REPOD S3E1 – Art Meets Gameplay at Immersia Escape Games

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

REPOD S3E1 teaser image of Maxime & Roxane Filion

Thank You to Our Sponsors

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

Morty

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

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Virtual Escape Games

Virtual Escape Games specializes in virtual team-building adventures for teams anywhere around the globe, 24/7. And now introducing brand new non-hosted games for 1-6 players.

Discount Code for REPOD listeners:

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

Topics Discussed in this Episode

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

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

RECON 21 Talks

Immersia Scenario Videos

About Maxime & Roxane

Maxime Filion headshot

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

Roxane Filion headshot

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

escape this podcast logo, microphone with a puzzle

Escape This Podcast

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

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No Proscenium Podcast

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

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Montreal, Canada: Escape Room Recommendations

Latest update: December 28, 2021

Montreal is an artsy escape room market. In this city you’ll find a range of games: expansive sets, thought-provoking stories, unusual themes, and quirky mechanics. In general, these games pack a substantial amount of puzzle content. However, whatever style of games you prefer, we expect you’ll find something you really love playing in Montreal.

The best escape games in Montreal are not downtown. You’ll have to travel about 30 minutes northwest to the suburbs of Laval, Boisbriand, and Blainville. We also recommend taking a day to visit a single company in the lovely town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, which is about 45 minutes southeast.

Image: Montreal bio dome. Text: "Montreal Escape Room Guide"

Market Standouts

In October 2021, we brought our Escape Immerse Explore tour to Montreal. The top-ranked games in this recommendations guide were ranked as such by the 60 escape room players in attendance.

  1. The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, Escaparium (Laval)
  2. Wardrobe for Sale, Escaparium (Laval)
  3. The Grand Immersia Hotel, Immersia (Boisbriand)
  4. RAIN Corp, Escaparium (Laval)
  5. Salutem Medicina Institute, Immersia (Boisbriand)
  6. Falderon Forest, Sauve Qui Peut (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu)

Set & Scenery Driven

Tells a Story

Puzzle-Centric

The best games in Montreal are all puzzle-driven games. Any game on this list offers ample puzzles.

Two games stand out for their focus on puzzles:

Tech-Heavy

Newbie & Family Friendly

Something Different

Escaparium – Wardrobe for Sale [Review]

Wardrobe for Sale is one of the best escape rooms around Montreal, Canada. Here are our recommendations for great escape rooms in the Montreal area.

It’s bigger on the inside.

Location:  Laval, QC, Canada

Date Played: October 12, 2021

Team size: 3-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 120 minutes

Price: $79.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: If you wear reading glasses, bring them.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Wardrobe for Sale is a special escape game. It’s big, theatrical, and unique. It blends performers with a beautiful set, compelling puzzles, and a structure that is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Escaparium set out to build something amazing and they delivered.

When you go play, I expect you’re going to have a blast. When I played… well… there’s a story. So, this is a different kind of review than we usually write.

Long ago, we swore off being early players in escape rooms… but through running an Escape Immerse Explore tour to Montreal, we found ourselves as the very first team through Wardrobe for Sale.

Screenshot of a kijiji post for a used wardrobe for sale.

As with any first team through a game, it was bumpy. The game ran long. We encountered some half-baked puzzles and the inevitable bug. These issues blended with the pressure of knowing that we were sending another 7 teams through this game that very day. All of this meant that Lisa and I were not really feeling this game. The good news is that we still saw and respected what Escaparium was doing… and they rapidly iterated throughout the day. We had the post-event survey data (and conversations) regarding this game to help us understand what it became.

That survey data told an interesting story. The first team after us had a bad time. The team after was lukewarm. The third team through enjoyed themselves… and every team after that loved this game. A lot.

Over the course of a single day, Escaparium went through what seemed like weeks of iteration… and over the course of a single day we went from having unhappy players in the morning to people having FOMO that they didn’t have Wardrobe For Sale on their schedule by the evening.

