Dark Room Navigation Ideas

Okay, so normally my whole thing is I think of really weird stuff, show it to a bunch of people when it’s done, then people go “huh…that’s weird”, I nod with satisfaction, crawl back into my hole, and repeat.

But I have another thing I would like to publicly workshop.

Dark rooms. The player character in my game will spend quite a bit of time in dark rooms, because those are easier to de-stress in. I’m currently watching the Get Lamp documentary (as recommended by @rovarsson), and a scene came up where a blind player said that when a room in IF becomes dark, and the description is “It’s dark; you can’t see anything”, then the immediate reaction is “Okay; I don’t care”.

And it got me thinking about how many times I have lived in completely dark spaces to avoid sensory overload, and how I just get used to operating around darkness. For example, I will make a little click sound when crossing a dark room, because I’m listening for an upcoming wall to get close (which changes the sound profile of the click), as whatever I’m looking for is easier to find, if I can use that wall as a positional reference.

I would like to poll some of the experiences y’all have with dark rooms in IF, because I’m trying to think of a way for a character to still work in a dark room. I’m using adv3Lite right now, so it might take a lot of gutting a re-coding, but I would like the player character to be able to still perform tasks, even in darkness.

I don’t think I want to simply say the room is dark and have all the mechanics treat the room as lit, and call it a day, though. There should be some minor changes to the mechanics.

One idea I had would be that darkness in a room doesn’t change the mechanic of something being “visible” (which would be described as “remembered” instead), but it will completely change if something is reachable.

I’m using adv3Lite, so my idea is to change how the GOTO command works, if you’re in a dark room, and your destination is in the room. The player “darkness position” would be set to that destination object, which is now considered “in reach”. If any other objects are contained by this object then they would also be “in reach”. I might also implement a list of other objects that can be added to reachable scope, when in darkness near some subject object.

The apartment is currently dark.

You remember a bed, a bookshelf, a light switch, a bathroom door to the east, and an exit door to the south. You also remember a pair of goggles, a book, and a cup on a bedside table.

You currently stand by the light switch.


You currently stand by the bedside table, and are in reach of a pair of goggles, a book, and a cup.


It's too dark to read it, but the book feels like a mass-produced pulp book, with a thin cover.


It's too dark to examine that; you should get closer.

However, I feel like there’s a better system somewhere, and I’m open to your thoughts and opinions.

Something else I’m realizing is that this is fundamentally no different than making everything visible with an extra step for the player to navigate. So an alternative that I’d like some feedback on is that darkness does not affect the visibility check of an item, but it would change the description, and might also disable some actions (like reading, for example).

I’m not sure. I feel like darkness in IF has always been kind of a weird topic.


Yeah, after reading your post, this is where I think I’m coming down – as you say, the first approach you outline basically reduces to the second, except there’s an additional step of requiring the player to move around within the room to get near to whatever thing they want to interact with. If that step happens automatically, you can just fake it with a line that says “you grope over to the [noun]” before letting the player do whatever they want. If it doesn’t, and the player needs to know/remember which smaller objects are near the bigger objects, I worry that would require you to write room descriptions to convey a lot of granular spatial information which pure text is bad at conveying, which players will have a hard time remembering, and which will add a bunch of fairly technical prose that could undermine the other sensory or emotional engagement you’re trying to engender with your prose.

(I should say, from your other threads, I get that you’re OK imposing some friction on the player to create specific narrative or thematic impact, so if that’s the case here of course go for it! But I read you as saying that dark rooms should feel something like oases, so adding a frustrating mechanic might be counterproductive in this instance).

Lastly, your final clause seems incomplete, though, since my takeaway from your post is that being in darkness might not just disable actions, but might enable some new ones too, which I think could make for interesting engagement!

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This is really smart: adding in little details to explain how the player character is operating in darkness!

It might seem like a given, but it is so cool that people remember other things I’ve posted before. I feel like I matter and have an impact here.

And yeah, the game I’m working on isn’t pulling punches for some aspects, but I feel like this is something that I would consider “sanding down”. If anything, it would help me give the player a few advantages to hopefully balance out the mechanic of stress management. Like, yeah, you can’t stay in loud rooms for more than a few turns without ear protection, but hey you effectively have night vision now! Lol.

Not to say being on the spectrum gives you night vision, but you do tend to learn how to navigate darkness a lot better, out of necessity, if anything, lol.

You have a keen eye!! There is an ability awarded to a player in darkness!

