REPOD S2E5 RECON Rising: A Look Behind the Scenes at the Reality Escape Convention

In season 2, episode 5, we take a deep dive into the inner workings of RECON, our escape room convention. In 2020, Room Escape Artist was poised to launch their first escape room convention. They quickly pivoted to a virtual convention when it became apparent that they wouldn’t be able to host an in-person event due to quarantine. Within three months, they put together an unforgettable experience for the escape room community.

They had even bigger aspirations for this year’s RECON, with new infrastructure and the all-new Play Pass, which lets you play a variety of games, including a few which are exclusive to RECON.

We’ll chat with different members of the RECON team, including James Cobalt—Jack of All Trades, Cara Mandel—The Games Curator, Theresa Wagner—The Games Executioner, Lee-Fay Low—The Volunteer Coordinator, Brendan Lutz—The “Hand” of RECON (Tech Wizard), Lisa Spira—RECON Puppetmaster, Theresa Piazza—Official Catch-All Task Master, Cindi Saiewitz—Speaker Wrangler, and Michael Augustine (Auggie/Okapi Kid)—ARG Master.

This was a fascinating look behind the scenes of running a virtual convention and seeing how all the moving parts fit together. As Brendan said, there was truly an invigorating start-up energy surrounding RECON. It was incredible to feel like we were all part of something greater. There is something really special about these talented enthusiasts and creators who want to help build an amazing community for the escape room industry.

