Pre-PAX West Interview: Debra and Alex Beardsley, It’s A Trap!

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Debra and Alex Beardsley of It’s A Trap! (Winter Park, FL) about how their experiences in gaming and theater continue to influence their escape room designs.

In-game image of a dragon locked behind bars.

Tell us about your games. What’s the style?

Our games look at the more comedic side of escape rooms instead of the adrenaline side. A lot of people are nervous about getting locked into a room for an hour, so we like to make sure everyone laughs through the game. We achieve this through a detailed narrative that is delivered through our performers, props and clues. Our performers are masters of puns and will help lighten the mood for the more novice or nervous players.

Explain your concept of “reversible rooms.” How did that come about and how does it work?

A game room is a basically a theatrical set. When you see a play, multiple scenes happen on the same set multiple times throughout the show. So why couldn’t our game rooms work that way? We are able to show two sides of a story within one game room. For instance, one week you will break into the superhero’s apartment as the villain’s henchman. The next week, after we have changed all the clues, disabled/enabled some different tech props, and introduced a different character guide, you can now play as the policemen aiding the superhero (which, chronologically, happens after the henchmen broke in!).

A princess looking at her reflection in a mirror.

It sounds like your escape rooms are heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. How has that game, as well as video games, influenced your escape room design?

Adventure games lend themselves to escape room style puzzles. We are big fans of point and click puzzle adventures like Zork, Monkey Island, and Myst. Were also huge RPG fans (Final Fantasy, tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, etc). When we made our escape rooms, it was obvious we would go for the geeky themes, but we also fed off of the narrative aspect of these games. We didnt create a live action sudoku puzzle or Tetris. We created a game with consequence and motivation that players could lose themselves in for hours, just like the millions of hours weve lost to those RPGs!

On the topic of geeky themes, we have a story about a wizard with nearly 30 pages of backstory describing realms of magic, plight of wizards, royal hierarchy and important NPCs. This enables us to influence our puzzles in a way that is incredibly detailed. Forgotten Realms has nothing on us.

Your game also incorporates live actors. What influence has theater had on your escape rooms?

In NYC and London, immersive theatre is taking off and producing amazing shows that make the audience members part of the story. These shows require you to move through a labyrinth-style space, interact with actors, and search for hidden narratives in props. After working on these shows for a few years, we felt there was an easy mash up of the immersive theatre concept with the budding escape room industry. With the aid of the actor in the game room, we can help people let go of the outside and keep focused. We can dissolve frustrations with a well timed joke or a “punny” riddle. Most importantly, we can deliver a richer story since we can tell you parts of it throughout the game instead of having to push it all in during the pregame briefing.

You concept takes video games, theater, and puzzles and meshes them into one genre of entertainment. Where does it go from here? How do you plan to evolve?

Having deep roots in immersive theatre, we plan to create bigger immersive projects that contain both strong narrative and gameplay mechanics. Right now, we consider our escape room to be 75% game and 25% theatre. Wed like to scale up to a full length production that is closer to 50/50 utilizing all of the gameplay insight weve gathered. We would like to get closer to creating a real-life, fully immersive, adventure game complete with a full cast of colorful NPCs and an epic story.

“Room Escapes Are So New No One Knows The Right Way To Do Them”

Ok… I’ve had it. I’m tired of hearing people utter some version of the phrase:

“Room escapes are so new that no one knows the right way to do them.”

This is bullshit.

Books

There are books (plural!) about how to make escape rooms:

Escape the Game: How to Make Puzzles and Escape Rooms by Adam Clare (paperback or Kindle)

How to Open Your Own Room Escape Game by Elisabeth Garson

Facilitating Team-Building Sessions: A Guide for Escape Room and Exit Game Owners by Christy M. Byrd

I cannot vouch for all Christy M. Byrd, but I can tell you that Adam and Elisabeth know their stuff.

Mosaic photo of a pile of books. "Puzzle Craft" is front and center.
Puzzle Craft is the puzzle design bible, if you can get your hands on a copy.

White papers

There are two freely available white papers specifically about escape rooms:

Scott Nicholson’s (2015) white paper, Peeking behind the locked door: A survey of escape room facilities, is the seminal work on escape rooms.

Markus Wiemker, Errol Elumir, Adam Clare’s (2015) piece titled Escape Room Games: Can you transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one?

