Everything Immersive Livestream – First Episode!

Last night we kicked off the first Everything Immersive livestream with our friends at No Proscenium.

YouTube's red play button logo.

Everything Immersive

In early 2017 we quietly created the Everything Immersive Facebook group with NoPro and Ricky Brigante (founder of Inside The Magic).

This collaboration has created a thriving group dedicated to the various branches of immersive entertainment.

The Livestream

Last night’s discussion spanned a variety of experiences and ideas with 3 people that we adore (Noah, Kathyrn, & Anthony).

Given that this was our maiden voyage, there were some technical issues… but it did work. Early on there were some echoes, in the middle Anthony got into a fight with Skype, and near the end we had some audio drop.

If you make it to the end… you might hear some details about our next tour. You’ll see the full announcement publish here in the not too distant future.

The Best Medicine Productions – The Shadow Space [Review]

We will, we will haunt you.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: May 30, 2019

Team size: 10 tickets per time slot

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $50 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

With a simple setting and an elegant premise, The Shadow Space offered a fun and unique combination of immersive theater, escape room, and murder mystery.

As ghosts on a guided tour of the living, we got to experience the other side of a haunted house. Through observation, deduction, and some light haunting of the actors in the performance, we attempted to determine what had happened in the house and influence the characters towards a favorable ending.

4 hands on a ouiji board.

Playing as ghosts felt novel and invigorating. Being invisible removed the complexity and awkwardness of two-way communication that sometimes comes along with immersive theater, while still providing an entertaining new mechanic.

The Shadow Space will be back for a second run in October 2019. If you’re near Los Angeles and curious to experience a uniquely haunting hybrid show, The Shadow Space is worth checking out.

Who is this for?

  • Immersive theater fans
  • Mystery lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Unusual interactions
  • Escalation
  • Collaborative mystery solving
  • The chance to be on the other side of a haunting for once

Story

As recently deceased ghosts, we were on a tour of the living. Our guides had promised us an evening of entertainment as we observed the inhabitants of a home on a day of celebration…and we encountered even more drama than we’d imagined.

The haunted house, a beautiful blue and white house with a yellow door and a porch.

Setting

The Shadow Space took place in a cozy Los Angeles home decorated with items of importance to its inhabitants. We haunted the first floor of the house, which included a kitchen, living room, study, and dining room where the two occupants were hosting another couple for a get-together. As we could not walk through doors, the rest of the space was off limits.

The house felt lived in, and the layout of the rooms allowed us to explore and follow the actors however we chose.

Rules of Haunting: No phones or smoking. The living can't hear you. Don't touch or block the living. Touch only what glows.

Gameplay

The Shadow Space was an immersive theater production with mystery and puzzle elements. Though it started out as a simple evening of ghostly entertainment, we eventually discovered that we needed to solve a mystery by uncovering clues and influencing the actors.

The Shadow Space emphasized the performances and the gameplay roughly equally. Though we encountered a couple of more traditional puzzles, most of the solving took place in the audience’s minds as we pieced together the clues to the central mystery.

As ghosts, we were invisible to the residents, but our hosts warned us not to haunt them too aggressively. Therefore, we could only touch objects that shone with a spiritual energy (i.e., items that lit up under a blacklight), and only when the living were not observing us. We could, however, interact with certain objects to spook the living—as long as they weren’t looking. We also could not pass through doors unless they were opened for us, which presented an interesting challenge.

Though it wasn’t all about winning, the gameplay had a medium to high level of difficulty. Between the puzzles and the central mystery, core gameplay revolved around observation, deduction, and timing.

Analysis

➕ The concept of a ghost tour and the presence of tour guides brought levity to a potentially somber and disturbing story. A pre-show icebreaker where the audience members revealed our (often humorous) causes of death also lifted tension, which helped prepare us for the experience.

➕ The premise of playing as ghosts haunting the living was inventive, and just plain fun. We enjoyed puzzling out how to affect the actors without interacting in the traditional sense.

➕/➖ Between exploring the house and observing the different actors, The Shadow Space provided a lot of possible threads to follow. On one hand, that freedom felt exhilarating. However, with nine audience members and six actors in the space, we struggled to keep track of everything, and communication became an additional challenge.

➖ For the sake of realism, the actors spoke at a normal volume, as if there weren’t a dozen other people in the space with them. This hindered our sleuthing somewhat, as we missed some moments that revealed key information about the characters’ relationships. If the more important conversations had unfolded in such a way that the audience couldn’t miss them, we would have felt more in control.

➕ The moment of transition from ghost tourists to mystery solvers surprised us and ramped up the excitement. The change in our objective felt seamless.

➕/➖ One early haunting opportunity brought the entire group together for a shared experience. That moment was fun and engaging, but it felt disconnected from the rest of the show. It would have felt more rewarding if that moment had paid off later, or otherwise been incorporated into the story.

➖ Our tour guides left us alone at one point, and we weren’t sure whether we still had to follow the rules without supervision. A bit more guidance on how the game worked would have reassured us in that moment.

➕ The actors did an impressive job of performing while both monitoring and ignoring the audience. On top of all that, their dialogue and actions often suggested what we were supposed to do next. This built-in hint delivery was subtle and effective while maintaining immersion.

➖ The clues we needed to solve the mystery were hard to piece together in such a whirlwind environment, and we only had a moment to decide on what we thought had happened. We would have benefited from another couple minutes to discuss our findings as a group before voting on what course of action to take.

➕ “Haunting” the actors felt thrilling and unique. We found ourselves wishing the show had been a bit longer so we could have had some extra time to play around with the ghost mechanics.

Tips For Visiting

The Shadow Space had a limited run in May 2019 and is not currently playing. In future performances, the venue and other details may change. You can sign up for The Shadow Space’s mailing list to be notified about the show’s return from October 8 to November 3, 2019.

Update 10/1/19: The Shadow Space will be running October 8 – November 3, 2019 in Hollywood. Tickets are available and for a limited time people can get a 1/3 off tickets by using the promo code “RIP.” The show has moved to the historic Hartsock House in the heart of Hollywood that was built in 1919 to house missionaries. There is parking. 

