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Community Article: Indie Insights - The Room

Written by John Edwards

During lockdown people picked up all sorts of new habits and hobbies, whether it was doing PE with Joe Wicks or baking endless loaves of banana bread, we did what we could while stuck indoors. Inexplicably, I ended up watching a lot of puzzle box videos on YouTube.

It turns out there's a big market in expensively elaborate puzzles revolving around ingenious mechanisms all attempting to stop you from finding out what's hidden within. People even make Lego puzzle boxes where it's probably poor etiquette to simply pry the pieces apart. But they all reminded me of a game that originally came out on iOS back in 2012.

The Room presents you with ornately designed puzzle boxes, although boxes barely does justice to the size and scope of the large pieces of furniture you're trying to open. I expect to recreate the things you see in The Room would be prohibitively expensive as they appear to be made from fine hardwoods and brass, the sort of solidly built furniture a Victorian gentleman with a tract of land the size of Yorkshire might own.

I'd like to think the boxes in The Room could be made in the real world. You encounter various panels and flaps that open revealing smaller puzzle boxes within, each to be solved to progress to unravelling the larger puzzle. It's possible that there's video game slight of hand at work, allowing internal dimensions The Doctor would be proud of in order to serve the puzzles. 

There are button controls available, but The Room is clearly at its best in handheld with the touchscreen. Dragging your view around, double tapping to zoom, spinning dials, turning keys, everything feels nice and tactile. You can examine some items you'll collect on the way, often needing to rotate them and manipulate their shapes to fit the next lock you need to get through. It all feels like something that could be in a very high end escape room, although without the nagging feeling that it's been worn out from previous teams being a little over eager.

One thing that is unlikely to be replicated in the real world, even with a lottery win and an expert carpenter, is the peculiar pearlescent sections which when viewed with a special lens will reveal previously unseen details, even additional depth. These can just mean rotating the same parts you've already seen to complete a previously unseen puzzle, or they could mean finding the right perspective to view the object to make a shape appear, like the optical illusions in Superliminal.

There's a story running through The Room, revealed through letters and whatnot you'll find which allude to this more supernatural element. The game has had three sequels and a VR spin-off so far, so no doubt there are experts on the lore of The Room by now. For me the notes just added a sense of atmosphere to the game, I felt tinges of The 7th Guest but without the full-motion video.

The Room is ideal for anyone fascinated by puzzles and mechanisms, for the physicality of locks and the mystery of hidden compartments. Its short but sweet selection of mysteries is a good way to pass the time while your banana bread is in the oven.