How Video Projectors Create Escape Room Magic

One of my favorite things to see in escape rooms is the creative use of video projectors. Displaying text, images or animations in surprising places throughout an experience instills a sense of magic and wonder. There are so many uses for this technology to provide effects, reveals, transitions, hints and more without the need to construct any physical items.

Almost anything you can imagine can appear, move around and then vanish from view without any lasting residue. Projected ghosts can show up right on cue and disappear just as quickly. Leaving players to wonder what they just saw. Fairies might fly across the room and draw our attention to something important. Images of the story’s characters could be projected in the game environment, near or even onto relevant set pieces.

Star Wars - A New Hope scene - R2D2 projects Princess Leia's plea for help.

Lowering the house lights and then projecting narration text in the room to help players follow along with an audio voiceover is an immersive and helpful technique. Especially when it appears in interesting locations, perhaps near items relevant to what is being talked about. 

A message written on a wall, reads, "My mom wasn't much of an optimist, but she never stopped believing that my brother Milton was alive."

Tools are available that allow designers to use projectors to create augmented reality environments. Projection mapping technology can instantly make a physical item in a room look like something completely different.

Projectors can be used as dynamic lighting devices, highlighting specific objects or spaces, changing color and intensity. Creating things like the glow and flicker of a fire, the white-out of a blizzard or the general progression of a sunset. 

Actual see-through windows can be used with exterior scenes projected on a distant surface on the other side. Giving a sense of depth and realism that can’t easily be achieved with a video monitor dressed as a window.

Well-designed housings and mechanical shutters can be used to control the light output and make up for poor black level side effects. They can also help solve issues with light bleed and avoid issues with power-up or menu sequences displaying unwanted images.

Projected Hints

An idea that I am excited about is using projectors to replace the video monitors that are sometimes used to provide text-based hints. Immersion-breaking TV monitors are often mounted high up in out-of-play areas of the room. They take your focus off of the game space and often force players to look backward or to return to an earlier section of the game. I appreciate escape room designs that don’t include video monitors if they don’t fit the theme, however, I also recognize the value of hints delivered in text form. They can be read through several times and can remain available to the players until they have served their purpose. 

Using a projector to display text hints on a wall or on an object in the gameplay space is a wonderful alternative. It can help maintain immersion and keep players’ focus where it should be. When the hint is no longer needed, the projection can stop and there is no permanent evidence of the display device intruding in the game world. Multiple projectors mounted throughout the experience can display hints in different locations where players tend to gather. They can lead players forward through the game rather than have them looking back to a TV screen positioned above the entry door.

Projectors In Close Quarters

Short-throw and Ultra short-throw projectors allow for a variety of placement possibilities that can limit the risk of players interfering with the displayed image. Rear projection is another option for dealing with this issue.

Pico projectors are inexpensive, bite-sized magic makers that can be hidden almost anywhere to provide surprise moments. 

A projection of the REPOD logo beside some candles and a cryptex.
A projection of the REPOD logo, candles have been moved reveal that they were hiding a tiny projector.

These small units can also display large images. My 2.75” cube projector can produce an in-focus 86” diagonal image at a throw distance of just 7.5 feet. Creators can experiment with different types of display surfaces like inside cabinets, into crystal balls, mirrors, onto curved objects or maybe even clouds of fog. Pepper’s Ghost is an effect that benefits from discrete projector placement.

A projector projecting the SNL "Magic" meme.

I love when I see projectors used to add special touches to escape games. I hope more designers will consider using them to bring fun and magical effects to their future builds.

Get a Pico Projector

If you’re interested in checking out a good pico projector, I was using an AAXA P2-A Android (which is older and hard to find new these days), but if I were to buy one today, I’d probably get a Kodak Luma 350.

*Thanks to Brett Kuehner for contributing thoughts and ideas to this post.

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  1. Visiting some of the technology being used (or could be used) to level up escape rooms is always a great topic for this blog. Enthusiasts are usually interested in the “sausage making” and this article is a wienerful example of learning about the things that make us go WooHoo! in escape rooms. I recall some earlier blogs about pin lighting and audio sound effects. These are great topics and I hope to see them regularly.

  2. Any suggestions on projectors that can be hidden and triggered on and off remotely mid game without an annoying startup screen or the like? I’ve tried to use projectors in the past but the need to leave them perpetually on, even when projecting black, can flood the room with light. Thanks!

    1. Hi Tim, the advice that I learned during my research was that leaving the projector on during the entire experience was the best option as long as you could create some sort of physical shutter, to block all the light right at the projector, that could move out of the way to display the projection only when you wanted it to.

  3. Thanks David! I do my best to think about promote interesting uses of tech in escape rooms. I often see something innovative and immediately start thinking about all the possible escape room uses for it, even while still playing the game!

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