Actors As Escape Room Gamemasters on The Hayden Farm

In mid-November 2021 Room Escape Artist hosted an Escape Immerse Explore tour to The Hayden Farm at 13th Hour Escape Rooms in Wharton, NJ. Based on my experiences on previous tours, I purchased a ticket without knowing very much about 13th Hour or what to expect from their escape games. 

On October evenings and weekends when the haunted house next door is operating (sometimes including Christmas & Valentine’s Day), the escape rooms have an added twist: actors. The actors roam the escape rooms providing character, hints, and the occasional jump scare. They are also the gamemasters. The actors take on the personas of the different members of the Hayden family, a clan of murderers who use the tricks and traps installed into the different rooms of their old farmhouse to capture their next victims.

Room Escape Artist was able to pull some strings and bring the actors back in for our post-Halloween visit. This was the best example of in-room actors-as-gamemasters that I have ever seen. Days afterward I was still marveling about how impressive they were.

The father of the Hayden family looking creepy in a torn up suit.

How It Works

On the day we visited The Hayden Farm, 4 or 5 escape rooms were running at all times. These games were serviced by 4 in-character actors (in complete haunt style costume and makeup) along with a 5th team member in the control room. The actors were free to roam the entire facility as needed. They would periodically visit each game individually or as a group. They would interact with the players and each other, adding story, comedy, scares and hints to the games.

The younger brother of the Hayden family with a large eye wound.

Playing Both Sides

The motivation for the fictional Hayden family members is to have you fail the game and therefore be trapped in their house where you will meet an end of their choosing. 

I was fascinated by how clearly this storyline came through, while they made sure each team escaped in just enough time. For slower teams, they gave just enough hints to keep them progressing. For teams moving quickly, they’d playfully sabotage, but always to just the right extent so that the players escaped on time and the actor could then play up their disappointment at having to eat spaghetti for dinner again instead of dining on the flesh of their victims.

Their knowledge of all the games allowed them to provide in-character hints that didn’t feel like hints. They used dialog and physical acting to clue players towards important information. 

The older sister of the Hayden family with blood spattered across her face and dress.

Connecting With Players

Since we were playing multiple games on the same day, the characters became familiar to us, and we to them. Ongoing jokes, nicknames and running gags added so much fun to our visit. 

One frustration I experienced as a player was that due to the building design there can be some sound bleed between rooms, but it works in the story world because the setting is a single farmhouse with multiple rooms. Our actors used this to their advantage to both understand what was happening in other games and to communicate with each other to help facilitate their visits to each team. Hearing the characters screaming and arguing with each other throughout the house was both spooky and believable.

The big brother of the Hayden family choking David.
(Not typical customer service)

Hear It From Tour Attendees

Here are some comments about the actors from other tour participants:

“It’s really an incredible skill that they have to be creepy, sweet, funny, kind, and cutting all at the same time – and also be great gamemasters.”

“They seemed to strike the perfect balance between leaving us alone and giving us help, and they were always there to help us cross the finish line which was really appreciated.”

“Live, in-person hinting can already be tricky, so to do it through multiples rooms running simultaneously, while staying in character is #chef’s kiss

“There seemed to be musical or sound clues they responded to. For example, the “daughter” was with us in the parlor and ran off quickly when she heard a song play in another room. Likewise, they all showed up when a music cue went off in the parlor.“

“The performers were terrific! They did a great job balancing messing with us and giving us hints, and kept us laughing the whole time.”

“I thought the actors were wonderful. They heightened the immersion and brought the games to life in a thrilling but campy way. They walked a fine line between scary and humorous and made the experience wickedly fun!”

Animation of the younger sister of the Hayden watching TV while holding her dolls. She occasionally lunges forward and sticks her tongue out.

Consider Escape Immerse Explore

My experience at The Hayden Farm was surprising and wonderful. An EIE tour once again went above and beyond what I was expecting. It introduced me to a style of gamemastering that will be hard to top. 

The service that Room Escape Artist is providing by running these tours is quite remarkable. Escape room players from all over are able to gather and experience some of the best games and the most interesting styles and techniques on the market today. The tours also provide a means of connection and community-building that is important for our industry. I encourage everyone to keep their eyes peeled for announcements about future Escape Immerse Explore tours from Room Escape Artist.

If you want to make sure you’re informed when the 2022 tours are announced, contact REA and note your interest in future tours.

Chinese NeXT SUMMIT 2021: Online Date is December 12

Earlier this month, the NeXT SUMMIT: Global Immersive Industry Summit 2021 took place in China. We participated virtually, we sending in a recorded talk on western escape games.

This event continues online on December 12 (postponed from its original online date in November).