This experience has live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; this is a low-pressure event for less outgoing audience members.

The Shadow Space was tense and unsettling at times, but never truly scary. However, the October run may change things up in that department.

When the show returns in October, book your hour with The Best Medicine Productions’ The Shadow Space, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Kickstarting The Nest 2.0 – An Interview

When we visited Scout Expedition Company’s The Nest in June of 2017, during its first run in Los Angeles, we were so moved that it left us truly speechless for hours after the experience.

We were so impressed with how the puzzles served as gates for telling a story that we started to think differently about what escape rooms could be. The Nest wasn’t an escape room, but it used elements of escape room-style gameplay to deliver an emotional, personal, and impactful story.

As Scout Expedition Company closes in on the final days of their Kickstarter to relaunch the show, we caught up with Creative Directors Jarrett Lantz and Jeff Leinenveber to learn more about version 2.0.

A man with a flashlight searching a storage space filled with cardboard boxes.

REA: The Nest is coming back!?

Yes, we’re taking everything we learned from the 2017 production and remounting the ultimate version of the show – kind of like a director’s cut. We’re really excited to be bringing it back!

How would you explain The Nest for someone who hasn’t experienced it?

In the story of The Nest, a woman named Josie recently passed away, leaving behind a storage unit filled with decades of her belongings. Audience members are equipped with a flashlight and explore Josie’s storage unit, searching through objects and listening to audio tapes to piece together her story.

We’re huge fans of immersive theater, narrative video games like Gone Home, Firewatch, or What Remains of Edith Finch, and escape rooms. The Nest mashes up certain elements from each. In its functionality, the show has a fairly similar framework to an escape room – experience a physical environment for a set period of time – with a little less focus on puzzles and a little bit more on story.

A view of an old freight elevator shaft with dramatic shadows being cast against the walls.

Tell us a bit about the new location. How does that change the piece?

The remount takes place in a beautiful, 1920s-era former storage building in Los Angeles. It really is the perfect location! Audience members will ride a freight elevator to one of the upper floors, where the show takes place.

Luckily, we have a bigger space to work with than before, so we’ll be able to create a few more distinct parts of the storage room while keeping the same rich, intimate environments that made the show so special.

What else will be different this time around?

A lot!

We did 250 shows of the original version of The Nest, so now we can take those learnings to create the ultimate version from scratch. Since we’re in a larger space, the layout is completely different. Some of the scenic design is going in a slightly more abstract direction.

We’re also making each puzzle more of an interaction where we’re walking in the footsteps of Josie. Although the general story is fairly similar, we’re rewriting the entire thing to flow better

A man with a flashlight off in the distance down a long hall of storage units.

Who is The Nest for?

Originally, we’d targeted fans of immersive theater, but as the show went on, it was clear it resonated with a more general audience.

We had tons of enthusiasts of immersive theater and escape rooms, but also people who’d never done anything immersive before.

Visitors included lots of video game developers, parents with their adult children, and people on dates.

It seems that The Nest was really enjoyed by a broad spectrum of audience members.

How should escape room players, in particular, approach The Nest to get the most out of the experience?

Even though it shares some of the same elements as escape rooms, The Nest is something different.

There’s no countdown clock. Everyone gets to the end. The puzzles aren’t the most challenging. Instead, they are small interactions that place you into the shoes of Josie.

Our best advice is to approach The Nest like you’re about to experience a story. Feel free to slow down and enjoy it.

Closeup of a man with a flashlight searching a hallway of storage units.

Why did you decide on Kickstarter as your platform for launching this?

The Nest really is a labor of love. We want to focus on executing the best creative vision rather than making a huge profit. As you can probably guess, this isn’t the best pitch for investors!

So, we decided to self-fund a big chunk of the show, with the remainder coming through Kickstarter. This will really help us to create the ultimate version, because we’re accountable to you, the audience, instead of to investors.

When will the remounted The Nest run? And for how long?

Our initial run will start in late summer for three months, but if ticket sales are healthy, we do have the option to extend. We’ll send extension announcements to those subscribed to our mailing list.

What made this the right time to bring back The Nest?

So much of immersive theater relies on finding the right space for your ideas. It was always our intention to bring back The Nest farther in the future, but we could not take this show just anywhere. Then the right opportunity presented itself… and here we are!

REA Conclusion

As we think back to our visit to The Nest, we have to agree with Jarrett and Jeff. The intimacy of the space and the way Josie’s story spilled out of it… that really captivated us.

We’re excited Scout Expedition Company has found the right next space for The Nest.

Jarrett and Jeff did an amazing job with the first iteration. We hope that this iteration will run long enough for us to see where they’re taking it.

Back The Nest on Kickstarter and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you. There’s less than a week left to do so!

Broken Ghost Immersive – The Bunker [Review]

Legally distinct apocalypse.

Location: New York, NY

Date Played: August 11, 2018

Team size: 8-15; we recommend 8-12

Duration: Between 120 – 150 minutes

Price: $55 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

The Bunker was a wild ride of an immersive game. It mashed up roleplaying, tabletop gaming, puzzling, and storytelling into a sprawling post-apocalyptic epic that was both compelling and funny.

We loved The Bunker, but caution that people should only book tickets if they are willing to embrace whatever the game throws at them and play. If you’re too uncomfortable or too cool to play in The Bunker’s fiction, then this experience is decidedly not for you.

Similarly, if all you want are puzzles, or an elegant story presented to you… there are plenty of escape rooms or immersive shows that will scratch that itch; The Bunker is not what you’re seeking.

Your mileage will vary based on whom you’re playing with and the choices that you make. By total happenstance found ourselves teamed up with Kathryn Yu from No Proscenium & Michael Andersen of ARGNET, which was the most amazing random teammate assignment possible.

For those that showed up with their imagination and a willingness to play, The Bunker presented countless opportunities to explore within a strange world and build our own unique story.

