Explore the golden age of Hollywood romance in The Cinema Rosa

The Cinema Rosa
Josh Krook is a developer that finds himself frustrated with a lot of walking simulators today. Because, for all their narrative potential, he believes their ability to tell meaningful stories interactively so far still hasn’t been fully tapped into. His new game, The Cinema Rosa, is a first-person exploration game set in a movie theatre, representing his concerted one-man effort to do something about this. And it comes from a place of personal experience and childhood memory.

“The inspiration was actually the cinema down the road from my house,” Krook tells me in our sit-down discussion. “I live in Sydney, and there’s a movie theatre called the Hayden Orpheum which is kind of an Art Deco cinema built in the 30s, and that got me inspired.” Set within the dark and atmospheric confines of the titular Cinema Rosa – itself a greatest hits for the brassy architectural stylings present in games like Prey and BioShock – Krook’s game hopes to set players on an emotional journey where a broken relationship acts as the central theme.

You play as one half of this ruptured heart, a disgraced co-owner of the enigmatic building forced to return one stormy night in an effort to hopefully restore what is lost of your joint venture. In my 40-minute pre-release demo, The Cinema Rosa certainly makes quite an impression. Beginning outside, raindrops fill the darkened street as a thunderstorm crackles, backed up only by a noir-esque internal narration. The dissonant vibe of the lost roaring 20s and slightly-less-roaring 30s is immediately set.

Despite tackling this notably eerie opening, Krook is quick to remind me that The Cinema Rosa isn’t intended to be a horror game, at least in the traditional sense. “I would classify it as spooky, but not horror – it’s really splitting hairs,” he reveals. “There’s not going to be any scary sequences or jump scares. Nothing like that. It is an abandoned environment after all, and so there’s kind of unknown quality to it. Like one would expect from a BioShock game, there’s a certain atmosphere without being scary.”

The main bulk of the demo doesn’t have me doing anything one wouldn’t expect for other games of its ilk. As memorable as the cinema is intended to be as a location and a character of itself, I’m still required to gather collectibles and documents while exploring the space, using the information garnered to proceed further into the Rosa’s many veins and arteries – some hidden, some not so. There’s something to be said about playing a game in a genre known for being explicitly cinematic that’s set it within a cinema.

Entering the Cinema Rosa’s main foyer, I’m greeted by vintage-style posters of movies projected in the past, unused ticket strips, and the private quarters of the cinema staff. All this is to say that The Cinema Rosa goes a long way to ensure you feel a history to a certain kind of space now uncoincidentally lost to time. “A lot of the classic, small walking simulators have been set in a house, or an office, all these kinds of very simplistic environments,” Krook tells me. “I wanted to do something different that was also simple in some way. It kind of lined up nicely.”

The Cinema Rosa interior

Krook isn’t coy about revealing the game’s tendency to explore subjects of loss, romance, nostalgia and regret. With your core aim being to reconstruct the cinema to its former glory days, it’s safe to say that more than a few personal demons will be confronted. No part of the game embodies this more so than the various dream sequences sprinkled throughout. “The idea of those is that you get something from the dream that you take back into reality and use in some way,” says Krook. “As the game goes on they’ll start blurring with reality a bit more. Weird things that happen in later sequences will start happening in the cinema.”

And it’s this combination of reactive environments and cinematic storytelling where The Cinema Rosa seeks to take interactive storytelling in walking simulators to new heights. “I played Dear Esther and I found it disappointing. Not for the reason other people found it disappointing most likely. For me it was because while you’re going through the story, nothing happened in the game world that reflected what you were learning. What I wanted to do with The Cinema Rosa was to have the narrative reflected in the environment you’re going through.”

In a little tease of one of The Cinema Rosa’s set-piece sequences, Krook explains how this will work in game. “There’s a scene that I’m making currently, which is a scene about doors slamming in an argument, where the doors around you will actually start slamming. It’s representative of this idea that the world should, kind of, respond to the story and react to it,” says Krook. “I think that video games as a medium is the best one for that, because you can’t do it anywhere else.” How frequent and how many of these moments will make it into the final game is yet to be seen.

The Cinema Rosa dream sequence

Having been developed for just over four years now, at the time of writing The Cinema Rosa is, like many games with a small team, in the early stages of crowdfunding. Should it reach its goal, Krook remains confident that players will take something personal from the parallels drawn between cinema and relationship. “The protagonist bought back the cinema with the idea to restore it room by room,” he explains. “There’s kind of two lines to the story; you’re re-building the cinema but you’re also rebuilding this broken relationship. Those are the two narrative tracks that will be running parallel. As you rebuild one, the other gets fixed.”

So far, The Cinema Rosa looks to weave a promising tale I’m excited to play a part in. It’s focus on the connection between a reactive environment and personal story is its principal appeal, but the faded old-school glamour certainly helps.

15 Comments

  1. airmikee99 says:

    I remember when ‘Walking Simulator’ was a derisive term used to mock games with little to no story, interaction, or immersion. Now it’s an actual thing where people design games with little to no story, interaction, or immersion while they mock other games that have little to no story, interaction, or immersion.

