Rooms with a paranormal view

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The Room: the cosmic tabletop.

A few words of praise for the Room series from Fireproof Games. I don’t play many computer games, and I think this may be my first post dedicated to such a thing, but I maintain an interest in the medium. The Room and its sequels only came to my attention a couple of weeks ago when I was wondering if there was anything Myst-like available for the tablet. I never got to play the original Myst but enjoyed its follow up, Riven, although the enjoyment was mostly for the graphics, the music and the island environments. The game itself was less satisfying, requiring pen and paper to keep track of its complexities, and involving a great deal of fruitless journeying from one location to another in the search for new clues.

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The Room 2: the camera.

The Room follows the template established by Myst in presenting you with a number of mechanical artefacts, all of which have to be examined and opened or operated before you can proceed to the next stage. The dominant aesthetic is 19th-century-mechanical—there’s a lot of wood and brass to these devices—but to call it steampunk would be a mistake; there’s little steam involved, and most of the cogs are kept inside their cases. There is a hint of Jules Verne, however, in the notes from an absent inventor whose initials, “A.S.”, may be a nod to Journey to the Centre of the Earth. As the title suggests, the location is a single room, while in the sequels, The Room 2 and The Room 3, you’re presented with a series of connected spaces. The third installment is the closest to the original Myst with a central hub that leads to other areas of a rambling complex of buildings, not all of which are revealed at the outset. The main structure is based on William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey which pushes things into Gothic territory even without the developments outlined below.

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The Room 3: the oscilloscope is one of several which need to be powered up and manipulated in order to open the Null portals.

The MacGuffin for all the games is a new element, the Null, whose discovery and potential obsesses the creators of the games’ devices, and whose manipulation of space creates many of the portals that lead to new rooms. As the series progresses, the Null becomes a growing menace that leads to full-on cosmic horror, with oil-slick Tentacles From Beyond writhing around the interdimensional portals you have to travel through. This development was surprising and, for this player, very welcome, turning the games from a series of eleborate puzzles into something much more sinister. The aesthetic evolves accordingly, with an increasing profusion of occult sigils and pentacles, and, in The Room 2, Tarot cards and séance devices. (Fireproof have a set of their Tarot designs available as a free download.) In the second game there’s a further requirement to piece together mundane machines—a camera or a typewriter, say—before they will function properly. This process reaches a peak in The Room 3 where you’re faced with a succession of increasingly complex tasks, from woodworking and metal forging to electro-mechanical engineering and astronomy. As with the Myst universe, there are no monsters here (although there is the occasional ghost), nothing needs to be fought with weapons, it’s just you, a room full of objects and a continual background murmur of unnerving whispers and distant sounds. The gameplay in The Room 3 is sufficiently non-linear to lead to a variety of different endings, not all of which may be survivable. I managed to escape the Tentacles From Beyond when they finally destroyed the house but I also missed finding an important artefact. I’ll be returning, wiser and, I hope, more attentive to the half-hidden details.

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The Room—Old Sins: the haunted doll’s house as seen at the beginning of the game.

I’m currently playing the fourth game in the series, Old Sins, which returns you to a single room but plays with scale via a large doll’s house. The exterior of the building is all detailed model work, while the interiors—accessed through Null physics—are scaled-down replicas of the rooms in a house where another Null investigator and his wife have gone missing. It’s not clear yet whether the attic where the toy house is stored is also the attic of the real house the model is based upon but having dealt with a similar model in The Room 3 this seems likely.

While I enjoyed the surface details of Riven I was never very interested in the fantasy background of the Myst universe. The Room series is much closer to my own core preoccupations, a beguiling blend of antique technology with borderline occultism and those Tentacles From Beyond, a scenario that wouldn’t be out of place in an issue of Weird Tales. Just the thing for the darkening days of October.

4 thoughts on “Rooms with a paranormal view”

  1. Surprising to see you write about computer games, John.
    I’m a big fan of The Room games; love the gadgets and puzzles and general spookiness.

  2. Hi Anne. I’ve been playing video games of one sort or another since the first Pong machines appeared. Growing up in a seaside town meant we had a lot of arcades so there were always games galore. In the 1980s I played a lot of games on the Spectrum computer then when I got a Mac I tried a few Mac games although there was never a lot of choice for Apple machines. My interest has fallen off in recent years but, as I say above, I maintain an interest. The Room series turned out to be much better than I expected, hence this post. I’ll be hoping now that they make another installment that doesn’t require a VR rig. The end of Old Sins suggests further developments in the Null saga.

  3. Hi John, Admittedly I’ve been into computer gaming since the early 1990s when I first acquired a computer. My favourite genre is Adventure games, as I never got into shoot em ups or role playing.
    I like puzzles and something with a story.
    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some recent games, notably Forgotton Anne, a beautiful Ghibli Studio inspired game with lovely graphics.
    Currently I am enjoying the “slow gaming” of The Longing, a game that takes 400 days to finish – quite appropriate for the extended lockdown we are enduring here in Melbourne, Australia.

  4. The Spectrum had some of the earliest text adventure games, some of which were created by an Australian company, oddly enough, Melbourne House. Their Hobbit and Sherlock games were notoriously complex and difficult, as well as being somewhat error-prone.

    I’ve always liked the immersive potential of computer games, often more so than the game itself. Also anything with interesting or intruiging graphics, like the Escher-derived structures in the Monument Valley series. I can play things that require a degree of physical mastery to jump around or whatever but I find that once I can do this with ease I immediately lose interest. Having been a Mac user for many years means I’ve missed out on a lot of things that were PC-only but this may be a good thing if it’s given me more time elsewhere! I’d still like to try the space exploration game No Man’s Sky, however, if it ever turns up on a platform I use. Your Ghibli-style game looks like a good one. The technology is so powerful now it should be possible to create environments with a huge variety of graphic styles but the most popular games still plug away at photo-realism. There could be games derived from the graphics of Aubrey Beardsley or Harry Clarke if a studio put their minds to it…

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