The Empty Room

by Matthew Alger profile

One room/Science Fiction

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Number of Ratings: 14
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1-14 of 14

An intriguing premise that did not deliver., April 8, 2022

I have struggled to give a score to this piece. On one hand I wanted to like it, I wanted it to let me into its secrets and give me something to latch on at the end. On the other hand I often felt it failed me as a game and left me with the sensation that the plot did not live up to what it built.

But first things first, this is a puzzle game, a "escape" game where your purpose is to manipulate the environment until you can get out of it. It has a good premise, if maybe not the most original of all: the room is absolutely featureless and it's through examining it that different devices may be linearly unveiled, then manipulated until the exit can be found and reached. This can be done quickly once the workings of the devices are understood, but it also can be frustrating if the player loses the thread along the way.

The writing is clear enough to convey the gameplay and to engage the player at the beginning. There are great details and touches there (like your own clothes (Spoiler - click to show)and how they may change colors to match the room, some details on a late game item ((Spoiler - click to show)the towel, what it hints to) or whatever is displayed (Spoiler - click to show)on the screens but at the end of the game everything is left dangling and unsolved, with nary a lead for the player to guess the meaning of it all.

That may be a respectable author choice a but its the implementation that fails the most: key elements fail to be mentioned in the room description once uncovered, changes in the devices may go unnoticed by the player and the gameplay risks degenerating into a "examine everything and touch everything" fest once the player becomes lost. What I disliked the most, however, was a "guess the verb" fight I had right on the last movement of the game. The hint system confirmed that I knew exactly what the character was supposed to do, but not what I, the player, must type. A walkthrough would have gone a long way here.

I can recommend this game to anyone that is patient, has a couple of hours to spare, is looking for a straightforward puzzle with some guessing involved and - more importantly - can lower the expectations the beginning of the game may create. Two stars: would be three had not I become frustrated.

- ja, bo ja, August 31, 2017

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The Empty Room is filled my curious mind. , March 8, 2015

One of a handful of games I've played that I was genuinely dedicated to complete. It's a joyous breath of fresh air and I highly recommend everyone give this one a shot.

- Simon Deimel (Germany), January 4, 2014

- DAzebras, April 30, 2013

- Floating Info, April 20, 2013

- E.K., August 16, 2012

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Challenging but Unresonant, August 13, 2010
by AmberShards (The Gothic South)

The Empty Room begins with a contradiction; if the room is empty, how are you in it? Who you are is described in such a way to whet your appetite, but the meal never comes. That, unfortunately, is symbolic of the entire game. Many times TER whets your appetite with interesting descriptions, samples of high-tech (and low-tech), but there's no follow-through. There is no greater resonance.

Instead, what you have is a game that successfully encourages you to keep playing by gradually revealing changes in your environment. It's very linear, but this is one of a few games where the linearity works. Even after having played and won, I'm still not clear on what I just did, so while it's engaging, and challenging, it's not terribly clear. I suspect this is another part of the bare-bones mentality that never bothered with the answering why you are in the room, why you are dressed like that, and all the other big questions that will bother you while you're playing.

With all that said, the implementation is a bit, shall I say, odd. If there is something on the floor, for instance, the room description will not tell you that. Oh no. You have the examine the floor. The same thing goes with complex objects that you discover. You have to examine sides, walls, ad nauseum. The same thing goes when you do something. The game will not always inform you of the results, so it's back to examining things. This often places you in a somewhat frustrating and tedious cycle of "Do X. Examine Y." Now all of this would absolutely sink this game IF the puzzles were hard. Fortunately they are not, and so you can make progress quickly.

When you do win, the ending itself is probably the greatest let down since winning 1942, or the "endings" of Twin Peaks and The Blair Witch Project. There is a momentary elision of joy, but nothing is explained.

TER deserves three stars, because it can be won, it is challenging without being frustrating, and despite its linearity and its one-room nature (arguably), I played it to the end, and I managed to win.

And yes, the help system? Avoid it if you can.

- Ghalev (Colorado, United States), August 13, 2010

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Escape? One-room?, August 13, 2010
by tggdan3 (Michigan)

This game drops you in an empty room. Not only do you not know how you got there- you don't know who you are, which begs the question about why you're even trying to escape.

The game consists of examining various objects until something changes. The changes are arbitrary- sometimes if you touch a box it will turn into an arcade machine, or if you examine a panel, a switch will appear. The game basically has you examining various things until the next flag triggers and you have something new to mess with.