In-game: David's shirt with a empathy sticker on it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Best for players who are willing to embrace the game
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every scene

Why play?

  • Fantastic gamemastering
  • Open-ended interactive storytelling that relied heavily on player decision
  • Unique moments for every player who desires them
  • Opportunity to leave your mark on your group’s story
  • Humor
  • Brilliant game mechanics
  • Each group receives a unique ending

Story

As backers of a crowdfunding project to create a series of apocalypse survival bunkers, we had gone for a tour of one of the facilities when the world ended. The bunker had locked down and the shelter’s AI DeBUNK had put us into stasis for over a century.

When DeBUNK revived us, things weren’t so great. The world had been transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland of familiar yet legally distinct horrors, our bunker’s life support systems were starting to fail, and we were low on food.

In-game: A laptop sitting on a counter in a red lit kitchen.
DeBUNK, our Bunker’s AI.

Setting

The Bunker was staged in Wildrence, a NYC experiential space and consulting studio that helps provide other creators with an immersive space and the tools necessary to bring their experiences to life. Previously this facility has hosted RefugeContagion, and Six Impossible Things (which is an exceptional close-up immersive magic performance. Get tickets if you can!).

Our bunker and homebase was staged in the Wildrence kitchen set. Leaving the safety of our bunker required a hazmat suit (holding a hazmat suit card). Outside our bunker, we met a character who facilitated our exploration of the rest of the game’s expansive world.

In-game: A mechanical bug on some papers.

Gameplay

The Bunker was an immersive game with a variety of game mechanics, a tabletop crafting game, some puzzles, and a lot of free-form roleplaying.

In the bunker we could ask questions of our AI DeBUNK (a gamemaster character over Google Hangouts), attempt to build things via the crafting tabletop game, use the tablets that we found across the wasteland to communicate (text) with other bunkers, and manage our resources.

In-game: cards representing duct tape and a hazmat suit.

Resources were drawn playing cards: rations, Twinkies, hazmat suits, tools, medicines, and whatever else we found while exploring the world. Some resources were reusable; others burned as soon as we committed them.

In-game: The world map, revealing the names of different locations.
Our world map.

Exploration involved going out into the wasteland and telling the character which direction we wanted to go. Along the way, he told us which structures we had encountered and we made choices about which to visit. Once we had made a selection, he described the encounter and we decided how to react using only our wits and whatever resources we had onhand.

When the exploration ended, our gamemaster informed us of how everything had resolved. This included what resources we had found and what terrible physical and psychological afflictions we had picked up along our journey through the hellscape… and some strikingly bad things happened to our people.

In-game: a hobbled sticker, player can't explore as effectively.

When things happened to us, we received stickers depicting our abilities or afflictions. Some stickers gave us additional powers to help us; others represented physical or psychological damage that diminished our abilities. Some of these afflictions could be cured; others couldn’t… and some we simply didn’t want to cure because they were amusing.

Ultimately, each player had to take responsibility for their own good time.

Analysis

The Bunker had a massive amount of story content and opportunities for us to explore, create drama, or stumble into trouble.

+ More than just about any immersive game that we’ve played, the choices that we made in The Bunker had immediate and logical consequences. We were never totally shocked when something happened because it flowed out of a decision that we had made either in that moment, or earlier.

+ The more each of us put into the game, the more the game gave back to us. Many of us had some wild experiences. The Bunker rewarded those of us who embraced the game and its fiction.

+ For us, the best parts were the adventures that we had when we left our Bunker. The game world, the choices, and the implications were endlessly entertaining.

+ The stickers signifying afflictions and abilities were brilliant and amusing. The illustrations on them were funny. It was especially clever that they could be quickly applied or removed (if cured).

+ The gamemasters were interactive, funny, and effective at facilitating the game. Their mastery over their own story and content was perpetually evident.

– There was a 3-person staff managing the entire game. As the scope of the world grew, it became a bit chaotic. They were surprisingly adept at wrangling everything that was going on, but there were times where it was clearly a bit too much.

– Our teammates who hung out in our bunker and made no effort to embrace the experience clearly didn’t enjoy themselves. On one hand, during the game I was annoyed with them because it seemed clear to me that they were doing themselves a disservice and all that they would have needed to do was volunteer to do anything at all to jumpstart a better experience. On the other hand, there truly was no mechanism for pulling these wayward players into the experience if they failed to show initiative. This really was a flaw in the game.

+ Broken Ghost Immersive had created some really smart afflictions to prevent strong personalities from overpowering the game. I saw this happen in real time at least once and knew exactly what was going on. I was dumbfounded by how brilliantly and elegantly our gamemaster used the mechanic.

– While we didn’t have any problems, I am confident that one hyperaggressive player could severely damage the entire The Bunker experience for all involved. Although the same could be said for escape rooms, since The Bunker was entirely social, the human element was even more critical.

– Lisa and a few of our other teammates spent a lot of the game off on their own journey away from the main story. While Lisa enjoyed her experience and the part she played in that narrative, by the time her narrative reconnected with the main story, too much had happened in the bunker for her to even begin to follow what was going on. She was pretty confused by the events of our end game.

+ The puzzles, for those that encountered them, were solid and thematic.

– The level of physical immersion was spotty and required a lot of suspension of disbelief and a willingness to embrace imagination. Broken Ghost Immersive delivered storylines that were clearly less immersive with a wink and a nod and a dose of humor, but sometimes it wasn’t necessarily enough.

+ At the end of the game we were given the opportunity to choose a long-term strategy for our bunker. Based on that decision we immediately received an epilogue describing the conclusion to our story. It was intriguing, deeply rooted in the decisions that we had made throughout the game, and sensical. The epilogue put a lovely bow on our apocalypse.

Tips for Visiting

  • Show up willing to interact, explore, and play.
  • Bring a group of people who all want to play.
  • When you’re playing, be bold, imaginative, and decisive. Great and terrible things will happen to your group regardless.
  • It’s not an escape room. Leave your searching skills at home.
  • A few of our favorite restaurants in the area include Russ & Daughters Cafe, Vanessa’s Dumpling House, and Mission Chinese Food.
  • By subway, take the F to East Broadway. Street parking can be challenging in this neighborhood.
  • The Wildrence is located down a flight of stairs.

