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!

The Partnership behind Level Games in Los Angeles [Interview]

Doggy Dog World has been adopted! 🐶

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

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

Spoiler… we’re excited about it!

In-game: an oversized doghouse.
Doggy Dog World

How did this partnership come about?

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

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

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

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

What inspired you to take the ESCapades LA space?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is designing the new experiences in the space?

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

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

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

What is your timeline for new experiences?

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

Is anything changing at Arcane Escape Rooms and Escape Chronicles?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Escape Hotel Hollywood – Escape Room Movie Experience [Review]

Escape the Escape Room escape room.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: January 9, 2019

Team size: Up to 6 (we recommend 2-4)

Duration: 30 minutes

Price: Free (limited run ended January 2019)

Ticketing: Choice of public or private booking

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Escape Room movie live-action experience was a fitting entry point into the world of escape rooms for people whose interest may have been piqued by the movie.

Playing the Escape Hotel Hollywood version after watching the movie could have been a bit of a letdown, since the real-life puzzles were necessarily less cinematic than their movie counterparts. But the live-action experience was effective as an appetizer for the film, and it was entertaining to see a prop or puzzle in the movie and be able to say, “I did that!”

In-game: an old study-like environment with books, paintings, a large red leather chair, and a maze.

We appreciated that this escape room didn’t feel like an overly branded marketing tool. On the other hand, we would have liked to see a bit more of the atmosphere and gameplay drawn from the movie.

The set and puzzles were fairly conventional and there wasn’t much in the way of story. Still, despite a couple of time-consuming puzzles that broke our momentum, Escape Hotel Hollywood fit a good amount of content into this half-length game.

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the Escape Room movie
  • Adventure seekers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A taste of the Escape Room movie in real life
  • Escape Hotel Hollywood’s atmosphere and special effects
  • It was free

Story

We were locked in an amalgam of the different rooms from the movie Escape Room. We had to solve all the puzzles in order to escape with our lives.

In-game: two paintings next to a shelf with bottles containing liquid.

Setting

We entered through a dimly lit study furnished with the usual escape room trappings. The set design was fairly basic and only thematically related to the movie, but a mid-game transition heightened the experience. Special effects and props reminiscent of the Escape Room movie added tension and excitement.

In-game: a globe and 4 locked boxes.

Gameplay

The Escape Room movie experience was a standard escape room with a linear structure and a low level of difficulty.

The live-action experience recreated a couple of the puzzles from the movie almost exactly, but other puzzles were completely new, or only connected thematically.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, pattern recognition, and dexterity.

In-game: A replica phonograph.

Analysis

➕ The Escape Room live-action experience was enjoyable for a promotional tie-in. The escape room didn’t feel overly branded, but it still gave us a taste of the movie.

➕/➖ The set design wasn’t extraordinary, but lighting and temperature changes added to the immersion.

➕ The cluing was solid. We could almost always piece together what we were supposed to do with the puzzle elements available to us.

➖ We unintentionally bypassed one late-game puzzle by brute-forcing a combination that was easy to guess. Adjusting the gating around this puzzle would have prevented players from accidentally (or intentionally) skipping chunks of the game.

➖ Two different puzzles required prolonged maneuvering of finicky components to move forward in the game. These tasks bordered on tedious.

➖ The most laborious puzzle appeared to have a flaw in its instructions. We knew what we were supposed to do, but this snag (along with the complexity of the task itself) cost us nearly half of our time in the room. If this puzzle had been shorter and/or easier to reset, it would have felt more at home in a 30-minute game.

➖ One puzzle had large, heavy components that slid down quickly, which was startling and had the potential to be painful if our fingers were in the way.

➕/➖ Some of the reveals were telegraphed early on (think visible hinges on a picture frame), but others managed to surprise us, even as seasoned players.

➕ Escape Hotel Hollywood designed the lobby and check-in process to feel like part of the evening’s entertainment. Staff members were in character and added drama to the overall experience. We left feeling like we’d experienced more than just a 30-minute escape room.

Tips For Visiting

The Escape Room movie live-action experience had a limited run and is no longer running.

For free branded escape rooms like this one, get tickets early and consider bringing fewer than the maximum number of players (if allowed) for optimal enjoyment.

took place from December 2018 to January 2019 and is not currently running.

Escapades LA – Disrupted Decades [Review]

This game has re-opened under new ownership. We hear that the new version is substantially different from the version we reviewed below

Escape the shag carpet.

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Date Played: August 22, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Disrupted Decades was a nostalgic journey through the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s with a heavy emphasis on pop culture. It put an unusual twist on the flow of an escape room by having each room represent a decade and build to a meta puzzle.

We wanted to love this escape room as much as It’s A Doggy Dog World, but Disrupted Decades felt unfinished in comparison to Escapades LA’s other game. The story felt underdeveloped and the set was underwhelming. While we truly enjoyed the puzzles, it felt light on content.

This could and should be a fantastic game. Escapades LA has a solid foundation to build on. In its current form, however, we only recommend this to puzzle lovers who want to see a new take on escape room structure and players who want a taste of nostalgia.

In-game: a 1970s living room with shag carpet,.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Nostalgic nerds
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Nostalgic props
  • An interesting approach to escape game design
  • Some clever and unique puzzles

Story

Someone screwed with the space-time continuum and we had to traverse the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s hunting down anachronisms and setting things right.

