How to Make a Text RPG

Written by joe derouen
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How to Make a Text RPG
Map out your story before you begin programming. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

From the original Zork and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," text-based role-playing games (RPGs), often referred to as interactive fiction, have a rich tradition on the PC. Played entirely in text on a computer screen, the games rely not only on the author's skill with the written word but the player's imagination and ability to solve puzzles. Once you have a story in mind, there are many different platforms from which to choose that will help you create your very own text-based RPG.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper
  • Programming language

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Before you even begin to write your game, decide what story you want to tell. Perhaps the player is a detective in a 1920s noir murder mystery, or a legendary swordsman on a quest to rescue his queen. Whatever your story, it's a good idea to plot out the basics, including puzzles that you want players to encounter. More than likely, you'll change the script as you work and new ideas come to you, but a brief outline of your story will give you a solid starting point. Once you've written an outline, fill in the details.

    How to Make a Text RPG
    Populate your interactive RPG world with both friends and foes for players to encounter. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Choose which programming language you want to use. If you already know C++, Visual Basic or any other modern programming language, you'll have an advantage in creating your own text RPG game. If, however, your programming skills are rusty or even non-existent, you'll want to use one of the languages discussed in Steps 3 through 5. All three allow complex sentence structure input ("pick up the sword and kill the troll" as opposed to the more archaic two-word "get sword"), as well as the ability to fully interact with the world map.

  3. 3

    Inform was originally based on Infocom's classic ZIL language but has long since surpassed it. Inform is the preferred text RPG programming language for most serious text RPG authors. It's a natural-based language, and the source code reads like English, making it accessible to programmers and non-programmers alike. The Inform engine can run on a PC, Mac or Linux, and the final product can be played on virtually any machine, including hand-held devices such as the iPhone. There is a learning curve, but Inform's website (see Resources) offers videos and tutorials to get you started.

  4. 4

    Interactive Fiction Markup Language (IFML) is an XML-based markup language used for creating text-based RPG games that are playable via your browser. IFML is also a natural-based language that, while easier to learn than Inform, isn't nearly as robust. IFML is limited both in terms of programming and player interaction, but the language's website (see Resources) offers many tutorials and ideas for getting around the limitations. If you don't want to take the time to learn Inform, IFML is the next best option.

  5. 5

    The Text Adventure Development System (TADS) predates both Inform and IFML and hasn't been updated since 2009. However, TADS is probably the easiest to learn of the three. The TADS website (see Resources) offers a huge number of tutorials and guides, including sample games that you can play and pick apart to see how they work. Though more versatile than IFML, TADS doesn't quite measure up to Inform in terms of programming non-player characters (NPCs) and their interaction with players. Another caveat: Though the games will play on multiple platforms, the author's toolkit is available only for Windows.

Tips and warnings

  • You can be the best programmer in the world, but no one will want to play your game if it's poorly written. Spend at least as much time developing your story as you do learning how to translate it into game form. A rich story will immerse the player in the world you've created, providing an even more satisfying gaming experience.

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