This is the first in a series of interviews about innovations that enhance storytelling, the next frontier in escape rooms.
In these conversations with Lost Games of Las Vegas, NV and City 13 of Milwaukee, WI, we’ll unpack an immersive aspect that I feel is underutilized in the escape room world: immediate, seamless (or close to it) transitions between escape rooms that exist in the same world. This innovation aids storytelling by adding both length and depth to an experience.
Many escape room companies have multiple rooms that exist in the same fictional universe. With transitions, they can get more mileage out of the creative capital they built inventing and designing these worlds. This can help attract repeat business from customers who had previously had fun in their fictional world. It can help with immersion if players are already aware and excited about where they – and the story they are already invested in – are about to go.
Booking Back to Back
Enthusiasts often like to marathon escape rooms, playing two or more games back to back, especially if they are multiple parts of the same story. Most often players will exit the first game experience, reunite with their host for a debrief, then head back to the lobby to wait for the start time for their next game. Once the clock strikes the appropriate hour, the host will again collect the team, begin another briefing, and re-immerse the players into the world of the game.
Not many companies provide an opportunity to transition without interruption directly from one room into the next, thereby lengthening the experience into something epic.
Longer games are also a tool to tell more detailed stories. A flexible solution for offering a longer experience is to design an optional transition sequence between two or more escape rooms with related storylines.
Come up with a plan that is easy on the game host, but believable for the players. Market it as a premium booking option while only making minor changes to normal operations.
Lost Games in Las Vegas, NV
Lost Games offers their two games: Chapter 1: The Doctor’s Secret and Chapter 2: Playtime as stand-alone escape rooms or as a single two-game experience. The second option takes two excellent escape games and turns them into a truly memorable experience.
Where did the idea for the transition come from?
Lost Games: From the beginning of creating Lost Games, immersion was our number one goal. If nothing else, we wanted everyone to feel like they were a part of the story once they walked in the door. The back-to-back experience was not a part of the plan from the beginning, but we learned from our enthusiasts that 1 hour of gameplay is never enough. So, when building Chapter 2, we had to figure out the actor introduction to the game, and thought it would be pretty exciting and unexpected if it began right when the exit door from Chapter 1 opens, without interruption. As enthusiasts ourselves, we just always focused on building something that we would like to see.
How does it impact your normal operation?
Lost Games: The tasks that the game operators do during the transition involving lighting and sound would also occur for the normal Chapter 2 introduction; those are not specific to the back-to-back experience. We’ve done some streamlining over time to make this transition flow well, while still moving the story along.
City 13 in Milwaukee, WI
Nick Timber, owner of City 13 in Milwaukee, WI is using a similar idea to connect their four existing escape rooms in a new enthusiast-focused mega escape game creation he calls Save The City.
Where did the mega-game idea come from?
Timber: I had the idea of the 2-4 hour game during, you guessed it, the lockdowns. I figured if I was going to only allow one group into the space at a time, why not let them play as many games as they want? From that thought we came up with Save The City, an experience that not many other escape rooms can provide. Our space is unique in its layout with all of the escape rooms being built like buildings inside a dystopian cyberpunk future city, with all of it fitting inside one large common space. Alleyways connect our rooms and the players sneak through them as they make their way into each escape room experience. All of our games have one overarching story of the city being taken over by supervillains and the players (the superheroes of City 13) are helping the citizens take it back.
How will it work?
Timber: Save The City plans to tie everything together into one adventurous gameplay. Players will actually begin the adventure and interact with the story inside the alleyways with all of the rooms locked down. As you complete the new alleyway puzzles you will begin to make your way inside one building at a time to obtain new items to help progress through the story. Once you have completed one room you move back into the alleyway for more puzzles that unlock the next room. There will be audio dialog between the General (City 13’s leader) and Oculus (the head villain) that will provide story transition in the alleyway.
How long will it be?
Timber: We allow the players to choose how many rooms they want included in the mission. They can do 2 rooms (2 hours), 3 rooms (3 hours), or all 4 of our rooms (4 hours). No matter what size mission they choose, they will also get the new alleyway puzzles and the one new bonus room where all of the stories will always end: Rick’s Robot Garage. The new content adds another hour of play into the adventures.
If you are doing the math, you realize that you only have 2/3/4 hours to do 3/4/5 hours of content. Well, we figured two things:
(1) This game is not meant for the casual player, but the enthusiast who wants this challenge or
(2) The interested players in our area that have already played our games should be able to get through them more quickly a second time.
Either way, Save The City players will get the newly-added alley puzzles and the bonus 5th room ending. It’s a full night of an escape room experience that won’t disappoint.
How does it impact your normal operation?
Timber: This structure allows us to keep running each room individually for our normal customers and at the same time provide a more challenging experience for enthusiasts and new content for returning players.
With the current state of the world, escape rooms are trying to utilize the tools and assets they already have in new ways. While some chose to go online, I decided to take my in-person experiences to the next level.
Make Your Stories Bingeworthy
Most escape room storylines are just the climactic third act of a story that was unenthusiastically told to you during a pregame briefing. Escape rooms designed with optional, immediate transitions open up a world of possibilities for creative operators.
Online video streaming services have proven that bingeing story episodes appeals to a lot of people. With this technique, storytelling can be enhanced and given more room to breathe. The games can show us acts 1 and 2. Creators can build stories with cliffhanger endings and players won’t be annoyed if they have the opportunity to continue uninterrupted to find out what happens next.
Escape room customers may be more likely to book multiple games if they are presented with this option. That could give owners more of a chance to make an impression that will lead to those customers returning in the future.
Seamless transitions between related escape rooms is a low-cost adjustment that can create a win-win situation for owners, players, and stories.