ASCIIPortal, Ascii Sector and Dwarf Fortress: Text-only, so to speak

I had a brief but interesting e-mail exchange with a longtime reader last week who asked if I was deliberately skirting games like Dwarf Fortress, Ascii Sector or ASCIIPortal.

The answer I gave last week, and the answer I’ll repeat here, is yes. And no. Maybe. 😉

If you’re not familiar with them, all three games are unequivocally text-based. And yet, with the possible exception of Dwarf Fortress, I’ve never heard of a way to run them within an emulator let alone a classic virtual console. (And even then, Dwarf Fortress would have required a framebuffer terminal emulator, if I remember right.)

That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, it just means that K.Mandla is lazy and hasn’t researched it yet. 🙄

To be fair — and because these are all very good games — I promised to list them here, with the caveat that they will possibly require a graphical environment to get them moving.

What you see next is running in X under Arch. Going in alphabetical order, ASCIIPortal is first. I mentioned ASCIIPortal off hand in a post over four years ago, while the Portal hubbub was trailing away.


The general premise is the same, although the format is distinctly different from the original Valve game. Controls are easy and the game moves very quickly, even on decade-old hardware.

I’m not much of a puzzle-game fan though; I think my favorite puzzle adventure game was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but I never worked my way through Myst or its ilk. And I never really took part in the Portal panic. I give ASCIIPortal acceptable marks for playability, but you might enjoy it more if you can relate to the original game.

Here’s Ascii Sector.


I want to put Ascii Sector into the same box as things like Elite or Frontier, as a space trading game with a heavy combat element. Like the Gearhead series it has distinct elements of person-to-person interaction and sci-fi combat, although Gearhead may outstrip it in RPG-ish elements. You can decide that.

As you might remember, I did mention Ascii Sector a long time ago and I had trouble putting a label on it then, too. Regardless, I am willing to recommend it as a fun spin past the space trader genre, without the need for 3D-heavy hardware.

The last one, and the most dangerous one, is Dwarf Fortress.

2014-10-06-6m47421-dwarffortress-01 2014-10-06-6m47421-dwarffortress-02

I made a point of uninstalling Dwarf Fortress almost as soon as I snapped that screenshot; the last time I became involved with Dwarf Fortress, it ate up hours of my time and caused no end of internal strife.

It’s that good a game. If you’ve never played it before, I almost envy you. You have the pleasure of learning it for the first time. But be prepared, it will take up a lot of your available life. 😕

I agreed in my e-mail last week to include these as SDL-ish games that are technically text-based but will probably require Xorg to work. I am sure there are a lot more like them, particularly if we open the “text-based game” genre to classic software of the 1980s and pre-Windows eras.

These represent a hybrid though, and to be sure, I include them because omitting them seems somehow incorrect. Please, with my compliments … enjoy. 🙂

9 thoughts on “ASCIIPortal, Ascii Sector and Dwarf Fortress: Text-only, so to speak

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  2. Slackeee

    You can configure Dwarf Fortress to run in pure ASCII mode. I use that feature to play it over SSH on my slow laptop, with the game actually running on my workstation.

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      You’re right. After I wrote this I went back and looked at my old posts from four years ago, and saw that I had a little more success with this than I remembered. Thanks for pointing that out. 😉

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    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Thanks, I’ll give that a try. I know the SDL version works fine, but I would like to see a strict text-only version. 🙂

      1. mbays

        I should have said: you may want to use the “-a” option in the nosdl version, which tells it to use only actual ascii characters

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