I have never been as excited for a tabletop game as I am about Spectre and Vox. The potential of this project gives me feelings of anticipation and hope. It takes seriously the things I find most important in escape rooms of all forms: immersion, characters, and storytelling.
The ambitious product consists of a 3D haunted mansion set that promises to “dominate your dining table.” The only technological accompaniment to the game is in the form of a free voice-activated app available on any smartphone- or Amazon Alexa-enabled device. Through this, the story, the world, and its characters will emerge. You will then work through the mansion room by room to uncover its secrets.
The Spectre and Vox 3D Haunted House Escape Room will be available exclusively on Kickstarter. It has already surpassed its goal, but the Kickstarter continues until November 19th. There is still time to become a backer and receive your own copy.
Interview with Nick Moran
On behalf of Room Escape Artist I interviewed the game’s creator, Nick Moran, former Creative Director of Time Run’s real-life escape rooms The Lance of Longinus and The Celestial Chain, and the award-winning Sherlock: The Game is Now.
Who are Spectre and Vox?
Moran: Spectre and Vox are the UK’s foremost paranormal investigators – or at least, the best that I know. If you haven’t met them, they’re Rylan Spectre, charlatan and tinkerer, and Tabitha Vox, enigmatic master of the occult. Their agency, the titular Spectre & Vox, was formed in the 1890s, in London, when the whole city was in the grips of supernatural mania. Quacks and frauds were everywhere, but Spectre & Vox? They only cared about the real deal: small seaside towns, terrified by monsters. Strange sightings in Merthyr Tydfil. You know, the actually unexplained and unexplainable.
What are they (and we) about to get ourselves into?
Moran: Well, a pretty amazing supernatural adventure that you play in your own massive haunted house set at your dining table, that’s what! Oh, and, a whole lot of spectral trouble, obviously. But you already knew that.
Why did you decide to make a play-at-home tabletop product?
Moran: I’ve wanted to make an at-home escape room game for years. I just hadn’t had the opportunity to find out exactly what I wanted to make. Unfortunately – or fortunately – COVID-19 gave me and my business partner, Glen Hughes, the necessary space to think. I realized that there was an audience of people who were missing out on a lot of the aspects of live games that I most appreciate: the build, the sounds, the lights, and the sense of adventure and discovery. In many ways the opportunity shaped what we were thinking. We set the challenge: how do we build a game that feels like a full-scale immersive experience, that thing that almost everyone is missing out on right now?
What makes your tabletop game unique? Tell us what we are getting.
Moran: Ultimately, it’s two aspects that both play to our strengths.
Firstly, build: Glen is the best set builder I know. We wanted a full set that you can have at your dining table, a show-piece that can be at the heart of an experience, full of lights, beautifully constructed miniature props – you don’t get that anywhere!
Secondly, it’s the experiential and storytelling aspect: We’ve hired excellent actors, our composer, Matt Farthing is just so good (listen to the audio in the Kickstarter video for a snapshot of his compositions) and we have a complex and satisfying narrative that weaves it all together. It’s not just the house; it’s the cohesion – sounds, lights, audio and build – all working together as one. My background is video and audio production. I am both a sound engineer and a post producer, so making studio-quality audio is something I know how to do.
Was it important to you to push the boundaries of the medium?
Moran: Why play anything safe? When we first built Time Run, we were absolutely taking a massive risk. No one had committed to the build in the way we had, at that time, certainly not in the UK.
With Spectre and Vox we were nervous, of course. What if the Kickstarter flopped? What if people thought the product wasn’t something they wanted to invite into their home?
Sometimes you just have to try to do something that no one else is doing, and that, for us, was this product. To side swerve into our pricing tiers for a second, we have two editions, the “Core” edition and the “Deluxe” edition. For me, the “Deluxe” is the product we set out to make.
It includes 6 hours of gameplay and an entire, massive haunted house set for the same price as a 6-month subscription game. You see, our goal is not to make huge amounts of profit from this game. (After all, how could we on a hand-made game that we sell, complete with lights, for £139?) Rather, our goal is to create a new type of escape room product for the home, something that we want people to love… and then see what happens from there. Yes, we’ve done something no one else would do, for a price no one else would dare to do it for, but we have played to our strengths.
