Monday 12 July 2021

Dare To Dream – In A Darkened Room

Written by Will Moczarski

We’re back in little Tyler’s dreamland! I’ve decided to play one hour at a time in order to remember everything important for this write-up. Also, I need some kind of structure. Thirdly, I’m not bent on going crazy because of all the pixel-hunting. And let me tell you, it has already been quite the test.

Each chapter represents one hour of gameplay, accordingly. The first chapter is very short. Let’s hope it won’t always be like that…


1st hour: Mapping and pixel-hunting

The last time I gave you a tour of the immediately accessible surroundings of Dare to Dream: In A Darkened Room. I took a walk from the dank alley all the way to pier 69 and discovered a whopping seven rooms that way. After that I was stuck. For a while. I found out that I could pick up the polka-dotted underwear on the first screen pretty quickly but I overlooked a strange piece of rubber on the ground. This time I found it but don’t know what to use it for. The name “Bouf’s” is written on it, so maybe it has something to do with that strange bar-cum-auto-repair.

Walking around still does not get me far. There is an abandoned flower shop on the east street corner I cannot enter or interact with in any meaningful way. Also, there is a sewer grate I can’t lift. Inside Bouf’s, there is a door on the second floor leading to a room for employees only. I don’t see any employees but I’m still unable to sneak inside.

It seems that many of the items are representations of the protagonist’s teenage mind: a pair of underwear, a strange rubber, pier 69, the silhouette of a naked woman behind one of the apartment windows, and what I came up with after 37 minutes of pixel-hunting fits the bill, too. Yes, there is another hotspot on the ship at pier 69, a hotspot I had apparently missed time and time again. Finally, I found it. Upon examination, I find a raunchy fish I can pick up.
There is something fishy going on.
15 more minutes and I’m still stumped. I use the old adventure game “logic” of trying everything on everything and manage to open the door to the second floor room inside Bouf’s by slipping the raunchy fish inside the keyhole. No, you did not misread that. I’m beginning to suspect that the game’s setting is a pretext for legitimising moon logic as dream logic. Pixel-hunting is the new parser-wrestling, it seems.

Inside Bouf’s private room, I find Bouf himself, as well as a jar of petroleum jelly (whatever that might be good for). I can talk to Bouf but he tells me nothing important but rather repeats the backstory: that I’m neither awake nor asleep and need to find a way to distinguish my dreams from reality, or else my sanity will be gone completely. I’d love to call out Bouf on his fishy keyhole and ask him whose sanity it is that’s already gone but the game won’t let me. I’m out of time, patience, and ideas, so I’ll have to find a use for that jar of petroleum jelly next time. Or does the game have an active environment and something has changed because of my actions?

2nd hour: The windmill of despair

The second session is much more successful. Away from the screen, I come up with a use for the petroleum jelly almost right away: Could I use it to lift the grate in front of the florist’s? It turns out that I can grease it and then slip through, and that lets me enter a whole new area: the sewers. To the right, there is a dumping ground with six barrels of nuclear waste. One has toppled over and the smell burns my nostrils. It’s brute-force time again because the solution here makes as much sense as the door-opening fish. I can put the polka-dotted underwear on the toxic waste to safely get across to the open barrel. The open barrel contains...a shotgun! Was this released before or after Doom? This reeks (sorry) of inspiration!
Multi death from chemicals / Underwear has won.
I can grease a second grate, which is tiny – how do I squeeze through? – to enter the deep sewers. This is where I meet a talkative alligator with a cowboy hat. He is hungover and warns me of a “BIG rodent” on the other side of the sewers, namely inside a windmill. Apart from that, he is not helpful and there are no further hotspots here. The next location is a tunnel. It’s grimy and greasy – Bleszinski seems to have a knack for sleazy rooms – but once more: no hotspots.

I pass through and emerge on a meadow in front of a broken windmill. This reminds me of the strange mushroom forest inside the Palace of Deceit. The author seems to like his game worlds to be made up of surreal oppositions. And why not learn from the best? Day Of The Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit The Road were released the same year.

