Text, text everywhere


What's the most low-tech computer game you can imagine? Rogue? Space War? Pong? Tennis for Two? Zork?

I vote for Hamurabi, a strategy game reduced to a dialogue between player and computer, where three numeric inputs is all you get. And yet it is remarkably immersive, not least because it requires serious thinking. That, and the evocative setting. Yes, evocative. You're a king in ancient times, struggling to feed your people and grow the kingdom against various hardships. What more do you need?

See, that is the nature of text. A tiny bit of it goes a long way.

I've been toying with the Debian Live tools this weekend (instead of working on a game, heh), learning to put together a distro remaster. Just for kicks, I've set as my goal to make it a console-based Linux desktop. That was mainly because it's actually possible, and I know people who prefer working this way, and there is nothing similar out there. Most distro authors seem to think text mode is for servers, data rescue and so on, which was fairly annoying when I was stuck without X for a day or so and had to set up an useful environment from scratch.

That naturally got me thinking about text-based games again. With my tastes, including Frotz and TinyFugue was a no-brainer. The minute, but entertaining ninvaders was another easy decision. And then there is bsd-games, a collection of no less than 36 classic titles, all text-based... and all different.

How many different types of graphical games can you name?

But wait, you're going to say, aren't text games essentially obsolete? Maybe... unless you count Echo Bazaar, which I have reviewed recently. And play-by-post RPGs. Which, come to think of it, you can also play without a computer... or anything else apart from an ability to speak. How's that for low-tech?

You see, what many tend to forget in this age of glitzy graphics is that text is the universal interface. All the icons in the world can't substitute for a simple number telling you how many hitpoints you've got. And while many of the earliest computer games were graphical in nature, the only reason why we can play some of them today is because they had source code that could be ported and preserved.