Blogs & podcasts

Oh man are there blogs. We have over 250 posts on this site alone.

And then there are these fine folks:

Communities

There are vibrant Owner, Startup, and Enthusiast communities on Facebook. Each one is searchable. If you have a question, there’s a good chance an extensive thread already exists on the subject.

If a thread doesn’t exist, start up the conversation.

Financials – the big fuzzy

The one bit of knowledge that’s tough to get at is industry-specific financial information.

How well does the average room escape company do? Who knows?

There’s not a ton of information out there; what is available is frequently a bit suspect.

Standing on shoulders

If that’s not enough, then consider this:

Room escapes are a relatively new form of entertainment that is built from pieces of well-established forms of entertainment:

  • Puzzle design
  • Game design
  • Set design
  • Sound design
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Software engineering
  • Hardware engineering
  • Writing & storytelling
  • Editing & proofreading
  • Lighting
  • Fabrication
  • Graphic design
  • Play testing

On the business side, there’s nothing new. All of the rules of these different professions apply to an escape room business:

  • Web design
  • Web development
  • Accounting
  • Insurance
  • Real estate
  • Finance
  • Contracts & other legalities
  • Customer service
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Public relations
  • Social media management

Each bullet in the list above represents an entire profession. There are more books on each of these than you’ll ever be able to read… hell, you can go earn a degree in most of them and make a fine living only practicing that one.

So stop making silly statements about the newness of escape rooms. There is a ton of knowledge and wisdom out there that can help you propel your business forward. You have to decide to educate yourself instead of choosing to remain willfully ignorant.

Please, do your research. It will be worth it to you and your players.

Update: There isn’t necessary a right way to design an escape room, but there are lots of wrong ways to do it.

If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.

Pre-PAX West Interview: Edwin Tsui, The Locked Room

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Edwin Tsui of The Locked Room (Calgary, AB) about his experience as a game enthusiast and game creator/owner.

Photo of Edwin and his partners in one of their horror games. It's dark and there are body parts as well as implements of destruction postioned throughout the room.

Room Escape Artist: How did your enthusiasm for escape rooms turn into a business?

Edwin: When my girlfriend and I first heard of the concept of the escape room, it sounded like an amazingly fun activity. After we played our very first escape rooms in Prague in early 2014, we knew it was fun, and we wanted to bring the activity back to our home city of Calgary.

I met with my two future business partners, Kyle and Adil, while offering them DJ service for their zombie-themed fun run. At the end of our meeting, I casually brought up the escape room idea, which intrigued them. From there, we launched our first two-room facility as a market tester and things just took off.

Your background and interests are in video games and puzzling. Tell us how video games have influenced your escape room business.

My favorite types of video games are RPG and strategy games. Well-crafted games of those genres tend to have good flow, and give players a sense of accomplishment as they progress through the game.

I want players coming through our escape rooms to feel like they have that sense of progression, with a mixture of some easy wins, and some tougher battles. This is accomplished by having a combination of puzzles and activities – some of which are straightforward and intuitive, and others that may require a bit of head scratching before the ‘aha’ light bulb switches on with the correct answer.

It’s important to listen to the players who come through and use their feedback to make improvements and changes. This goes for the games themselves, as well as marketing, customer service, and market conditions, which are equally important as the content in the escape rooms themselves. We always want to ensure that the fun factor is maximized and the frustration factor minimized. Visiting gamefaqs.com (in the olden days of the internet!) to find a walkthrough or tip for a certain boss or game sequence always felt like ‘giving up’!

You’ve played many escape rooms all over the world, but your business partners haven’t played as many escape rooms themselves. How do your design interests align with or differ from those of your business partners?

Part of playing more games is that quality expectations as a player are always increasing. I’m always comparing the puzzles, immersion and overall fun factor of each new room to pre-existing experiences (and also to my own offerings!).

When designing my own escape room games, it’s important to understand my market and to offer puzzles and activities that will be appropriate for that particular demographic (newer players vs. corporate team builders vs. puzzle hunt specialists). What may seem fun or intuitive to me after playing 100 games may be too difficult or non-intuitive for a first-time player. Thus, my partners do a great job of keeping me grounded and finding that balance of challenging, yet fun (without being frustrating), for our target demographic.