One of the many flowers on this screen doubles as a hotspot but I cannot pick it up off the ground. I might need to find something to cut it. Inside the mill, there’s a huge evil-looking bat, as well as two more hotspots. One is well-hidden in a pile of skulls – I’ve seen this before in the previous game, too – and some pixel-hunting reveals that I can pick one of them up. Also, there is a ray of sunlight I can interact with. Holding the fish up into the light results in a message that I’m unable to cook it under indirect sunlight. Does this mean I could cook it under direct sunlight?
Sunrays that stay on my nose and eyelashes
This is where I’m stumped for a while before I discover that I missed an exit from the meadow. It leads to a chasm with no hotspots but I can enter the rickety bridge. I get a pop-up window that is designed like a death message but it’s not: “You can’t maintain your balance on the bridge! You fall into the chasm below…” I’m glad this is only a dream because I survive the fall and land next to a mysterious pond surrounded by “psychadelic mushrooms”. Again, this is all very familiar from the previous game.

Because the new environment beyond the sewers feels like a new chapter, I am stuck for a while, not realising that I could go back to the city and try out my new items. I try lots of reasonable and unreasonable things for quite a while before getting frustrated and shooting everything and everyone with the shotgun. This works, as the window of the boat can be blasted that way. As a result of my shot, something flies out of the smoke stack (?!) and lands in the water. However, I can’t reach it because Tyler refuses to touch dirty water. I try all of my items but the answer is always the same. Also, I go to my uncle’s shop and attempt to shoot at his window, too, but that, Tyler reckons, might make too much noise.

Again, it takes me quite a while to realise that I have got a new dialogue option with Bouf now: “There’s something in the harbor I need to get. Do you have any fishing gear?” Bouf is as cocky as always: “Maybe,” he says, “why would I give it to you?” I try to talk to him again but accidentally (I swear!) shoot him with the shotgun because it’s still equipped and I can’t get used to the interface. There is a speech bubble appearing in the vicinity of people (and animals) you can talk to, sort of like a different kind of hotspot. If you double-click on it, you will interact with the person (or animal), but only if you click on another talk icon, you will start a dialogue. However, there is no need to be all apologetic because shooting Bouf turns out to be the solution! In a bout of cartoon violence, there’s a purple splotch in front of his face spelling out BANG!, and then his face has turned all charcoal black and his head is smoking. I found this quite funny but at the same time, it’s a terrible solution for this “puzzle.” However, I leave the place with Bouf’s fishing rod and that’s what I came here for, right?
But…but...I didn’t shoot the deputy!
Now I have finally happened upon some kind of puzzle chain, it seems. I fish an oxygen tank out of the water and know right away where I’ll need to use it: the pond! At the bottom of the pond, there’s a small shell but not much else. I can enter an underwater cave, though, and converse with a friendly grey shark there. He informs me that I need a special key to open a special gate in order to finally wake up. Hey, that sounds like the endgame! The shark also “just might know” where I can find the key if I gave him something he likes. That must be the herring, and indeed that is the solution. A key for a key, right? The new key is a perfectly crafted ceramic unicorn with a gold key coming out of its legs. Sadly, that is the end of the puzzle chain for now, as I have seen several gates already but none of them has a hotspot. It’s time to play ‘use everything on everything’ again!

After some futile attempts at using so far unused inventory items, I find out that I can throw the skull at the florist’s glass window and break it. That way, I can pick up some glass from the broken window. And once more, I know the solution right away: I can use it to cut the red flower. But what do I do now? I revisit all of the places, trying to focus on the hotspots I haven’t found a use for. This is how I figure out that holding the flower towards the evil bat will turn it to stone. Try as I might, I can’t pick up the bat, move it, interact with it or whatever – Tyler just tells me he doesn’t want anything to do with a stoned bat.

But this must have triggered something, as the inside of Bouf’s has changed! I literally go there last because the place has no open hotspots for me. (And I try again later: you don’t need to turn the bat into stone first. That is the solution to a different puzzle. If you don’t turn the bat into stone, it won’t let you enter the gate). Now there’s a strange patron on one of the barstools as well as a helium tank behind the bar. I can’t interact with the blue-haired guy who looks straight out of a very early webcomic. But of course I can fill up the little red balloon I’ve been carrying around with me from the very first screen.
Stuck in the middle with Hugh.
Now what might I accomplish with a balloon? I try to tie it to one of the traffic cones somehow but that doesn’t work. Holding it under the indirect sunlight inside the windmill doesn’t work either. I check my list of hotspots and find that there’s an odd hotspot I never really understood in front of Bouf’s. When clicking on it, the game just says “The building stretches off into the night sky…”

