REPOD S2E7 The Puzzletales of Rita Orlov, creator of The Light in the Mist

In Season 2, episode 7, we chat with Rita Orlov, the designer of industry-favorite, indie narrative puzzle games. Rita made a huge splash in the puzzle community with the launch of The Tale of Ord — an epic tabletop game with narrative depth and puzzle density. She followed that with The Emerald Flame and The Light in the Mist, a tarot card puzzletale.

Illustration of a woodland landscape at night with a full moon and a gnarled tree. There is a small image of a woman with short brown hair and red lipstick in the corner.

Rita not only designs her games, she also self-produces, funding all of them via Kickstarter. She talks to us about some of the difficulties of being an indie game creator and her inspiration behind The Light in the Mist. Rita was also one of the featured speakers at RECON ‘21, talking about her granular hint systems for tabletop games.

My biggest takeaway from chatting with Rita was the depth of her vision. There is a grandeur to her games which leaves you fully immersed in a realistic narrative. Rita is a masterful artist, skillfully weaving all the different threads of the puzzles, themes, and the storyline together into a gorgeous and lush tapestry, a “puzzletale” if you will. We hope this episode inspires you.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

seo orb logo. cartoon man wearing pink sunglasses holding 2 puzzle cubes

SEO ORB

Marketing and SEO optimization created specifically for escape rooms by an enthusiast.

logo for telescape, a tower antenna on a greenish blue and orange square

Telescape by Buzzshot
Virtual escape room game creation and interface software. Bring increased functionality to your virtual escape rooms.

Escape from Mibo Island by Sherlocked
Virtual escape room played on a uniquely immersive web-based platform. First-person point of view avatar using your own webcam video that is ideal for anyone from families to corporate events. Try out Mibo Island for 20% off with the code MARVINRULES.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • David talks about how Rita was the gamemaster at his very first escape room in 2014 at Escape the Room in New York. [1:21]
  • Rita tells us about how that game took place in an actual office, and how they transformed it into an escape room on weekends. [2:45]
  • Rita talks about shipping and manufacturing delays with The Emerald Flame, including staff shortages and supply chain issues. [4:18]
  • Peih-Gee talks about her how quarantine has affecting shipping at her jewelry company. [5:49]
  • We talk about The Emerald Flame, Rita’s narrative puzzle game that raised almost $300,000 on Kickstarter. [7:19]
  • Rita talks about some of the difficulties with manufacturing overseas and being an indie game designer. [8:03]
  • Rita talks about her collaborator, Jack Fallows of Cryptogram Puzzle Post. Together, they created The Light in the Mist, her new game. [12:13]
  • Rita says the collaboration came about because Jack wanted to create a tarot deck, but didn’t know how to differentiate it from other decks, and Rita said the answer was to make it a puzzle game. [13:28]
  • David and Peih-Gee talk about how well integrated the puzzles are with the deck and the narrative. [13:55]
  • David mentions that he thinks The Light in the Mist is “unopinionated,” meaning it doesn’t try to dictate the type of experience players should have. [15:16]
  • Rita talks about how she was inspired by the constraints of working with the limited resources of a tarot deck, as opposed to the blank canvas of her other games. [16:52]
  • Rita talks about how her design style has changed since she first created The Tale of Ord. [22:28]
  • Rita tells us that her desire to tell a substantial story is why she tends to create games with six-plus hours of gameplay. [23:46]
  • Rita talks about the resale value of The Tale of Ord. [26:52] 
  • Rita gave a talk at RECON ‘21 last month about hinting systems for puzzle games. [28:37]
  • Rita talks about her approach to hinting and says that because so many of her puzzles are multi-step, she also likes to provide hints that are minute and incremental. [29:31]
  • David asks Rita about her “precision puzzles,” puzzles that require very precise placement of things. [34:42]
  • Rita talks about The Dome in the Netherlands. [37:23]
  • Rita started playing chess at the age of 3. She and David chat about competitive table gaming including chess and Magic the Gathering. [38:44]
  • Peih-Gee tells a story about how her dad tricked her in poker. [41:00]
  • Rita talks about her love of sport climbing and bouldering, and how it has influenced her puzzle design. [43:05]
  • Peih-Gee and Rita talk a bit about how climbing as a sport has some commonalities with the escape room scene, such as cooperative play and having to figure out a solution to a puzzle. [45:29]
  • Rita teases us about her upcoming projects, including a limited-run holiday game, and the new game she’s working on which may include building physical components. [48:09]
  • Rita mentions that if you sign up for her mailing list, she will send you free puzzles.
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest Bio

Rita Orlov is a designer, maker, puzzlesmith, and the creator of PostCurious. With a background in escape rooms, art, and object design, Rita lives for the “aha” moments and the journey of discovery that can be created through gamified storytelling. She strives to create unique experiences that will challenge, surprise, and engage the player. You can find her thoughts on puzzles, crafting, and game design on the PostCurious blog.

