The Room is a decidedly simple game. In each level you're presented with an intricately designed puzzle box, and you just need to figure out how to open it. It uses familiar controls — you pinch, swipe, and drag your fingers along the screen to scrutinize the 3D object from every angle as you attempt to unravel its secrets. But the simple premise turned into an incredibly compelling experience, thanks to The Room's clever puzzles, gorgeous visuals, and spooky atmosphere. It went on to be named the iPad's game of the year by Apple — not bad for Fireproof Studios' first release. Now the developer is back with The Room 2, and it's everything a sequel should be: bigger, better, and more beautiful.
Like the original, each level of The Room 2 locks you in a single location and tasks you with solving a series of connected puzzles. But this time around they're much more complex. Puzzle boxes are still in place, of course, and they're as intricate as ever, but the challenges now include everything from working typewriters and crossbows to model pirate ships and tarot card tables. Each room has multiple objects to interact with, and you'll be moving back and forth between them constantly — opening a panel on one object could have an effect on the other side of the room, and figuring out how these things interact with one another is immensely satisfying. When you solve a puzzle in The Room 2, it really makes you feel clever.
There's also more variety to the locations, as you'll find yourself locked everywhere from the hold of a ship to a creepy seance room. The new puzzles, locations, and extended play time (The Room 2 is probably about twice as long as the original) make the sequel feel like a much meatier experience. "We wanted to expand what we knew worked," says Fireproof's Barry Mead. "We thought the game was really successful, and we thought 'Right, we can do that bigger and better next time.'"
"We can do that bigger and better next time."
And a lot of the new features are things that the studio simply wasn't able to fit into the original game due to a number of constraints. Though The Room was Fireproof's first original game, it isn't exactly a new studio — it was formed in 2008 by industry veterans from Burnout developer Criterion Games, and since then has served as a work-for-hire studio creating art for games as diverse as LittleBigPlanet and Killzone Shadow Fall. The plan was to use the money from those projects to fund original games. "We were always successful, we were always in work, but even four years later we still hadn't really made that much money," explains Meade. But when mobile gaming became a viable path, Fireproof finally took a chance.
The Room was crafted by a single programmer and a few artists — it cost Fireproof the wages of three people for six months to build. "The game that we ended up with was really just a consequence of the practical decisions we made," explains Meade. The studio only had enough money to hire that one programmer, and so it had to craft an experience with a focus on art — something that was already the team's strong suit. Inspiration for the core concept came from a variety of places, including early iOS hit Zen Bound, as well the Lemarchand's box from the Hellraiser series of horror films. "When I was a kid I remember everyone thinking that device just looked cool," says Meade.
The Room was a runaway hit, but it didn't do much to change the way the studio approached the sequel. With much of the staff focused on work-for-hire projects — Fireproof spent the last 12 months building multiplayer maps for the most recent Killzone games on the PlayStation 4 and Vita — it again fell on a small team to build The Room 2. The studio was able to throw a few more artists at the project, but otherwise the development process was remarkably similar.
"Making great work is our focus."
The sequel is a game absolutely brimming with new ideas — perhaps surprising considering how basic the series's core concept is. "We certainly thought when we made The Room that the game had legs," says Meade. "We always knew that there was a lot more that we couldn't put in that game that we wanted to do." The Room 2 is proof of this, with its inventive and mentally taxing new puzzles and scenarios. And there may be even more puzzle boxes in our future, as Fireproof plans to develop two new games concurrently next year, including a brand new property. But the studio's focus will remain the same no matter what game it's developing.
"We make money by making great work," says Meade. "So making great work is our focus."