I’ve watched The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s infamously terrible love triangle melodrama, more times than I can remember, such is its peculiar magic. It’s objectively awful in every respect, from the baffling script to the painfully wooden acting, but there’s something oddly compelling about it. The Room has been a cult hit for years, but the 2017 release of James Franco’s brilliant biopic The Disaster Artist—which is based a book of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell—has reignited people’s love of the so-called ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies’ and introduced it to a new audience.
The Disaster Artist, by the way, is an essential read—even if you’re only vaguely familiar with the movie. The story of its creation, and of enigmatic writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau, is as unlikely as the movie’s cult success—and surprisingly inspiring. The audiobook narrated by Sestero (who plays Mark in the film) is great too, particularly his spot-on impression of Tommy’s bizarre accent. In the book he mentions a game based on The Room, which was released on Newgrounds in 2010 and is genuinely one of the best examples of making a videogame out of a film.
Developed by Tom Fulp, Jeff Bandelin, and Chris O’Neill, The Room Tribute is a point-and-click adventure created in Flash, telling a story that runs parallel to, and crosses over with, the events of the movie. It’s clear from the offset that the game’s creators are genuine fans of the movie, with self-aware references and self-deprecating humour scattered throughout. Visit Denny’s ‘apartment’ (actually a cleaning closet) and you’ll see pictures of Lisa stuck all over his walls. Later, after Mark shaves off his beard, he frames it above the heart-shaped bed in his bachelor pad and worships it.
The game also fills in some of the film’s many blanks, including explaining why Denny was buying weed off curiously-named drug dealer ‘Chris-R’ in the first place. You find this out by reading his diary, a new page of which appears in his cupboard each in-game day. You also find out what happened to Johnny’s psychiatrist friend Peter, who mysteriously disappears partway through the movie. In reality this was because the actor took another job, but the game offers a more, let’s say, creative answer. It’s little touches like these that make this a great (albeit totally unofficial) movie adaptation. It doesn’t just recount the story from the film scene for scene, but expands the universe in some interesting ways—and has fun doing it.
Between missions you can explore a detailed, self-contained pixel version of the movie’s slightly unreal take on San Francisco, including the flower shop with the pug on the counter (“Hai, doggy!”) and the famous rooftop set (actually filmed in a Los Angeles parking lot surrounded by a green screen, fact fans). As a big fan of the film I love digging around for hidden references and in-jokes, of which there are many. The chiptune version of Mladen Milicevic’s weirdly stirring orchestral score is nicely done too, although by the end of the game that main theme will be burned into your brain for the rest of the day.
The Room takes itself completely seriously, despite Tommy’s insistence that it was always intended to be a black comedy (yeah, right), but the game is the complete opposite. It starts off pretty tame, closely mirroring events from the movie, but later things take a turn for the strange. I’ll let you play it for yourself, but the ending is, uh, pretty surprising. There are some fun, silly minigames too, including a JRPG-style battle with Chris-R on the rooftop that involves throwing, what else, empty water bottles at him.
Games based on movies are rarely good—and vice versa. But The Room Tribute, despite being a fan project, is one of the best examples of the translation working. It mocks the film, but it comes from a place of passion, of love for the source material, and any fan of The Room can tell that from the opening scene of Johnny’s Grave, which renders him as a proud angel, with Lisa and Mark weeping at his stone feet. You can still play the game on Newgrounds for free, and I highly recommend that you do, after watching the movie.