Fans of The Room — rejoice! The Room VR: A Dark Matter is available today on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform. The first installment in the award-winning series made exclusively for VR, A Dark Matter transports players to early 20th century London to investigate the disappearance of several prominent scientists. Using a collection of obscure gadgets and supernatural abilities, players will travel to exotic locations in search of clues.
A series originally designed for mobile devices, The Room specializes in a unique brand of tactile gameplay—using your hands to decipher mechanical puzzles, like the Rubik’s Cube or the Tangram. This kind of gameplay feels right at home in VR, where sliding a tile or flipping a switch requires you to mimic those actions in real life. In A Dark Matter, players will decode arcane mysteries using new tools and techniques, interacting with puzzle boxes and other contraptions with natural hand movements and gestures.
We talked with Co-Founder and Director of Fireproof Games Barry Meade to learn more.
Can you give us the elevator pitch for The Room VR: A DARK MATTER?
Barry Meade: For years, we’ve suspected the atmospheric gameplay we specialize in would be hugely magnified by VR. In A Dark Matter, the playful puzzle machines we designed have come to life as solid 3D objects the player can now lift, push, poke, and twist with their hands. In other words, we’ve recreated our famously immersive, tactile interactive gameplay on a famously immersive platform, and it’s a perfect hand-in-glove fit.
Can you tell us about the world and characters we’re going to experience in A Dark Matter?
BM: A Dark Matter takes place in a fictional Victorian era that asks: what if all the oddball mystical societies that existed 100+ years ago were actually onto something? What if there were ancient supernatural powers behind every séance and tea leaf reading? And how would such cosmic forces affect the people who stumble upon them?
In the game’s alternate world, a secret society of corrupt academics known as “The Circle” is obsessed with keeping this supernatural knowledge to themselves. Its members create a family of strange machines, intricate mechanical puzzles created to confuse the ignorant but illuminate those in the know. All games in The Room series involve finding and solving magical contraptions by interacting with them and answering questions like ‘How do they work?’ ‘What are they for?,’ and most importantly, ‘What secrets do they hide?’
What can fans of The Room on mobile expect from the first Instalment in the series designed exclusively for VR?
BM: Our one goal when starting A Dark Matter was to make something entirely new for VR that categorically takes advantage of the freedom of movement, sense of presence, and touch that only VR can provide. The previous Room games have roots on mobile devices, where we invented tactile game mechanics and realistic physics to take advantage of touch screens. With A Dark Matter, we’ve taken the same engineering approach to VR and designed spaces and gameplay that emphasizes working with your hands in 3D space. Without going into spoilers, nothing is as it seems in The Room series—space is weird, and time is strange; secrets hide in plain sight. We wrap it all up in an eerie, unsettling world we hope is a feast for the senses.
The Room has always featured dollhouse-like puzzles and physical riddles. How do you usually design these puzzles, and did that process change when designing for VR?
BM: We start by doing our homework. We research Victorian-era architecture, machinery, and engineering, as well as popular science-fiction and horror from the period. We then marry these estranged worlds both through the visual style and gameplay. We have beautifully crafted wood and brass 19th Century spaces and objects, but with a creepy edge to them.
To design the puzzles themselves, we start with a basic idea about interaction: what would be a novel sequence or action to experience in VR? We then build a puzzle featuring that idea in a straightforward 3D box fashion and test, test, test. We discover whether a puzzle works by playing it over and over until we either like it or discard it for something better. Once we’re happy with how it plays, we then recreate it in high-resolution 3D and make it as gorgeous as possible. This method has stayed the same for VR—strong puzzles remain the central aspect of the game, and everything else, from the story to the audio to the visuals, is built around them.
Can you talk about one specific puzzle you feel is particularly unique in VR, either because of hand presence or the level of immersion afforded by VR headsets?
BM: I’m sure each of us on the team would choose different moments, but my personal favorite is using a peculiar safe-cracking tool to get into a safe. It’s simple, but everything about it is tactile, satisfying to use, and the payoff is fantastic. It’s the kind of mechanism that only makes sense in VR, and I love it.
What’s something about A Dark Matter you feel will surprise longtime fans of the series?
BM: The Room series isn’t about horror—so no gore, jump scares, or anything like that—but it is pretty creepy, even on mobile devices. I think the extra believability in VR will make even veteran players sit up and take notice. I hope players feel a kind of perfect immersion where they’re completely lost in the grimly beautiful world we’ve created. On top of that, I hope this version of the game—with an all-new story, setting, and characters on a very different platform—feels familiar to longtime fans.
What has been the community response to the first public demo of A Dark Matter?
BM: Just amazing. We’re nerds too, and we follow the chat on Reddit and VR websites just like our fans do, and it’s been lovely to see so many VR enthusiasts saying, “Finally! I love this series, and it’s perfect for VR!” We’ve always felt The Room series was going to be great in VR—no question—and it’s so good to see fans feel the same way. We showed the game at OC6 and watched people play throughout the conference, asking questions and gauging their responses. We couldn’t be happier with what folks said back to us about how much they enjoyed it.
What lessons did you take away from developing your first VR game, Omega Agent, and did that experience influence work on The Room VR?
BM: Yes, it did. We made Omega Agent to learn how to design for VR and we learned it brilliantly by doing everything absolutely wrong. Omega Agent is about using jetpacks to fly around a city and shoot aliens, so it can induce feelings of vertigo and nausea from the speed you move and height you fly. If you have good VR legs, however, it’s an absolute blast to play and there aren’t many games like it, certainly not these days. In terms of how it affected A Dark Matter, making Omega Agent taught us there’s only one way to make VR games: never port an experience; always make something unique for VR. That’s why it has taken so long for us to make A Dark Matter—we wanted the whole team on it to do it justice.
What’s the most challenging aspect of VR game development? What’s the best thing about it?
BM: I think the challenges are different for every team and every game. Some aspects of VR, like platform proliferation, are shared by all developers. It’s hard to design a game that takes advantage of the best that VR can offer because the leading platforms vary so wildly in capability. It’s debatable, but the ideal Room game in VR would likely be room-scale and feature full freedom movement—we couldn’t do this in A Dark Matter due to the differences in the major platforms. Still, we did our best to make navigating the space as exciting and natural as possible. We hope that if we make another Room VR game, things will have moved on, and we’ll be able to push what the technology can do.
And finally, is there something special you’d like to say to fans of The Room or VR puzzle fans in general?
BM: We hope our players can see and feel the effort that went into making A Dark Matter truly feel like a native VR game, something special for the platform that rewards those who buy it. We’d love to make another Room VR game one day, and if enough players get it and tell us they enjoyed it, that day might come sooner rather than later. So let us know whether you loved it (or were annoyed by it), as we’d be interested in hearing your take on it. Of course, if you want to buy it and say nothing to us, that works too.