REPOD S3E1 – Art Meets Gameplay at Immersia Escape Games

To kick off Season 3, we chat with Maxime and Roxane Filion of Immersia Escape Games. Their escape games truly impressed us on our recent trip to Montreal. In this episode they talk about their immersive approach to game design, their diverse gaming influences, and how they measure success. Maxime and Roxane are also passionate about their creations and about this industry. Moreover, they have a shared vision of what escape games can be, and they are striving to build that future.

REPOD S3E1 teaser image of Maxime & Roxane Filion

Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season, Morty App and Virtual Escape Games. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

Morty

Morty is a free app for discovering, planning, tracking, and reviewing your escape rooms and other immersive social outings.

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Virtual Escape Games

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Discount Code for REPOD listeners:

  • REA20 for 20% off a non-hosted game for 1-6 players
  • TB20 for 20% off a team-building adventure for any size team!

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • David mentions Immersia wasn’t on our radar when we were first planning the Montreal tour. [1:13]
  • Roxane talks about how their unique style is influenced by theater. [2:08]
  • Maxime talks about video games were also part of his inspiration. [2:59]
  • Peih-Gee talks about the “entertainment” value that she felt in their onboarding. [3:50]
  • Roxane and Maxime discuss the video production in their games, which was part of the early vision for their games. They explain how making these videos is so fun and so unlike what their video producer does in his day job. [4:51]
  • Roxane mentions how they were inspired by Disney and the videos explaining Disney attractions. [6:37]
  • Peih-Gee hates janky videos, and especially janky intro videos. She compliments Roxane and Maxime on their lobby videos, which are not janky. [7:30]
  • Peih-Gee asks about the costs of producing videos and Roxane says that they budget for video as part of the room buildout. Maxime adds that it’s important to have talented people in your network. Roxane mentions partnering with a local business to save on costs. [8:48]
  • Maxime says that they take theme inspiration from tv (Evil Genius), movies, video games, and board games. Their first game Weekend at the Shack has a typical kidnapping theme. It was inspired by a video game and a board game they played when they were young. It’s a melting pot of inspirations. [10:22]
  • Grand Immersia Hotel is a blend of The Grand Budapest Hotel and a Netflix series that was inspired by a true story. It’s an unlikely combination that works. David says this is what he’s wanted people to do for years. By combining themes you change the vibe, setting, and story. [12:38]
  • Peih-Gee appreciates being cast as herself in Immersia’s games. Roxane mentions how much effort they put into narrative, and how hard it is to understand the story while trying to be a character. [14:05]
  • David asks about hooks for games and Maxime says he looks for wow moments, surprises, and unexpected ahas because that’s what people remember. Maxime mentions (without spoiling!) that there’s a twist in Grand Immersia Hotel. Twists can be simple, but they are essential. Immersia doesn’t tell you the whole story upfront. [17:02]
  • Roxane explains that they didn’t have a big budget when they started, so they had to make wow moments without budget. They had to change their original vision to be something they could afford to build. That’s why Weekend at the Shack is set in a shack. [19:04]
  • David asks about the challenges in designing for bilingual rooms. Maxime says they have to think in both languages. It’s a giveaway that something is important if it appears in both languages. Because of this they sometimes prefer to swap different clues in for French vs English groups. For their new game they are shooting in French only and dubbing the English. They also have to make sure if they change something in one language, they also change it in the other. [20:35]
  • David talks about his experience playing escape games in French. Lisa speaks French very well and he can mostly understand, so they do ok, but always struggle on wordplay. [23:02]
  • They mostly film in French, or do voiceovers in both languages, and Maxime’s sister dubs herself in a lot of the videos. In the Grand Immersia Hotel they have a character wearing a mask and then it’s easy to dub over it – nobody can see it. [23:32]
  • David asks about the friendly Montreal community of owners. Roxane talks about how they recommend the other locations in their area because they trust that other companies have good games. Since players can only play these games once, they want to keep the players engaged with the games in the area until they have time to build more games for the customers. Maxime says they are friends with owners like them who are passionate about escape rooms. This includes Jonathan from Escaparium and Steven from Sauve Qui Peut. They watched the TERPECAs at Escaparium and were so happy for their wins. [26:51]
  • David notes how Montreal seems to have unique themes between the different companies. Maxime says they do talk. In fact, Escaparium renamed a scenario (The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen) so that it would sound different from the one Immersia had just released (Circus of the Lost Souls.) [29:30]
  • Immersia is a family business. Roxane and Maxime say it works well because everyone has different skill sets. Some people are involved all the time and others only come in for certain things, like new builds. [31:25]
  • The family’s first escape game was for Roxane’s bachelorette party. It was so much fun that they wanted to play more. However, they were looking for an immersive experience and that didn’t exist in Montreal at that time, so that’s why they built their own. [32:30]
  • Maxime says everyone is involved in game creation, story, and puzzles. Others are only involved in operations, technology, and HR. Maxime does most of the marketing, but everyone shares ideas. His sister is less involved. She’s a former Olympic athlete, a 2-time Olympic medalist, in fact. [33:46]
  • David asks about Maxime’s marketing background. Maxime says a lot has changed in recent years. Today we need to be conscious that most traffic to our website is from mobile, meaning it’s on a tiny vertical screen. Peih-Gee confirms that she’s always looking for another escape room right after she plays one, and that means she’s on her phone. [36:07]
  • Roxane looks at the finances and she tries to give Maxime the best budget possible. She can tell when a room isn’t doing as well. They tried a competitive room and it was expensive to build and not very popular, so they noticed it wouldn’t be profitable and decided to change it. [38:20]
  • In their initial business plan they gave each game a lifespan of 2 years. One indicator of success is sustainability over time. Weekend at the Shack has been running for over 5 years and it’s still popular. They look at NPS and see that this game scores the highest, which is a demonstration of success beyond money. People enjoy this game. [39:50]
  • David reminds diehard fans that what the typical fan base loves is not always the same as what they love. Maxime notes that Errol agrees in his RECON talk. [41:05]
  • Roxane mentions that their new room is a game show and it wouldn’t be the most popular with enthusiasts, but they built it anyway for other reasons, on a limited budget and a small space. They took a risk with something new. They’ve gotten positive responses, but one repeat customer did not like the game at all because it wasn’t what they were expecting. You have to be careful with surprises and not thwart expectations too much. [41:29]
  • David wants to expand the definition of escape room to include more variety and have genres. [43:40]
  • David mentions the Patreon Spoilers Club episode that dug deep into The Salutem Medicina Institute. [44:35] (Join our Patreon to get access to this deep dive conversation!)
  • Roxane tells us they want to create more storytelling in their next games. Maxime adds that they’ve opened another report game. But also, in the next things they build, they are looking to create more immersion and explore the feeling of being taken by surprise. [44:54]
  • Maxime lists all the places he wants to travel to play escape games. [47:22]
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