Lisa & David giving a talk that is subtitled in Mandarin.

Details

  • Sunday, December, 12 Shanghai / Saturday, December 11 New York
  • Introduction at 8am Shanghai (GMT+8) / 7pm New York
  • Live Discussion at 9am Shanghai (GMT+8) / 8pm New York
  • Early bird tickets (purchased before Dec 7) at only $15

With your ticket, you’ll get access to all the talks in English, and if they get at least 100 registrants, they’ll subtitle all the talks Chinese as well… which would be really cool!

You can read more about all the international speakers here.

We’re Speaking Virtually at the Chinese NeXT SUMMIT 2021 (Immersive Industry) – Tickets Available Now

NeXT SCENE, a global consulting firm in the immersive entertainment industry, is hosting the NeXT SUMMIT: Global Immersive Industry Summit 2021 to open dialogues across the global immersive industry.

We’re excited to be speaking virtually.

(To be clear, this is not The Immersive Experience Institute’s The NEXT Stage, the event produced by No Proscenium and Everything Immersive, taking place in Los Angeles in January. We’re speaking there too, but that announcement is forthcoming.)

Next Summit 2021 logo

Speakers

Speakers are from the United States, Britain, France, Singapore, and China. They are leaders in Secret Cinema, AREA 15, the Association of French Immersive Artists, the French Immersive Studios, Shui On Land, Jones Lang LaSalle, Modern Sky, IQIYI, Probenotes, Mirrorland TRPG, MAX DUU COUNT, and more.

Our short recorded talk is an overview of the Western escape room scene. We also cover the recent trend of online escape rooms that emerged during the pandemic.

You can see the full schedule including all the speakers at the ticket link below.

Tickets

Tickets include access to the recorded talks (subtitled into English and Chinese) and an interactive event on November 20th.

The talks will be presented in Shanghai on November 10th and 11th and made available for international audiences on November 18th.

The interactive event takes place on November 20th from 10pm – Midnight in Shanghai, which means it’s accessible during the day for Americans and Europeans.

Early bird access is $15 and ends November 15th.

We look forward to watching the talks and also attending the live event and continuing to build global connections with like minded folks.

ICYMI: RECON 21 After Hours with Neil Patrick Harris & Escape This Podcast

As part of RECON After Hours, we hosted a live Escape This Podcast play along extravaganza.

The live event was a ton of fun with an energetic discord chat full of entertaining gifs and helpful suggestions.

If you weren’t able to attend live, you can still play along from home on the Room Escape Artist YouTube channel.

Hosts Bill Sunderland and Dani Siller of Escape This Podcast were joined by players Neil Patrick Harris, Emily Jillette, and Harrison Greenbaum.

This trio of talented puzzlers and entertainers was – you guessed it – great at solving and highly entertaining.

This is an audio escape room. You can view the accompanying images here and play along.

Enjoy!

And now… The RECON 21 Day 2 Featured Talks on YouTube

All of the featured talks from RECON ’21 are now available to view on the Room Escape Artist YouTube channel. The newly available day 2 talks first aired August 23, 2021.

Available RECON ’21 Featured Talks

Title: Playing with Game Structure: the Macro of Mechanics
Speakers: Aaron Hooper & Leanne Yong of Next Level Games

Title: Marketing: Building a Stronger Web Presence
Speaker: Maxime Filion of Immersia Escape Games

Title: Advanced Tech: Using Light & Sound to Build World-Class Experiences
Speakers: Chris Lattner & Malte Eiben of The Room

Title: Crafting an Experience for Your Players Through Gamemastering
Speakers: Jayson Mamaclay of Fuzzy Logic Escape Room, Saskia Arzheimer & Sarah Dillenberger of 66 Minuten Theater Adventures 

Title: Panel Discussion: Tabletop Escape Games
Hosts: Jared Dauenhauer & Zach Baughman of the Puzzling Company Podcast
Panelists: 

  • Nicholas Cravotta & Rebecca Bleau of BlueMatter Games
  • Angela Lawson-Scott of Crack-a-Nut Mysteries
  • Silvano Sorrentino of dV Giochi
  • Anna Lysova & Lisa Levina of Scarlet Envelope
  • Michelle Rundbaken & Yacine Merzouk of Society of Curiosities

Title: Fun Insurance: What Makes a Good Hint System
Speakers: Summer Herrick of Locurio & Rita Orlov of PostCurious

Title: Escape Rooms Taught Me How to Build a Booth That Got Me Kicked Out of Comic-Con
Speaker: Elan Lee of Exploding Kittens

You can also watch all the day 1 talks, plus the RECON ’21 Introduction by Neil Patrick Harris and the after-hours events with Escape this Podcast and The Two Bears.

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