Follow Rita

  • IG @postcurious
  • FB @postcurious
  • Twitter @getpostcurious

Other recommended podcasts

escape this podcast logo, microphone with a puzzle

Escape This Podcast

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

Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

REPOD S2E6 Puppets, Haunts, & Pranks—Brian Corbitt, Creator of Miss Jezebel

In Season 2, episode 6, we got to chat with Brian Corbitt, the creative mind behind the raunchy and hilarious Miss Jezebel—an actor-driven experience that’s a mix between immersive theatre and an escape room. Two of Brian’s games have won Golden Lock Awards from Room Escape Artist, and Miss Jezebel was also voted in the top three best online escape rooms in the 2020 TERPECAs – the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Awards.

a man in drag, wearing a red wig sitting in an easy chair holding a teacup. on the coffee table in front is a tea pot and a bottle of poison.

Brian’s games all have a quirky signature style to them, including the use of puppets, humor, interesting mechanics, and deeply immersive interactions. Brian worked in the haunt industry for over a decade as a scare actor and set designer, and it’s easy to see the influence the haunt industry has on his games. 

One of the things that struck me was how so many of his ideas all started off as April Fool’s Day pranks. Many of Brian’s best games came about because he wanted to create something to entertain his friends, make ’em laugh, and maybe troll them a bit. Brian’s passion for creating something brilliant, funny, and a tad twisted is apparent in his games and this interview. It was a blast diving into his carnival funhouse brain.

half asian man in grey t-shirt kneeling in front of a red and black background

Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

seo orb logo. cartoon man wearing pink sunglasses holding 2 puzzle cubes

SEO ORB

Marketing and SEO optimization created specifically for escape rooms by an enthusiast.

logo for telescape, a tower antenna on a greenish blue and orange square

Telescape by Buzzshot
Virtual escape room game creation and interface software. Bring increased functionality to your virtual escape rooms.

Escape from Mibo Island by Sherlocked
Virtual escape room played on a uniquely immersive web-based platform. First-person point of view avatar using your own webcam video that is ideal for anyone from families to corporate events. Try out Mibo Island for 20% off with the code MARVINRULES.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Peih-Gee notes that Brian is part of her regular escape room team, and David warns that this episode may be more explicit than usual. [0:51]
  • David mentions that Brian’s games tend to lean into his strengths and quirks, creating a style that is unique. [ 1:32]
  • We discuss the things that make Miss Jezebel unique, such as the fact that it’s an 18+ game, and that it’s an interactive, comedic, actor-driven game. [2:14]
  • Brian says that he really wanted to bring humor to escape rooms. [2:59]
  • Peih-Gee mentions that she tested his new game, Galaxy Quest, and that the videos were so entertaining that she abandoned the puzzles to go watch them (unheard of!). [3:26]
  • Brian says he originally wanted an actor inside Galaxy Quest as well, but decided to hold off on that during quarantine. He also mentions the difficulty for the actor in having to don a full-face silicone mask for an hour. [3:59]
  • Brian recounts how Miss Jezebel originally started as an April Fool’s joke for his friends and employees. [5:02]
  • Brian talks about some of the difficulties in creating an adult-themed game, including dealing with his franchise partner. [6:22]
  • Brian talks about joining the 60Out Franchise and how he’s managed to work with them while still maintaining some amount of creative control. [7:23]
  • Brian gives an example where 60Out renamed one of his rooms and it immediately increased sales by 30%. [8:34]
  • Peih-Gee talks about the benefits of how 60Out standardizes its rooms. She says that as a player, it’s good to know what level of quality and tech to expect. [9:56]
  • Brian talks about a unique mechanic in his room Tiki Time where you earn time, and you’re rewarded with more time in the room when you solve a puzzle. [11:09]
  • Brian talks about balancing passion for the industry and the business side of running an escape room. He says that he joined a franchise so they could handle operations and marketing, leaving him to focus on creating games. [14:10]
  • David talks about what a sensation Miss Jezebel’s Tea Party made in the community when it first launched. He mentions that many creators have cited Miss Jezebel as a primary influence. [17:22]
  • Brian talks about turning Miss Jezebel into a virtual game during quarantine. [17:54]
  • Peih-Gee talks about the decision to have 2 people running the room: the actor playing Miss Jezebel, and a new character, The Detective, who acts as the straight man and eyes and ears for the players. [19:30]
  • Brian talks about having a couple of different actors play Miss Jezebel and the variation in performance styles. [22:41]
  • Brian talks about working as a scare actor for over a decade at various haunts. He says the most important things are innovation and creativity. [23:58]
Brian’s haunt alter ego “Needle”
  • Brian talks about the time he hooked his body up to an electroshock device so he could give haunt guests a little electric shock when he touched them. [25:23]
  • Brian discusses the difference between working inside the haunt mazes as opposed to roaming “the streets” and having guest interactions. [27:18]
  • Brian talks about his philosophy when it comes to gamemastering, and how he always wants the gamemaster dialogue to be in character. [30:03]
  • David recounts his first time playing Krampus (which no longer exists) and how terrified his teammate was. [31:44]
  • Brian tells us about his plans to repurpose Miss Jezebel, essentially having two different games that can be played in the same space. [33:50]
  • David notes that puppetry is a hallmark of Brian’s game design. Brian talks to us about why he likes using puppets in his rooms. [35:03]
  • Brian says that the “Boglin” puppet he uses in Galaxy Quest is an audience favorite, and was his childhood toy from the eighties. [36:25]
  • Brian tells us about the origins of Miss Jezebel’s puppet cat Orion. [37:08]
  • We discuss the use of animatronics in escape rooms. [37:46]
  • David talks about being inspired by Miss Jezebel to use puppets when he worked on the tv show Create the Escape. [40:46]
  • Brian talks about creating the VIP maze, which was a secret maze that only happened for 15 minutes, one night per season at Knott’s Scary Farm. [41:42]
  • Brian talks about his time in the military and the different immersive training techniques he experienced. [45:14]
  • Brian tells a story about one of the immersive training encounters where he role-plays a drunken CIA spook and agents have to track him down and extract him from the scene. [46:28]
  • Brian talks about his new game with a serial killer theme, and how he’s torn between the authenticity of using real serial killers and whether it’s appropriate to use these stories for entertainment. [48:39]
  • For our bonus afterstory, Brian tells us about the best “distraction phone call” a player ever made in Miss Jezebel. [51:22]
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest bio