When the player exceeds some stress level, then the suppression of stressors will not be enough to calm down; you must also be in a completely dark room as well, which is called “calming darkness” in the game. So dark, quiet spaces will be places the player must remember, as they will be key locations to escape to, when stress level rise too far.

Additionally, if the player has the ability to quiet a room and turn the lights off, then you get a new recovery room as a reward!

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The description starts off by telling you the things you remember. This implies that you’ve been there before and seen everything when the room was lit. Furthermore, there’s a light switch. If I was to put on my adventure’s hat, I would just turn on the light and not be bothered with all the difficulties of exploring in the dark. You would have to have a pretty compelling reason (other than the psychological one) for the player to consciously turn off the light, then fumble around in the dark. I would see this as stress inducing, not stress reducing.

In ParserComp 2022, there was a game called ‘Lantern’ that placed you in the dark. You had to use your other four major senses (touch, taste, smell and hearing) to explore, find objects, work out what they were and ultimately find a solution to your predicament. This worked really well. Would it work for you? Unfortunately, the author removed the game shortly after judging started, so not many people go to play it.


I promise you, being completely consumed by sensory overload is a very compelling reason to seek out darkness, lol, and sensory overload is something the player character has to navigate in the game as a mechanic.

(EDIT: I am, perhaps, a moron lol. It took me a moment to realize that that “other than the psychological one” was in reference to stress overload from ASD. For some silly reason, I thought you meant that a player would want a room to be dark for atmospheric reasons, like someone trying to make a horror game even scarier. Now, with my new understanding, my previous understanding makes no sense at all. I’m sorry, lmao)

This is also why I’m trying to figure out how to make the player character operate in darkness comfortably, but also differentiate it from operating in light. If the player would want to seek out dark rooms because of the stress mechanic, then I don’t want to punish them for trying to perform tasks in dark rooms as well. That seems absolutely broken, from a game mechanic perspective, even if I’m trying to stay as true to the central theme as possible.

I really like your idea of making it so you only “see” items in darkness if you have discovered them in the light previously. If it’s the player’s apartment, then all objects are “seen” in darkness by default, but new spaces would need exploration in light first.

I feel like I’ve heard of this one. Shame it was removed; I’d love to play it.

Including the other four senses could be interesting, especially when trying to work out what objects are if you encounter them in the dark, and never saw them in the light before!

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I might not have explained myself very well, but I did mean compelling from the player character’s point of view. Your story can describe this and the need to reduce sensory overload by turning the light off. This can also be the reason for not turning it back on again.

You might like to consider both the familiar and unfamiliar scenarios in the one game. In the first scenario, you are in your apartment and you know what’s there. This could act as the “training” scenario for what is to come.

In the second scenario (later in the game), you could have unfamiliar surroundings, where you don’t know what’s there and you have to use your other senses in the dark. You said that you do this yourself with the clicking to get the sensory feedback from the echo or different tone to determine distance. That might be hard to implement in a meaningful way. ‘Lantern’ used speaking to an unseen character. You could also utilise that, if appropriate. You can ask them questions and that sort of thing.

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Aaahh!! This is such a good idea!! Yes!

So while I do have some ideas for implementing a click, you do present a neat opportunity here! The player character will have a companion character for most of the game. This companion is blind, but uses a handheld LIDAR device to figure out the rough shape of the room around her. I could figure out a mechanic where the companion helps the player look for objects in the dark. The LIDAR isn’t enough to show the companion exactly what’s there; it’s just enough to comfortably move through hallways and crowds. But they could maybe move around the room together, and she could figure out objects by holding them, as she has a lot more experience with this than the player character does.

I hadn’t considered this kind of interaction before; this would be really cool, I think! Thank you!

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You may also want to check the IF work “Bronze” by Emily Short. It has a part that plays in the dark (the crypt). It uses sounds and light sources that shine into other rooms.

In the source code, it’s chapter 6, Crypt, and Darkness.

– edit: I see you’re using adv3lite. Bronze is written in Inform 7. But it could still be worthwhile to have a look at it. I ported the Bronze game to my own system xvan, including the darkness mechanisms, so I think it’s doable for aother authoring systems.


I’ll try to brush up on my Inform 7 and check it out! Hopefully I can get the Inform-7-for-Linux project running on my computer, lol. If not, I got a Windows VM I could run it in.

Also, I’m always down to play a game by Emily Short!

Everyone know that for me touching and feeling are different actions, and a dark room IS the place for fool… ahem, feeling around.

