ASCII Games Rock

There is something magical about playing video games that are rendered purely with text (ASCII) characters.

Let’s take a moment to completely ignore all the 3D, fancy-shmancy games… and look at a couple of my current favorite games rendered entirely in ASCII art.

Ascii Sector

Like Elite, Wing Commander Privateer, EVE Online or Vendetta Online?  Enjoy flying around in space, blowing up other ships, trading goods, etc.?  Then Ascii Sector is for you.

This game is one of my current favorites.  The game is, quite simply, huge.  Thanks in part to the ease of expanding it with new missions via its own scripting language.

The gameplay itself is extremely addictive, and the ASCII art gives the whole experience a great retro/sci-fi feel.  What’s more, it is currently supported and developed.


You may have already seen this glorious game around the intertubes.  ASCIIpOrtal is a, very well made, 2D-Side-Scroller re-imagining of Valve’s Portal.

The game plays a little differently than the 3D game it is based on… but the game-play mechanics work very well in the side scroller style.  Lots of fun.  Great for picking up and playing a few levels here and there.

Plus… it’s highly portable.  You can even grab it on some of the nicer cell phones out there.

Dwarf Fortress

How to explain Dwarf Fortress

The gist is this: You build a Dwarf city in a huge, detailed world.

The game is hard.  The game is complex (which is a nice change of pace in the age of Bird-Flingingly-Simple games that make your brains rot).  And the game is incredibly enjoyable.

It’s not, strictly, 100% ASCII.  You can use graphic sets that replace the ASCII style with different looks.  But I like the original, text-y look and feel myself.

Other Games

There are many other great ASCII games out there.  Theres are three truly fantastic ones that are sitting on my drive right now… but I’d love to hear from you what ASCII-based games you currently enjoy.  Feel free to comment on this post with any recommendations.

And, of course, I’d be wrong to not at least mention multiplayer BBS gaming — including some great RPG’s (including DoorMUD and L.O.R.D.), space trading sim’s (like TradeWars) and strategy games (like Barren Realms Elite).  Some great ASCII (ANSI) games in there.  If you want to check any of those out, they’re up and running at my BBS.

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  • Adrian

    Yay! Dwarf Fortress! This game is soooo badass 😀

  • Gamer Carl

    Nice article. I myself write for PC strategy games and find it very fulfilling. It’s also great to let go with a tank or tactical nuke once in a while.

  • Bill Meeks

    Bryan, you forgot my favorite ASCII game of all time: ZZT by Epic Megagames. ZZT a fun puzzle game with four included worlds, but it also included a full-featured World Editor with it’s own programming language (ZZT-OOP). The community was very engaged as well. Dozens of tool kits and custom utilities were released by users, and one fan even created a much-improved version of the game called Megazeux that included custom fonts and .MOD/.SAM sound support.

    I was actually pretty involved in the scene. First on AOL, and then on the web in 1996 or so. I recently played through several of the games I made back then. Here’s a playlist of them:

  • Gooberslot

    If anyone is interested in getting started with Dwarf Fortress I found 51ppycup’s videos on youtube to be a great help.

  • Erik Johnson

    Oh god, I just lost an hour to asciiportal. That game is addictive!

  • Aditya

    No nethack?

  • Bryan

    Aditya: I’m not *currently* playing nethack. Great game, but not one that I’ve been coming back too very often lately.

  • Fredo

    Have you ever tried Tome or Angband?

  • kabamaru

    Wow… the first screenshot looks fantastic !