The cinematics of The Cinema Rosa are subtle but profoundly effective.
I don’t use the term in the way we’ve typically come to think of it as it relates to modern game design; flashy, lengthy cutscenes that punctuate action this is not.
Rather, the cinematics of The Cinema Rosa are crafted to evoke the feel of a place long lost, the textures and sensory triggers you’d associate with exploring an abandoned complex. The silence is only punctuated by the occasional clap of thunder overhead.
Rooms are undisturbed save for the rummagings of the player and the ghosts of a lovers tragedy hide just out of sight in a shadowed corner. Welcome to The Cinema Rosa, the last great vestige of the Golden Age of cinema.
The Cinema Rosa Preview
A labour of love for independent developer Josh Krook, of Atreyu Games, The Cinema Rosa is Krook’s attempt to move a genre forward while also capturing the sense of something lost.
For many players, myself included, the era of cinema that The Cinema Rosa looks back to is long gone. A time when the cinemas themselves were grandiose locations with full bars and dance halls and film was the leading entertainment medium.
It’s a far cry from the sterility of the today’s multiplexes and it’s a time that Krook, who I had the pleasure of catching up with, looks to bring back to life.
“For me, I was inspired by various art deco cinemas across Australia,” Krook admits.
“I’m a big fan of the Hayden Orpheum in Sydney, but I’ve been to others in Melbourne and Adelaide too. I wanted to capture something of the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
This inspiration flows through almost everything in the game, with puzzles centred around the theme and even the architecture of the level design, “Cinema became a mainstream medium in the 1920s-30s. At the time, art deco architecture was popular. Think the Great Gatsby, the Jazz Age, the Golden Age of Hollywood. That’s the design style.”
The Cinema Rosa is a first-person exploration experience, akin to a What Remains of Edith Finch, in which you will roam the halls of an abandoned cinema solving puzzles to progress. You play as a man trapped by his own memories of glorious days gone by, during which he co-owned the glamorous cinema with his lover. Sadly, both are now painstakingly absent from his life.
One night you return to the empty theatre and attempt to piece together how tragedy tore apart your life.
The Glory Days
At first, the tone lands somewhere between Gone Home and the Resident Evil Remake. A quiet, plodding exploration of a once grand location now mired by mystery and darkness.
The Cinema Rosa is by no means a horror game but the inherent nature of such locations, the heavy sense of isolation, works in such a way that you will undoubtedly be slightly on edge. This feeling does later give way to something much more fantastical but the core of it, the isolation, remains throughout and is interwoven beautifully with gameplay sequences.
The cinema is littered with interactable objects and puzzles to solve. Attempting to interact with these things before you’ve collected the items necessary to trigger the animations yields only a soft, defeated click and the encouraging text that ‘something is missing’.
It’s a small thing but a moment that took me straight back to the Spencer Mansion.
Many of these puzzles are staged in rooms that have clearly seen better days. Once completed an ominous, unseen bell chimes as the room reassembles itself back to a former glory, another piece of the player’s memory falling back into place in kind.
These puzzles are seldom difficult, but Krook doesn’t seem overly interested in traditional barriers to progress or many gaming traditions at all.
I asked him about how he sees The Cinema Rosa moving the genre forward;
Video games can really have amazing effects and impact in terms of interactivity.
Let me give you an example. If a game includes a story about anger, then anger should be visually shown on screen.
Even if it’s an exploration game – say you’re exploring a canyon – then there should be a rockslide, or the ground should shake. This is what movies often do, they show emotion through visuals.
I think games can take this one step further than movies and really become the embodiment of immersive, dynamic storytelling
Immersion, of course, doesn’t always mean realism and The Cinema Rosa is not afraid to get experimental with its visuals and gameplay. As you dive deeper into the mystery, reality begins to unravel as the cross-section between memories and present, lucid and ambiguous, dissolves.
A particularly moving moment, steeped in the kind of esoteric cinematics of Lynch, sees a collection of popcorn buckets spill forth their contents into the air in a slow-motion shower of lightly salted snacks. The game’s narrator waxes about taking the time to slow down and appreciate the moment; a little heavy handed to be sure but effective nonetheless.
The Cinema Rosa comes to life in these obscure moments, visual representations of memories fragmented by time and pain. Playing through them it’s easy to recognise that while the surface level game is about the loss of the Cinema, the underlying tale of a broken union between lovers is the heart of the experience.
Players enter into these dream-like sequences through glowing apparitions – one that stuck with me most saw me ceaselessly chasing after a ship leaving a dock, the distance never closing, as the narrator wonders aloud if things would have gone differently if he were just able to talk to his lost love again.
Krook draws parallels between the loss of cinema history to love in this way, “I feel like relationships are the same kind of thing. You can lose so many memories of the early years of your relationship through petty fights and arguments that ruin those memories. There’s a big loss in that. Not to get too poetic about it.”
I have to laugh, as though the entirety of the game isn’t an exercise in poetry, but for most creators, it would be easy to pass this off as existential meanderings. Krook though, ever the deliberate designer, knew his exact intent with these gameplay moments.
“The dream sequences are an attempt to reflect how the past can affect the present, this is done both through narrative and gameplay: you pick up items in the dream that affect reality in the cinema”.
When pressed on the existentialism, Krook relates it back to his love of cinema, “a lot of that comes from the idea that many of these art deco cinemas are dying out. There’s a sense that we are losing so much of our history at the moment.
“In cinemas, that’s happening with the death of old projectors for new digital projectors, which threatens to close down a lot of smaller cinemas in towns in favour of big mega-cinemas”.
Back on Kickstarter
Back in reality, developing and publishing a game of this scope requires funding and in this, The Cinema Rosa may be facing the exact kind of apathy which undid cinemas of old. Krook is working out of Sydney, which despite holding a place among the more cultured cities in Australia, is severely lacking in government funding for the art of video games.
Victoria has the benefit of Film Victoria, a government organisation who are looking toward the future of the medium, but NSW remains rather short-sighted in this regard.
As such, Krook has turned once again to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter in order to drum up support for The Cinema Rosa.
The game is shaping up to be something special and for fans of classical cinema, or those looking for an experimental, genre-pushing experience, you’d be wise to help get this game off the ground and onto the proverbial silver screen.
The Kickstarter campaign can be found here and is a third of the way to it’s $6,000 goal at the time of writing with 15 days remaining.