RECON 21 Talks

Immersia Scenario Videos

About Maxime & Roxane

Maxime Filion headshot

Maxime Filion: With a bachelor’s degree in business administration and 7 years working in the digital marketing space, I had a dream. I wanted to start a business but couldn’t find the right project. As a video game and immersive entertainment enthusiast, the moment I discovered escape rooms I knew this was something special. What was a new passion became an incredible business opportunity and so I convinced family members to start this journey. Now 6 years later here we are in the top 40 escape room companies in the world 2 years running and well over 100k participants.

Roxane Filion headshot

Roxane Filion: I’m co-owner of Immersia Escape Games and a singer and musician as well.

escape this podcast logo, microphone with a puzzle

Escape This Podcast

Escape This Podcast is a show that’s a mix between tabletop roleplaying and escape room puzzles.

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No Proscenium Podcast

Your guide to the ever-evolving world of immersive art & entertainment

Support REPOD

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Immersia – The Salutem Medicina Institute [Review]

Update 2/15/22: If you enjoy The Salutem Medicina Institute, we hope you’ll check out our interview with Immersia’s owners Maxime & Roxane Filion on The Reality Escape Pod.

Update: If you want to hear more about The Salutem Medicina Institute back us on Patreon at the “Search Win!” level to get access to a Spoiler’s Club Episode about this game. Reality Escape Pod co-hosts David and Peih-Gee talk all about it with the creator, spoilers and all.

Dr. Milgram will see you now.

Location:  Boisbriand, QC, Canada

Date Played: October 10, 2021

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

So often an escape room story is conveyed through heavy and lengthy exposition, but the truth of the medium is that story moments experienced are always more powerful than story moments told.

The Salutem Medicina Institute was a marvel of escape room narrative design. With next to no dialog, Immersia built a fully realized narrative that we experienced in our core.

The Salutem Medicina Institute had a beautifully rundown medical set where each door creaked, and everything felt foreboding. That environment was given life by two key elements:

  • The in-character gamemaster nailed the performance with a blend of authority, darkness, and a dash of humor.
  • The video, which was the heart of the experience, expertly pulled us into the story.
A bloodied operating table in an old rundown medical facility.

All of this was underpinned by solid but unremarkable puzzles that looked and felt right. This wasn’t a game that you play for the puzzles; you play it for the experience and for the memory.

