In most puzzle games, solving the problems is the one and only goal. But in talking to Jake Jonghwa Kim, creative director of the platforming puzzle game Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle — which is coming to PC, Mac, and Linux on May 1st — he not only noted how this sequel to Rooms: The Main Building came about, but also how explaining why you’re solving these puzzles makes this sequel better.
Let’s start at the beginning: What is Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle about, how do you play it?
Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle is a unique puzzle game based on a sliding puzzle with a twist of platformer games. Player takes a role of a child, Anne, astray in a mysterious mansion made out of moving rooms. Player can move a room the character is in like a sliding puzzle piece and use various gadgets within it. Using only point-and-click control, the goal is to get to the exit.
Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle is the sequel to Rooms: The Main Building…
Well, this needs a bit of explanation. Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle was originally co-developed between HandMade Game and Kuno Interactive, and was published on mobile platforms in 2013 as The Mansion: A Puzzle of Rooms. It’s actually available on mobile stores, but I don’t recommend playing it because it was ruined by unreasonable demands from the publisher to make it free-to-play.
Rooms: The Unsolvable Puzzle is a re-mastered and extended version of The Mansion. We got rid of all the in-app purchasing systems, added new mechanics and forty-four new levels, finished the storyline, and optimized it for the Steam platform, where it should have launched in the first place. HandMade Game, the original creator of Rooms series, is solely in charge of it now, and we’re self-publishing it on Steam.
Ah, gotcha. But to go back for a second, when you started work on this sequel originally, what were the things you wanted to improve from the first one, and why did you want to improve them?
There were many things that I wanted to improve gameplay-wise, art-wise, story-wise, and user interface-wise. We simplified some gadgets to make puzzle-solving process less-irreversible, and we added a few new gadgets to make new kind of puzzles. Art and story were huge part of the improvement. We wanted players to be intrigued to keep playing, not only by the puzzle itself, but also by the story, which is an aspect that is often disregarded in puzzle games. We carefully designed art and music to support the overarching narrative. For instance, the change of mansion background and music in each theme depicts the change of seasons, which also matches the story of the toymaker.
Given that you’re South Korean, the name may be different where you are, but are you at all worried that people are going to look at this game’s name and think, “Why would I play a puzzle game if the puzzle is unsolvable?”
Ha ha…well, actually one of the testers also pointed that out.
The title originally came from the old narrative, where an unsolvable puzzle piece was the key of the story. However, the story changed, and the title is now just an allegorical expression about the life of the toymaker in the new story. Still, I quite like how it sounds and that it makes people ask such questions. I think players would get the allegory.
So are there any puzzles in Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle that you can’t solve? And I mean you personally.
No, there aren’t.
Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle has an interesting art style. What were some of the things that inspired it?
The animated movie Coraline and the film Pan’s Labyrinth were the primary source of inspiration. We wanted to make a dark, fairy tale-like world where curiosity and spookiness coexist, and those two films did an exceptional job on that.
Did the art style inspire anything in the way Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle works? Like were any of the puzzles inspired by its unique look?
It’s half planed, but the mimicking puppet that appears in every six levels were partly inspired by the art and atmosphere. As it’s set in a spooky mansion, there better be some sort of haunted thing, right? The puppet’s body parts get assembled when rooms connect. Once it is fully assembled, it mimics Anne’s movement and explodes into pieces when it meets her. The pale man in Pan’s Labyrinth was the inspirational source of the puppet.
I also noticed that the rooms in the game didn’t look like modern rooms, they looked like rooms from years ago. I was wondering why you went with this motif as opposed to a more modern one?
It’s kind of a cliché, but I thought a vintage and old motif would work better in this kind of fantasy-ish setting. Also, from the story, the mansion is the place where the toymaker has been living, so it is supposed to be a bit aged.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to answer this question, but I’ll ask it anyway: Do you think there’s anything inherently South Korean about your game? And I don’t mean something that’s Eastern vs. Western, but something South Korean vs. Japanese or Chinese?
Hmm…. I don’t think there’s anything that I am aware of. The puzzle mechanic is quite universal, and the art style is somewhere between Eastern and Western animation. In fact, we hear a lot from Korean players that they didn’t know that the game is from Korea. It is also because the game is so different from most games produced by large game companies in Korea.
Rooms The Unsolvable Puzzle is coming to Windows, Macs, and Linux. Are there any plans to bring it to game consoles, smartphones, or tablets?
Smartphones and tablets are out of the option, unfortunately, but yes, we’re looking forward to bring it onto game consoles, especially portable ones. Nothing’s confirmed at this point, but we hope to get this out by this year.