Book your session with Broken Ghost Immersive’s The Bunker, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Broken Ghost Immersive comped our tickets for this game.

Mister and Mischief – Escape from Godot [Review]

A real-life actor’s nightmare.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date played: June 17, 2018

Team size: 8 tickets per time slot

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket (limited run during the Hollywood Fringe Festival)

Ticketing: public

REA Reaction

At its best, Escape from Godot felt a little like that dream where you’re on stage and you can’t remember your lines… only exciting and fun. A refreshing blend of escape room and immersive theater, Escape from Godot used puzzles and gameplay to drive the stage production forward. The experience was appropriately absurdist… being based on Waiting for Godot (synopsis).

The actors blew us away with their commitment to delivering their lines while managing game flow.

Escape from Godot broke away from escape room conventions. What emerged was fun, engaging, and impressive. We left feeling entertained and energized. If Escape from Godot is revived in another form, it would definitely be worth checking out.

In-game: Three actors performing a scene. One actor looks very surprised.
Photo credit: Anne Rene Brashier

Who is this for?

  • Theater fans
  • Players who enjoy interacting with actors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Quirky puzzles integrated with a live theater production
  • Talented and enthusiastic actors
  • Unique, playful experience
  • Bowler hats

Story

Upon arriving at a theater to attend a friend’s play, we learned that everyone involved in the production was being threatened with a lawsuit if they continued the play without permission – including the audience. We had one hour to fill in for the stage manager and help the actors complete the play before the lawyers arrived to shut it down.

Setting

Escape from Godot was an escape room intertwined with a theater production. Rather than relying on scenery and effects, the immersiveness of Escape from Godot unfolded mostly temporally, via actors and props on the stage. The set, a relatively ordinary theater, was secondary to the puzzles and interactions.

Gameplay

Mister and Mischief’s Escape from Godot was an escape game and theater blend that revolved around theatrical cues, dialogue, and actor interactions. We participated both as audience members watching the actors and as crew members puzzling out how to guide the play (and the escape room) to its final curtain.

Escape from Godot included medium-difficulty escape room puzzles involving logic, observation, and wordplay.

Two actors standing on stage while another actor whispers to a player
Photo credit: Anne Rene Brashier

Analysis

+ Escape from Godot was fun for theater buffs and theater newbies alike. Those of us who were more familiar with Waiting for Godot got extra enjoyment from certain details and interactions, but we didn’t need to have seen the play.

+ The absurdist theme meant we weren’t always sure what we were supposed to do, but orienting ourselves was part of the challenge. It felt like being in an actor’s nightmare, with all the chaos and confusion of being thrust on stage without our lines – but in a good way.

+ The puzzles were whimsical and integrated with the theme.

+ Escape from Godot involved actor interaction, but some players were in the spotlight more than others. Shy players didn’t have to worry because interaction was limited and only as involved as each person wanted it to be. Accommodating different audience member personalities made the show approachable to extroverted players as well as people who were less comfortable with interaction.

+ The actors went all out. On top of their solid acting, they delivered hints subtly and seamlessly, right when we needed them. By calibrating our timing with thoughtful cluing, they had the ability to control the flow of the experience and make sure each group felt victorious at the end. This kind of improvisation must have been tricky to pull off. We were impressed with how effortless it felt and how much it added to our enjoyment.

– The venue wasn’t perfect. The space near the stage was a bit cramped, which made it hard for all eight of us to participate equally at times when we were in the audience area.

+ Playing Escape from Godot felt true to the experience of watching a play; it also felt like putting on a play. Even without elaborate sets, the action and the puzzles kept us engaged and immersed for the whole hour.

? Due to the linear gameplay, there were a couple of bottleneck moments. Fortunately, the show was designed so that the least busy of us could always entertain ourselves by watching the actors perform their scenes.

+ The beginning and ending of Escape from Godot were largely unguided, which gave us a feeling of mystery when we entered the theater and triumph when we led the show to our curtain call.

+ Escape from Godot showed that the theater is a natural setting for an escape room hybrid. Solving puzzles to influence the show is a unique and fun game mechanic. We’d love to see more people experimenting with integrating gameplay into stage productions.

Tips for Visiting

  • Escape from Godot had a limited run and is no longer playing. If Mister and Mischief decide to revive it, the venue and other details may change.
  • This experience had live actors. Review our tips for playing with actors. Interaction is minimal if you want it to be; having one or two outgoing teammates should be enough.
  • Since Escape from Godot was an escape room within a play, it was more about enjoying the experience than beating the clock. You might have to wait for the actors to finish their lines before you can progress anyway, so take your time and enjoy the performance.

Escape from Godot took place in June 2018 and is not currently running.

Real Life Gaming – Prison Escape (Exclusive English Edition) [Review]

80 actors, 170 players, 1 actual prison.

Location: Breda, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 10, 2018

Team size: up to 400 players; we recommend ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Duration: 3 hours

Price: €79.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Very public

REA Reaction

Prison Escape was no escape room; it was a massive and intense roleplaying game with 80 talented actors and a gigantic cast of players. Prison Escape was a living, breathing entity, an organism with systems that impacted one another. A disruption here trickled down to there.

From their extensive prison intake introduction, to the various escape conspiracies, Prison Escape was a factory that produced individual moments for its players to experience. Some of those moments were epic; others were dull snippets of prison life. They all came together to form a story arc for each player.

The planning, coordination, and care that went into Prison Escape was mind-boggling. When we stop to think about what they have achieved, it’s impossible to be anything but impressed.Lisa's Prison Escape mugshot in an orange jump suit.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • LARPers or people who are willing to be social
  • Players who are comfortable knowing that they will not experience most of the things that this game has to offer

Why play?

