It is pitch dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.”
There’s a certain sparse beauty in old, parser-based text adventures. For all their infuriating restrictions, the idea is simple: A computer spits out a description of where you are, what you’re holding and what’s in the room, and you tell the computer what you want to do. The problems arise from the fact that the computer doesn’t actually speak the same language you do — it can only understand you if you use the exact vocabulary it is programmed to look for.
> go through the window
What should I do with the window?”
Parser games require a tremendous amount of patience, though they are also filled with Easter Eggs, fun secrets hidden in their pathways, smart-alec remarks the designers taught the computer in order to make players laugh.
Nice weather we’ve been having lately.”
Trying to tell a story in a parser is as much about hunting through a thesaurus as it is about anything else — about making sure you’ve thought of enough synonyms for the word you want to ensure no one will get stuck trying to solve this puzzle.
But since a parser is all about trying to get a computer to understand some facsimile of English (or the language of your choice), why not just get the computer out of the way entirely?
It is Pitch Dark is equal parts Zork, Dungeons & Dragons, improvisational theater and goofing around on Twitter. It is a Twitter account, (@ItIsPitchDark), run by a gamemaster (GM), who will act as the storyteller in a text adventure played by anyone and everyone who happens to be paying attention. A “game” of It is Pitch Dark is played over several days. We hope to have several different GMs run games of It is Pitch Dark. For now, you’re probably stuck with OntoGeek staff and friends.
Games of It is Pitch Dark may vary in tone from serious to satirical, depending on the GM and, perhaps more importantly, the players. The GMs may have more or less of an idea of what the game will be about. They may have pages and pages of notes laying out a detailed setting. They may have only a vague idea. They may just start typing and see where they wind up.
A game of It is Pitch Dark is fleeting and performative — subject to strange tangents or hijacking by bizarre whims.
Sound interesting? Then these are The Rules:
1. The players are all of them, collectively, playing one person, one “playthrough” of the game. If you don’t like what your fellow players are doing, tough!
2. The players and the GM alternate taking turns — the GM starts, then the players respond, then the GM responds to that, etc., until the game is over.
3. The GM, on the first turn, may use as many tweets as he or she wants to set the scene, so long as it’s clearly demarcated (say, with (cont.) or (1÷2) or some other marking) that it’s not the players’ turn yet. After that, the GM may never tweet more than three times in a row. This encourages brevity, which is a good writing exercise, if nothing else.
4. The players, on their turn, may only take actions that can be communicated in less than 140 characters, that is, the length of one tweet.
5. A player must include “@ItIsPitchDark” at the beginning of the action he or she wants to take, otherwise we won’t be aware of it. So really you have 125 characters to play with after you leave a space.
6. The GM must not require any outside knowledge of lore or setting in order to play — only what is in the tweets is canon.
7. Each game of It is Pitch Dark must only last a few days, in case things go in a weird direction, and in order to ensure the GM can remain focused and dedicated to keeping things going.
8. That said, there is no schedule or required frequency — GMs will update when they feel like it, in between classes, on breaks at work, etc. Part of the fun is that you have to be paying attention, and that It is Pitch Dark happens all the time, when it happens.
9. The GM will usually respond to the first person to tweet at the next update, though he or she is allowed to use his or her judgment.
10. The GM will retweet on the @ItIsPitchDark account any players’ actions which are deemed “canonical,” that is, the result of the players’ turn.
11. The GM is encouraged to say “no” as rarely as possible — choosing instead to accept what the players have given him or her and then subvert it in an interesting way.
Other than this, freedom, common sense, and good storytelling rule the day. The players do not have to structure their responses in the usual grammar of parser-based games (take sword, inventory, look room), but it’s kinda fun if you do.
A few expected questions:
How do I play?
Just follow @ItIsPitchDark on Twitter and start responding once a game starts!
When does the first game start?
The first game starts on Monday, 8÷19÷13, probably around 9:00 AM EST. The GM will be Ontological Geek Editor-in-Chief Bill Coberly, that is, myself.
What if I want to run a game of It is Pitch Dark?
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a pitch for a game or at least some reason (portfolio of other work, fanart of the Ontological Geek staff, a bribe) for us to give you the keys and we’ll see if we can’t work something out.
I’m still confused. What does this look like?
Well, though this one was silly and spontaneous, about like this.
It is Pitch Dark will start its first official game on Monday, 8÷19÷13, and it will be run by Bill Coberly. More information and responses to any asked questions will be forthcoming. Tell your friends! The game will be more fun the more players we have.
List of Games So Far:
Through the Gate-To-Many-Places, by Bill Coberly
The Lizards on Phobos, by Matt Schanuel
Unto Tarsus, by Aaron Gotzon
Shadowfood, by Matt Schanuel
Escape From the Island of Dr. Kill, by Michael Elliott (Starting 12/30/2013)