As a player, your favorite games cater to enthusiasts. How do you keep the gamer/enthusiast market happy while still executing on a viable business model?

The beauty of the escape room as an activity is that it’s accessible to a wide range of players; there is no steep learning curve, no inherent safety issue (generally), and everybody can share in the fun and adrenaline of the experience.

Gamers and/or puzzlers will have an inherent advantage because of the style of challenges in most escape rooms, but a player with 5-10 escape room games under their belt will already be on par or better at these real-life games than a brand new (but with games/puzzle experience) player.

We try to offer a wide variety of themes and difficulty levels so that everybody has a chance to find the right fit for themselves. Not everybody is going to love every game that they play, but it is our responsibility to provide as much information as possible so that we can manage player expectations heading into an escape room game.

When you started, you wanted to expose your audience to those awesome moments you had first encountered in escape rooms. How do you evolve so that you can continue to produce that wow moment?

There are many ways to achieve the ‘wow’ moments in a game, but as players become more experienced, it takes a bit more thought to find new ways to surprise them! Some of my personal favorites are clever use of ordinary everyday items in MacGyver ways  or hidden objects (or passageways) concealed right under the players’ noses!

Electronics and technology are also useful tools for creating ‘wow’ puzzle components and, when used appropriately, can help bridge the gap between what can be achieved in real life and what is possible in video games.

 

59:59 Room Escape NYC – Escape from the Hound of the Baskervilles [Review]

“Elementary.”

–  Sherlock Holmes, The Crooked Man

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 21, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

In Hound of the Baskervilles, we assumed the role of a collective Watson to solve one of Sherlock’s famous cases.

We entered a large, sparsely furnished room. It was appropriately themed and didn’t look bad, but it also wasn’t particularly interesting.

A greco-roman bust sits upon a wooden desk, a wall of books rests behind it.
This photo is a bit more dramatic than the room really is.

Puzzles

Hound of the Baskervilles was a collection of puzzles. These ranged in difficulty and required different skill sets. However, the puzzles were primarily paper-based, meaning we engaged with them without engaging with the physical space.

While discovering the puzzle components, we also uncovered written hints / instructions as to how to approach them. This clueing technique added to the paper-puzzle structure.

Standout features

We enjoyed the majority of the puzzles.

Our gamemaster was friendly and alert. He had a good read on our team dynamic and engaged with us appropriately.

Shortcomings

This game fell flat because it was presented as a room escape. In this genre of entertainment, games derive intrigue when physical space and puzzles intertwine to create an enhanced, immersive experience. The game lacked half the equation.

Hound of the Baskervilles didn’t rely on its physical space – which was expansive considering its location in the premium real estate market of Midtown Manhattan. These puzzles could have been printed and solved at home around our dining room table.

Given the setup as detectives, we expected to uncover a story and solve a mystery. However, the puzzles only hinted the theme of the famous Sherlock Holmes case, rather than help us unravel the case around us. This nod to theme had the unfortunate side effect of making many of the combination locks readily hackable, at least to our experienced team.

Should I play 59:59 Room Escape NYC’s Escape from the Hound of the Baskervilles?

Hound of the Baskervilles was a collection of paper-based puzzles with a nod to a theme. On the strength of the puzzles, it was still entertaining. In fact, it could probably be recreated without a room to escape and not lose anything. It might even be better because it wouldn’t let down our expectations for “room escape.”

This game didn’t capture the feel of Sherlock Holmes, or the drama of this case.

Full disclosure: 59:59 Room Escape NYC comped our tickets for this game.

Thoughts on the Chicago Room Escape Conference

The Chicago Room Escape Conference was an incredible experience that sent me home feeling an interesting mix of hope and fear. I’ll clarify.

Lisa and David standing behind their booth at the conference. Their banner in the background, and an unsolved puzzle in the foreground. They are wearing their "Puzzle Harder" t-shirts.
Greetings from Chicago

Market rifts

The conference highlighted two widening gaps in the industry: (1) between companies who know how to implement technology and companies who do not and (2) between those who can build immersive scenery and those who cannot.

This conversation was driven by many of the speakers who have already produced high-end games.

While I generally agree that in the long run the room escape industry will be dominated by those who can build technologically advanced props and beautiful sets, this shouldn’t be the complete discussion.

