REPOD S2E2 – Nick Moran: Reinventing Escape Games with Innovative Structures

In season 2, episode 2, we have a lovely chat with Nick Moran, who was creative director for Time Run, one of the most influential escape room companies. He has created ambitious games with innovative formats, and he’s now focused his creative genius on designing Spectre and Vox, a gorgeously crafted tabletop gaming experience with interactive storytelling.

Nick’s background as a narrative-focused writer becomes apparent when he starts talking about the structure of a game. It was fascinating to hear how he approaches structure from a narrative viewpoint, for example, by considering the “status” of the player in an escape room and the importance the player’s status has on immersion. Additionally, Nick approaches game design from a business viewpoint, taking into consideration how to maximize player throughput and increase productivity.

It’s rare to find a designer as talented as Nick, who creates not only with an eye for brilliant gameplay and immersive narrative, but also towards optimizing the business model. Nick is charming, hilarious and very opinionated. We think you’ll really enjoy this episode.

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Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season, SEO ORB and Buzzshot. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

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Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • David and Nick chat a bit about their friendship, including the time when Nick showed up at David’s door unexpectedly, from an ocean away. [1:39]
  • David asks Nick about his seminal game, The Lance of Longinus at Time Run, an escape room that David says many creators cite as a major influence. [2:55]
  • Nick talks about his background as a writer with a master’s in narratology, studies in storytelling, and time skip writing. [3:34]
  • Nick talks about how “structure is content” and says when he first played escape rooms in the early 2010s, he found them to be quite formless. [4:34]
  • Nick describes a basic narrative structure that’s used in Hollywood-style cinematic storytelling and talks about how to apply it in escape room design. [5:03]
  • Nick talks about the importance of player status, and why you should keep in mind the player’s hierarchy within this world that you’ve created. [6:38]
  • Nick says that rather than forcing the players to put in a lot of work convincing themselves to take on a “role,” he prefers to have the players come as themselves, only “I’m going to make you into something better by giving you an exciting experience where you become a better version of you.” [7:31]
  • Nick talks about the complex and detailed sets at Time Run. [10:53]
  • Nick talks about structuring their rooms with an innovative “pipeline” model. Pipelining is a format where, as players finish a room, it is reset behind them and the players never return to a room once they’ve left it. This allows for more games in a day. [12:15]
  • Nick talks about the experimental structure of The Celestial Chain, the follow up to The Lance of Longinus. It was a collection-based game played in 5 sets and you had 12 minutes in each set. This room was also run in the pipeline model. [14:58]
  • Nick discusses the controversy over the format of The Celestial Chain, how some people were unhappy with the structure. [17:14]
  • David discusses the merits of raising throughput, raising quality while also raising profits, especially in an industry that is throttled by capacity. The group discusses the pricing structure of escape rooms. [21:02]
  • Peih-Gee mentions that they discuss pricing in one of the Patreon-only bonus shows. She talks about a $90 game she recently played, and that while she didn’t think this one was worth the hefty price tag, she agrees that there’s room for higher pricing. [22:30]
  • Nick tells us about The Game is Now, an escape room he created based on the BBC TV show Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous Sherlock Holmes. [26:36]
  • Nick talks about some of the benefits and also pitfalls of working with treasured IP (intellectual property) like Harry Potter or Star Wars. [29:58]
  • Nick tells us that it’s not necessary to license IP in order to tap into the fanbase of a market. [33:39]
  • Nick talks about the extraordinary access he had while working on The Game is Now, and what it was like working with the actors from the show. [37:58]
  • Nick shares an anecdote about working with Benedict Cumberbatch, filming some scenes for the escape room. [42:30]
  • Nick talks to us about his latest project, Spectre & Vox, a tabletop escape game, with beautiful laser-cut dollhouses, and augmented with a digital interface and voice acting. [47:38]
4 photos of a dollhouse, overhead shot, one of the front side, and another of the living room and bathroom.
  • Nick said that when tasked with creating an at-home escape experience, he wanted to duplicate the feeling of journeying through great set designs. [48:41]
  • Nick tells us that he’s inspired by the late Victorian age because it’s a time of consequential change, and also he is inspired by time travel and ghost stories. [50:18]
  • We learn that you’ll be able to interact with the game via an app, including issuing commands to a character. [51:28]
  • David talks about Locktopus, another company founded by him and his wife Lisa. It’s software for making high quality spoken-word escape games on Amazon Alexa. [52:35]
  • Nick talks about some of the manufacturing difficulties of producing a game of this scope, including machinery that was stuck in the Suez Canal.[53:35]
  • Nick and David discuss their “blood feud” – their ongoing debate over whether games can be art. [56:17]
  • Nick discusses what format excites him the most for future projects: open-world gaming. [1:00:09]
  • Peih-Gee compares open-world gaming to being on Survivor. [1:01:42]
  • Nick thinks that open-world gaming will solve a lot of the problems in escape rooms and offer something that everyone can enjoy no matter their level of engagement. [1:02:53]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Update 4/18/23 – If you’ve enjoyed this episode, there’s another conversation with Nick, now available:

Guest Bio

Nick Moran, Game Director and Founder of Spectre & Vox

Nick Moran is the Game Director and Founder of Spectre & Vox, an exciting 3D table-top adventure game combining lights, sound, and interactive storytelling to solve your own immersive mystery.

He was also the Creative Director of Time Run, a live gaming company based in London. At Time Run Nick wrote and led the design of two award-winning games (The Lance Of Longinus and The Celestial Chain). In early 2019 he designed and launched Sherlock: The Game Is Now, which he co-wrote with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, based on the eponymous BBC TV show. It was voted Best New Tourist attraction from London & Partners. 

Follow Nick Moran

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This photo of Nick Moran’s dog Elinor was stolen and published without permission.

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