In his early years, Brian Corbitt spent four years in the airborne infantry, and three years as a military training actor. He then spent 10 years in the haunt industry as both a set designer and a scare actor. His haunt alter ego is a clown named Needle. He’s since been an owner/ operator/ designer in the escape room industry for 5 years in Los Angeles as part of the 60Out franchise. He is the creator of the world-famous Miss Jezebel, an immersive actor-driven escape room.

Follow Brian Corbitt

  • Instagram:
    • @thatrandomjerk
    • @60outdowntown
    • @60out_downtown
    • @ms_jezebel
  • Tiktok:
    • @thatrandomjerk
    • @60outescapegames

Other recommended podcasts

escape this podcast logo, microphone with a puzzle

Escape This Podcast

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

Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

REPOD S2E5 RECON Rising: A Look Behind the Scenes at the Reality Escape Convention

In season 2, episode 5, we take a deep dive into the inner workings of RECON, our escape room convention. In 2020, Room Escape Artist was poised to launch their first escape room convention. They quickly pivoted to a virtual convention when it became apparent that they wouldn’t be able to host an in-person event due to quarantine. Within three months, they put together an unforgettable experience for the escape room community.

They had even bigger aspirations for this year’s RECON, with new infrastructure and the all-new Play Pass, which lets you play a variety of games, including a few which are exclusive to RECON.

We’ll chat with different members of the RECON team, including James Cobalt—Jack of All Trades, Cara Mandel—The Games Curator, Theresa Wagner—The Games Executioner, Lee-Fay Low—The Volunteer Coordinator, Brendan Lutz—The “Hand” of RECON (Tech Wizard), Lisa Spira—RECON Puppetmaster, Theresa Piazza—Official Catch-All Task Master, Cindi Saiewitz—Speaker Wrangler, and Michael Augustine (Auggie/Okapi Kid)—ARG Master.

This was a fascinating look behind the scenes of running a virtual convention and seeing how all the moving parts fit together. As Brendan said, there was truly an invigorating start-up energy surrounding RECON. It was incredible to feel like we were all part of something greater. There is something really special about these talented enthusiasts and creators who want to help build an amazing community for the escape room industry.

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Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season, SEO ORB, Buzzshot, and Escape from Mibo Island. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

seo orb logo. cartoon man wearing pink sunglasses holding 2 puzzle cubes

SEO ORB

Marketing and SEO optimization created specifically for escape rooms by an enthusiast.

logo for telescape, a tower antenna on a greenish blue and orange square

Telescape by Buzzshot
Virtual escape room game creation and interface software. Bring increased functionality to your virtual escape rooms with a powerful, yet user-friendly interface.

