The Reality Escape Pod Episode 3: Juliana Moreno Patel and Ariel Rubin (Wild Optimists, Escape Room in a Box)

Episode 3 is an interview with game and puzzle designers Juliana Moreno Patel and Ariel Rubin, the Wild Optimists. This brilliant duo designed the world’s first escape room in a box, released worldwide by Mattel.

Juliana and Ariel met, founded their company, and created their first product all while both were pregnant, which should give you a good idea of their intense passion.

They are known for their thoughtful designs in immersive gaming and continue to push the envelope when it comes to creating new types of game design.

Reality Escape Pod guest Wild Optimist Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin posing with large crate

Episode 3

Episode Summary

In this episode, David and Peih-Gee chat with Juliana and Ariel of the Wild Optimists – the prolific creative team behind the world’s first escape room in a box. We hear about how being mothers of young children was part of the impetus for creating their first game. They talk about their design process when coming up with Escape Room in a Box. We go into their partnership with Mattel and the benefits and difficulties of manufacturing a tabletop puzzle game, including a story of why they had to run a bunch of locks through a dryer. They share some fun stories about designing promotional marketing games for TV shows like Nancy Drew. They also give us a preview of their newest game, Escape Room in a Box: Time Drifters, which has a really interesting game mechanic of being two standalone games that, when played together with a friend, will yield a third metagame.

Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • We learn how Ariel and Juliana met over a game of Werewolf. (0:40)
  • We find out how their working partnership came about. (1:54)
  • Ariel and Juliana talk about how they created Wild Optimists while they were both pregnant, and how being working moms was part of the impetus for creating Escape Room in a Box. (3:07)
  • We talk about the key points of a real-life escape room that they were trying to capture in their boxed game. (5:31)
  • We talk about the things that differentiate Escape Room in a Box from a puzzle book. (6:45)
  • We talk about how they made the leap from self-producing on Kickstarter to their partnership with Mattel. (8:50)
  • They talk about the trade-offs of working with a big company like Mattel, and some of the benefits. (9:38)
  • Peih-Gee talks about helping beta test their many games and they tell us that their games are made in playtesting. (11:50)
  • They talk about some of the details that are specific to having a game manufactured on a large scale for a global company. (13:07)
  • They share a story about some manufacturing difficulties and why they had to run locks through a dryer. (14:50) 
  • We learn why Mattel told them that Escape Room in a Box was the most complicated game they’d manufactured. (18:12)
  • Ariel and Juliana talk about some of their favorite indie game designers, including Rita Orlov and her games The Tale of Ord (review) and The Emerald Flame (review), BlueFish Games and their game The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks (review), and Shine On Collective’s puzzle box created for Roguelike Tavern called The Spirits of Tillinghast and their limited run of Welcome Home (review). (20:36)
  • They talk about creating marketing games to promote TV shows like Nancy Drew and The Prodigal Son, and some of the challenges in creating a promotional game, including having to ask actors to post things on their Instagram accounts. (23:23)
  • David talks about working with Ariel and Juliana on the pilot episode of the TV show Create the Escape.(27:28)
  • Ariel and Juliana talk about each others’ strengths and the synergy that makes their partnership work. (29:27)
  • They tell us about their careers before becoming game designers. (32:15)
  • They discuss their upcoming game Escape Room in a Box: Time Drifters and its unique mechanic – two separate stand-alone games that have a third metagame where you communicate with a friend to share information from your respective games. (35:07)


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Guest Bio

Juliana Moreno Patel and Ariel Rubin (Wild Optimists)

The Wild Optimists is an award-winning interactive entertainment company devoted to designing new ways to play. They create memorable immersive experiences for tabletop games, virtual games, theme parks, music festivals, historical sites, marketing activations, and more.

WO began when Juliana Moreno Patel and Ariel Rubin combined their theatre degrees and writing backgrounds in Hollywood with their life-long love for gaming to create the Kickstarter sensation, Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment. As the first at-home game to ever recreate the “escape room” experience in a tabletop setting for all ages, Escape Room in a Box was a genre-defining success that was licensed by Mattel and soon distributed worldwide. Game of the Year winner at the Mattel Inventor Awards, the Escape Room in a Box brand has now evolved into an ongoing game series with Mattel, consistently ranking as #1 in its game category on Amazon with strong retail presence in the mass and hobby markets.

Building upon that success, Wild Optimists has since created immersive gaming experiences for a variety of clients on and beyond the game table. Collaborations include custom puzzle design for marketing campaigns supporting high-profile Film/ TV properties such as Escape Room (Sony), Invisible Man (Universal), Nancy Drew (CW), and Prodigal Son (Fox); live immersive experiences for the Electric Forest Music Festival and the Santa Monica Pier; and custom game design for AEG, Renegade Game Studios, and (among others). Most recently, they partnered with Arcane Wonders and Genuine Entertainment to bring TinyBuild’s hit video game series Hello Neighbor to tabletop with Hello Neighbor: The Secret Neighbor Party Game.

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