Yesterday we published a Hivemind Review of Ready Player One at Rock Avenue Escape Room in Trinity, FL.
Every Hivemind reviewer agreed they’d play this digital adaptation of an escape game at any time, quarantine aside. Each reviewer explained in their own words how the digital format enhaces Ready Mayor One. Their reactions demonstrate that Rock Avenue Escape Room truly understands how to translate escape rooms into a livestreamed format.
We spoke with creator Rob Faiella about producing this experience. He hopes that this interview helps other creators succeed in a new medium at a difficult time.
Let’s start with the tech. There’s a lot of gear involved in streaming an escape room. What do you recommend?
I am using my iPhone X for the main camera. I have a LiveStream Gear Wearable Harness. It comes with a gooseneck chest harness, battery pack, and cables. The gooseneck got really loose quickly, so I had to reinforce it with layers of tape, but now it’s good. I love being hands-free. The gooseneck also allows me to bend and twist any way I need to. I can look under and over things and switch between landscape and portrait.
I have a wired headset. I also use a second iPhone on an armband that has access to the game control software that I built, in case something goes wrong and I need to override the tech. It’s also used to control the “security system” in the game’s narrative.
You could this with just a phone, but I strongly suggest a harness, tripod or anything to help hold the phone. Back-to-back games all day long will tire out your arms. I also highly recommend an external battery pack or 2. I don’t have a lot of time between games to charge back up.
In addition to your live 360-degree footage, the players can look around the room themselves in another browser tab. What did you use to capture the static 360-degree images of your game spaces?
I hired a local photographer who does real estate photos. It was inexpensive and completed in one day.
Originally we had auxiliary cameras on the ceiling that people could log into and control with pan/ tilt/ zoom, but that didn’t allow different people to look at different areas simultaneously. It was also one more thing for them to download and log into. We simplified this for the users.
It’s really cool how you’ve adapted your arduino-powered props for online inputs. What did you need to do to make that happen?
Magic! It’s actually a fairly simple setup: an ethernet shield attached to an arduino can serve a webpage.
Then I needed to expose that webpage through my firewall to receive calls. I set up the arduino web server in-house to talk to the props via RF wireless transmissions. The biggest part is security. I did not want (nor do I recommend that anyone) to expose my IP address to the world or share it with people playing my game. Plus, once someone plays, if they are crafty, they could interact with the props while the next group is playing. I built a middle web server in the cloud that handles the players’ inputs and then talks to my in-house server. Only it knows the IP address, so it’s all safe. The page that the player uses is also password protected.
The inventory feature of the game and its interactive capabilities really resonated with our Hivemind reviewers. How did that come about?
We quickly learned that our game didn’t work well because it was non-linear and there was a lot of inventory to manage. We went back to the drawing board and created an inventory management system for players to see, explore and manage the items as they find them. That was the game changer. As soon as we had the inventory system, beta testing went smoothly. We continued to adapt from there.
How else did you modify some of the gameplay to accommodate online play?
The game is actually about 98% the same as it is for on-site games.
In beta testing, we then realized that there were just a few items that were hidden in places you wouldn’t think to look unless you were physically in the room. We found new hiding spots, and that was it.
The game flow is entirely unchanged.
At Rock Avenue Escape Room, you have other games besides Ready Mayor One. What makes this the right game for online adaptation?
Some games just won’t work with this setup. We can’t use our other 2 escape rooms. They have too many multi-person puzzles, physical tasks, and tiny details that don’t work over the internet.
Non-linear games will be much harder to adapt.
When choosing or adapting a game, it’s important consider where items are hidden, as I mentioned before, as well as the lighting, and the size of any text.
I also don’t think this format is right for a game that has a low success rate.
Even more than in other escape rooms, livestreamed escape rooms are a complete entertainment package. It’s not just about your puzzles; customers could play video games and other online games for that. You are there, you must entertain.
What is the tone of the group when they “enter the room?” Is it hard to build their trust?
