The Room Three: A Deconstruction
The Room Three is a first person adventure game for iOS and Android devices wherein a player explores mysterious, highly-rendered environments while progressing by solving “puzzle box” style puzzles. It was developed by Fireproof Games, a small indie outfit who have grown (slightly) bigger following the success of their The Room series, their first games as a studio.
The Room Three is a game for explorers, through and through. The only player objective is to take in the gameworld space and divine the logic behind the mechanical riddles and puzzles woven within it. Players can move at their own pace, and are never forced to react with timing, as there are no active enemies within the game.
Players who like getting whisked up into a story will also enjoy this title, as beautifully-rendered graphics (not seen often on a handheld device), and a mysterious, slightly spooky story is hinted at through the music, environmental clues, written notes, journal entries, and sparse animations.
The Room series for mobile has been very well received, which is the reason Fireproof Games has recently released their fourth installment (The Room: Old Sins). The Room (the first in the series) won Apple’s iPad Game of the Year upon release in 2012. In an infographic the studio released at the end of 2016, the original The Room has sold close to 7 million copies over 50 months of release, while the The Room Three has sold 1.4 million in less than a year, selling almost 50,000 copies on its days of release. The Room Three is currently #10 of the “Top Paid Puzzle” apps on the Google Play store, with the original still holding the #2 spot, six years after it was released.
All four installments of the game are available for iOS and Android devices, with the first two in the series also being available for PC.
Gameplay & Experience
The Room as a series has always been about solving puzzle-box style puzzles, but Fireproof continues to expand upon the games as the studio gains more of a following and a budget (you can see within the infographic how their timeline has more than doubled, their team size almost tripled, and their budget has grown by ten times from The Room toThe Room Three). For the third in the series, the puzzles are situated in highly rendered environments for the player to explore. As always, there is a light touch of a spooky, mystery narrative to add ambience.
Opening screen of the game. Yes, it's DARK.
The game fades in on the cabin of a moving train. Mysterious music is playing. The tutorial prints instructions in UI at the top of the screen which introduce all of the simple mechanics within the game one by one.
Swiping to look around reveals a suitcase and a journal. Opening the journal brings the object into greater view and allows the player to read up on some of the background lore of the game and the objective, although the text is vague and dramatic to retain a healthy amount of mystery.
Immediately upon putting down the journal, the train car shakes, the environment outside the window instantly changes, and - a little girl appears in the seat across from you? It is hard to tell for sure. An instant later and everything is back to normal.
These sort of hallucinations were intended to be questioned as exactly that by the developer.
As put by Barry Meade, a cofounder of the studio, in an interview here: “We wanted them to think exactly what you did: Did I just hear the sound of chains? Or did I think I heard the sound of chains? We didn’t want the player ever really to know what was going on – that way we could suggest ideas through small audio or visual cues that would set their mind racing.” If you couldn’t already tell from the darkness of the screenshots - this game is meant to be played with the lights off.
This mystery-horror vibe is communicated almost entirely through environment art and sound. The choice to show no other characters in the game was decided on in the original The Room as a practical choice to not “eat up budget.” The developers found that excluding overt story ended up adding to the game, making it more of a “mood piece” rather than a direct telling. For The Room Three, they do show another human character, although he, still, is presented sparsely and obliquely, doing more to pique the curiosity than answer any story questions.
Can you see the guy there? Might need to turn the lights off...
Finishing the tutorial, the player is whisked to a mysterious room and allowed to interact with the real bread and butter of the game - the puzzles!
Entering this new room, the player is brought into the overall flow of the game, which is:
Enter a new room.
Scan the room, and look closer at a few interactable objects, the most interactive of which is usually in the center of the room.
Find a note from “the Craftsman” with instructions that are both dramatic and sometimes helpful.
Look even closer at the interactable objects to decipher what puzzles lie within them.
Solve the puzzles.
Begin cycle again.
Every puzzle is different, and playing through the game requires many different faculties of logic and reasoning. Deciphering them requires patience, observation, and cleverness. A mystical element is introduced with a spyglass that the player can use to see what lies below the surface of some puzzles.
The same box viewed without and with the spyglass.
What heightens immersion for players (and often brings up comparisons to Myst) is that, after the tutorial, everything within the game is diegetic. The puzzles, the instructions - everything is found within the game world. It gives the impression that you, as the player, are the one wandering around; receiving arcane messages from a mysterious host; picking up puzzles and solving them.
Core Mechanics & Systems Analysis
Movement and Interaction:
The word “tactile” gets used a lot when reviewing The Room Three, and for a good reason - interacting with the game is heightened by its touchscreen interactions which utilize movements with which most players will already be familiar, along with clever mapping from real life to in-game actions.
Certain actions will be immediately familiar to most players, who are assumed to be touchscreen-fluent. Tapping, holding, and moving a finger across the screen “drags” the environment and rotates the player within the room. The rotation is often limited to 180 degrees. To pick up an object, or to move to a different area of the room that is available for inspection, the player needs to tap. To put an object down, the player pinches in, the common “zoom out” gesture.
Interacting with the puzzles calls for different gestures, and these are intuitive not because we are all “touchscreen-literate,” but because they feel like the right thing to do.
Opening a book means tracing an arc with your finger from the page. Opening a suitcase needs you to drag and slide the two latches.
** It is worth noting that the development team released The Room and The Room Two for PC. They were evidently worried about losing the “tactility” that touchscreen brings, but found that they still consistently received great reviews from players on the new system.
The progression system within the game is very straightforward with a series of rooms and locked doors that the player can only open upon successfully completing puzzles within. A layer of challenge and complexity that is not found in previous The Room entries is that some puzzles connect to others in different rooms, providing solutions to future or past puzzles.
The Room Three is a puzzle game with fun, interesting, innovative puzzles. That, in and of itself, might have been enough for the series to be as successful as it is. More likely, the series’ high production values, narrative gloss, and intuitive, satisfying mechanics elevate it to something more.
Designers looking for an example of:
excellent, intuitive touchscreen interactions;
creating a story "mood" with minimal additions;
and innovative puzzle mechanics;
would do well to study this series.