The Partnership behind Level Games in Los Angeles [Interview]

Doggy Dog World has been adopted! 🐶

Two Los Angeles escape room companies, Escape Chronicles and Arcane Escape Rooms, have teamed up to create Level Games, a new company taking over the space that formerly housed ESCapades LA. We were thrilled to hear about this collaboration, which brings so many wonderful creators together.

We recently caught up with Andrew Cefalo and Spencer Beebe, Co-founders/ Designers of Escape Chronicles, and Matt Tye, Founder/ Designer of Arcane Escape Rooms, to learn more about this partnership.

Spoiler… we’re excited about it!

In-game: an oversized doghouse.
Doggy Dog World

How did this partnership come about?

Level Games: Escape room owners in Los Angeles are generally friendly. The community has set the right conditions for a partnership like this. We all respect each other’s work.

We started sharing ideas for our future games and we got really excited about what we could accomplish together. We all wanted to spin traditional game narratives in future projects. The more we talked about it, the more we knew this would be really fun!

Since we are all tackling similar issues by teaming up, we decrease the overhead of running the business so that we can focus on the games.

In-game: a rolltop desk beside a stack of crates and an artest palet.
Escape Chronicles

What inspired you to take the ESCapades LA space?

We were all already discussing sharing a larger space and working collaboratively when the ESCapades LA space became available. We took a tour of the space and it was love at first sight. The space is huge and really freaking cool! The fact that we get to adopt Doggy Dog World and Disrupted Decades for a little while is a big bonus.

What’s your plan for the current games, especially the beloved Doggy Dog World?

Doggy Dog World is the fan favorite so we don’t want to make any big alterations. We’ll only make minor tweaks to adjust game flow and better protect props and electronics from players. If you’ve played the game before, we haven’t changed it enough to warrant a replay.

We’ll continue running Disrupted Decades as well. We bolstered the charm of the room with some tasteful tech, new and tweaked puzzles, and a new narrative on top of the original foundation. Our playtest groups are loving the revamped Disrupted Decades!

If you’ve played Disrupted Decades before, you could play it again. The updated version is about 70% brand new content. We actually added too much and we really liked all of it… so we made it a 75-minute game!

In-game: a dog's view of a wood fence.
Doggy Dog World

We plan to keep Doggy Dog World and Disrupted Decades for at least six months. We’ll aim to build out new rooms to fill in the unused areas of the space before closing down Doggy Dog World. We haven’t purchased the games from ESCapades LA; we are just borrowing them for a while… Doggy Dog World could pop up somewhere else in the future.

Who is designing the new experiences in the space?

The Level Games experiences are all based on ideas that each company had dreamt up individually. Each team’s eyes lit up as they heard the others’ ideas! When we started pooling our creative efforts on the projects, everything just clicked.

Each project will have its own lead, but everyone will be designing puzzles, gameplay elements, story elements, etc. Since we all have different strengths, it’s working out really nicely. Although these started as individual ideas, they have all already become joint ventures.

In-game: A wooden wall with pipes and a big red valve mounted to it.
Arcane Escape Rooms

What is your timeline for new experiences?

We’re spending every waking moment working to complete the designs and construction of the new games and loving every minute of it! Most likely, you can expect to see 1-2 new Level Games experiences in 2019. That said, even though we’ve done a lot of work already, we don’t want to feel pressure to meet dates for no reason, so please don’t hold us to that.

Is anything changing at Arcane Escape Rooms and Escape Chronicles?

Matt: Arcane Escape Rooms is absolutely staying where it is. The Hideout and The Agency are still running and we just opened our new game The Ghost of Mentryville in October. There will be at least one more game from Arcane Escape Rooms in the future.

Andrew & Spencer: We’re out of space to build new games at Escape Chronicles, but our current games Smugglers Tunnels and Testing Facility are still going strong. If we get the sense that interest is falling we’ll most likely look into replacing the rooms with something new, but hopefully that’s a ways off. Right now our creative efforts are focused on Level Games and we have our hands full. Plus, it’s really great to build collaboratively!

How is your vision for Level Games different from that of your other escape room companies?

Level Games intentionally does not have “escape” in the name. In addition to building escape rooms, we will try some riskier ideas that depart from the escape room formula.

We’re working to change the fundamentals of how the “escape room” works. For example, we’re developing a game that we ourselves can play and have the same experience and challenge as new players.

We also plan to make Level Games a place for the community to hang out. We plan to host tabletop games – we love board games! – and large party games in the space. We want to share lots of kinds of games with the community.


