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.


Escape Chronicles – Testing Facility [Review]

Office Space meets Portal, with a hint of Tiny Toons

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 26, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Testing Facility was a puzzle-focused escape room that justified the puzzling with a humorous spin. Although the gamespace was not inherently exciting and it lacked adventure, Testing Facility was a phenomenally strong puzzle game with character.

If you’re in Los Angeles and you play escape rooms for the puzzles, we strongly encourage you to test yourself against Testing Facility.

In-game: breakroom with a table, breaker boxes, and a Pepsi machine.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • People who think that an Office Space-meets-Portal mashup is a good idea
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Humorous AI
  • Many interesting puzzles

Story

We had eagerly accepted Professor Bentham’s experiment and his challenge to outwit his humorously psychotic AI, PAL, and its desire to make us its best friend forever and ever.

PAL’s personality could best be described as Portal’s GLaDOS with the motivation of Tiny Toon’s Elmyra.

In-game: a close up of a CRT monitor with a DOS prompt reading, "breakroom terminal."

Setting

The tests took place in an office-meets-lab environment complete with Despair Demotivation posters. Furniture included a table, a couple of desks, and not much else. The most eye-catching set piece was an old soda vending machine.

Most of the character for Testing Facility came from the voice of the AI, PAL.

In-game: a collection of lockers with a line pattern painted on them and a desk with a CRT monitor.

Gameplay

Escape Chronicles’ Testing Facility was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling.

In-game: a wide shot of the the break room.

Analysis

Testing Facility was funny. The AI taunted us throughout the escape room. It added depth and humor to the bland office setting. This was a perfect example of a game that mixed an office environment with something unexpected and turned a tired escape room theme into something entertaining.

– Humor aside, Testing Facility wasn’t an exciting space to occupy. The blandness of an office didn’t energize our group.

+ Escape Chronicles built a lot of puzzle play into minimal props, and in one instance, into one small item. It was impressive.

+ Escape Chronicles printed custom props for one puzzle. This detail created smooth (red herring free!) entertaining gameplay. Many lesser companies would have just made small modifications to existing materials.

+ Escape Chronicles minded the details, delivering interesting and fun puzzles.

In-game: a desk with a National Geographic magazine beside a coffee mug that reads, "World's Okayest Employee."

+ We enjoyed Escape Chronicles’ approach to reuse. We reused knowledge that we had accumulated over the course of gameplay.

– Testing Facility lacked an impactful finale. We would have liked to see or feel a response to besting the AI. Given the character Escape Chronicles had crafted into the experience, there was opportunity to deliver a more exciting or dramatic conclusion.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Escape Chronicles’ Testing Facility, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Chronicles provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Chronicles – Smugglers Tunnels [Review]

Roguish overtones.

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 26, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Smugglers Tunnels was a clandestine, puzzle-focused, point-based heist. The puzzles were the gem of Smugglers Tunnels. We had to solve our way through every part of this operation.

While we felt the role-play aspect was unfinished, we think there’s an opportunity to rework that portion to add depth to this escape room. Regardless, the roles didn’t make or break an otherwise excellent puzzle adventure.

If you’re in Los Angeles, there is art here you’ll want to get your hands on.

In-game: a glowing lantern, flashlight, and lockbox next to a small barred passageway with a chain running through it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Badass moments
  • Interesting puzzles
  • Point-based scoring

Story

The forger in our crew of high-end thieves had double-crossed us. For years this guy had been creating clever forgeries and swapping them out with our rightfully stolen goods. We had reassembled the team to steal back what had been wrongfully taken from us.

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

Setting

The forger kept his artwork underground. We began in two distinct lantern-lit tunnels. We needed to work our way into the forger’s workspace to get our hands on the art. The gamespace was dim with dark, bricklike walls and wooden furniture and props. It had an underground vibe.

In-game: a pegboard with storage for all of the loot gathered in the game.

Gameplay

Escape Chronicles’ Smugglers Tunnels was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

We aimed to steal back the highest possible value in stolen goods to achieve a high score. Points were scored by adding a stolen item to our collection display.

We each had a role on the team (mastermind, safecracker, etc). Our wristband explained what our special knowledge and abilities were, and how to use any role-specific props that we were given.

In-game: close up of a wrist cuff with a series of symbols.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and applying our roles’ knowledge and abilities to the game.

Analysis

+ The point-based heist worked well. The more valuable our theft, the better we scored. The set up, however, was not as straightforward as collecting the most items. There was nuance… which could be solved.

– We each had a specific role on the heist team, but the roles weren’t justified in the experience. We each received additional cluing for our role, but it didn’t feel like outside knowledge, special to the character that possessed it. Instead it felt like reading material that we would have preferred to find baked into the game. This cluing functioned as mini runbook wristbands.

In-game: a locked box displaying the Declaration of Independence.

+ The puzzles were varied and challenging. We enjoyed so many satisfying solves.

– We would have liked to see Escape Chronicles take additional steps to justify the existence of these puzzles in their narrative.

+ Escape Chronicles turned one common escape room process puzzle into an legitimately challenging communication and logic puzzle. It was a much-needed path through an overused escape room trope.

In-game: a glowing lantern resting on a lock box in a stone tunnel.

+ The dimness didn’t bother us. It made sense. We had plenty of lanterns that we could carry around and set next to various props. This setup also culminated in a fantastic puzzle sequence.

– In one instance, Smugglers Tunnels asked us to search for a minute detail. This took us out of the game. In this one instance the lighting irked us.

Smugglers Tunnels had a couple of badass moments that worked well with the underground staging.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Escape Chronicles’ Smugglers Tunnels, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Chronicles provided media discounted tickets for this game.