You can begin to see a structure emerge from the fragments, but where that structure will lead you remains impossible to predict, and so the compulsion to keep pressing little word buttons grows stronger.Originally created by Michael Townsend in May of 2013, A Dark Room was designed to run in Web browsers and meant to be left running in an open window throughout the day.“When I saw Michael’s creation, it was just really good timing,” Amir Rajan, Townsend’s eventual development partner, told me.
“I was building a budgeting app in my spare time and had made quite a few i OS apps that will never see the light of day,” Rajan said.
“But when I saw A Dark Room, I thought this could really be meaningful to bring to the App Store.” Rajan e-mailed Townsend, who lived one thousand six hundred miles away, in Ottawa, Canada, and asked for permission to adapt the game for i Phones and i Pads.
A working programmer by day and a game-design hobbyist by night, Townsend was happy to share his work with Rajan.
“I want to kindle the creative spirit in others,” Townsend told me over e-mail.
“My games are open-source because I want people to learn from them, or use them to build their own things.” When A Dark Room was first released on i Phone, at the end of 2013, the game was listed in a number of Best of the Year lists, including those published by Forbes, Paste, and the influential gaming site Giant Bomb, but it remained a relatively modest seller.
“I thought if I could just get one per cent of the people who had played the Web version of the game, that would be great,” Rajan told me, recounting the enthusiastic reception that the Web version had received from major gaming sites like IGN and Kotaku. I checked again the day after we’d been mentioned on Giant Bomb and we’d only gotten eighty downloads.” A Dark Room continued on with these modest figures for five months, eventually reaching a thousand downloads a month at ninety-nine cents each—“nice mailbox money,” as Rajan described it, but nothing more than that.Then, one day in early spring, Rajan decided to check the U. App Store charts on a whim and noticed that the game had been downloaded three hundred times in a single day. Soon after, the game began climbing the ranks of the U. App Store, reaching the top spot for all downloads on April 12th and staying there for the rest of the month. “All this was an accident.” The improbable best-seller is a variation on primordial text adventures like Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork, which helped widen the scope of video games in the nineteen-seventies.He thought it was an anomaly, maybe because of a school holiday, but the next day that figure shot to eight hundred, and a few days later the game had become the most downloaded game in the U. Like its forerunners, the game uses words to describe everything that’s happening, transforming language into a landscape that’s only ever visible in isolated pieces that the player must decipher.A Dark Room starts with a few lines of text on a black screen: “the fire is dead. You keep stoking the fire, the thin blue bar disappearing and then slowly filling itself out again each time to signal when you’ll be able to press the “stoke fire” button again. More text arrives: a ragged stranger has stumbled through the door. vision blurry.” A bright-blue line cuts across the center of the screen, just below the words “stoke fire.” You press the words and suddenly the screen turns white.