Superb game design and puzzle flow is still the lynchpin in escape rooms. There are a ton of mid-tier companies that do wonderful things with low-tech, low-scenic rooms.

This also holds true for video games. The mind-blowing graphics of current gen video game consoles do not do a thing to diminish the fun factor or brilliance of classic video games. Similarly, there are tons of modern games that deliberately pull from the design aesthetics of old video games.

Do these retro style games pull in a ton of money? Some do, some don’t… but there are plenty of big budget games that can’t bring in enough revenue to justify their creation.

The lesson for escape rooms is that it absolutely is possible to build a wonderful game on a lower budget, with the skills and the will to do it. That ain’t easy.

Franchises and purchased games

On the trade show floor, attendees could purchase complete games. Attendees could even play two of these games-for-purchase. Both games were a lot of fun. In fact, we had played one of them in Toronto earlier this year.

As these sell, and purchased games proliferate around the world, I am worried that they aren’t consistently named or labeled.

Ultimately, this will be a problem not just for enthusiasts, but also for those who casually play escape rooms on vacation. There is currently no way for a player to determine if they’ve already played a game. (We know a couple who have already been fooled by this phenomenon.)

Don’t get me wrong; there are some wonderful games for sale and this is an avenue for more people to play them, but they need consistent labeling.

Mechanisms

Attendees could purchase some really cool shit on the show floor. I’m confident that a lot of designers will come up with brilliant ways to turn these props and mechanisms into incredible game components.

On the other hand, I am not so confident that every owner will have the capacity to repair these purchased items. A year from now there may be a ton of games filled with the broken remnants of a once amazing puzzle.

Haunting influences

Transworld, the host of the Chicago Escape Room Conference, has deep roots in the haunted house industry; that industry’s presence was strongly felt.

These companies know how to build rugged immersive sets. They absolutely have something to offer. The big question is: can they design puzzles and produce game flow?

Where were the puzzles?

One major component of escape rooms was almost completely missing from the conference: puzzles.

The trade show floor had a ton of cool stuff, but there weren’t really any puzzles. Nor did the talks really focus on them.

Puzzles were dramatically underrepresented. On top of that, we were a little freaked out by the volume of owners we met who don’t care for puzzles.

As a result, we’re still selling our “Puzzle Harder” t-shirts. There are 10 remaining. Get yours before they disappear next week.

Cynics

There were some truly frightening people in attendance… and I’m not talking the haunters.

There were more willfully ignorant people than I was comfortable with. I heard far too many people say, “that speaker had some good ideas… but I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”

I met far too many designers who create games to make themselves feel good while making their players feel bad.

I overheard too many people who don’t give a shit about the safety of their players.

I spoke to too many owners who don’t play escape rooms, nor care to. The pinnacle of this was when I met one amazingly notorious owner who is cynically proliferating mediocre escape room facilities in the hopes of making a quick exit. This guy seems to have no passion for anything besides money and no drive to create anything special. He does not care about damaging the market on his way out. He isn’t the only one.

Wonderful people

While there were some truly disappointing people at the conference, and we worry about the corrosive effects of bad actors, damn near everyone we spoke to was wonderful… and we spoke to a lot of people. (Our voices were shot at the end of each day.)

This is a community filled with passionate, interesting, and caring people for whom we have so much love and respect. It was great to meet new people, see old(ish) friends, and match names to faces with so many folks whom we know through the internet.

We spoke to a lot of people with brilliant ideas and we cannot wait to see some of these come to market.

Ultimately that’s what made this conference special and why we are so excited for next year’s conference in my former home: Buffalo, New York. May 8-10, 2017. We’ll see y’all there.

Share your thoughts

As Lisa and I reflected on our experience in Chicago, these were some of the thoughts that stood out to us. We imagine that other attendees might have different takeaways. If you attended Chicago’s Room Escape Conference, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Komnata Quest – The robbery that changed the world [Review]

Infiltration, a bit of destruction, a dash of puzzles, and lots and lots of crawling.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date played: July 25, 2016

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

In the The robbery that changed the world, we were thieves, hired to steal an important package from a high security safe and escape without getting caught.

The robbery took us through multiple sets as we worked our way deeper into the facility toward our prize. The immersion started strong and dissipated as the game progressed. Some segments of the robbery were brilliant and creative while others were spartan and repetitive.