Almost every team we’ve hosted has come in with reservations. They are not sure what to expect and not sure how to proceed. It’s almost like the first time any of us played a real-life escape room. So we jump into the story right out of the gate and don’t give them time to think about that. As soon as they get started, it feels familiar and they realize they know what to do. Once they are over that initial cloudiness, they can relax and have fun. And I have fun with them.
You are an entertainer, but you show a lot of restraint. What is your approach to being a gamemaster / avatar?
First, I am just a silly person. I love to make people laugh, so this is a natural fit for me.
My approach is to fill the voids. I want the players to feel that we are all on the same team. They aren’t just watching me. From the moment they log in, we are in the story and I am in character. Everything is delivered as part of the story.
Using humor, self-deprecation, and a sense of anxiousness, I am able to get players engaged early and get them to feel that they need to help me solve this. I am counting on them. I also let them know that I will be letting them make the calls. I am just there to provide eyes and hands. The brains are on them.
The restraint is important because, again, they need to feel that they are controlling this and not just watching me. So even if I know their proposed solution is incorrect, I have to try it in the lock and be just as surprised as they are when it doesn’t work. I have to make them believe I know nothing more than they do and that we are learning everything at the same time.
Are there choreographed moments in gamemastering? How did you figure these out?
I would say I follow an 85% common routine.
I started by just being me and being silly and saying different things. Some things I’ve said in the past got big laughs; some were duds. I’ve tweaked my delivery over the past few weeks to repeat the lines that are really well received. Now I have it down to something that seems to work well. However, I still improvise as the game progresses. I am pretty quick-witted and I make up stuff as we go.
I can also learn a lot about a team in the first 10 minutes. I know if they are dead serious, up for some laughs, good at solving, good at searching, etc. I can adapt to these differences as we go.
My experience from running this as a real-life escape game is also key. After watching thousands and thousands of people play this game over the past 2 years, I have seen things that almost every group says at certain points. I see how they react when things move or open. I see how they react to their own mistakes, too. I emulate all of that. By duplicating what normally happens and the natural common reactions, it gives the online players same sense of emotion and excitement that they would have had if they’d been in the space.
What makes livestream escape room play engaging?
There is a huge opportunity for online games to fail miserably. If it is just the players watching the avatar play the game, asking “does this work?” and getting a “no” then it’s not engaging. The gamemaster has to understand their game and their group to fill in those real-life voids. The inventory, interactive props, and 360-degree views that we have also allow the group to split up and work on different things, which adds to the engagement. It allows people to do their own thing and be involved without just watching the gamemaster and listening to what their teammates are directing him to do. This enables more reserved people to do more than they would in a real-life escape room. They can just do it, without having to talk over anyone or say something they might feel stupid about trying. So just like a real-life room, the more things there are for people to do at once, the better.
What’s your number 1 takeaway to share with someone who is thinking about adapting a real-life game for online play?
I really feel that the gamemaster is more important in this situation than ever before. As the gamemaster, you have their attention for the entire hour. You have to keep them engaged. Fill the void of the players not being in the space with the only other tool you have: you!
Since launching Ready Mayor One as an online game, what’s the biggest surprise?
The response has been humbling, to say the least. We thought we might get 6-8 bookings a week. Instead we are sold out almost 3 weeks in advance. People are calling and messaging trying to get an earlier spot. Unfortunately, being just me, we can’t add more spots. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to add more. This type of gamemastering is physically demanding.
The other big surprise has been the reception by the community. This game was designed for a small market of first-time players. It was not designed for enthusiasts. However, our bookings now have been 98% enthusiasts. It is humbling to see how much they enjoy this game. We have hosted many other owners and their reactions have been great too. I have had many people reach out asking for advice, endorsements and everything else. I have been sharing everything I know and hoping to help as many people get through the next few months as we can.
What’s the best part of livestreaming Ready Mayor One?
For me it’s been a blessing to be able to make some money right now, but seeing the smiles, hearing the laughs and helping bring people together for an hour to help them forget about the world for a bit has been the best part.
Having people from all over the world join has been amazing. We’re giving people an opportunity to play with friends and family from anywhere.
And we even saved a few birthday parties and dates that would have had to be cancelled. That may sound corny, but that’s what makes it all worth it.
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