An extensive list of free narrative game engines

While writing the most recent mailout for the Pixelles Game Writing Group Follow-Along program, we ended up with a really long list we wanted to share with our writers but ran out of space. And not only that, we believed that it would make for a great public resource for everyone out there looking for a new game making tool.

This list was put together with writers in mind, meaning that most of the tools and software here either has a focus on text and storytelling or has features that incorporate text and narrative into their platform.

The first few on our list are very beginner friendly. They have simple interfaces and lots of documentation with active communities that love to help. If this is your first time seeking to make a game they are go places to start! Further down you’ll find some more complex systems that have a slightly higher learning curve but provide many more options for the design of your game.

And all the engines in this list are available for free!

Twine (beginners): No knowledge of coding required. A very versatile tool, especially if you know some CSS/Javascript. Best for branching stories with some variables and stats. Twine has a strong online community. You can publish your Twine Games for free using Philome.la (with a Twitter Account).
Tutorials worth checking:

RenPy (beginners): Uses Python as its core language. Most suitable for linear stories that incorporate graphics and sound. Quite famous for its use in visual novels. Very easy to learn.
Tutorials: There’s a tutorial within the game engine itself that covers all the basics. It’s really well done!

Inkle Writer (beginners): The studio behind this tool is Inkle Studios, which made the acclaimed 80 Days. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a more “Choose Your Own Adventure” look – where your text will unfold like the pages of a book.
Tutorials: Included in the engine is a sample story that covers all the basics.

Fungus (beginners-intermediate): A free Unity asset, like a mix between Renpy and Twine. You don’t need to know how to code to use it, but it’s even better if you know some Unity basics.
Tutorials:

Story Nexus (intermediate): A more advanced tool, entirely web-based – you just need to register for an account. The “tile system” can seem tricky at first, but it’s very powerful. Best for branching stories using heavy RPG features and stats. The studio recently made Sunless Sea, and has been working closely with Bioware.
Tutorial: Included in the engine is a sample story that covers all the basics.

Inform 7 (intermediate): Also well-known and free, great if you want to create old-school Interactive Fiction with text entry features. Not especially user-friendly at the beginning, but quite powerful.
Tutorials: Check Emily Short’s info about the tool!

There’s an even bigger list here with tons of other engines if you’re curious! (The “Last Update” column doesn’t seem up to date though, and some of them may not exist anymore.)

Depending on your knowledge, skills and operating system you’re using, you may also want to use 2D engines such as Construct 2, Game Maker, Stencyl. These engines are less focused on text, but if you plan to make a narrative game with more “traditional” mechanics in 2D, these are great free engines to play with!



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