Video Game Exploration in Text — A Dark Room

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A game made out of text alone, might be the least probable to succeed in today’s video game industry. Where games are packed with special effects, stunning visuals, and (over)realistic explosion. However, this is incredible exception..

A Dark Room defies the modern, all to familiar, laws telling us that video games required graphics worth millions of dollars to succeed. Here there is not a single bit (gamers will see what I did there) of graphic visualization! Despite that it is one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Just like when reading books, players will visualize the scenes differently. There’s nothing to predetermine them, it is simply up to your imagination. Therefore all gameplay experiences will differ from player to player.

Other than being a game purely made out of letters and numbers it’s an adventure game in which you collect resources to proceed. Though, don’t expect it to be easy nor safe, it is quite freaky and mysterious at times as well.

When starting you are prompted with lighting a fire(see image to the left), this will be the cornerstone of the village you are about to found. Through the night then comes a stranger. She later turns out to be a builder that will be essential in building your village throughout the game, until..(I’ll let you find that out when playing yourself). Keeping the fire going is the essential part of the village that needs to be maintained constantly while playing. Note: When closing the game, it does not run in the background.

Constructing a village is your next objective. This is when the builder gets to work, as long as you give her the resources necessary and tell her what to build. Among the building she can build at the start are; huts, get you more residents that can do work, traps; qualifies you to catch animals for fur, meat, etc.
When a new building is built new items, people, and/or objectives appear. For instance, once you get a trading post built you can purchase a compass which qualifies you to explore the world around your village. You venture out into the the unknown as a ’@’ among tiles marked in different ways depending on their attributes. ’T’s is for terrain (things will try to kill you here), ’#’s are for paths (completely safe to travel on), ’,’ and ’.’ is for tall grass (things will try even harder to kill you here).
But do not fear! There are nice things out there as well! Like ruined cities, damp caves, and giant lizards that try to kill you… I expected that to play out in a better way. But, again, do not fear! You can carry weapons to fight your way through to the glorious loot. The first weapon you can craft is a spear. It is crafted in a workshop. Interestingly enough you can carry an iron sword, steel sword, and a katana and attack with them all at the same time. That is what I call extreme multitasking abilities!
The world you travel through is big and the amount of water and food you can bring is limited (these can be improved later on by constructing different sorts of equipment). The water required to move one tile is 1.0 units, and once you run out of water you’ll die. Food, a.k.a cured meat, is required as well and will carry you a few more tiles than water will. You will still need to bring a lot though.
In the beginning you have to go on small explorations just around your village which is marked with an A. But once you get a wagon and water tank built you can venture all the way to the edge of the world. Around the world there are a small amount of friendly outpost. The number of these will increase over time as you conquer ruined cities and houses. In these outposts you can refill your water supply and get some more cured meat.
Telling you how the game ends would spoil the whole thing, so instead I will just give you one tip; If you feel stuck. Keep playing, exploring, and thriving and you will progress. Good luck and enjoy the exploration, the game took around three hours for me to complete!

My favorite aspect of A Dark Room is the freedom you have to create your own visuals while playing. It is such a simple experience for the eye, but yet a incredible abstract, imaginative, and creative experience for your brain. If you are looking for a way to improve your imagination without reading a book, games like this is a great place to start!


A Dark Room is available on the App Store for $0.99. If you don’t want to buy it you can play it for free on the official website for it.

Free Web Version

Paid ($0.99) iOS Version on the App Store

Viktor Aronsson

Read more posts by me.

Stockholm, Sweden

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