Text Adventure vs. MUD vs. Roguelike vs. Dwarf Fortress

A text-style game is a common project for beginner programmers. These can be fun to do, but also require spending time up-front to design it is worthwhile. Before you start designing your own game, look at the design decisions of a few different text-style game genres.

Text Adventures

Also known as interactive fiction or IF, a text adventure game were the first incarnations of these types of games. They are single-player, turn-based (the game paused while the player typed in commands), and presented the user with an English text description of each room the player was in. The player was often a single character with an inventory of items picked up in the rooms. Commands were simple English phrases like "open door" or "get lamp".

West of House

You are standing in an open field west

of a white house, with a boarded front


There is a small mailbox here.

> open mailbox

While the player could die, often the player did not have stats such as hit points, money, or experience points. Text adventures are puzzle-based (such as finding different rooms or figuring out which items to use where), rather than based on progressing in stats or levels.

Text adventure games are more than just “Choose Your Own Adventure” programs, because they take place in open sandbox worlds that the player can freely explore.

These are the simplest types of games to make. In fact, you don’t even need a real programming language to make one of these games. There is software specifically for creating text adventure games.

The 1993 hit Myst is an example of a graphical version of this genre. These games became more sophisticated with the graphic adventure game genre (or “point-and-click adventure games”), the most notable coming from LucasArts. Specialized software for making graphic adventure games also exists, chief of which is Adventure Game Studio.

  • Single-player
  • Turn-based
  • Player directly controls a single character
  • English text descriptions (not ASCII art)
  • English phrases for commands
  • Inventory
  • No stats or levels
  • Puzzle-based and role-playing story elements

Multi-User Dungeons

A MUD (also sometimes called a Multi-User Dimension) was a multiplayer form of text adventures that incorporated hack-and-slash combat. Players connected to a server with telnet client software. Although MUDs still had English text descriptions for rooms and accepted English phrase commands, the games were in real-time: things could happen while you were typing in commands. Players controlled a single character that moved around an open sandbox world, fighting monsters and leveling up. Players could also treat the game as a large chat room to talk to each other.

Because many things could be happening at once, most MUDs made use of colorful text to make the descriptions easier to read (for example, room descriptions in gray, items in the room in white, chat messages in red, etc.)

MUDs still exist today and are often free to play. The Mud Connector is site with a large list of still-active MUD servers.

A Cage

[Exits: north south up]

There is a wimpy goblin here.

kill goblin

Your pierce hits the wimpy goblin.

The wimpy goblin is slain by a final deadly stab.

You receive 170 experience points.

You hear the wimpy goblin's death cry.

You get a metal helmet from the perforated corpse of the wimpy goblin.

MUDs are a bit more difficult to program since they require network programming (and all the concurrency issues that come with that). Although it is entirely possible to create a single-player, turn-based MUD (which is essentially a hack-and-slash text adventure).

Modern MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft are the graphical equivalents of MUDs.

  • Multiplayer
  • Real-time
  • Player directly controls a single character
  • Colorful text
  • English text descriptions (not ASCII art)
  • English phrases for commands
  • Centered around advancing stats/levels and acquiring money/items


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