Video Game: A Dark Room

awake. head throbbing. vision blurry.

A free browser game developed by Doublespeak Games. Play it for free here. A mobile version of the game, with additional story events, is available in the iTunes store for iOS devices.

You Wake Up in a Room, a dark one to be precise. As you poke the fire, your surroundings turn into a firelit room, and a ragged stranger rushes in, glad to have found a source of warmth. The stranger soon reveals herself to be a builder, and helps you build a cart, a few traps and a hut — the beginning of a little village. Soon enough, people move in, and you're ready to set up a community of hunters and traders. There's a big world out there, and it's waiting to be explored.

The game is a prime example of Follow the Leader done well, as it was developed as a direct response to the hit game Candy Box (and quickly gained the approval and praise of Candy Box creator Aniwey). It's designed to run quietly in a browser tab much of the time, and to demand the player's attention to varying degrees over the course of the story. It's also notable for its old-school feel and its radical Genre-Busting.

The Ensign is an insanely Nintendo Hard prequel which fleshes out the backstory.

Note: This is a game about discovery, and it is impossible to discuss the game without spoiling certain developments. It is recommended you play through the game yourself at least once before reading this page to preserve the gameplay experience.


Tropes:

  • After the End: The entire game turns out to be set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Considering the Tomato in the Mirror reveal, it's entirely possible that the player character's invasion fleet actually bombed the planet to rubble.
  • Aliens and Monsters: Plenty of the latter, remains of the former. Or so you think, until you realize "wanderer" means "alien".
  • Arc Word: wanderer. Used many times casually, to the effect that a first-time player won't notice at first that you and everyone you work with are aliens.
  • all lowercase letters: The game doesn't use a lot of capitals.
  • Alternate Ending: One can be achieved in the first game by not building any huts, forcing the player to collect all of the vital resources themselves.
  • And Now For Something Completely Different: There are two major shifts in gameplay: the first is when you embark on the dusty trail, and the second when you're able to fly into space.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Die from thirst or starvation enough times, and you'll get perks that allow you to survive longer.
  • The Atoner: The old wanderer in the swamp says that his time there is "his penance" for leading wanderer fleets to destroy worlds.
  • Author Avatar: You can meet him in The Ensign in the house at the top left corner of the map.
  • Awesome but Impractical: If you choose to wield weapons instead of using unarmed combat, and find (and carry) all multi-use weapons available, you can turn yourself into a flurry of spiky, slashy, shooty, stabby, explodey death and easily overcome most types of enemies available. Then again, carrying all the weapons to achieve this will cut your carrying capacity down quite a deal.
  • Beige Prose: Though with quite a few gorgeous uses of language.
  • Boring but Practical: Unarmed combat. Weapons weigh you down, so you can't bring back as much loot, and do a fixed amount of damage per weapon. Practicing fighting with fists, on the other hand, grants bonuses that boost damage, surpassing most weapons.
  • Body Horror: The Ritual that sets apart defectors from wanderers.
  • Brick Joke: When the builder puts up a hut, she says that "word will get around". Later, when the village is built up enough, you may get the biggest population influx possible — accompanied by the message "the town is booming. word really does get around."
  • The Computer Shall Taunt You: The Red Text in The Ensign. It pops up and mocks you Every. Single. Time. You die.
  • Cool Starship: You get one by the end.
  • The Determinator: the protagonist in both games, but especially in the prequel, as one of the buttons you have to press to restart after each death is titled, "never give up!"
  • Elemental Crafting: You gradually discover more and more advanced materials that are used to create better equipment. First is leather/bone, then iron, then steel. Gunpowder also appears later on. There's also "alien alloy", though it can't be used to craft anything, just repair your Cool Starship.
  • Featureless Protagonist: You. Or so you think, until you realise you're not human.
  • Genre Shift: The game has three wildly different genres: Text-based civ building, Roguelike and a sort of Shoot 'em Up.
  • Hermit Guru: The wanderer in the old cabin, the former leader of your expedition. From the description and his sorrowful words, it's highly likely he's the protagonist of each previous session. This was more obvious in the game's first version, which after completion reset right back to the dark room. The game's prequel explains the former leader in more depth. It's probably not you, especially since Amir says you are also female in Secrets.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: You can set up traps in the woods to catch creatures. The fact that you can find cloth from the traps alongside meat and teeth would point toward the conclusion that you and your village have no need to separate animal flesh from human or wanderer flesh. The spoils from your Dusty Trail kills can also point that way.
  • Item Crafting
  • Magikarp Power: Your fists. As first they're the weakest weapon in the game. Use them in battle enough times, and... they'll become as strong as the second-weakest weapon in the game. However, if you persist, they'll eventually become stronger than any other weapon and will have a faster cooldown time as well; see Boring but Practical, above.
  • The Master: A guest who teaches you several skills in combat.
  • Money for Nothing: Everything except cured meat and Organ Drops (furs, scales, teeth) are practically useless to the in-game economy, as they're only used for a few buildings/objects and nothing else. You can't even sell them for different resources. Scales and teeth are needed in the dozens and hundreds to buy some weapons that you cannot make yourself, and although fur can be traded for scales and teeth, it takes a whole lot of idling with all your villagers hunting to get enough furs to get any meaningful amount of the better Organ Drop currency.
  • No Name Given: No one in the game is named.
  • Organ Drops: Fur, meat, teeth, and scales can all be found by catching creatures in traps or killing them in combat. Oddly enough, you can also find cloth in your traps...
  • Playing The Player: The game has a lot of fun with you. Oh, and you're the villain.
  • Shout-Out: The Ensign has several, including ones to Portal where you can find cake in the top left hand corner of the map, Resident Evil when you find the mansion with the paintings and the old man in the wheelchair, and Metal Gear Solid, since you get confronted with a Time Paradox screen instead of a death screen when killed.
  • Tomato Surprise:
    • As the game progresses, you start to wonder why you can wield six or more weapons simultaneously, and why the entire military attacks you on sight... and then you find your own old spaceship, with the message: "lucky that the natives can't work the mechanisms". This was made more explicit from version 2 onwards, as many gamers just didn't notice.
    • One of the first hints you get is when you find a specific item for the first time: "beneath the wanderer's rags, clutched in one of its many hands"...
  • Wham Line: the trap contains some cloth and a charm, if you realize just what it means the first time you see it.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Venturing out into the wild is always dangerous, as your water supply is limited, your food supply won't last you very long, and rest spots can only be used once per trip (requiring some planning ahead).
  • You Wake Up in a Room: "the room is cold. the fire is dead."