There is no real story to speak of, so anyone looking for any of that will be disappoined. The escape puzzle is random and arbitrary, being neither intuitive or hinted. Nor is this truly a one-room game. (Spoiler - click to show) At one point you go to an alternate "black room" . It's impossible to get stuck in this game, and the game isn't difficult at all, since there are not many things to interact with at any given time. Some things are cheap. (Spoiler - click to show) Examining a board says there's an indentation. Examining the indentation says "it's just big enough to fit the screwdriver in it." Though the game never tells you the screwdriver is there on it's own. . In fact, many of the changes in the room aren't reported by the parser until you examine the item that changed.

It's an experiment in evolving atmosphere, but perhaps if the atmosphere had some reason to evolve, or some point it was trying to make, it would be better. I use Shade as an example, becasue the atmosphere changes as well, except that at the end it starts to all make sense. This game never gets to the making sense point.

The help file is funny, as the menu options have humerous responses, but it isn't overly helpful.

The game seems more suited to a programmer than to a player. Surely it was an interesting endeavor to code, and if you think about the coding exercises, it might be interesting. But with no plot, a linear and arbitray solitary puzzle, and no personality to the protagonist, you have to wonder "what's the point?". I would reccommend putting some kind of explination as to who/what you are, and why you're in this room, what the room is, and why you need to escape, or at least a reason why everything is changing out of the blue.

- Muskie, August 13, 2010

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Casual Puzzle Game, August 13, 2010
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)

The Empty Room is is a short game, way out at the crossword end of the IF-spectrum. There’s hardly any story to it; indeed, it's a single multi-step puzzle. You find yourself inexplicably imprisoned in a perfectly empty and totally white room, where, at first, you can't even make out where floor and walls meet. You yourself are quite as characterless as the room—but as this is very much a mere game, this doesn’t trouble the NPC very much and need not trouble the player at all.

Your task, obviously, is to get out of that room; your means to that end is, to begin with, to examine whatever may after all be supposed to be examinable in that room. Gradually, your searches will uncover details about your environment and start to reveal hidden contraptions that you have to operate in the right way finally to find a way out of your prison.

As soon as the room is no longer perfectly but only almost empty, the player probably makes fast progress, one thing leading to the other in fairly obvious ways. As the strange devices hidden in the room start to interact with each other, things get less obvious. Make sure that you examine and re-examine everything, reading and re-reading descriptions carefully!

The puzzle of the game is solved in a large number of small independent steps, so the player keeps making progress at a rate that, though decelerating, still suffices to reinforce playing behaviour positively. That helps, for some of the steps to your way out you probable have to stumble upon by chance. I did not find that seriously frustrating, however, since the room is never crowded with things and there is ever only so many actions to try.

Also, the game plays with the ‘counterpart’ idea that you find in several recent games (notably Plotkin’s Dual Transform). The room and its contents has each its counterpart, and sometimes some things can only be made to happen to things in one room by manipulating counterpart things in a counterpart room.

If you need a short game to satisfy a casual puzzle craving, finding your way out of this empty room may well do the trick.

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting idea, August 13, 2010

The central conceit for this game is an interesting one -- you're in a classic locked room puzzle, with the twist that at least at first, the room is featureless. Various actions result in features appearing that you can interact with to escape.

My enjoyment of the game was very mixed. The puzzles are not particularly difficult, which I appreciated, but examining every object to see whether it had magically changed this time got old really quickly. (Spoiler - click to show)It gave me a nice sense of accomplishment to see a screen appear when I pressed a hidden panel. It was less enjoyable when different components appeared on the screen depending on how many times I looked at it or what else I had found in the room. It left me with the feeling that either the player character was exceedingly unobservant (which could have been humorous if it had been made explicit, but it wasn't), or the room was frustratingly unstable. The instability wasn't severe enough to be really disconcerting or interesting, at least for me, so it just felt tedious. Being spoon-fed puzzles in little bits at a time made the game feel extremely linear. Despite exploration seeming the central puzzle, you have to explore in a pre-ordained order, not discovering anything new unless you have done exactly what the writer wanted beforehand.

The game felt a bit rough and unfinished...for example, if something you do causes a feature to appear on, say, the ceiling, you cannot look at the ceiling to find it. You have to remember what that feature was called and examine it by name, rather than just looking at the ceiling.

The in-game help file is odd and unhelpful. I would have minded the condescending humor less if it had actually given me more useful hints on how to solve the puzzles.

- Sneeze (Derby, UK), August 13, 2010

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