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|Meet John Robertson, the comedic innovator behind The Dark Room

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Meet John Robertson, the comedic innovator behind The Dark Room

Meet John Robertson, the comedic innovator behind The Dark Room

Perth-born comedian and viral YouTuber John Robertson just released his first video game. While the thing is already going gangbusters online, the story behind how it happened is as enthralling as the game itself.

Meet John Robertson, the comedic innovator behind The Dark Room

Just launched in early accessThe Dark Room, as the game’s Steam page describes, is an “addictive and vicious retro-styled comedy puzzler”.

The game draws on (and heavily mocks) the choose-your-own-adventure and text-based adventure games of yesteryear.

You awake to find yourself in a dark room

The premise of the game is simple yet absurd. You must navigate a dark room to find the elusive light switch (and your family, for some reason). This is rather difficult. Not only because the room is, well, dark, but also because it’s controlled by a hilariously evil character named the Guardian.

It quickly becomes clear the Guardian is not your friend, nor does he want you to find the light switch. He wants to toy with you through sarcasm, wordplay and the quirky internal logic of the game world. The more you play, the more it makes sense, while also making no sense at all.

Video|Mr John Robertson
WARNING strong language: Trailer for The Dark Room

On my first play through, I died within 2 minutes at the hands of a gorilla (obviously). Upon my death, the game kindly offered the following hint: “A curious game, the only way to win is to not play.” Unfortunately, the game is rather addictive.

Mr John Robertson

The Guardian is, of course, written and played by John Robertson himself. The character’s appearance is even brought to life through facial motion capture.

Before John ran off to the UK to make it big in the comedy world, he was a bit of a Perthonality. In 2003, at the tender age of 17, he trolled Australian Idol. Continuing the trend, he delighted (?) the 2016 TEDxPerth audience by mooning them. John now tours the world making people laugh (and cry), hosts television shows and generally causes trouble.

John trolling Australian Idol in 2003

From digital to real life and back again

In 2012, in between the trolling and the mooning, John created the original The Dark Room. This original version was also the world’s first YouTube-based adventure game. The game, which can still be played, stitches videos of John as the Guardian together with multiple YouTube links. It became a viral hit, with the videos amassing 4,000,000 hits in just 2012 alone.

Based on its success online, John took the game offline and turned it into a live action video game, appropriately titled The Dark Room Live. John’s taken the show all over the world, including a burger restaurant in Cambodia. It was a great show, John tells me. “They made a The Dark Room burger. It had a black bun and was filled with a lot of alarming crap.”

John even did the show at Scitech’s Planetarium a few years back. And I somehow convinced him to do another at the State Library of WA for the (sadly now defunct) Film and Television Institute. Good times were had by all.

So, it was perhaps only a matter of time before John’s weirdo game thing became an actual video game. Indeed, it was always part of John’s plan. “The Dark Room Live show has existed since 2012,” John says, “and I always wanted to make it a video game, but we needed to expand the lore and complexity—luckily, that’s what 6 years of touring will do!”

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Chris Schmidt Photography

John Robertson, the hilariously evil genius behind The Dark Room

John Robertson, the hilariously evil genius behind The Dark Room

Stirfire Studios

To make his game a reality, John tapped Perth-based Stirfire Studios (whose previous work you can read about here).

“I’ve known most of the people in that studio since I was 15,” John tells me.

“I once saw one of them kick a broken lamp post at Curtin Uni so hard that the whole thing tilted out of the ground and the light went off. She’s the lead artist! It also helps that I admired their previous two games.”

“But there’s nothing like growing up with a bunch of people to really let you know how driven and skilled they are.”

And it was good timing, since Stirfire was looking to do something with motion capture that was also “commercially exciting”, as CEO Vee Pendergrast shares with me.

And the love goes both ways, Vee told me: “What’s more, we are all fans of John and The Dark Room … his energy, humour and passion are infectious. I can remember when sitting in on recording sessions, there were several times I had to leave the room because I was laughing too hard and did not want to spoil the recording.”

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Image|John Robertson
The Guardian was brought to life with motion capture

So what’s next?

The Dark Room game has another 2 hours of content to put in, then we’ll leave early access,” John says.

The Dark Room Live show is touring out to PAX Australia in a minute, and I’ve got something nice coming out in 2019, but that’s subject to an NDA.”

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