  • Fairly open-ended gameplay where with some luck, you’ll get out of it what you put into it
  • Playing a prison escape game in an actual prison
  • The actors were phenomenal.
  • Prison Escape was truly massive in scope.

Story

We were all new convicts serving 10-year sentences in the Breda Prison Dome. We could either find a way to make a new life behind bars or attempt to escape.

The crowd of 180 players gathered outside of the Breda Prison Dome.

Setting

Prison Escape was played in and around the Breda Prison Dome, the retired prison that also hosted Up The Game. While some key components like prison locks had been removed from the structure, this was an otherwise authentic setting. It would have been impossible to ask more of the set.

The Prison Dome was massive, imposing, and strangely beautiful. While we had just spent two days in this building for the conference, it felt a lot less friendly under these circumstances, devoid of stage lighting, booths, and conference infrastructure.

David's Prison Escape mugshot in an grey jump suit.

Gameplay

Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape was not an escape room at all. Prison Escape was something between a real life game and an immersive theater.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, conversation, and a willingness to take action.

Exterior of the Breda Prison Dome with barred windows and barbed wire.

Analysis

This is an ever-evolving production so these points may not be relevant. If you’re planning to play Prison Escape, I strongly encourage you to skip the spoiler boxes below as the information contained therein may impact the way you choose to play the game.

Have your own experience first. Then return to read the rest of this review. You’ve been warned. 

+ The Breda Prison Dome was a phenomenal venue. This setting that had felt friendly days before was suddenly foreboding. It was an incredible transformation back to its natural state.

Prison Escape had an imposing introduction. It established the game world. It put us in character and costume. The prison warden delivered a badass welcome to hell speech.

Introduction - Discussion

+ The costumes – both ours and the actors’ – further solidified our characters in this experience. The prison guards had a clever technique for efficiently getting each prisoner into a prison jumpsuit that fit them perfectly, without ever disrupting the intense introductory sequence or breaking the fiction.

– The introduction took a long time. We spent a good portion of the first third of Prison Escape standing at attention. The novelty wore off quickly and discomfort set in.

– The grand introduction didn’t matter all that much. Prison Escape shattered that world just as soon as they had established it. We played the rest of the experience in a much looser, more zany prison world. As players, we had a bit of trouble accepting this transition. For quite some time, we were convinced that the harsh reality of the introduction would return. It didn’t. This dramatically impacted our understanding of the game’s world.

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Prison Escape set up epic individual moments. As an individual (or a small group), we’d be dispatched to accomplish a task that would be central to one of the plot threads. We had to come up with our own strategy and proceed. Succeed or fail, Prison Escape created memorable individual moments. For both of us, and most people we’ve talked to, these were the highlights of the experience.

Mid-Game Discussion

+ Prison Escape left a lot of breadcrumbs to lead players into a plot thread of their own. From found objects to the actors, if we observed carefully and made some basic connections, we’d find a plot thread to follow. Prison Escape worked hard to ensure that every player – even those with no experience in this type of gameplay – could engage with it.

+/- The different plot threads affected one another dramatically. When one plot succeeded long before it was intended to, it shattered another plot thread that hinged on an affected character. One group’s win caused another group to fail.

– After a certain point, if a plot thread failed, there was nothing else to do in Prison Escape. There came a point where it was impossible to break into the other storylines. There were no new plots taking shape. When David’s plot was disrupted midway through, there was no more fun to be had at Prison Escape

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+/- Many of the escape plots were comically ridiculous. This was a ton of fun. It was strange, however, when juxtaposed with the serious tone established in the introduction.

End-Game - Discussion

– The few dozen people who didn’t escape didn’t get an end to their story. They got to watch another group’s plot resolve, but they weren’t participants anymore, only onlookers. They didn’t get a conclusion. We don’t recommend that everyone win. We do recommend that everyone receive an interactive ending.

– About 80% of the participants in our play-through escaped the prison. This seemed like a high number. It diminished the victory for those who succeed and added insult to those who did not. While the escape was fun, the best moments of the experience weren’t in achieving victory. We don’t think everyone needs to escape to enjoy Prison Escape. There was a missed opportunity to catch some plots in action and bring back the intensity of the introduction.

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+ The actors were phenomenal. Furthermore, they were all speaking in their second language. This was the first time Real Life Gaming had run Prison Escape in English. We were seriously impressed with the English and the acting, especially all of the improvisation.

+ In Prison Escape, we were responsible for our own experiences, to a point. If we observed, conversed, played, strategized, and engaged, it could be a truly epic experience.

? In Prison Escape, the game structure was responsible for our experiences, to a point. There was a fair bit of luck involved in getting started. The actions of actors and other players would also affect our experiences, both negatively and positively. We weren’t entirely in control of our own destiny, which made sense in a prison.

Prison Escape is not consistent. It is not a stock experience, David and I had profoundly different experiences. Your game will be unique, as will your individual experiences within it.

The Breda Prison Dome lit at night.

Tips for Playing

  • Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of standing at attention.
  • Do not wear a skirt or dress.
  • Bring as few personal effects as you can. You’ll be locking them in lockers during the experience.
  • Be open to the highs and lows of the experience.
  • Take action. You have to actively play if you want anything to happen.

Book your event with Real Life Gaming’s Prison Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Real Life Gaming provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

8Players [Review]

A wild 90s teen murder mystery.

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date Played: January 17, 2018

Team size: 8; tickets are purchased in singles and pairs only

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $75 per ticket

REA Reaction

8Players is a LARP. Anticipating and obfuscation blew 8Players out of proportion. It became something larger than it could possibly pay off. We had a great time; we made ourselves a pretty fun show. However, we would have had a lot more fun if we’d approached the evening with accurate expectations. 8Players‘ intrigue was its own worst enemy.

Who is this for?

  • People who like to act
  • People who can think on their feet
  • People who are excited to participate
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Over-the-top 1990s teen horror drama
  • Anticipation
  • Nonstop involvement

Story

Each of us privately received an email describing our character’s age, gender, and style.