Now to be fair, there is a hint after filling up the balloon that it almost pulls you off your feet because it is so full. Also, I would love to tell you that I came up with this as a sort-of solution to my conundrum. Unfortunately, it was only trial and error that got me this far. Using the balloon on the unusual hotspot lets you float up to the west rooftop. There is nothing there but an exit to the east rooftop where I can enter a penthouse full of sheets of paper lying around on the floor in utter chaos. Of course, this is another pixel hunt, and after a while I come up with a penchant hidden away underneath a piece of paper with a quote from psalm 23 that seems familiar to Tyler. On the table, there is a book with poems by someone called Jessica Craven:
You flip to a page that’s folded. It reads: Moonlit waters reflecting the times past. Grey clouded skys (!) showing a dismal future. Never wanting to leave the cocoon of security that envelops the bright soul that lives within. Scared of taking flight into the sky of morning brightness. Sheltering the freedom that came from trying hardships. Can you imagine the fear of failure when you learn you cannot love?
Is this an attempt at poetic language? Or is it a hint for the endgame? I make a note of it and move on. In the background there is a nicely animated clock that’s going crazy. Space and time, it seems, both adhere to a dream world where everything is possible. Notably, outside of the penthouse it is pitch dark while I can see the daylight (I think?) from the window inside. The lights in the apartment buildings are, at the same time, turned on. Similarly, the sewers connect night and day – the nocturnal city and the diurnal countryside, to be more specific.
Creative chaos.
Now where might the endgame await? What have I not done? I do some more pixel-hunting in areas void of hotspots like the pier 69. Also, I try to interact with the traffic cones for what must be the hundredth time. After a while, I go back to the windmill area and meticulously search it one more time. The crazy clock is the opposite of the sails of the windmill standing still, so maybe there is some connection. On the way through the sewers, I remember the little shell and decide to check it out first but nothing has changed at the bottom of the pond. Back inside the windmill, I use all of my new items (the key, the cross) with the sunlight and when I hold the cross up to the light a portal is revealed on the ground.

I emerge in an eerie field where the sun is just rising (or sinking). This must be the place between day and night I have been seeking out. It’s a nice and consistent use of symbols and motifs, and I appreciate it. But what looks like a forest at first turns out to be thousands of people impaled on sticks! Now that’s why the room is called an eerie field. “Occasionally you see one twitch or sway in the breeze as if alive…”, the game informs me, and once again Cliff Bleszinski’s predilection for gory descriptions shows.
Eerily eerie.
The final location, the hills, are even somewhat more uncanny if that is possible. A portal that looks like a bonfire painted by a French impressionist is glowing to the left. The rest is made up of a bluish hill. Oh, and there’s a cartoonish young boy called Terry just standing there. The game informs me that he’s my best friend in the whole world. He’s possibly the gatekeeper to my sanity. Unfortunately, Terry is pretty sure that I am trespassing in his dream and not the other way around. We won’t solve this puzzle in the first part of the game, I guess. When I unlock the bonfire portal, a cutscene informs me that I have awoken and remain awake all through the night just to be sure. Even while awake, I have the bad feeling that something is watching me – the game shows me a creature with glowing red eyes that I can’t quite identify because it’s too dark. In the morning, my best friend Terry comes running along and asks me where I have got that ceramic unicorn key from...sounds like the cliffhanger for part 2, “In Search of the Beast”, in which, according to the final “how to order” screen, “Tyler‘s best friend, Terry, calls him over to their fort where Terry is keeping a mysterious key he found – the same key Tyler saw in his dream the night before! Tyler uses this key and it hurls him into his imagination. While there he must search all of his happy thoughts, trying to find a way into the lair of this developing monster. Meet zany characters like BoneHead, CementHead, Omar, and many more! NEARLY 3 MEGS OF ADVENTURE.”

I must say that I’m quite intrigued by the storytelling, and eager to press on. If only there was less pixel-hunting in part 2, this might become quite the enjoyable experience. Also, I really want to meet BoneHead, CementHead and Omar. Don’t you?
Session time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 40 minutes


  1. Pixel-hunting is the new parser-wrestling
    Always have been.

    1. True, in general. I was referring to my journey on this blog because this is only the second graphic adventure game I am tackling. Both guess-the-verb puzzles and hidden hot spots are very lazy methods to artificially prolong the gaming experience.