A desk with three computer monitors on them. In front of the monitors is a baseball cap that reads, "security."

Puzzles

The robbery that changed the world was not a puzzle-y game. Rather, it was a task-based game. We had to interpret our next task, determine how to accomplish it, and move forward toward the object of our desire.

That said, there was one interaction that we considered a puzzle, and quite a good one.

Standout features

The robbery that changed the world incorporated exciting physical set interaction. It was an adventure to move through this set. It was also more physically demanding than the majority of escape rooms.

Komnata Quest built a number of different sets that we traipsed through en route to our prize. They were designed within the confines of the theme and story.

We played with some pretty nifty devices.

There was a moment in the game when we were required to break one of the standard rules of escape rooms. This was surprising, exhilarating, and clearly indicated.

Shortcomings

Breaking rules is a double-edged sword. Later in the game, we weren’t sure whether an object such as a fire extinguisher, which is normally out of play, might be relevant to this game. Once the rules shift from black and white to shades of gray, judgment calls become increasingly muddy.

On the Komnata Quest website, the game description says, “Be sure not to trigger any of the alarms or you’ll get caught.” However, there didn’t seem to be any real stakes to these alarms. Nobody was about to bust in and catch us, thereby ending our heist game. The alarms were an annoyance, not a puzzle or obstacle.

This game was marketed as an escape room, and while it certainly was a heist-and-escape adventure, it was hardly a puzzle game. As escape room aficionados, we were disappointed by items that seemed like puzzle components, but turned out to be red herrings.

When the game set up the heist, we were provided with the appropriate gear to complete the mission. Among this gear were knee pads that were in very rough shape. This was a problem because The robbery that changed the world was loaded with crawling.

Should I play Komnata Quest’s The robbery that changed the world?

Komnata Quest offers one of the most diverse and divisive game lineups. Their current collection includes an inquisition dungeon, a horror murder mystery, a sex dungeon, a claustrophobic coffin escape, and a heist. Each of these games has a specific audience; whether you love or hate the game will depend upon what you’re looking for. For example, if you aren’t comfortable with sexuality, then 7 sinful pleasures’ kink pastiche will be off-putting.

If you are seeking a puzzle adventure, then The robbery that changed the world isn’t the room you’re looking for.

This escape room was a task and set-based adventure. If you like the idea of a physically interactive bank heist game that feels like a movie from the late 90s and looks pretty solid, then look no further. It’s a cool game. You will get to explore and manipulate a fun set.

It’s not edgy or scary like Komnata’s other games. It’s a great game for families and kids (so long as everyone is mobile and can crawl).

Book your hour with Komnata Quest’s The robbery that changed the world, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you by using the coupon code escapeartist to receive 10% off.

Full disclosure: Komnata Quest comped our tickets for this game.

Pre-PAX West Interview: Nate Martin, Puzzle Break

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Puzzle Break’s Nate Martin, an avid video gamer and PAX enthusiast, about the new games he is developing aboard cruise ships.

PAX West logo

Room Escape Artist: There is a panel on escape rooms at the upcoming PAX West in Seattle! How did this come about? And why does it belong?

Nate: PAX West is a conference/festival that grew out of the Penny Arcade comedy and game webcomic. Seattle’s PAX (formerly “Prime”, now “West”) is a full-blown cultural phenomenon celebrating all things gaming. Puzzle Break, the first contemporary US-based room escape company, was founded in Seattle, the home of Penny Arcade and PAX West. I’ve been a fan since the beginning. Giving a talk at PAX and being an ambassador for the industry to the greater gaming community has always been in the back of my head and the escape room industry has now matured enough to introduce it at PAX.

Live-action room escapes are, in many ways, the literal physical embodiment of a video game. Escape room experiences combine the core elements of a genre of video game with real-life elements to provide a gaming experience that is indescribably fun. That’s what PAX is all about.

When I reached out to the organizers, I decided to pitch the idea as a panel discussion. I’ve assembled a diverse selection of industry leaders who will share different perspectives and ensure some great discussion.

You’ve always been a gamer, but your escape room designs lean harder on puzzles. How do we see the gaming influence in your puzzle-focused escape rooms?