All of that is to reiterate that Escaparium has built something special here. It wasn’t in its final form… and this review is a first review. We will return, play it in its finished state, and report back. In the meantime, here’s our take on Wardrobe for Sale.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Incredibly theatrical
  • Wears its Disney influence on its sleeve
  • Gorgeous set
  • It tells a story

Story

We’d found a listing for an antique wardrobe allegedly owned by famous fantasy author Mr. Jack.

No delivery, we had to go pick it up ourselves.

Continue reading “Escaparium – Wardrobe for Sale [Review]”

Enigma-tic – The Master Builder’s Path [Review]

The Master Builder’s Path is one of the best escape rooms around Montreal, Canada. Here are our recommendations for great escape rooms in the Montreal area.

Batteries not included

Location:  Blainville, QC, Canada

Date Played: October 13, 2021

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Master Builder’s Path was a bright and joyous game packed with innovative game design. It also made use of design space that we’ve rarely seen escape rooms explore.

Closeup of 3 see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil garden gnomes .

This was the first game from a company that opened a little before the pandemic. It’s a remarkable achievement. With that in mind, there were a handful of moments, props, and interactions that could have benefitted from refinement, especially near the end of the game.

We went to play The Master Builder’s Path because a number of folks on our Escape, Immerse, Explore: Montreal Tour found the company and insisted that we visit. They were absolutely correct, and you should heed their advice.

Enigma-tic’s newer game Missing is arguably a little stronger (if you’re ok with a spookier experience), but both of these games are well worth visiting. If you’re near Montreal, go check them out.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Phenomenal use of a broadly underused design surface
  • Thoughtful interaction design
  • Charming, well built game

Story

We’d entered the testing ground for a secret society of builders to see if we had what it would take to join the Guild.

Continue reading “Enigma-tic – The Master Builder’s Path [Review]”

Sauve Qui Peut – Falderon Forest [Review]

Falderon Forest is one of the best escape rooms around Montreal, Canada. Here are our recommendations for great escape rooms in the Montreal area.

Fairy Family Dinner

We played this escape room a few days ahead of Escape Immerse Explore: Montreal 2021, before the game was officially open to the public. At the time of review publication, it isn’t yet available for booking on Sauve Qui Peut’s website.

Location:  Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC, Canada

Date Played: October 8, 2021

Team size: we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $36 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Falderon Forest was a compact, gorgeous, and innovative game with a sense of humor.

The stars of this Falderon Forest were the environment and the interaction design. Each player was given a different tool (sword, crystal ball, magic tome, or wand) to engage with the world. They were unique and offered each individual their own opportunities to interact with the environment. All of that was set in a game world that felt like a fantasy land, each space selling its fiction remarkably well.

Sauve Qui Peut added personality to the game with an adaptive hint system that was both funny and responsive, while also smoothing over difficulty for teams that needed it. This worked well… when a player was actively listening for it, but could be missed if no one was paying attention.

A forest set with little fairy houses mounted to some of the trees.
Image via Sauve Qui Peut

We were the first team to play Falderon Forest in English, and our playthrough was buggy, but Sauve Qui Peut handled the bugs well. When we saw other teams play it on our Escape, Immerse, Explore: Montreal 2021 tour, they had resolved most (but not all) of the bugs. I expect that all of the issues will be resolved, but go in knowing that Falderon Forest is a technological beast, and sometimes that invites issues.

The greater Montreal area has a ton of incredible escape games, and any conversation about the top games in the region must include Falderon Forest. This is a must-play game in a region that is worth traveling to.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technophiles
  • Comedy fans
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Adorable, impressive magical set
  • The tone was hilarious
  • Use of magical items

Story

As intrepid adventurers, our party had wandered into a fairy forest. The fairies were in crisis and needed help restoring the forest’s magic.

Continue reading “Sauve Qui Peut – Falderon Forest [Review]”