Ben Leskey | Blog

Toward the ultimate text adventure game engine

2023-04-21 #discovery #games #software #textengine

  1. Text adventure
    1. Why text?
    2. AI?
    3. MUDs?
    4. Something new
  2. Goals
    1. Learning Go
  3. Design
  4. Github repository

Text adventure

Why text?

Text-based games have an extremely good complexity/development time ratio. There are no graphics to worry about, no programmer art beyond writing (what luck, I happen to enjoy writing), no controls beyond text processing, no frames per second, et cetera, et cetera. Fully text based games can be even more complex than turn-based 2D roguelike games like Cataclysm: DDA. There's just less extra to worry about—the development focus has one of the most basic interfaces imaginable. Additionally, fully text-based games are perfect for screen readers due to their simple interface (see this article about writing a screen-reader friendly text-based game).

The specific style of text-based game I'm talking about is the text adventure game. The computer tells you about your environment, your circumstances, and your character, and you choose what your character does or says. It's simple, straightforward, and very reminiscent of the conversational style of a tabletop RPG.

The problem is, a human game master will always be better than a computer here, right? A human game master can simulate any situation, can mediate any conflict, can act any character. (I exaggerate, but not very much.) A computer must be programmed to handle every specific situation in the game's world.


You can make ChatGPT play a roleplaying game with you. ChatGPT can be the game master, simulate the environment, accept the actions of your character, whatever you might want. A couple of pitfalls prevent full immersion, however. ChatGPT forgets details and must be reminded, and it can't stay on track with a game system, being a more freeform storyteller. I want something better.


The system I have in mind is similar to the MUD gameplay style, which is fully text-based as you pilot your character through a multiplayer world. MUDs are, however, limited in a number of ways: they are generally room based, their multiplayer nature requires real-time interaction, their systems are quite gamey, and the "dungeon master" is primarily concerned with combat mechanics.

Something new

I've started work on a new system at This text engine is an effort toward building a flexible text-based game engine for simulating any scenario or world.


These are very ambitious goals, but the text engine format lends itself well to managing all this complexity without the added requirements of graphical display and control.

This will be a long-term project, so development may be quite slow. There is no time pressure, however, so I can take it at my pace.

Learning Go

This project is also a way for me to learn the Go language, which has some unique syntax and ideas that I think will be perfect for a large text-based game engine like this.


The basic structure is thus: everything in the world, whether a city, a man, a kingdom, a sword, or a lake, is an entity in relationship with other entities, capable of whatever actions and interactions make sense for it.

Let's example a sample scenario to illustrate the idea: a covered wagon of four merchants traveling down a road through a forest, about to be robbed by two bandits with crossbows. You are the lone guard for the wagon, wielding only a sword riding in the front with the driver while the other three merchants are sitting in the back.

Every bold word in that previous paragrah would be an entity (or a few entities). As an example, the wagon is an entity with two entities making it up: the front and the back. In the event that you wanted to hide underneath the wagon, an entity for the underneath would be generated as well. The front of the wagon is an entity that contains you and the driver. This contains relationship would be mirrored by in relationships that you and the driver have with the wagon. The wagon itself is on the road, while the road contains the wagon. The road itself is within the forest, and so forth.

You can see the complex interactions that can happen here. Each of the merchants and bandits has an AI corresponding with their generated personalities and skills, so some of the merchants might draw weapons while others might seek cover in the wagon from the bandits' crowssbows.

Dialogue would be represented by ideas, such as "The king expresses his gratitude with an undercurrent of disdain." or "The bandit threatens you with no trace of reason in his eyes." You can choose to respond however you see fit, by threatening, cajoling, warmly thanking, etc. to influence character's perceptions, attitudes, and ultimately actions.

Attitudes and actions would bubble upward as well to influence cities and kingdoms. If the player was not currently in a city it could be simulated on a macro level rather than each individual character in the city, so that the city's influence and politics would change and existing characters in the city would have their life stories altered without the need for a granular simulation.

I still need to work through the details of the system, and see what implementation issues I run into, but this should provide a base for further development in a new and exciting direction.

Github repository

I've started work at The prototype is not yet a functioning game, but there is a command processing system and the basis of a generic game engine capable of singleplayer and multiplayer text-based gameplay.