VIDEOGAME CULTURE: A VIEW WITH 'THE ROOM'

A VIEW WITH 'THE ROOM'



One of my favourite childhood memories revolves around trying to find my way into this secret box that my great granddad made. It’s a wooden box that’s designed (in the most cliché of fashions) to appear like your average hardback book, but if you slide out certain panels in the right order it reveals a hidden compartment perfect for storing stuff in. Naturally, as a kid I therefore assumed some great treasure lay within, and yes, the reality was less spectacular than what I’d imagined.

Boxes like this were quite popular during a period of history that people my age simply refer to as 'the olden days', as they allowed people with valuables somewhere concealed yet convenient to keep them; more affordable and portable than a safe. This was especially useful at a time where money in the bank wasn't quite as easy to get instant access to and burglars were harder to prevent or even catch. Now, my family aren’t exactly in need of such dastardly means to ward off thieves, but my great granddad was clearly a talented craftsman and wanted leave something with a personal touch that could be passed down through the family. Given it's still in good condition some seventy years later, you'd have to say that he succeeded.

The reason for that self-indulgent intro is because I've been reminded of my childhood afternoons spent trying to crack the secrets of that box recently while playing Fireproof Games' 'The Room' on my Galaxy S III.

For those who aren't up to speed, The Room is a puzzle solving mystery game that centres around the player figuring out the workings of some increasingly fiendish treasure boxes. Each box is filled with visual clues, riddles and secret openings, and each mini puzzle that makes up the whole gets harder to fathom as the game progresses. There's a moody and haunting Victorian-era theme to it all, and visually it's beautiful; the fact that there's only a limited number of assets to be rendered has allowed the artists to soup everything up and make the game look sleek and bursting with detail.

Setting aside how crazy I imagine it would have been to my great granddad that the simplistic delights of his clever box could be somehow replicated on a quarter-inch thick block of plastic that also lets me communicate with virtually anyone on the globe and listen to millions of 'records' at the touch of a button, the thing that impresses me most about The Room is how tactile it feels. Far from being a game limited by its touch based controls, it's completely enhanced by them. Puzzles are solved by manipulating various interactive points across the boxes, and each one is used as it would be in real life, so screws must be twisted into place with a circular motion, levers must be flicked, buttons pressed and motors wound. It's a simple design methodology that's cleverly executed, and it really does give you the feeling that you’re trying to prize this box open with your own hands rather than merely swiping your fingertips over a screen.

I found the puzzles to be just the right side of challenging; all of the items you find along the way have a relatively clear application once you've taken the time to study them, and things very rarely descend into an unsatisfying bout of trial and error. There's a hint system too that gradually gets more explanatory the longer you go without figuring things out, but the fact that the clues aren't instantly available means that you've got to have a good go at working the solution out by yourself before seeking help. Crucially, the game is balanced in such a way that the puzzles are never ridiculously complicated, but still give you that sense of satisfaction whenever an answer comes to you in one of those classic eureka moments.

Much of The Room’s charm lies in its simplicity. Not many games could remain so narrowly focused in scope and even location while remaining so entertaining throughout. The developers exploit that basic human desire we all have to understand and solve things to the very maximum, and it only gets more enthralling the closer you get to unlocking the game's final mysteries.


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