How important is the tactile/ physical aspect of the game – liberating us from our screens?
Moran: Absolutely essential. Full disclosure, I, like everyone else, spend too much time on my phone. It’s pretty much the only thing I ever argue about with my boyfriend. Part of the reason why we were really keen on the lighting element isn’t just because we think it looks cool (which it… does); it’s so you can turn off all your house lights, let your eyes adjust, and play the game lit by the flickering lamps of the haunted house. We wanted to make something you bring into your home that then transports you away from it: no screens, no notifications – just sound, lights, beautiful painted objects, and a gripping story of ghostly intrigue, spanning generations.
I can imagine well-produced audio narration being immersive. Will the audio app allow us to interact with the game environment and the characters that live there?
Moran: Absolutely. Character interactions are essential to the story. Naturally, we don’t want lengthy dialogue trees or anything that reduces the pace of the adventure arbitrarily. There are, however, 5 distinct characters that you’ll discover along this adventure, all of whom have completely distinct identities and internal lives (who are, of course, bound by a common, supernatural thread).
What has the Locktopus software allowed you to do?
Disclosure – Locktopus Studio is a separate business owned by Room Escape Artist owners Lisa & David Spira.
Moran: Ultimately, tell a better story – and a more immersive one, too. There’s a saying that radio is the most immersive form of storytelling and I absolutely believe that to be true. If you hear the crunch on gravel and a knock at the door, the images are fully formed, fresh in your mind. If I tell you I’m piloting my ship through the ice fields of Proxima Nova and you feel the rumble of the ship and the whistle of the chill wind – bam – there you are in your mind’s eye. By harnessing the power of the imagination together with excellent sound design and composition, we really can tell the story that we want to tell.
I see escape rooms as primarily a storytelling medium. How important is telling a good story with Spectre and Vox?
Moran: Absolutely essential. It’s everything, really. There was a long debate about how we get across in our marketing the “narrative” aspect of the game, because to describe it as just a puzzle experience is like describing Monkey Island or Broken Sword as just a puzzle game. The story is one of the game’s strongest aspects. It’s definitely the most complete story I’ve had the chance to tell in an escape room medium and by a long way the best, too. I’m an old-fashioned writer in many ways. I like solid themes that come through in every pore of the narrative. I like the story to be grounded in dramatic action (character in a situation with a motive) and character wants and needs. Although we’re following Spectre & Vox’s investigations, what we’re really investigating is the multigenerational story of this house and the impact the paranormal has on the characters’ lives, across the years. It’s all densely woven together and carefully plotted. It unfolds, room by room, space by space. Thankfully, there’s no arbitrary time limit to explain or artificially high stakes. This format allows the narrative of the space to breathe and to become as engrossing as it needs to be.
Might we someday see further adventures of Rylan Spectre and Tabitha Vox?
Moran: Of course. I’ve always most enjoyed building universes with concrete and solid rules that allow for both depth and breadth. I am unsure how most game designers do it, but I don’t have a game in mind before I build a world. I begin with the rough area I want to explore, then find the characters that excite me; then, finally, the games and experiences emerge. In truth, this isn’t even the first Spectre & Vox mystery we wrote; there are so many more, one of which is fully fleshed out, just as ready to go as this one. Depending on how well our Kickstarter does, maybe you’ll see more snapshots of the world of Spectre and Vox. For now, I’ll leave you with this: if you suspect we have it planned, we have it planned. We love to make games – small, miniature – big, of course – and all of those feature in our future, and hopefully yours, too.
Read More About It
If you’re curious where this will go, or if you are even half as excited as I am to experience storytelling in a tabletop escape room product, visit the Kickstarter campaign and back Spectre and Vox before November 19th.
Pursuit of Storytelling
While Nick was busy launching his Kickstarter, and before it captured my attention (and excitement!), I was already researching escape room innovations that would enable more advanced storytelling. Spectre and Vox accomplishes this in a tabletop format. In my upcoming interviews with other escape room creators, I explore other innovations with similar motivations. You can read my introduction to this upcoming series here: Pursuit of Storytelling: Year 5 of Escape Room Innovation.