite a bit. In other cases, not so much.


Here’s more fuel on the fire:

There is text-only and text-only.

There are the Infocom-style games (in effect turn-based, structured by the perpetual dance of output-input-output-input).

Then there are games that use no visuals or sound, but still have a different dynamic structure compared to the classical games. There might be a time factor, or a placing of the text on the screen that conveys meaning.

For example, in the iOS game ”Device6”, meticulously layouted swathes of text are augmented in different directions. The placement of textual elements on screen becomes a central game mechanic.

I absolutely agree. The timing of text is a comparatively underused/overlooked aspect of text games.

A problem would be that time delays when presenting dramatic stuff in the story (for example) becomes a nuisance when replaying the game.

This is just one data point, but I personally like IF specifically because it is inconspicuous and unobtrusive and can be worked on in discrete time chunks. I can pop it up on a bus or in my living room around my son, type for five minutes, get up and eat a sandwich, switch to twitter on a different tab, etc. without disrupting anyone around me.

So I like everything that facilitates that and dislike everything that doesn’t. So long timed passages are bad, because I can’t get up to do other things. Full screen-only images are bad, because I can’t multitask and its obtrusive. Unmutable sound is bad because it disrupts those around me.

But quick-loading images that can be resized into a window are fantastic.

That’s just my personal data point, not sure if others have similar motivations for enjoying text games.


I like several advantages of text-only IF:

  • fueling my imagination
  • better concentration and immersion (though I’m not a total immersion kind of player, let’s call it half-immersion) including concentration on puzzles
  • better parser (For example in “Tass Times in Tone Town” there are some nasty parser shortcomings)

I like to play IF like @mathbrush wrote.

1 Like

I am emphatically not a purist, but won’t turn down a game because it happens to be text-only.


I’m going to be controversial and claim that illustrations/graphics are essentially mandatory for commercial IF in today’s world.

Now before everyone jumps on my head to point out that such-and-such sold well, and so-and-so was very well received - yes there are exceptions. But they’re rare.

I think this because, done well, pictures and illustrations enhance the experience, and that they are additive to the imagination and not detractive.

Time for a picture (… and what about pictures made from text?)


Dimensions of IF:

                    visual novels
Parser ----------------- + --------------- Choice

The X axis is long-form text and the Y axis is short text but different animations.

It is my theory that there is a continuum here in both dimensions. And that the only reason people talk about “parser IF” or “choice IF” is because authors pick a system that is oriented towards one point and does not have, say, parser-choice fluidity.

This will become apparent in Inform when the dialogue extensions come out. People will be using choices for dialogue and parser for commands. They will then ask, can we use choices for some of the commands, like navigation? And it then start to become continuous and everyone will see the light.

Why is this relevant to pictures?

Because in a continuum, where your game is at (X,Y), there is no distinct point that pictures are either must have or don’t have. Good artwork can always improve the game experience and not having them is missing out on that factor.


No, not always for me. Artwork meaning good room descriptions (like in Anchorhead) yes. Artwork meaning graphics no. But that’s just my strange mind working that way. Many others will appreciate a picture full of atmosphere.

Also I don’t understand your X and Y axis and the continuum.

This seems intuitive - except if I understand correctly, one of if not the most successful contemporary commercial IF is the Choice of Games portfolio, which are resolutely no-graphics (except a cover image I guess, but all the IF Comp games have those too). Maybe that’s due to having debuted and secured a big audience like ten years ago, but my sense is they’ve gotten lots of new people over time too.


Actually, I’m toying with the concept of “mapped choice IF”, that is, an choice IF with direction. That is, aside numbered choices, there’s also N,S,E,W, ecc.

This can be easily implemented in ALAN, but I have done nothing more than ruminating on the concept whose is feasible.

Albeit was done only in AGT, remapping the directions with numbers allowed the develop of the first known choice IFs, and I think the remapping direction trick can be (ab)used on more modern IF engines, even I7/10, I suspect.

so, IMO I think that is somewhat artificial the divide between choice engines and parser engines, I think that is feasible developing choice-tailored standard libraries for every known IF engine, even I7/10 save, perhaps, ADRIFT.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

There was a thread back somewhere, where someone suggested using the numeric keypad for navigation. Of course, not all keyboards have this, but it was seen as a bonus.

It seemed a good idea, tho’

Isn’t this in fact two separate continuums rather than a two-axis graph, since you’re not positing that something can be, e.g., a “parser visual novel”? But I agree that they are continuums; a lot of the VNs that have been successful outside of the niche of VN fans have had point-and-click elements (like Ace Attorney and Zero Escape), and there are parser games with choice elements and choice games with parser-like elements. I think the growing convergence between the two has been noted in the past, although it generally seems to come from the side of choice games becoming more parserlike rather than vice versa.

In fact, I believe they tried releasing a game that had character portraits a little while ago and the audience was not pleased, although I’m not part of that community and only heard about it secondhand.

1 Like

I think this is right, though there are limited-parser games, which I might* argue do move in a more choice-based direction by giving the player specified options for interaction rather than the open-ended traditional approach.

I hadn’t heard this, but seems understandable to me - I think a lot of the CoG games include strong romance elements, and I can see character art making it harder for players to project their preferences for attractiveness into the characters.

* I am in fact arguing this in an article I’m currently writing for the Rosebush.