    They’re like gas pumps with screens showing “news”, or the mini-comic books that used to come in Happy Meals, or a web-series compared to a full budget production. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    • dewdle says:

      The game is more of a puzzle game than a walking sim. That was part of what I was trying to get at in the interview. :)

      My aim is to take the ‘cinematic’ style of some sims and mix it with traditional gameplay, like puzzles, point-and-click, text-based stuff etc.

    • bill says:

      I didn’t notice him mocking other walking sims.. he just talked about what he hoped to achieve in his game.

      I think walking sim got reclaimed from the whiners a long time ago.. now it’s just a genre name.
      Nice to see it branching out in different directions.

    • bill says:

      PS/ Walking Sims usually have Story and Immersion, it’s the interactivity that is limited.

      Maybe this has already been done, but I do think it’d be interesting to have walking sims where the world reacts to your actions/choices.

      I know that the whole idea of a walking sim is that the actions and choices are somewhat limited, but they’re rarely entirely absent.
      For example, it’d be interesting to have a game where the world changed, fable / Black&White style depending on the mood / feeling generated by your actions.

    • skeletortoise says:

      “These are like garbage children’s versions of actually good things. Welp, to each their own.” Wow, what a chill and open minded person you are.

      Anyway, I would push back on your characterization of walking simulators as having no immersion or storytelling. Stories vary, true. Some WS are more abstract and exploratory, like Proteus, but for the most part in high profile WS stories are (generally) richer and better executed because they’re the whole point. And as for immersion, results may vary by person, but I think they’re usually quite immersive because the whole game is literally traveling through a space, so that space and experience are likely very well designed.

      • airmikee99 says:

        So I’m not chill or open minded because I don’t like something you like? O….k…. that’s…… fucking dumb.

        • skeletortoise says:

          I mean, I guess I just found it super disingenuous and ironic to say ‘different strokes for different folks’ after taking a dismissive dump on something and claiming it can’t possibly produce any of the qualities that make games enjoyable (and not really acting like it’s your opinion so much as unanimously agreed upon). Of course you’re allowed to not like something, but if you wrap up your argument with “well you’re a complete fucking imbecile, so let’s agree to disagree” you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too.

  2. spacedyemeerkat says:

    Sounds a little like one of my favourite films. Perhaps I’ll back it.

  3. criskywalker says:

    It seems like an interesting premise. I always thought that Bioshock Infinite suffered from being an FPS instead of a walking simulator, as I really wanted to explore that interesting world instead of being in a shooting gallery.

  4. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I love walking sims, but if the dev thinks most of the classic walking sims are set in an office or a house they missed out on a shit-ton of other interesting walking sims. It’s not just Gone Home and Stanley Parable and the end. I mean, Thirty Flights Of Loving? Proteus? Firewatch? Beginner’s Guide? Kentucky Route Zero? And that’s just some of the “famous” ones.

    Outside of that, I am a sucker for Tonguç Bodur’s shamelessly low-budget walking sims like Drizzlepath. Just you, on a path, amidst a whole bunch of pretty assets. You walk. That’s it. That’s the game. I think that walking sim of the month guy does similar stuff. TIMEframe. Rememoried. NaissanceE. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. Beyond Eyes. Yume Nikki. A Bird Story. Gathering Sky. So many more. This genre is overflowing with diverse settings!

    Still, I’m always up for visiting new ones. Just bought Tacoma and Scanner Sombre on the Steam sale. I’ve still got Californium and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to walk through. To be honest I’m more intrigued by walking sims that are pointedly not set in real-world locations, but a movie theater, sure.

    • skeletortoise says:

      Interesting to include Kentucky Route Zero. Genres are nebulous things of course, but I feel including non first person games opens things up a lot. I feel like there’s a lot of indie platformer-ish or adventurey games that aren’t very action heavy which start to all meet the definition. Especially given that light puzzle stuff seems to not disqualify games at all.

      • Premium User Badge

        alison says:

        I definitely put Kentucky Route Zero in the walking sim bucket. It sort of has that lazy interactive picture book feeling, like Burly Men at Sea or One Eyed Kutkh.

        I think, to me, building a walking sim means providing an environment that the player is free to experience at their own pace. There might be a story, or not. There might be dialog, or not. A key part is that there is no pressure to have the player achieve a goal or perform arbitrary tasks to continue. The primary experience should just be exploring the space, and it’s through that process that eventually an “ending” might be uncovered. Or not. No ending is also fine.

        It is definitely nebulous, though. I think a great example is NaissanceE, which has a stupendously well-realized location, but also incredibly irritating platforming bits. If you can fall to your death, is it still a walking sim? Or with stuff like Californium, where there is some puzzling… How many of those puzzles does it take to turn the walking sim into a Myst-like? It’s hard to say.

        But definitely I would accept games that aren’t first person. Third person wanderers, side-scrollers and top-downs are totally in, for me, if they nail the spirit of wandering about aimlessly.

  5. April March says:

    Josh Krook is a developer that finds himself frustrated with a lot of walking simulators today. Because, for all their narrative potential, he believes their ability to tell meaningful stories interactively so far still hasn’t been fully tapped into.

    I agree with this premise.
    With the execution… not so much. Puzzles? Spoooooooky sequences? An unrelated narration while you explore a static environment? It looks like he’s tried to find new grounds by retrying everything that’s been tried before, all at once. I don’t think these are frutiful grounds. But, I’ll play the game anyway.

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