As a company, Immersia has grown into masters of building worlds and stories within them. The Salutem Medicina Institute wasn’t big or bombastic like The Hotel Grand Immersia. It was more subtle. I strongly encourage you to play it looking for the nuance, because that permeates this experience.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience
  • Players looking for something different

Why play?

  • The core structure of this game was genius
  • Masterful worldbuilding through set, story, character, and video

Story

The Salutem Medicina Institute has operated with absolute secrecy about its work. All anyone knows about it is that they run clinical trials of their revolutionary new drug, and that no one has ever leaked information about the drug or the clinical trial. Authorities believe that the Institute buys the silence of their participants.

We had enrolled in the clinical trial.

Continue reading “Immersia – The Salutem Medicina Institute [Review]”

Immersia – The Grand Immersia Hotel [Hivemind Review]

The Grand Immersia Hotel is included in our recommendation guide for Avatar-Guided Online Escape Games . For more of the best online escape games in this style, check out the recommendation guide.

Update 2/15/22: If you enjoy The Grand Immersia Hotel, we hope you’ll check out our interview with Immersia’s owners Maxime & Roxane Filion on The Reality Escape Pod.

The Grand Immersia Hotel is a real-life escape room livestreamed and played through an avatar, created by Immersia in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada.

Room Escape Artist reviewed the real-life version of this game in March of 2020 and awarded it a 2020 Golden Lock Award. This is a review of the online adaptation.

A beautiful hotel lobby.

Format

Style of Play: real-life escape room livestreamed and played through an avatar

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection

Recommended Team Size: 2-5

Play Time: 60 minutes

Price: 99.96 CAD for group of 4 / 24.99 CAD each additional connection

Booking: book online for a specific time slot

Description

This is an avatar-led game that takes you through multiple spaces in the soon-to-open Grand Immersia Hotel. It combined Zoom with a standard inventory system in Telescape.

Hivemind Review Scale

Immersia – Circus of the Lost Souls [Review]

Update 2/15/22: If you enjoy Circus of the Lost Souls, we hope you’ll check out our interview with Immersia’s owners Maxime & Roxane Filion on The Reality Escape Pod.

Puzzling in the Moonlight

Location:  Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: February 2, 2020

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 3-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 30.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Circus of the Lost Souls was one of those games that captured my attention as soon as I stepped through the door. The beautiful circus exterior felt magical and inspired me to want to play.

In-game: A woman posing in front of a target surrounded by knives.
Image via Immersia

The set and hint system were an utter delight. The hinting was so well executed that Lisa and I wanted to take hints simply to interact with the character… and it was good that the hinting was strong because it needed to support a few weak puzzles.

There was a puzzle that was among the most sloggy that we’ve seen, and another puzzle that had a great aesthetic, but the logical underpinning was noticeably broken. (It seemed like the folks at Immersia were aware and still trying to figure out how to revise it.)

Immersia is a fantastic company, and I have a feeling that this game will improve with time. In the state that we played it, Circus of the Lost Souls was a mixed bag. We loved so much, but found a lot of the play too tedious for the playful environment.

If you have time for one game at Immersia, make it The Grand Immersia Hotel. If you have room for a second game, Circus of the Lost Souls is worth playing. Take hints liberally when you get stuck on a puzzle and embrace all of the wonderful ambiance and character. That’s what Immersia does best.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A gorgeous set
  • Brilliant, tactile interactions
  • The hint system was overflowing with personality

Story

The Filioni Circus was once the greatest circus in the world, awing and tantalizing all who witnessed the talents of the performers… until the circus suddenly closed.

We went to the fairgrounds to have a look around and found that the circus and the souls of its lost performers were ensorcelled by Viviera, world-renowned mentalist… and she wanted our souls as well.

In-game: The citcus exterior with a large tent illuminated in the moonlight.
Image via Immersia

Setting

The grounds of the Circus of the Lost Souls were a beautiful moon-lit world filled with tents and carts.

This sprawling circus setting was ambitious and lots of fun to wander. Every nook and cranny had texture and personality, reflecting a different aspect of the circus.

In-game: The ticketbooth for the circus with a closed sign hanging from it.
Image via Immersia

Gameplay

Immersia’s Circus of the Lost Souls was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ The Circus of the Lost Souls’ opening gamespace was the circus’ midway, a beautiful exterior that left us clamoring to know what was inside of the various structures.

➕ The circus props were cute, fun, and interactive. We found the scaled-up props especially amusing.

➖ The second act felt under-designed. We were underwhelmed by the set, props, and puzzles within the space. One of these puzzles only allowed a single player to interact with it. A different puzzle sequence had fatally flawed cluing. It was clear that Immersia had tried to refine it, and the concept had merit, but it needed to be entirely reworked.

