Real Escape Game (REG), also known as SCRAP, is one of the originators of escape rooms. SCRAP has been running mass escape events themed on The Legend of Zelda all over the United States. Our friend and frequent teammate in LA, Sarah Willson, wrote a review of the event. We reached out to Doc Preuss (REG Producer & Partnerships) to get the inside scoop on how this collaboration came about and the intricacies of putting on an escape room event of this scale.
Room Escape Artist: How did this collaboration with Nintendo come about?
Doc Preuss: Quite some time ago, we were approached by Nintendo about the potential of working together. They were already familiar with our games, having played several, which helped the process along. From there, it was a matter of finding the right time and convincing all of the involved parties to approve of the project.
How much did Nintendo participate in the design of the game?
Every aspect of the game went through Nintendo for approval, but our game designer was given a lot of freedom to create an experience that felt true to the Zelda franchise. Nintendo was kind enough to playtest various versions of the game for us, both in the US and in Japan. As you can imagine, the game design was revised several times based on both Nintendo’s and our staff’s ongoing feedback.
Tell us about your favorite Zelda game.
I’m only a little bit into the new Breath of the Wild, but it already feels like it could turn out to be a favorite! The recent Link Between Worlds was a really well-paced game, and Twilight Princess felt like a well-aged, refined Ocarina of Time (also great). Am I the only one that really liked Zelda II, though?
Which Zelda games had the strongest influence on your game design?
Defenders of the Triforce definitely draws the most from Ocarina of Time. The world, the characters, even its lively color palette lend themselves well to a live action game. Once you play, this will be very apparent!
Zelda may be the most treasured of puzzle-based entertainment franchises. What were the most challenging aspects of designing a game based on such a storied and beloved series?
Given that the series now has 30 years of history across so many different kinds of games, a major challenge is to distill those down and decide which aspects you’re going to play off of or focus on. There is a real danger when designing a game of trying to fit too many gimmicks in, and as a result the game can feel disjointed.
Similarly, if you asked fans, “what do you think absolutely should be in a Zelda escape game,” you’re going to get a wide range of responses. There are a lot of expectations, and trying to meet as many as possible is a huge undertaking. The game needs to be cohesive, exciting, and still fit within 60 minutes!
What are the differences in your approach to designing a mass escape event versus a traditional escape room?
Traffic and congestion within the game area is maybe the biggest change in approach. We absolutely do not want people to be stuck in a line for 10 of their 60 minutes while they try to access the same area. So, we not only design the game to avoid major bottlenecks, but we also have several operational processes in place to keep things moving.
Additionally, and for this game especially, we had to create a set that could be transported across eight cities in the US alone. As much as we would love to build up Hyrule as if it were a permanent escape room, it’s just not feasible for a large-scale, traveling event game. We worked really hard to find a balance between actual props and imagination. It’s hard to believe, but we completely fill up a large semi truck as we travel across the country!
What lessons did you learn from your past mass escape games that you applied to the Zelda event?
Basically, we needed all of our past experience in logistics to make this game run smoothly. Not only are there many checkpoints to visit, there are a ton of items, too! Despite being an event style game, we wanted to bring more physicality to the table than in past games. The Zelda series is full of different item types, so it was a lot of fun working those into the design.
Another aspect that was informed by our past games is the overall difficulty. We’ve visited a number of cities over the years, and we used that experience to hone in on what the right level of difficulty should be. A little frustration can be a good thing, but we wanted to make the game feel fast and lively at the same time.
We’ve also learned a lot about optimizing our schedules and tour dates in order to reach as many fans as possible. When we run a collaboration game, there are a lot of fans who want to play but simply can’t journey across the country just for an escape room. The Zelda tour has allowed us to reach fans in areas where we normally don’t operate, and being able to provide them with a way to celebrate their fandom in a shared space with other fans is intensely rewarding.
When you design a mass escape game, what feelings are you hoping to instill in your players?
Above all else, we want our players to feel like they truly are the heroes of the story. The challenges are real; there should be pride in overcoming them and sometimes wonder in how the solution is discovered. In this specific case, we also hope to evoke fond memories of the Zelda series as players solve puzzles that remind them of the games they love.
There is also a feeling of being part of something larger that is exciting and unique to our event style games. It’s not unlike going to a concert or a play, and when you get that many fans together combined with a live MC, the result is something electric and special. You really can’t replicate that with a single-team escape room.
What can you tell us about your upcoming Final Fantasy escape game?
Trials of Bahamut is shaping up to be one of my favorite projects to date! While the general format is the same as Defenders, the way you go about certain things is very fun and different. As always, we’ll be looking at the feedback received during the Zelda tour and keep trying to evolve our games based on that feedback.
As an added bonus, the cinematics and soundtrack are amazing, too. Defenders of the Triforce is a great introduction to our event style games, and Trials of Bahamut will up the ante (and perhaps difficulty?) as our next nationwide tour.