Game Review: The Room (Fireproof Studios Limited, 2012)
Genre: Games, Puzzle
Roll in industry: Casual
Target Demographic: 9+
Monetization: Paid app
For 2012, The Room (Fireproof Studios Limited, 2012) was quite the game. For 2020 (almost 2021), this is still quite the game. Very nice.
Allow me, please, to apply some of the lenses from The Art of Game Design, 3rd Edition (Schell, 2019).
#48 THE LENS OF SIMPLICITY/COMPLEXITY
As a puzzle game, I would expect and demand complexity. Nobody likes a simple puzzle, as the “Aha!” moment of the solve loses its punch. That said, Schell (2019) talks about emergent complexity where, “games like Go have a very simple rulesets that give rise to billions of intricate, complex game situations.” The Room, for all its complexity, does not give us any emergent complexity as we ride down a well-scripted series of events that must happen in a particular order. In the end, you could describe how to play The Room as a serial narrative in a novel. Not so, with Go.
#49 THE LENS OF ELEGANCE
At first blush, I’d label The Room as elegant. Schell (2019) defines how to magnify elegance, “For elements with only one or two purposes, can some of these be combined into each other or removed altogether?” Here, Schell asks you to count the elements in your game and try to maximize how many different ways these elements can be used. In The Room, most often a single object is used only once and then never seen again. There are a few exceptions to this rule (a medium-sized cog is used in two different places). The Room, as per Schell, is not elegant.
The Room’s puzzles, on the other hand, are very congruous. That is, they are harmonious with the overall feel of the game and work together – starting simple, and then getting more and more involved as you go. A good example is the eyepiece that allows you to see inside a space. At first, these 3D puzzles are simple, almost 2D in nature. But, as you progress, you are presented with floating puzzles that require you to alter your point of view in space – while rotating 3D objects to match a recently seen pattern.
#50 THE LENS OF CHARACTER
Elegance shy, character shy. The Room does hand us a bit of a backstory that promises discovery of ancient truths – but that is not really needed as you go about solving all the interlocked puzzles.
Yet, for the lack of a necessary backstory, The Room was very immersive and ahead of the time. If you played The Room in 2012, I am sure you talked about it to your workmates at the water cooler the next day. There is an element of, if weak, character.
#51 THE LENS OF IMAGINATION
The Room excels with the lens of imagination by allowing the player to explore a relatively small area (a floor safe, a table-sized machine, and so on). You double click to zoom into detail, pinch out to circle around the main object of desire. A bit of wonder is introduced when you look through the eye-piece. Now you can see in and through normally opaque surfaces and manipulate floating 3D images there – enabling our own imagination.
#52 THE LENS OF ECONOMY
No currency is employed with The Room – other than the currency of time. A nice touch to the game mechanics is when you have been struggling with a puzzle for too long, a question mark icon appears – offering a hint. Your cost – only the sands of time.
Did The Room (Fireproof Studios Limited, 2012) deserve its many awards?
The Room surely deserved its many awards and accolades. Consider, please, this was 2012 and the touch screen phone and tablets were in their infancy. Here was a 3D game specifically created for mobile/tablet. Pinching, swiping, rotating around a 3D world, double tapping on the object you want to examine. Well done. Well played.
Design principles (good and bad) of The Room (Fireproof Studios Limited, 2012)
Taking a page From Keyboards to Fingertips - Rethink Game Design (Begemann, 2013), he talks about four advantages of touch screen game design (over traditional game devices).
The other two design advantages mentioned by (Begemann, 2013) of smart phone and tablets are not used by The Room. These are multi-touch and the accelerometer.
How does The Room apply the idea of perceived affordances to their UI design?
The Room does a good job of giving us enough visual clues as to the perceived affordance in many of the puzzle objects. Early, you are told explicitly (via a text bubble) to slide the letter out of an envelope or turn the key to unlock. Later, there are small visual clues such as scratch marks where a panel slides – showing this is slide (swipe) versus pushed (like a button).
What is the game-space of The Room?
The game space (Schell, 2019) of The Room is, oddly, linear. It may seem like you have all the freedom in the world as you explore this 3D room and the contents within. But, alas, this is an illusion. For example, you must read a message before the game engine will allow you to inspect and then press a button for Earth. You must find a key before the game engine will allow you to slide a panel to the side exposing the lock. One puzzle-step at a time, you move down the Candyland-like board, until you arrive at the rainbow-colored ending.
This fact, however, should not be viewed as a negative. Imagine the complexity of having slide open the panel to expose a skeleton key lock. You might spend hours trying to find the key when the real task ahead of you is elsewhere.
I did an escape room with my family a year ago. In the first room, of three, we found a lengthy rope with red markings on it. I was determined to extract the meaning or clue from these markings… until we received a hint from the game masters, “The rope is not used until the final room.” Ouch. The Room avoids this sort of wasted effort by only giving you the objects you need, in order.
The Room’s game engine does good job keeping you on task as it gently guides you down a linear path towards joy.
Aesthetic aspects of The Room (Fireproof Studios Limited, 2012)
The paper MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research (Hunicke, LeBlanc, & Zubek, 2001) gives us a formal list of game aesthetics that we can use to analyze The Room.
The last three: Fellowship (as social framework), Expression (as self-discovery), Submission (as pastime) are not used or employed by The Room.
Fireproof Studios Limited. (2012). The Room (iOS) [Video game]. USA: Fireproof Studios Limited.
Hunicke, LeBlanc, & Zubek. (2001). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research. Retrieved from Northwestern University: https://users.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf
Schell, J. (2019). The Art of Game Design, 3rd Edition. Natick, Massachusetts: A K Peters/CRC Press.