➕ Immersia created a thematic dexterity challenge. We enjoyed how one prop transformed to give this puzzle additional dimensions.

➖ In multiple puzzles, upon making a mistake, we had to go back to the beginning of what quickly became long and tedious sequences.

➕ Immersia created an adorable, playful hint system for Circus of Lost Souls. The gamemaster could adapt it to the team. It added so much charm to the experience.

➕/➖ The clock in the moon was a cool idea. That said, we wanted the moon to be more of a natural timer; there were ways to do it.

➖ Throughout the game, it appeared as though Immersia had defaced their sets with scribbles. Although we had fun resolving this oddity, we wished it had been executed more cleanly within the game’s aesthetic, and had been justified in the narrative.

Circus of Lost Souls had a tangible and satisfying meta puzzle. This was an unusual mechanic. It was chaotic, but also organized, and worked well in a circus.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Note that this game is at Immersia’s Boisbriand location.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).

Book your hour with Immersia’s Circus of the Lost Souls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Immersia provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Immersia – Weekend at the Shack [Review]

Update 2/15/22: If you enjoy Weekend at the Shack, we hope you’ll check out our interview with Immersia’s owners Maxime & Roxane Filion on The Reality Escape Pod.

Killer Party

Location:  Laval, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: February 1, 2020

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from 25.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Weekend at the Shack was one of Immersia’s earlier games. While it wasn’t as impressive as the Circus of the Lost Souls or the Grand Immersia Hotel, this escape room was brimming with personality.

In-game: the kitchen of an AirBNB.
Image via Immersia

Immsersia committed to building a strikingly realistic set and infused the game with convincing audiovisual theatrics. The net effect was that we cared about the characters that we encountered over the screen.

Even a week after playing, I can barely remember any of the puzzles. They were adequate, old-school challenges. They weren’t the point.

Ultimately, Weekend at the Shack was far more than the sum of its parts. We attribute that to Immersia’s commitment to experience. If puzzling is what draws you to escape rooms, I will confidently recommend passing on Weekend at the Shack. However, if you’re willing to surrender to the experience and let the theatrics lead, then I recommend checking out Weekend at the Shack, if you’ve already played Circus of the Lost Souls or the Grand Immersia Hotel. This was a different game and we enjoyed it for what it was.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Horror fans
  • Searchers

Why play?

  • A believable set
  • Fantastic acting
  • Strong storytelling

Story

For our friend’s 30th birthday a group of us had decided to rent a shack up north for a weekend. It was going to be the best weekend ever! Nothing could wreck our amazing weekend!

In-game: a silly looking lamp with a van as its base.
Image via Immersia

Setting

Weekend at the Shack honestly looked like a rentable shack. The furniture, decor, and layout felt completely real.

The kitchen was the most realistic kitchen that we’ve ever seen in an escape room.

This may not have been the most complicated set to build, but Immersia nailed it and it helped sell the fiction.

In-game: closeup of a tilted lamp in a grim room.
Image via Immersia

Gameplay

Immersia’s Weekend at the Shack was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Weekend at the Shack opened with a silly intro video that introduced us to the characters. In just a few minutes, Immersia made us care about these characters just enough to make them matter.

➕ The opening set looked genuine… like humans actually lived there.

➕ Immersia used video clips throughout Weekend at the Shack for character building and to add intensity. These were well produced and served the gameplay.

➕ Immersia created a backstory for their serial killer. Their character development made this more interesting than another SAW-knockoff murder basement.

➖ There was a cheap scare that didn’t make sense as a part of this story.

➕ Our hints came from another character who existed just outside of our experience. Immersia tailored the interactions with this individual to the tone of our group. They committed to making these interactions – whether we needed hints or not – an engaging and funny part of the experience. This was a thoughtful, integrated hint system that added to our experience in Weekend at the Shack regardless of our skill with the puzzles.

➖ Much of the gameplay in Weekend at the Shack felt dated. The escape room relied heavily on searching and paper-based cluing. The puzzles weren’t memorable.

➖ A few of the props were badly worn.

➕ Near the end of Weekend at the Shack, we encountered a decision point. The choices were clear and the fact that we were making a choice was as well. Immersia set us up for this decision from the opening moments of our experience. In this way, it was more meaningful than simply choosing to be brave or moral.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking lot.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • While there are jump scares in this game, Immersia can intensify, lessen, or even remove them entirely, based on your comfort level. While we advocate for playing the escape room as designed, and believe that the jump scares add to the experience, Weekend at the Shack is far more than a collection of scares. It stands on its own even if the scares are removed from the experience.
  • Note that this game is at Immersia’s Laval Location.

Book your hour with Immersia’s Weekend at the Shack, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Immersia provided media discounted tickets for this game.