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Thank You to Our Sponsors

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

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Telescape by Buzzshot
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Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • David talks about having Neil Patrick Harris deliver the opening remarks for RECON. [1:06]
  • Some highlights of the convention include [2:37]: 
    • Talks aimed at designers, Talks aimed at players
    • Games to play
    • Facilitated Discussions & Workshops
    • ARG hidden throughout the convention
    • Exhibitor Hall where you can browse new products and games
  • David mentions his plans to have RECON as an in-person convention next year, 2022, in Boston, MA. [6:13]
  • James Cobalt—Jack of All Trades [7:10]
    • James has helped REA with different things like tech, graphic design. Some of his past accomplishments include organizing flash mobs. [7:45]
    • James tells the story of how he met David and Lisa at an escape room conference, and he ended up volunteering to help with RECON because he wanted to be a part of this community [7:51]
    • James proudly announces that he learned so much from last year’s RECON that he finally had the confidence to create his own games and escape room business [9:50]
    • We talk about the incredible video that James created for last year’s RECON. Peih-Gee is so impressed that she says he could go into business just creating videos for escape room lobbies. [11:15]
    • James says that what he’s most looking forward to are playing the games, and hoping that other attendees are inspired to create and go into the escape room business like he did. [12:49]
    • James mentions that one of the games available to play at RECON inspired him to change how he designs games. [13:56]
  • Cara Mandel—The Games Curator [14:57]
    • Cara talks about some of her previous work curating games for film festivals like Fantastic Fest, a horror, sci-fi, fantasy film festival. [15:38]
    • Cara tells us about her company, Interwoven Immersive, which creates games and activations for events, as well as curating games. [16:41]
    • Cara talks about working with Theresa Wagner, who she calls “the Games Executioner” on curating games for the Play Pass. [17:24]
    • Cara discusses her criteria for why she chose certain games for this year’s Play Pass, including flexibility in play time, large scale games, and games that were exclusive to RECON ‘21. [18:32]
    • Peih-Gee and Cara discuss the benefits of playing with other Play Pass holders and meeting other players. [19:31]
    •  Cara’s most excited about meeting other like-minded enthusiasts and creators from around the world. [21:10]
  • Theresa Wagner—The Games Executioner [21:51]
    • Theresa talks about coordinating all the games that will be a part of the Play Pass. (She mentions nine games on the podcast, but by the time this episode is released, we will have more than 20 games.) [22:47]
    • Theresa talks about some of the games that she’s really looking forward to, including Escape from Escape Island, designed by Trapped Puzzle Room’s Mark Larson, as well as games by DeadLocked and Green Door Labs, creators of Club Drosselmeyer. [24:01]
    • Theresa talks about playing video games competitively, and tells us about “speed running,” which is playing a game as quickly as possible, within certain parameters. [25:29]
    • David mentions that Theresa gamified the check-in process for RECON last year. [27:35]
  • Lee-Fay Low—The Volunteer Coordinator [29:40]
    • David recounts how Lee-Fay essentially created the position of volunteer coordinator for herself, and how indispensable she was to organizing the army of volunteers that helped out at last year’s RECON. [30:02]
    • Lee-Fay says that for her, the best part of RECON last year was all the meaningful connections she made with other enthusiasts. [31:12]
    • Lee-Fay and David talk about what the volunteers do and the different roles they have. [32:46]
    • Lee-Fay talks about being the “international conscience of the group,” and how she reminds us that this is an international conference with people attending from all around the world. [35:41]
    • Lee-Fay says she’s most looking forward to the program for RECON: the talks and workshops. [36:40]
  • Brendan Lutz—The “Hand” of RECON (Tech Wizard) [39:27]
    • Peih-Gee talks a little bit about using the Discord platform to host a virtual convention and how intuitive it was to use last year. [40:15]
    • Peih-Gee explains what Discord is and how it works. [41:57]
    • Brendan notes that part of what he loves about working on RECON is the “startup mentality,” and how energizing and fun it was to work on. [44:11]
    • David recounts how he first met Brendan and ended up inviting him to help him at their escape room convention booth. [45:14]
    • Brendan explains how they completely rebuilt all the tech infrastructure this year so it would be more scalable. [47:38]
    • David recommends exploring the parts of RECON that you do NOT know much about, and trying to see this as a learning experience, rather than just joining the talks where you’re already an expert. [51:18]
    • We discuss the ticket structure of RECON, how it’s a pay-what-you-can model. [53:04]
  • Lisa Spira—RECON Puppetmaster [59:08]
    • Lisa gives us an overview of what to expect at RECON, including facilitated discussions, birds of a feather talks (industry-related topics for interest groups to have conversations), hands-on workshops, and the games component. [1:01:00]
    • Lisa talks about some of the workshops we’ll be having at RECON, including those led by Charlie & James from Deadlocked, Bizarro and the Test Subjects, and Manda from The Room Escape Divas. [1:02:23]
    • Lisa talks about the different types of tickets and “tracks” available for RECON: one for enthusiasts, and one for industry professionals. [1:03:45]
    • We talk about how supportive the escape room community is, and why we are incentivized to encourage each other to create the best games possible. [1:05:19]
  • Theresa Piazza—Official Catch-All Task Master [1:07:42]
    • Theresa calls herself “your walking talking to-do list’s worst nightmare.” She talks about project managing the different teams and aspects of RECON. [1:08:07]
    • Theresa talks about the different sponsorship packages for RECON. [1:11:30]
    • Theresa says she’s most excited about the different ways they’ve structured the Exhibit Hall and how they’ve made the vendors more accessible to the attendees. [1:12:23]
  • Cindi Saiewitz—Speaker Wrangler / Logistics Coordinator [1:14:22]
    • Peih-Gee describes Cindi’s role as like the “concierge” of RECON for the speakers. She coordinates schedules, follows up on paperwork, and holds hands through stage fright. [1:14:54]
    • Peih-Gee tells a story about emceeing a corporate event without a speaker “wrangler” and how horrible it was having to wait on stage while people had to hunt down the next speaker. [1:15:29]
    • Cindi describes herself as “the one who worries.” By that, she means that she is often the one who considers the mentality of people on the fringe, perhaps the group who is being underserved, and making sure that everyone feels included. [1:16:20]
    • Peih-Gee talks about how Cindi is so representative of the escape room community in wanting everyone to feel welcome. Peih-Gee goes on to talk about how accessible RECON is to newbies and experts alike. [ 1:18:23]
    • Cindi says she’s most excited to feel the positive energy that she experienced at last year’s RECON. [1:19:39]
  • Michael Augustine (Auggie/ @OkapiKid)—ARG Master [1:21:06]
    • We talk a little bit about Auggie’s background as a very competitive puzzler, including competing in the Red Bull Mind Gamers and winning cash prizes in treasure hunts. [1:21:54]
    • Auggie talks about what an ARG (alternate reality game) is. [1:22:27]
    • Auggie talks about The Beast, an ARG created by Elan Lee, who will be one of the speakers at RECON, and was also the inaugural guest of REPOD. [1:22:57]
    • Auggie talks about the ARG that he created for RECON and he says he wanted to design something “that’s got a little bit of everything for everyone. So some puzzle hunt aspects, some ARG aspects, some interactivity.” [1:23:52]
    • Auggie tells us about the other members of the team who are helping with the ARG including Errol Elumir of Room Escape Divas, who will be one of this year’s speakers; John Brummels; and “Charmandacure”, Amanda Dupuy, who creates manicures with puzzles on them. [1:25:30]
    • Auggie talks about treasure hunts, and Peih-Gee invites him to come try one in L.A. [1:27:12]
    • Peih-Gee tries to sweet-talk Auggie into giving a clue for how to start this year’s ARG, and finally manages to squeeze out the clue of looking for a logo. [1:27:53]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest Bio

  • For more information on today’s guests, you can find them HERE.

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