In-game: a wall of CDs.

Setting

Disrupted Decades was a 3-room game where each room represented a different decade. Each individual space had props, furniture, and in some cases, carpeting that was emblematic of the decade we were visiting.

The props were generally authentic.

None of the sets were particularly eye-catching or immersive.

In-game: a 1970s living room with a small TV and Polaroid camera.

Gameplay

Escapades LA’s Disrupted Decades was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ Escapades LA produced an interesting escape room in Disrupted Decades. They emphasized exploring the props to determine which were out of place and how they worked together to solve a larger meta puzzle for each room.

– In practice, once we got the hang of how this game worked, it felt light on content.

+ It was enjoyable to take a journey back through the nostalgic items. Some of them stretched the limits of the props to deliver interesting interactions.

+ The ’80s had some high points when it came to puzzling.

– The set was subpar. It didn’t go far enough to convey the time periods. Each era would have benefitted from more details. There were a lot of small props, but the sets felt too bare. A few large and tangible set pieces would go a long way.

– The story felt underdeveloped. There wasn’t much of a beginning, ending, or feeling of consequence. It was just a scenario.

In-game: a franklin electronic dictionary and thesaurus.

+ In the ’90s room they had a Franklin Bookman electronic dictionary & thesaurus. I admit that this is insanely personal and nearly no one will appreciate this prop… but I used to lay in bed with a flashlight every night looking up words and synonyms, and playing word games on one of these things. Seeing one for the first time in over 20 years filled me with joy. Your mileage may vary.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with Escapades LA’s Disrupted Decades, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escapades LA comped our tickets for this game.

60 Out – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle [Review]

The elephant in the room.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 24, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket Sunday – Thursday, $40 per ticket Friday – Saturday

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

I was really excited to play Jumanji. It was clear that 60 Out had put a lot of effort into creating this game. I wish I could say that effort correlated directly to quality… but I can’t. I’m pretty sad about it.

The Jumanji escape room was a beautiful mess filled with interesting toys and striking set pieces. Far too many puzzles were broken; the game seemed littered with the remains of removed or adapted puzzles. The character/ special ability feature was too opaque to allow for deliberate character moments. Unfortunately, the problems overshadowed a number of great puzzles and interactions.

Finally, it looked like a jungle, but it didn’t feel like Jumanji. There weren’t moments of overcoming deep-seated character flaws… nor were there many meaningful references back to the film (the original or the sequel).

In-game: a monkey statue holding a torch flanked by two rhino statues.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A detailed, unusual set
  • Nifty interactions
  • Some beautiful set pieces

Story

This licensed escape room loosely interpreted the story of the recent film sequel Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Our group had all been sucked into a cursed jungle adventure video game.

Once we were in the video game, we each selected a character and received an ability based on that role.

Finally, we had to complete Jumanji before the game destroyed us.

In-game: a TV and game console in a 90s bedroom.

Setting

Jumanji kicked off with us hanging out in our friend’s bedroom. After we started the video game console and booted up Jumanji, we found ourselves in a jungle environment.

The bedroom was a fairly accurate recreation of Alex Vreeke’s ‘90s room from an early scene of the movie.

While the jungle setting didn’t specifically reference anything that I could recall in the film, it was a solid tropical jungle setting.

In-game: stone walls and pillars beside a collection of tree stumps.

Gameplay

60 Out’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

One key feature was the role-based play. This created situations where only a specific player (or at least their wrist band) could complete a specific interaction.

In-game: a leather bracelet labeled "Dr. SB."

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

Analysis

+ There were some beautiful, eye-catching set pieces.

– An awful lot of interactions were broken, including some key moments that should have been badass. Looking around the set, it seemed riddled with ghost puzzles. This was frustrating.

In-game: a Jumanji board.

+ I kind of wanted to keep the Jumanji board.

– The character superpowers (activated with the wrist bands) were clunky. It was often difficult to tell which bracelet applied to which interactions and why. It was difficult to connect the characters and powers; everything seemed abstract. This whole portion of the game felt hollow.

In-game: a tree in a forrest.

+ The jungle setting looked pretty good. While it wasn’t perfect, wooded environments are some of the most difficult to create and 60 Out clearly put a lot into the set. I have to give them credit for this creation.

In-game: a TV and game console in a 90s bedroom.

– 60 Out put a lot of emphasis on Alex’s bedroom. This was a bafflingly faithful recreation of a set that received about 15 seconds of screen time in the movie.

+ There were a number of fun puzzles and interactions including a teamwork puzzle, a physical interaction, and one that wasn’t particularly challenging, but was beautiful and a delight to complete.

– The finale was overflowing with potential, but it fizzled when it barely worked. I’m still not sure how it was supposed to have functioned.

– To me, the core of any Jumanji story is a group of individuals helping one another overcome their weaknesses to discover their true strengths. It’s supposed to be personal, not just a jungle adventure. This was absent from 60 Out’s Jumanji escape room. I could forgive this if 60 Out had nailed other big moments from the movie, but it didn’t really do that either. Maybe they didn’t get to see the movie before having to design the game, if that’s the case, then this failure is on the studio as well.

Tips for Visiting

Book your hour with 60 Out’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: 60 Out comped our tickets for this game.