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.
Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your games. What’s the style?
Debra and Alex: 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!).
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. We’re also huge RPG (role-playing game) 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 didn’t 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 we’ve 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 (non-player characters). 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. We’d like to scale up to a full-length production that is closer to 50/50 utilizing all of the gameplay insight we’ve 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.