I was more or less raised by the Adventure/Point-and-Click genre of video games. The lion’s share of those games were hard. Conquering them was often a significant challenge (especially before the Internet was tremendously ubiquitous), but it felt so good. My co-founder Dr. Lindsay Morse and I feel strongly that it is far more entertaining and satisfying to encounter and hopefully overcome a tough challenge than breeze through a cakewalk.

However, we are extremely cognizant of a tremendously important distinction: There’s a fine line between challenging and unfair. People often forget that many if not most of the best adventure games (Myst, Grim Fandango, etc.) had their fair share of puzzles that were simply too hard or esoteric to be fair. At Puzzle Break, we love throwing challenges at our players, but they must always fall squarely in the “fair” category.

You’ve now taken this concept aboard cruise ships. How do you have to change your approach to design for the cruise ship games?

In many ways, not very much! Royal Caribbean has a seasoned entertainment staff who have a close handle on what their guests want. We’ve had countless discussions with their creative folks on how we might modify our design methodologies to better suit their customers’ desires. In the end, we changed surprisingly little from a design perspective. 

In-game image of the Rubicon. It's a futuristic spaceship lit blue.

One of the biggest draws of the room escape experience on a cruise is making new friends, so we definitely included a healthy amount of content that requires close teamwork. However, we also made sure to have elements for folks who want to work on stuff by themselves.

What are the technical challenges to operating multiple games in multiple locations on the different ships?

The challenges are simultaneously enormously easy and stupendously tricky. Most of the general operational challenges are nothing a massive cruise line doesn’t deal with 1000 times before breakfast. We put together a reference for everything the Royal Caribbean staff could possibly need to setup, run, and maintain the games, and they do it with comparatively few issues.

The real problems are arising with our new Escape the Rubicon room. I’ve famously claimed this is the most technically advanced room escape in existence in many ways, and I wasn’t kidding. We partnered with ShowFX, a stupendously experienced fabrication firm, to create a stunningly beautiful and diabolically complex interactive experience. Maintaining the room’s electronics and mechanics is uncharted territory and we’re figuring out best practices as we go. It ain’t easy.

We’ve recently seen photos of the new room you’ve developed for a cruise ship: Escape the Rubicon. It looks like you’ve really taken design up a notch. What are the challenges to bring that level of design to your Seattle and Long Island locations?

With Escape the Rubicon, we wanted to create a truly blockbuster-quality experience. Our design methodologies may not have changed very much, but through the partnership with Royal Caribbean we now had the resources to craft a Hollywood-caliber set and use professional actors to tell a story with next-level immersion.

The two biggest jumps in Rubicon were budget and technology.

Puzzle Break is entirely self-funded. As we grow, we put a ton of resources right back into R&D for new rooms and interactive experiences. Each progressive room we make is an evolutionary leap in fit & finish. Additionally, with every project we complete, our team learns more and more about embedded technology and systems. We are continuing to work to elevate the technology, design, and polish in all Puzzle Break games.

Do You Ever Get Bored of Room Escapes?

“Since you’ve played so many, do you ever get bored of room escapes?”

-Someone whose name I cannot remember at the Chicago Room Escape Conference

This question, and different forms of it, have been cropping up. The short answer is “no.” The long answer is a bit more nuanced.

Some repetition

There are more than a few things that we over-experienced players are tired of seeing.

Stylized painting of a blue directional lock set on a red background.
Hello old friend…

When we walk into a room, Lisa and I can see a lot of game elements coming. We’re rarely surprised by trap doors. We can spot RFID chips that are poorly mounted in the bottoms of objects. We can frequently determine how to approach a puzzle simply by reading the wear and tear on a room.

There is also a host of cliches which we’re all too used to encountering.

What’s been interesting is that for all of the repetition we’ve seen, we’ve also seen so many concepts used in different and unusual ways, which keep things fresh.

There is a ton of creativity in the mid-to-high end escape room market.

Higher highs

One thing that sets experienced players apart from a new players is the ability to recognize brilliance.

An inexperienced player will play a great room and have a good time.

An experienced player will be able to see incredible design for what it is. When we see something amazing, it’s far more special because we know that it’s wonderful.

We have way more fun in an excellent room because of our experience.

Lower lows

On the other end of the spectrum, the low end of the market is far more frustrating than it used to be. The more we play, the more painful it is when we realize that we’re trapped in a poorly crafted game.