The story – our story – took place the night after a massacre at a high school party in the mid 1990s. Each of our characters played some part in a campy 90s high school horror murder mystery.

The only question bigger than who did it was why.

8Players roleplaying experience logo.
Like an idiot, I forgot to get a picture of us decked out in costumes. I blame the cold weather.

Setting

We were given a secret address a few days prior to the game. The location was in Brooklyn, not too far from a subway line.

We played 8Players seated around a small table in a nifty library / classroom environment. I know exactly where we were, but I’m going to withhold that bit of information because it seemed like the folks from 8Players wanted it to be a mystery.

Gameplay

Each player took their character notes, showed up in costume, and played the experience.

8Players didn’t divulge the gameplay structure. Out of respect for this, we’ve hidden it behind a spoiler. That said, we know at least a couple of people in our group wouldn’t have attended if they’d known how this would play out.

Structural Spoiler

After we were gathered and seated around our table, we were each given an opening statement about our character that we read aloud to the group in a pre-determined order.

From there we were given two-sided pieces of paper with our character information. One side contained information about ourselves that we needed to divulge over the course of the act. The other side had personal secrets that we would have to reveal if pressed by another player, but otherwise should be kept to ourselves.

We were given a few minutes to read everything to ourselves. Then our costumed, in-character facilitator began facilitating dialog by instigating conflict between the various characters. We sat around the table taking turns divulging each other’s secrets and deflecting or confessing to our own.

Each act followed the same structure. The key difference from act to act was our level of comfort with the game. This wasn’t a competition. The gameplay was improvisational role play. The objective was to collaboratively generate fun dialog. As a personal sub-game, I tried to say funny things that would make the facilitator crack.

8Players concluded when we were all given a closing confessional statement about our character and their part in the evening’s mayhem that we read aloud in order.

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Standouts

8Players excelled at anticipation. Their website, pre-show communication, costume notes, and meeting point/ tactic piqued our curiosity. The lack of any additional information kept us curious. We were intrigued.

8Players nailed our roles. They sent a pre-show survey and relied on our answers to assign us characters. They pegged everyone correctly. The role assignments also allowed our quieter players to hold back a little bit.

Throughout the performance, we received written information about the characters (our own and the others). The written material was concise and digestible.

One actress guided the evening’s interaction. She was a moderator in character. She expertly guided us through the narrative. She also kept us from awkward or quiet moments. This was a well-honed moderation style.

Our group: Everyone went for it. This included both friends and strangers (who, as it turned out, read this website). We were hilarious. We made our own show.

Due to the mysterious and controlled beginning, we entered the game in-character. While we were in the experience, we were our characters. The structure forced us to keep our true identities hidden throughout the event.

Shortcomings

In 8Players, we were the show. Our mysterious moderator didn’t perform for us, she instigated dialog. If we failed to pick it up and run with it in a satisfying way, we were going to have a disaster of an experience. There was no room for passive play.

Pre-show communication made a big deal of mandatory costuming, but our efforts felt like a waste. Almost every player in our group went to great lengths to put together a themed getup from head to toe. The show, however, took place around a table. Anything below the chest didn’t matter at all. We couldn’t incorporate any props. We were enormously frustrated… I was especially annoyed because I had lugged a guitar across two rivers because it fit my character perfectly.

We attended 8Players on a January evening. We approached the meeting point at exactly 7:53, as instructed. Then we waited outside, in costume, in below freezing temperatures… for a least 10 minutes. We were not thrilled.

Although we had a lot of agency to affect 8Players – to speak, joke, conspire, and point fingers – we couldn’t maximize this freedom because we didn’t know enough about our characters. If we invented the unknown, we’d later find out we’d invented incorrectly and be left backpeddling.

In the end, our agency was only perceived. We could not change the outcome of the show. Our participation affected the moment, but not the narrative.

The conclusion was so preposterous and over the top that even those of us who had suspended disbelief throughout the experience were left bewildered by the end of our tale.

8Players cost $75 per ticket. That was a steep price for this gameplay structure. Even though we had a lot of fun, given what else is out there, we don’t think it was worth it.

Tips for Visiting

  • 8Players is currently sold out for its winter 2018 run.
  • The facility is walkable from a subway line.
  • There are ample food and drink options in the area.
  • This is not a puzzle game, nor is it theater. Attend if you want to role play with friends and strangers.

Book your session with 8Players, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

 

Paradiso – Path of Beatrice [Review]

Adventures in (public) space.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: September 8-12, 2017

Team size: 1-4

Duration: spread out over a week with shorter options available

Price: from $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant

Story & setting

Path of Beatrice was not an escape room, nor was it a puzzle game or immersive theater. Path of Beatrice was an alternate reality experience (ARX) produced by Paradiso, the creators of the escape rooms The Escape Test and The Memory Room.

All of Paradiso’s experiences are set in the same world against the same Dante’s Inferno-inspired narrative: The Virgil Corporation is running experiments on the human brain with unknown goals and there is an underground movement trying to infiltrate, investigate, and stop Virgil from achieving its ends. Path of Beatrice dropped us in the middle of New York City, in between these two warring factions.

Paradiso Path of Beatrice logo, a silhouetted woman looking out a window upon Manhattan.
Image via Paradiso

Over the course of the 5 days leading up to our booking of The Memory Room, we spent our evenings meeting clandestinely with representatives of both the Virgil Corporation and the resistance group, Stop Virgil. Both gave us assignments and tasks to spy on the other. It was up to us to pick a side and execute on the missions assigned to us.

Paradiso staged Path of Beatrice in Midtown Manhattan across a variety public spaces. It can be played leading up to either The Memory Room or Escape Test.

Interaction

We had daily interactions with the characters of Path of Beatrice. Text conversations, email exchanges, in-person clandestine meetings, and missions in public spaces made up the bulk of the experience.

As we explored Path of Beatrice’s real world segments, we could not tell who was a simple pedestrian and who was an actor in our experience.

Participating in Path of Beatrice also changed the gameplay of the culminating escape room experience. Playing Path of Beatrice had a surprisingly significant impact on our playthrough of The Memory Room.