Arcane Escape Rooms – The Agency [Review]

Curious dystopia.

Location: Newhall, California

Date played: June 5, 2017

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: varies based on team size and time of booking

Story & setting

Set in a dystopian future, we had been captured by The Agency, a malevolent group tasked with putting people through a Darwinian test of wits to prove that they were worthy of the limited resources available. We needed to pass their test in order to secure our own survival.

We were trapped in an eclectic, hacked-together puzzle room. It had dark walls, assorted furniture, and puzzle-y odds and ends.

In-game: A wall covered in a torn black tarp and wood scrapes. A clock rests on a small white table.

Puzzles

The meat of The Agency was the puzzles, which wound their way through the assorted decor.

The puzzles were generally tactile and mechanical. They relied more on keen observation and connections than on prolonged unraveling.

Standouts

We loved one unexpected and particularly satisfying mechanical interaction. Arcane Escape Rooms clearly designed the interaction from start to finish and that attention to detail elevated the moment.

The puzzles flowed logically and were largely hands-on, satisfying solves.

In-game: a white sculpture of a strange alien-like face against a black backdrop.

Shortcomings

There wasn’t much of a narrative to follow or even feel within The Agency. While there was a complex backstory, it was irrelevant to our in-game experience. Neither the puzzles nor the set design brought us into that imagined dystopia.

The set was unremarkable.

The final act fell flat. The final challenge felt bolted on and failed to capture the tactile, mechanical feel that makes Arcane Escape Room’s best puzzles feel so special.

Should I play Arcane Escape Rooms’s The Agency?

The Agency focused on tactile puzzling. We touched, positioned, moved, and manipulated items to solve our way through the game.

Beginners will find this room approachable and exciting. It takes puzzling off the page into the real world. For veterans, there will be some common tropes and a few different, truly entertainment moments.

While there was a complex backstory to The Agency, it simply didn’t matter. Visit The Agency for the puzzles… and do make sure that you play Arcane Escape Room’s flagship game, The Hideout.

Book your hour with Arcane Escape Rooms’s The Agency, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Arcane Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Arcane Escape Rooms – The Hideout [Review]

Step back. I’m about to play with science!

Location: Newhall, California

Date played: June 5, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 50 minutes

Price: varies based on team size and time of booking

Story & setting

A sequel of sorts to Arcane Escape Rooms’ beginner room The Agency (review to publish soon), The Hideout had us on the run from the evil enforcers of dystopian rule that had previously captured us. Now locked up in my brother’s hideout, we had to follow the clues he left in order to throw open the gates to freedom.

The Hideout was a small bunker built from wood, metal, and tubing. It had an unusual unfinished construction site aesthetic that had less to do with establishing setting or carrying narrative than it did with facilitating unusual mechanical puzzling.

In-game: A wooden wall with pipes and a big red valve mounted to it.

Puzzles

Arcane Escape Rooms built The Hideout with two goals:

  • Have no silicon-based technology in the room
  • Use as few locks as possible (there are two keyed padlocks.)

Everything was mechanical and it made for a refreshingly unusual series of puzzles.

Standouts

The mechanical puzzling was a lot of fun and honestly different from the overwhelming majority of escape rooms.

In-game: A close up an an intense barred door held shut by a chain and laminated padlock.

Arcane Escape Rooms packed a lot of intrigue into a small space.

There was a great illusion in the game.

As we puzzled, we worked through training wheels, so to speak, for some of the mechanisms, which made the puzzling more approachable. This also enabled us to experiment with what we found and discover our way through the puzzles.

While the gamemaster delivered hints whenever he thought we should get a nudge, they arrived in such a way that we could ignore them if we chose to do so. (We always accepted them; they were useful and welcome.)

Shortcomings

The story was a little hard to follow.

One puzzle would have benefited from a little more clarity.

The hint system was used to provide verification that we were on the right path, but it would have been far more fun if they could have confirmed our decisions without it feeling like the gamemaster was providing the thumbs up.

Should I play Arcane Escape Rooms’ The Hideout?

The Hideout was fun and refreshing. It’s rare to find a puzzle room that is completely unusual, but playable from start to finish… and Arcane Escape Rooms built just that.

Additionally, because The Hideout deviates significantly from the norm, it is roughly as challenging for newbies as for experienced players. I’d recommend that regardless of experience level, you give it a shot.

The tangible nature of mechanical puzzling made for some seriously satisfying solves. I recommend that you go out and experience them for yourself.

Book your hour with Arcane Escape Rooms’ The Hideout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Arcane Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.