  2. The protagonist is 10. I remember originally getting this game in an educational shareware CD. Its my favorite children's game. ;)
    TBH, I feel like the fish on the door isn't as bad as moon logic, but I did replay this episode back when the introduction went up, and on my 25 minute playthrough, 15 were spent figuring out how to open that door. Moon logic would be the game twisted a way for the fish to actually go in the lock, whereas here the game's like "Yeah, just slap the door with a fish, what are you, Kant?" That said, I suspect this puzzle made you try to think less on later puzzles. Not saying they all hit it out of the park, but the ones with the shotgun and the cross are a bit cleverer than I think you're giving them credit for.
    Its pretty standard video game logic with the underwear on the radioactive goo. In most action video games, as long as you're not touching the goo, or lava or sewage, you're safe. Its pretty rare for such things to actually affect the whole room. Also, Doom came out in late 1993, I doubt it had any effect on this. The super shotgun wasn't even in the original, anyway.
    "palace of deceit" should be capitalized. And I don't know where, but I swear somewhere Bouf is misspelled.
    I think to talk with characters, you need to left-click once, then use the talk button on the remote.
    The clock does that crazy thing because your dreaming mind doesn't really understand time, so it just outputs a random time. Then again, it should also do that with writing, but you can't throw weird poems at people if text is gibberish. Its one of the ways people in real life recognize that they're in a dream. Or Cliff just thought that it was cool.

    1. Wow, what a long and insightful comment! Thank you, MorpheusKitami! I'll try to do it justice with my reply.

      The protagonist is 10 -> We had lots of child protagonists at this point, and I think that we agreed to not treat the EcoQuests, Fatty Bear games or Willy Beamish any differently for it. I've tried to adhere to this blog practice. Or do you mean that I mentioned the wrong age somewhere?

      I think that the fish key is maybe not requiring moon logic but it's still a use-everything-on-anything puzzle. I didn't care for it very much, TBH. Also, when does the quote with Kant appear? I must have missed it. So far, that was the worst puzzle in the game, though, which means that it was all uphill from there.

      That said, the fish didn't make me think less *of* later puzzles but it might have made me think less *on* later puzzles, that is probably true. What do you think is so clever about the two puzzles you mention? They weren't terrible, I think, but also not great or anything. Maybe I'm missing something?

      About Doom: Of course, you're right. The gameworld object itself is older than Doom anyway - I suspect that a lot of earlier video games had barrels of toxic waste although I don't seem to be able to come up with one right away. It must be quite commonplace in cartoons, too, right?

      Thank you for the corrections! @Ilmari, could you capitalise Palace of Deceit for me, please? Thanks a lot! I wasn't able to find the misspelling of Bouf you mentioned, though.

      About the talk icon: It works just as you describe it. I still think it's a bit counterintuitive but I got used to it quickly enough. I wouldn't have dreamed of just shooting Bouf point blank otherwise, tbh. (no pun intended)

      About the clock: That's a better phrasing for what I actually tried to say, thank you!

      Maybe it didn't come through enough that I'm really enjoying the game. That said, I know that it holds a special place in your heart but I can only call it as I see it when it comes to puzzles and pixel hunting. It's still very enjoyable. I have by now finished the second part which is very different from the first part, more of a set piece environment. It took me a while to figure out that one of the puzzle solutions was actually a whole new game mechanic but when I finally worked that out the segment was not that difficult. (I assume you know which mechanic I'm talking about.)

    2. Yeah, you said he was a teenager, and I wanted to correct. And the Kant bit was me making a joke.

      Perhaps that's why he mentions the fish in the readme file as a puzzle solution. You mentioned the last time I said something about an early puzzle solution in a manual that it was a way of taking back an excessively difficult puzzle.
      I don't really think the two puzzles I mentioned were clever or anything, but shooting Bouf and using the cross on the cross symbol seem like the most obvious course of action. Its just sort of there as a puzzle, and I wouldn't think too strongly of it myself either.

      Hmm, cartoons actually seem like a better source for that. I understand '80s action cartoons were weird like that. I was trying to think of an earlier game with toxic waste, and I was only coming up with Dangerous Dave games, which were iD software titles that were only sold via a monthly magazine at that point, so its exceedingly unlikely that Cliff played that.

      I know, I'm just vainly trying to defend it. :) I think I get which one you're talking about.