Standouts

Paradiso chose the public spaces that they incorporated into Path of Beatrice wisely. They put these locations to good use. They also reframed how we thought about public spaces that week.

In-game: A monolithic and ornate gate.

The actors that we encountered were impressive. When they weren’t invisibly blending into New York City, they were comfortably improvising with us as we interrogated one another.

Paradiso included some shockingly unnecessary, yet impressive details in Path of Beatrice.

Path of Beatrice conveyed the story of Paradiso quite well. From playing the escape rooms alone, the story could be a little difficult to understand; this filled in so many gaps.

We were given the freedom to enjoy Path of Beatrice as we wanted. We chose the side that we wanted to support.

Shortcomings

Scheduling a recurring week-long experience was a little bit tricky. We keep a busy schedule (not complaining, just stating the fact) and it was difficult for us to get to the locations that we needed to visit at the allocated times. Paradiso worked with us to make this work, but they don’t share scheduling in advance, largely because the story was unfolding as we played. This made Path of Beatrice a challenge for us. It would be similarly difficult for people with families and anyone traveling to New York with a rigid schedule (say, traveling escape room enthusiasts).

Path of Beatrice was expensive. There was no way around it. $300 per ticket with a $100 price break with each additional participant bought a lot of actor interaction, planning, logistics, and customization. When we stopped and thought about how much was involved, the price point didn’t feel crazy. The fact that the price made sense, however, did not lower it.

The text message and email exchanges seemed like they were trying to create a Morpheus-esque, first 45 minutes of The Matrix vibe. The trouble was that we couldn’t control when these were coming in, so sometimes we’d have to wait hours to reply.

Additionally, I had a problem of trust. The actors were great, but all of the characters operated under the assumption that you trusted them, even when everyone was telling you that everyone else was a liar. When I attempted to make a character earn my trust, I got a “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” type response. Ultimately I just gave in and the experience became a lot more interesting… but I also had to betray my own nature and that kind of stung.

There were a lot of things that we had to read, some of which required a computer. When we received something from a character, we’d then go about our evening in the New York City, frequently getting home after midnight. It would be hours, or even the next day, before we could dive into the Path of Beatrice material. We continually received texts asking if we had done the thing yet. This was clunky. Then we ultimately rushed the reading and missed the important detail (even though it was literally the first thing that I read).

Should I play Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice?

Paradiso does things differently and I mean that as a compliment. Their escape rooms, The Escape Test and The Memory Room, stand on their own as unique experiences. That is a true achievement in an industry where there’s a fair amount of sameness.

Path of Beatrice was another artful and unique experience. This came with unusual idiosyncrasies. The road less traveled has a lot more bumps along it; creating new things is not for the faint of heart.

We interviewed a few different people who played Path of Beatrice 4 and 6 weeks prior to us and they had profoundly different experiences than we did. Ours was significantly improved and Paradiso confirmed that the ARX is always evolving as they and their actors create new and interesting ways to iterate upon their real-world game.

Price is ultimately going to be the big deciding factor for many and that’s understandable. Path of Beatrice stands out as the first experience that Lisa and I have reviewed that we would not have been able to afford if the tickets were not complimentary. I call this out because it’s the first time that price would have kept us out of an experience. This is an expensive experience.

If you’re a puzzler, Path of Beatrice is not for you. You can fully enjoy Paradiso’s escape rooms without completely understanding the deeper story that ties them together.

If you’re drawn to actor-driven immersive experiences, Path of Beatrice is an interesting one that delivers a lot of intrigue and actor interaction. If you’re going to miss the money you spend to experience Path of Beatrice you should not go. If you won’t miss the money, there’s a clandestine world hidden within NYC for you to enjoy.

A few pro tips for those who go: Have access to a computer. While this is no big deal for locals, if you’re traveling it could be a significant issue. Give Paradiso a phone number and email address for each individual ticket holder. They communicate differently with everyone. Make sure that you’ve left ample time in your schedule to accommodate Path of Beatrice. We enjoyed it, but I think we would have liked it a whole lot more if we weren’t always rushing to our actor appointments.

Surrender to the experience, have fun with the characters, and become a character yourself in Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice.

Book your experience with Paradiso’s Path of Beatrice, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Paradiso comped our tickets for this game.

This Is Real NYC [Review]

Cheap thrills at premium prices.

Location: Brooklyn (Red Hook), New York

Date played: September 9, 2017

Team size: 8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $95 per ticket Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday / $110 per ticket Friday & Saturday

Story & setting

Kidnapped and locked up in an abandoned warehouse, we had to confront our captor and work with other actors to free ourselves.

This Is Real took place in a dark, rundown murder basement that was clearly striving for the Saw vibe and largely achieved it in a gritty and dirty sort of way.

Image of the game's killer with a dirty stocking over his head, mouth exposed, and blood staining his neck.
Image via This Is Real

Interaction

This Is Real was not a puzzle game and our hosts were quick to tell us that the game was not an escape room. It did, however, have a lot in common with escape rooms.

The game was built around searching, occasionally interacting with actors, and task-based set interactions that drove the game forward.

The interactions in This Is Real were where the experience suffered.

Standouts

The deliberately quirky intro to This Is Real set an intense tone for the experience.

The set achieved the Saw-esque aesthetic that it was striving for. It also delivered a few fun moments.

Although we were physically restrained and locked in cages, it would have been easy to free ourselves in an emergency. That said, doing so would have eliminated the freed player from the game.

Players were given a full body jumpsuit. This protected our clothing from the fake blood, gross water, and debris all over the set.

Shortcomings

This Is Real was not all that frightening and did not deliver on the buildup. The scariest part of the experience was our own teammate whose erratic behavior made us jump more than anything designed into the game.

The story was hard to follow and ultimately undermined itself.

The game design of This Is Real was shockingly weak. If I had to venture a guess, the designers probably had a few characters and game moments in mind and then shoehorned the interactions to advance the story around those elements.