Feeling the walls of a dark room for the light switch isn’t adventurous: is a fact of ordinary life. Less ordinary having to walk in darkness, feeling around, toward the master switch and fuse box, and changing a fuse in the dark is neither easy (nor wise, if the electrical installation is old…) so, a deviation toward a drawer containing a torch (UK/EU)/flashlight (US) is in order… and changing a fuse with one hand isn’t easy, so an Imp can devise a container mouth, for having both hands free around the fuse box…

oh, of course cats, being cats, WILL exploit to the hilt the strategic advantage, so if in a location is also a cat NPC, or worse, a wandering cat tread carefully ! (IMO is this why black cats and misfortune are paired in popular sayings…)

so, we can even have a nice little mini-comp :wink:

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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There’s also the question of “how dark is dark?”

The classic idea of darkness in IF goes back to caving, where if you turn your lantern off there is effectively no light whatsoever. You cannot see anything, no matter what, unless you bring in your own source of light. That’s the type of darkness the original Adventure was simulating, and it got borrowed from there into Zork and so on.

Aboveground, though, darkness usually isn’t that absolute. If I turn off all the lamps and close the blinds in my bedroom, it’s dark, but not hopeless: there are streetlamps outside and light coming in under the door and so on, so if I drop a medium-sized object I can usually find it again without much difficulty.

It sounds like you’re going to be having darkness matter a lot throughout the game, and even if the character has set up blackout curtains and such in their own apartment, I imagine they’ll have trouble getting absolute pitch blackness out in public. It’s probably worth making a list of what actions are truly impossible in that level of darkness, and which ones can still be accomplished by a dedicated protagonist. (Reading, for example, is probably harder than opening the door.)

The simplest solution then might be the best one. Disable that subset of actions and allow all the rest, with different descriptions to show how the character is handling them.

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Every time you post on a topic, it’s like a self-contained little adventure lol. I appreciate you!

Tempted to add a cat now, lol

Oh, it’s pretty easy to have an apartment that is darker than dark at all times when you live 50 meters underground at the bottom of the abyssopelagic zone of the ocean…! :blush:

But yeah, this game takes place in a ocean floor station, lol. There is no light past one kilometer deep…!

I’ll probably be making a list of verbs that are impossible in total darkness, still. For example, examining won’t give you any visual characteristics, and you can’t read in the dark.

Okay, here’s what I have implemented so far…

Because your companion can easily locate object in total darkness with her LIDAR device, every new dark room you enter is just “A dark place”, followed by “Anabel performs a sweep of the room, and points out what she has found.”

Then, for all objects, instead of saying “You see a cup”, it says “There should be a cup somewhere”.

Also, objects have an alternative set of vocab words for when they are in the dark, specifically to remove colors.

When you try to EXAMINE something in the dark, it redirects to a FEEL action instead, after informing you that you don’t know what it looks like.

Meanwhile, for rooms where you have seen everything in the light, and then you turn the lights off, things work a little differently. If you EXAMINE an object after you have seen it in the light, the game says “You remember what this object looked like in the light…” and then continues with its normal description.

Additionally, rooms that have been seen in the light will retain their names in the dark.

Still gotta implement blocking certain actions in darkness.

EDIT: Kinda want to address a possible response here. This game explicitly is not going to use darkness as puzzle. Darkness is just a mechanic in that you calm down in it. I explicitly wanted to avoid making the player have to laboriously discover each object in a dark room, so the fact that you get a list of objects in the dark for free is an intended part of the game. Trust me, it’s for the best, lol.


From an authoring point of view, this sounds very ambitious (as in tedious to implement). However, from a player’s point of view, I think this will work well.

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Daniel, this is more or less exactly :wink: my approach to non-total darkness (side note, there’s at least a pair of IF with a dog PC, but no one with a cat PC…)

As Joey correctly points, total darkness without artificial illumination exists only where sun, moon and stellar light can’t reach, and that is not only deep undersea, but also underground, as in a mine or a cave, of the latter, a very cogent example of the latter is the Flint & Mammoth cave system…
… and now I think that the origin of the absoluteness of dark in IF should be clear to everyone, I hope…)

(wow, two posts explaining the historical background of IF conventions in the same day…)

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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I seem to recall that there is a good darkness-navigation puzzle in Christminster, but it was more than twenty years since I played it, so perhaps somebody else has it still fresh in memory.

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So, it started out as ultra tedious, until I found what was essentially the functionality chokepoint for this stuff in adv3Lite (so there was less code to modify), and then it was slightly less tedious. But that’s okay, I love a challenge! :blush:

Also, your success projection means more than you might think! :smile:

We appreciate it!