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A Fire Darkly: Chapter 1

by Louis Rakovich

Episode 1 of A Fire Darkly

Web Site

(based on 5 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

You must have gotten lost.
​Explore a bizarre dark forest. Solve puzzles. Begin to piece together the fragments of your past. Who are you? What are you doing here?
Mind the choices you make in this text-based psychological horror game.

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Number of Reviews: 3
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A good one of those., January 26, 2017
by Hanon Ondricek (United States)

I was asked by the author to review this game. I'm going to be explicitly critical because I think Rakovich is an excellent writer who could be an extremely promising IF talent with a little more experience regarding how to skilfully exploit the conventions that interactivity has to offer.

AFD:C1 is a "psychological horror" piece in Twine. The game is beautifully formatted and does a very good job of pacing the amount of text between choices. I never got bored waiting to click, and I didn't skim until text started repeating. I played through in maybe twenty minutes, only getting slightly stuck once. This is very obviously a first game, but not the author's first writing. The prose is short and direct, with some nice imagery. It never verges into awkwardness. A lot of people will enjoy reading it.

Where it falters a bit is in the structure. Twine excels at emotional interactivity where words lead to other words and authors can construct a mindscape of hyperlink-synapses that is not dependent on logically physical mapping as a parser game with rooms and objects and inventory usually is. Twine games can be very successful using these conventions, but the author needs to do more work to pull it off. It's a bit disappointing in Twine to read a block of text followed by a list of bare choices "Go North" "Go East" "Go West", especially when the setting is a dreamscape that one might not expect to conform to a map grid, and when Twine makes it an easy matter to make any words in the prose a hyperlink which might give an indication of where the click might lead.

It also does the thing where the map doesn't just require you to go "west", it requires you to go west three or four times to reach a destination with no descriptive reward for doing so except a sentence-fragment description at each click: "a hollow log" "a mossy rock". Luckily this game isn't tremendous, so the extra map isn't egregious. The author does do a good job with hub-structure where the player might focus in on a tree and get a series of choices, then be able to back away from the tree to choose a new direction. There's an inventory (which unfortunately cannot be displayed if we forget what we picked up) and some slight puzzles of the "if you have the thing then a choice to put it in the other thing will appear in the right place" and sometimes there are multiple options offered. I was stuck for maybe four minutes by doing the most obvious thing and then when presented no path forward, doing the other illogical thing the game offered. This isn't a hard puzzler, but there's a lot of wandering around revisiting nodes to see if new options show up. I didn't know I needed a pitcher of water, but I found a stream and a pitcher and...why not. I encountered no real bugs, and puzzle solutions seem logical once you do what's required, but there's not a lot of actual motivation initially to accomplish what author wants except that...it's a puzzle.

So that's the real problem here. There's nothing wrong with a simple game, and there's nothing wrong with simple find-the-key puzzles and dividing a game into chapters, but I really don't feel I accomplished anything when I hit the chapter break. I wasn't horrified—I moved around putting an eyeball here, a jawbone here, tucking in a millipede... It's meant to be a nightmarish foresty-dreamscape where I don't know who I am and in all the wisps of parental recollections and nicely-written imagery there was one sentence that intrigued me: (Spoiler - click to show)The protagonist recalls one parent becoming angry that s/he was gifted a book about serial killers by the other parent. I've crossed a river with a Charon-like boatman, so I can only guess I'm journeying to Hell for my sins? I really also liked the image of (Spoiler - click to show)blood pooled in the creases of your palm, and a swarm of fireflies eagerly drinking it up.

I'm interested to see more of this, but I'd wish for a better "hook" in the first chapter that motivates the puzzling and perhaps some solid characterization instead of the worn-out "you have amnesia and your character will be revealed in bits" beginning since I don't have any idea what all this imagery logically connects to.

The end of the game links me to an author website promising chapter two and displaying some nice icons for some of the objects in the game. I know Twine doesn't easily make clear all of the multimedia capabilities it has without a lot of research and tweaking, but I would have loved a sidebar with these icons to remind me what I was carrying as an inventory!

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Strong debut work in Twine, January 26, 2017
by streever (America)

(I was very politely asked to review this piece by the author, who I do not know, via email. I was very happy to comply.)

Rakovich is clearly a practiced writer, and writes skillfully minimalist descriptive prose about the unearthly dream world the player character is exploring.

I enjoyed the way that traditional parser concepts were transferred to a hypertext work, but am not sure if they were totally successful. Travelling by compass direction in hypertext feels strange--I think it'd be more effective if the movement was clued to what you might expect to find. ("Walk to the river", "Walk towards the clearing", "Walk into deeper forest"). Other aspects, from the hypertext friendly puzzles to the mechanics of "looking away" from things you'd investigated, worked better and added to the atmosphere.

While I enjoyed this piece and am looking forward to the next one, I do think the opening is a rougher spot than the rest of the work. Broadly speaking, it's well-written, but I didn't feel the sense of urgency or agency I hope for in the best IF. I'm told that I'm probably lost, but I don't remember where I was going or how I got here, and given a very binary choice between north and south.

The amnesia open is basically a trope, but it's fine, honestly, as long as I have a sense of urgency and curiosity about who I am, which should start building in that first paragraph. I don't think this piece did that. The choice to go north or south feels meaningless, and in fact, going north just results in the message that it's too dark, so I have to turn around and go south.

I think the opening should probably give me a better sense of the stakes behind my first choice, and make it feel meaningful, or continue the intro and make it a 'click to continue' without the false choice created. Perhaps an explanation that the woods are dark, and the only visible path is left--click to continue--would improve this.

The work becomes far more compelling almost immediately, when a scent leads you to a traumatic memory. I would encourage the author to get to this moment quicker, and to use it as part of the urgency. Why this memory? Why this experience, at this time? Does the memory remind the narrator of anything unfinished/unresolved? Perhaps the disorienting walk through the woods is to figure out something unfinished from that early memory--that would definitely give me a greater sense of investment right off the bat.

Despite the rough opening, this is a strong work, especially after the first memory surfaces, which left me with questions and an interest in completing the future parts.

On categorization: I'm not sure I agree with the label of psychological horror here. That's not criticism of the work, I just wonder if a better label exists?

In any event, I recommend this piece, and appreciated it's clean, minimalist prose and strange, unsettling atmosphere.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Beautifully written, unsettling and fun to play, January 25, 2017
by SLane
Related reviews: dark, puzzles, beautiful writing,

I actually came back to IFDB specifically to review this game, because I like this author's non-IF writing.

The game starts with you (the second-person protagonist) in a dark forest, with no strong recollection of how you got there. The setting reminds you of "home," so you decide that's where you must be headed, and begin making your way through the forest.

The setting is beautifully described, and soon becomes pretty strange. You may encounter a few things that spark a memory of your past, so you can begin to figure out who you are.

There's a good balance between linear (though still affected by your choices) parts that advance the story, and parts where you have freedom to explore physical areas and must solve a puzzle to advance. On my first playthrough I encountered two major puzzle areas, but it depends on the choices you make. In my second playthrough I also found a small puzzle that's optional and that I couldn't solve, but after you finish the game you have an option to "learn more" which takes you to a page on the author's website, and it says there that you're not supposed to solve it until you played the future chapters.

Overall, this is a great medium-length game, and it ends in a satisfying place even though it's just the first part out of three. Perfect if you like dark, beautifully-written games that make you think.

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A Fire Darkly: Chapter 1 on IFDB


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