A key interaction was so high up that a number of our shorter teammates couldn’t have reached it if they’d tried. Conversely, there were a lot of tight spaces that many of us taller folk couldn’t fit in.

This Is Real was built around a 3-life system, like a video game. Screw up 3 times and you’d be out of the game. This flawed design undermined the immersion, fun, and premium price-tag of the experience.

The 3-life system slaughtered immersion because every time any player lost a life, the actor playing the killer would scream “DEAD” which trigged the game to stop and a host to walk in, tack a Velcro lost life indicator to that player’s jump suit, and then give the player a hint about how they’d died or what they should do next.

This Is Real played like an old-school Nintendo game, but not a good one. Players frequently died for offenses that they didn’t understand. Some of the explanations kind of made sense, but only served to underscore how you had to listen to the actors with the ears of a lawyer. We had one player lose all of her lives within the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Fortunately they let her back in, but it was straight up silly.

Most of us ended up dead right before the finale, which was incredibly stupid. There was no reason to remove so many people from play prior to the conclusion.

The jumpsuits were hot as hell.

I always distinguish between dirty sets and dirty-looking sets. This Is Real was straight up dirty.

We paid a stupid amount of money for a single hour of mediocre gameplay… and most of us didn’t even get to play through the end of the damn experience.

Should I play This Is Real?

My friends and I spend a lot of time and money on escape rooms and other immersive entertainment. I do not remember any other experience in which every teammate regretted having purchased the tickets. This was the case with This Is Real.

$110 per ticket puts this experience within spitting distance of top tier experiences like Sleep No More or Then She Fell. It simply did not measure up.

I wanted This Is Real to be amazing. While I’ve never proclaimed myself a horror guy, some of my favorite immersive experiences of the past few years have been rooted in horror simply because fear can instill feeling and purpose into an experience. I was hoping to find something like Zoe, The UnknownThe Girl’s Room, or Sanatorium in Red Hook. Instead I found expensive disappointment.

Save your money. Save your time. Here are a bunch of other things to do in New York City this fall.

Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries – Western [Review]

Howdy stranger.

Location: at home (either New York City or Boston area)

Date played: July 30, 2017

Team size: 10; 5 Women, 2 Men, 3 Any Gender

Duration: 90-150 minutes

Price: $40 per guest, $30 per guest student/ artist

Story & setting

Eleven folks from all walks of life found themselves in the same Old West saloon right after a murder was committed.

Ghost Ship’s Western was not an escape room. It was an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery game filled with tawdry scandal, plot twists, and betrayal… and all acted out by our friends in our small apartment.

Ghost Ship's logo of a ghostly white galleon set against a black background.
I really like that logo.

Ghost Ship co-founder Dylan Zwickel surveyed us about our friends, assigned roles, sent each person their backstory, and then showed up at our home in character bearing 3 large pitchers of mixed drinks. She set up everything for us.

All we had to do was clean up our home and get into character.

Interaction

The game proceeded over the course of 3 acts. It concluded with a vote to decide whodunit and send them to the gallows.

Each person was given a backstory, a secret, and an objective. From there, the game was a fairly free-form improv experience. Dylan played a character within the game. She provided information to each character at critical times as well as approached players who were struggling to engage, bringing them back into the narrative.

There was also a searching component. During the setup, Dylan hid evidence in our home.

Standouts

The story was engaging. Every character had their own arc and each person was consequential to the narrative.

The gathering of our friends post-game. Each person's costume has varied level of detail.
Sadly some of the best costumes are hidden. We may not have thought this photo through.

The mystery was complex. In the end, we “hanged” the actual killer, but only by a plurality. Not everyone had gathered enough evidence or made the proper connections to conclude what had actually happened.

Ghost Ship kept the backstory lean and manageable for all players.

Dylan’s role facilitated the gameplay effectively without breaking the narrative. The player-gamemaster helped pace the game and keep everyone engaged.

The included mixed drinks were pretty damn fantastic. We’d bought liquor to serve and forgot to even take it out.

As a couple who regularly hosts stuff, it was amazing to not have to worry about the logistics of running the game.

Our apartment is now incredibly clean because we had to make every room presentable for gameplay. I’m not sure that this is really a standout of Western, but it was a great byproduct.

Ghost Ship had a simple series of indicators to mark things and spaces in our home as out of play.

We had a fantastic time. Ghost Ship’s Western is a game where you get out of it what you put into it…

Shortcomings

Our friends who struggled with the roleplaying aspect of Western still had fun, but absolutely didn’t get the same level of enjoyment.

On that note, the person who was the killer in our group truly did not want that role, but was stuck with it. There were other people in our group who would have embraced being the killer, but this individual would have had a lot more fun without having to lie. Ghost Ship could easily fix this by emailing every participant a one question survey: “Would you feel comfortable being the killer and lying to your friends for a couple of hours? Y/N.”

Most of the characters had some level of history with at least one other character and were frequently confused when they learned something about themselves from another player. Ghost Ship did a great job of keeping the backstory lean, but a little more detail could smooth out some of the “Oh… I didn’t know that we did that together” moments that made many of our friends break character.

The searching component got a little strange because all of the items were hidden in our bedroom. This meant that Lisa and I were the only ones who were truly comfortable rummaging. I found things just because I could easily recognize what was out of place.

Should I play Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Western?

We’ve hosted boxed murder mysteries in the past and been disappointed in them. Ghost Ship’s Western did not suffer from the many flaws and shoddy storytelling of those boxed games.

Western was a fun engaging game that gave each participant the freedom to make their character their own.

$40 per player felt more than fair for a multi-hour experience, including great drinks, all of which was delivered to our door.

Since each character is important, it’s key to gather a group of people who are ready and eager to be their characters. There is no passive play in Ghost Ship. Additionally, the game requires exactly 10 players. Remind your friends that flakiness is weakness of character. If someone bails last minute, you’re screwed.

We had a ton of fun playing Western and would eagerly invite Ghost Ship to dock in our home in the future.

Book your session with Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries’ Western, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries comped our tickets for this game.