Next up on our global tour, in Season 4, Episode 3, David and Peih-Gee go down under with The Doctor and The Alchemist, aka, Aaron Hooper and Leanne Yong from Next Level Escape in Sydney, Australia. They gave a fantastic talk at RECON ’21, Playing with Game Structure: the Macro of Mechanics. In this podcast, they go into more depth about designing unusual game mechanics like their game, The Game, a competitive escape room where players go head to head, battling for objectives, or The Show Must Go On, which is part audio play, part interactive performance and part escape room.
Leanne and Aaron both came from finance backgrounds—Aaron previously worked as an economist and Leanne as a business analyst. They combined their hobbies of tech, writing, and gaming to create some very fun escape rooms with humor, loads of player interactions, and unique gameplay.
Because of their backgrounds in business, it was very interesting to chat with them about the economics of running an escape room, especially when they are located in the heart of the Central Business District and run games for lots of corporate groups. After chatting with them on the podcast, it was clear that Leanne and Aaron put a lot of love and thought into creating their escape rooms, especially when it comes to creating innovative game mechanics.
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World Escape Room Championship (ER Champ)
ER Champ is a global competition for escape room players.
- Held virtually this year
- Free Entry
- Elimination round on November 5, 2022
- Each member of the winning team will receive a Nintendo Switch Lite
Buzzshot is ‘Customer Satisfaction Software’ for your escape room business. Streamline your marketing and grow your escape room business with pregame and postgame features including robust waiver management, branded team photos, and integrated review management.
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Topics Discussed in this Episode
- Aaron and Leanne talk about their past lives as an economist and business analyst, and they share how they met when Leanne came to review one of Aaron’s games. [1:56]
- Aaron and Leanne talk about the strengths they each brought to their creative partnership. [3:11]
- Leanne talks about some of the things she learned from building each escape room. [4:35]
- Aaron discusses some of the features he wanted to improve upon with his escape rooms, including more reliable tech, better resets, and a better hint system. [5:22]
- Leanne and Aaron discuss the story behind their email monikers “The Doctor” and “The Alchemist”. [6:26]
- David mentions Next Level’s RECON ’21 talk Playing with Game Structure: the Macro of Mechanics. [7:42]
- Aaron and Leanne talk about pushing boundaries with game mechanics in their competitive format escape room, The Game. [8:02]
- Peih-Gee asks about special considerations when designing a competitive escape room. [10:50]
- Leanne mentions that at some point, the gameplay evolves from PVP (player vs. player) to PVE (player vs environment) so that teams can end on a shared experience. [11:14]
- Leanne talks about the difficulty in balancing teams, gameplay, hinting and game mastering in a competitive escape room. [12:03]
- David recounts a time when he and Lisa played a competitive escape rooms against strangers. [13:27]
- Peih-Gee discusses a couple other competitive escape rooms she’s played with slightly different mechanics, including Trust Experiment (formerly Psych Ward, but no longer exists) which involved social deduction, and Battleship, themed around the children’s board game. [15:05]
- David mentions that he prefers competitive escape rooms to have a designed interaction between the teams, instead of just mirrored escape rooms. [15:53]
- Aaron and Leanne talk about the unique mechanics of their game, The Show Must Go On, which is part audio play, part interactive performance and part escape room. [16:30]
- Aaron and Leanne talk about their experience creating a licensed pop up escape room for DC comics at Comic-Con, the fun parts of working with well known IP, and warn against trying to create a fast pass style line management system. [20:56]
- Aaron and Leanne talk about locating their business in the Central Business District of Sydney, and designing games that work well for corporate bookings. [23:19]
- Aaron and Leanne talk about their game Ex Libris, and how they decided to have two copies of the same escape room for large groups to play. [24:47]
- Aaron and David discuss corporate group dynamics in an escape room. [26:27]
- Aaron contrasts corporate groups with watching groups of children play escape rooms. [28:11]
- Peih-Gee and David talk about the delicate social dynamics when trying to check each other’s work in an escape room. [28:38]
- Leanne talks about adjusting the way they game master different corporate groups. [29:52]
- Aaron talks about their use of humor in their escape rooms including jokes that may not have aged well, scripted humor, and poop jokes. [31:50]
- Leanne talks about her ceiling envy. [34:11]
- Leanne tells us that she was inspired to make better use of lighting for things like storytelling, puzzle signposting, and clueing after listening to Chris Lattner‘s RECON ’21 talk Advanced Tech: Using Light & Sound to Build World-Class Experiences. [35:21]
- Leanne tells us about how Dani and Bill from Escape This Podcast voiced the actors in their game The Show Must Go On. [36:40]
- Aaron gives us his viewpoint, as a former economist, on how a possible recession could affect escape rooms. [39:13]
- Leanne and Aaron discuss the economics of pricing and game master salary in Sydney. [40:38]
- David and Peih-Gee discuss ways ways to make pricing more fair for both the escape room creator and the player. [43:04]
- Leanne talks about her book deal, and how writing for a novel is different from writing for escape rooms. [44:31]
- Leanne talks about how to tell a story through environmental clues in their escape room, The Artefact. [46:37]
- Leanne and Aaron share some of their favorite escape rooms in Australia, including The Cipher Room, Expedition Escape Rooms, Social Escape Rooms, Mission Escape Rooms, and Scram Escape Rooms. [48:47]
- Aaron and Leanne tell us about the new forest themed escape room they’re building. [51:42]
- Aaron shares a fun behind the scenes story about their blood machine. [55:51]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Next Level Escape Room
- Next Level online escape room
- Next Level’s RECON ’21 talk Playing with Game Structure: the Macro of Mechanics
- REA review of Cross Roads Escape Games Trust Experiment
- REA review of Not Another Escape Room’s Battleship
- The Room Berlin’s RECON ’21 talk Advanced Tech: Using Light & Sound to Build World-Class Experiences
- Recommended Australia Escape Room Companies:
About Leanne Yong “The Alchemist”
Leanne Yong went from engineering to IT consulting before walking away to design and build escape rooms. Outside of designing games and puzzles, she is also a young adult writer, and her debut novel TWO CAN PLAY THAT GAME releases in February 2023. When she’s not working, she loves playing video games, watching musicals and learning to swordfight, all of which end up inspiring her games and books anyway.
About Aaron Hooper “The Doctor”
Aaron Hooper gave up a full-time job as an economist at the Reserve Bank of Australia to start Next Level Escape and dive into the wild world of escape rooms. When not building/programming new tech for the rooms, he enjoys a diverse range of hobbies from scuba diving to glass blowing, cosplay creation to PC (and sometimes console) gaming. He is currently completing an engineering degree at UNSW, would love to launch a rocket into space one day, and has a keen interest in all things science and tech!
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