The frustration and tedium hit a lot harder than they used to.

It isn’t fun to look at a poorly crafted puzzle and realize that we’re never going to pull together the pieces. Also, in a shitty room, the hints that come after we finally give up on a puzzle are generally as frustrating and tedious as the puzzle was.

Lisa and I are both pretty level individuals, but the more we play, the more the bad games get us down.

So… do you get bored?

It’s rare that rooms are truly boring. We think of enjoyment plotting out more on a graph with axes ranging from frustrated to fun and predicable to fantastic.

Room Escape Artist at PAX West

We will be moderating a panel on room escapes at the video and tabletop gaming mega con, PAX West (formerly known at PAX Prime) in Seattle, Washington.

PAX West logo

Organized by Puzzle Break’s Nate Martin, we’ll be facilitating a discussion between Nate, Edwin Tsui of The Locked Room, and Debra and Alex Beardsley of It’s A Trap!

The panel is titled The Escape Room Revolution: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and it will be held at the Sphinx Theatre on Saturday, September 3, 2016, from 2:30 – 3:30 PM.

Escape rooms are taking the world of entertainment by storm. How did we get here? How has the evolution of live-action escape room experience design mirrored that of their video game forefathers? How has it diverged? What are the hottest trends in various parts of the world, what’s next, and how will it shape the future of immersive entertainment? Join industry pioneers and experts in a discussion about the inescapably thrilling past, present, and future of the live-action escape room.

Nate Martin [Co-Founder and CEO, Puzzle Break]
Debra Beardsley [Co-Owner, It’s A Trap!]
Alex Beardsley [Co-Owner, It’s A Trap!]
Edwin Tsui [General Manager, The Locked Room]
Lisa Spira [Co-Founder, Room Escape Artist]
David Spira [Co-Founder, Room Escape Artist]

My 10 year-old self’s mind would be totally blown by this.

59:59 Room Escape NYC – Escape of the Three Little Pigs [Review]

HUFF! PUFF!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: July 21, 2016

Team size: 2 to 10; we recommend 3-5

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

The Three Little Pigs was a rescue mission escape room set in a cute, playful, storybook scene.

The story was a backdrop for the mission; it didn’t make a ton of sense… I’m still not sure if we were people, pigs, wolves, or some other woodland critter. Regardless, the story wasn’t important in the grand scheme of the game.

Promo image for the game. A chess board with three black pieces substituted with pigs, and the white king depicted as a wolf.

Puzzles

While the game space was playful and kid-friendly, the puzzles were adult-challenging.

More than once, they relied on seemingly random pop culture references (we were encouraged to use our phones as needed).

Additionally, there was a critical prop that caused regular bottlenecks in our game.

Standout features

The room escape environment was a bit abstract, and adorable.

The “rescue mission” set up added a bit of fun. This was thoughtfully designed so as not to leave any team members unable to participate in the game for any period of time.

Shortcomings

There was pretense of story, especially with the rescue mission component. However, the game didn’t use the puzzles or the fun, quirky setting to develop narrative. Instead, we solved puzzles – sometimes on theme and sometimes not – while inhabiting a gamespace that felt like a playroom. In the end, it all felt a bit disjointed.

Additionally, we were continuously checking solutions in a number of different input locations. Because the room was more a collection of puzzles than it was a journey though a narrative, there wasn’t anything about any particular puzzle that would clue in to what we’d need next.

The Three Little Pigs looked like a room for kids, but played like a room for adults. The dissonance was jarring.

Should I play 59:59 Room Escape NYC’s Escape of the Three Little Pigs?

Escape of the Three Little Pigs set up a fun environment. This was an adorable staging for this theme, but it offered a game that wasn’t really for kids.

The story, if there was one, was an identity crisis. Three Little Pigs was a game without an audience.

There were some good puzzles worked into the game, but they didn’t work together. Once we derived a solution, we had to input it in multiple locks because most combinations fit in most locks.

The folks from 59:59 are kind and thoughtful, but they are being left behind by the New York market. They should take a tour of the games in the area, and then determine where they want to excel and how they are going to bring something exciting to the table.

We wanted to love their game, but ultimately, Three Little Pigs was a fairy tale without any magic.

Full disclosure: 59:59 Room Escape NYC comped our tickets for this game.