Behind 'Rumu,' the game where you play a robot vacuum cleaner with feelings



You are a robot vacuum cleaner.

That’s the premise of Rumu, a point-and-click game developed by Australian indie studio Robot House. Set in an intimate, dollhouse-like smart home, you control RUMU, a robot vacuum cleaner which becomes self-aware.

Guiding RUMU on its journey is Sabrina, the home’s artificial intelligence, a cast of semi-intelligent devices, and Ada, the cat. Something draws RUMU away from cleaning up after its owners David and Cecily, leading to it exploring the house, and examining the question of life itself.

“The question the game keeps asking you is if it’s right to give something feelings, to give something emotions,” Rumu’s gamerunner Ally McLean explained to Mashable

“Is it a burden or is it a privilege? There are multiple situations throughout the game where you are given a choice, and that teaches a lot about yourself.”

Taking inspiration from games like Firewatch and films like Ex Machina and Westworld, Rumu features an adorable little robot that could easily fit in Pixar’s repertoire, a la Wall-E, but the story takes an arguably more serious bent as you discover the truth about RUMU’s family.

“When we first pitched Rumu … there was a lot more comedy in it than there is now,” McLean said. “It was this branching narrative where this robot vacuum was trying to subvert what the owners of the house wanted, challenging its cleaning mechanics and warring with the cat.”

“There are still elements of that in this, but as we worked with someone like Dan McMahon (the game’s writer, who is also behind L.A. Noire), who could tell the best version of the story, it became a lot more about the relationship between RUMU and Sabrina. 

“That complex dynamic between them is really how you learn about the story of the family.”

An early version of the game displayed at PAX Australia, set for release by the end of the year on Steam. Much of Rumu‘s gameplay is puzzle oriented, but it’s the story McLean hopes sticks with players.

“People are going to take lots of different things from the narrative, there are things that left unsaid or are open to interpretation. Ultimately, it would be great if the narrative stays with people,” she said.

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