Escape from Mibo Island by Sherlocked
Virtual escape room played on a uniquely immersive web-based platform. First-person point of view avatar using your own webcam video that is ideal for anyone from families to corporate events. Try out Mibo Island for 20% off with the code MARVINRULES.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • David talks about having Neil Patrick Harris deliver the opening remarks for RECON. [1:06]
  • Some highlights of the convention include [2:37]: 
    • Talks aimed at designers, Talks aimed at players
    • Games to play
    • Facilitated Discussions & Workshops
    • ARG hidden throughout the convention
    • Exhibitor Hall where you can browse new products and games
  • David mentions his plans to have RECON as an in-person convention next year, 2022, in Boston, MA. [6:13]
  • James Cobalt—Jack of All Trades [7:10]
    • James has helped REA with different things like tech, graphic design. Some of his past accomplishments include organizing flash mobs. [7:45]
    • James tells the story of how he met David and Lisa at an escape room conference, and he ended up volunteering to help with RECON because he wanted to be a part of this community [7:51]
    • James proudly announces that he learned so much from last year’s RECON that he finally had the confidence to create his own games and escape room business [9:50]
    • We talk about the incredible video that James created for last year’s RECON. Peih-Gee is so impressed that she says he could go into business just creating videos for escape room lobbies. [11:15]
    • James says that what he’s most looking forward to are playing the games, and hoping that other attendees are inspired to create and go into the escape room business like he did. [12:49]
    • James mentions that one of the games available to play at RECON inspired him to change how he designs games. [13:56]
  • Cara Mandel—The Games Curator [14:57]
    • Cara talks about some of her previous work curating games for film festivals like Fantastic Fest, a horror, sci-fi, fantasy film festival. [15:38]
    • Cara tells us about her company, Interwoven Immersive, which creates games and activations for events, as well as curating games. [16:41]
    • Cara talks about working with Theresa Wagner, who she calls “the Games Executioner” on curating games for the Play Pass. [17:24]
    • Cara discusses her criteria for why she chose certain games for this year’s Play Pass, including flexibility in play time, large scale games, and games that were exclusive to RECON ‘21. [18:32]
    • Peih-Gee and Cara discuss the benefits of playing with other Play Pass holders and meeting other players. [19:31]
    •  Cara’s most excited about meeting other like-minded enthusiasts and creators from around the world. [21:10]
  • Theresa Wagner—The Games Executioner [21:51]
    • Theresa talks about coordinating all the games that will be a part of the Play Pass. (She mentions nine games on the podcast, but by the time this episode is released, we will have more than 20 games.) [22:47]
    • Theresa talks about some of the games that she’s really looking forward to, including Escape from Escape Island, designed by Trapped Puzzle Room’s Mark Larson, as well as games by DeadLocked and Green Door Labs, creators of Club Drosselmeyer. [24:01]
    • Theresa talks about playing video games competitively, and tells us about “speed running,” which is playing a game as quickly as possible, within certain parameters. [25:29]
    • David mentions that Theresa gamified the check-in process for RECON last year. [27:35]
  • Lee-Fay Low—The Volunteer Coordinator [29:40]
    • David recounts how Lee-Fay essentially created the position of volunteer coordinator for herself, and how indispensable she was to organizing the army of volunteers that helped out at last year’s RECON. [30:02]
    • Lee-Fay says that for her, the best part of RECON last year was all the meaningful connections she made with other enthusiasts. [31:12]
    • Lee-Fay and David talk about what the volunteers do and the different roles they have. [32:46]
    • Lee-Fay talks about being the “international conscience of the group,” and how she reminds us that this is an international conference with people attending from all around the world. [35:41]
    • Lee-Fay says she’s most looking forward to the program for RECON: the talks and workshops. [36:40]
  • Brendan Lutz—The “Hand” of RECON (Tech Wizard) [39:27]
    • Peih-Gee talks a little bit about using the Discord platform to host a virtual convention and how intuitive it was to use last year. [40:15]
    • Peih-Gee explains what Discord is and how it works. [41:57]
    • Brendan notes that part of what he loves about working on RECON is the “startup mentality,” and how energizing and fun it was to work on. [44:11]
    • David recounts how he first met Brendan and ended up inviting him to help him at their escape room convention booth. [45:14]
    • Brendan explains how they completely rebuilt all the tech infrastructure this year so it would be more scalable. [47:38]
    • David recommends exploring the parts of RECON that you do NOT know much about, and trying to see this as a learning experience, rather than just joining the talks where you’re already an expert. [51:18]
    • We discuss the ticket structure of RECON, how it’s a pay-what-you-can model. [53:04]
  • Lisa Spira—RECON Puppetmaster [59:08]
    • Lisa gives us an overview of what to expect at RECON, including facilitated discussions, birds of a feather talks (industry-related topics for interest groups to have conversations), hands-on workshops, and the games component. [1:01:00]
    • Lisa talks about some of the workshops we’ll be having at RECON, including those led by Charlie & James from Deadlocked, Bizarro and the Test Subjects, and Manda from The Room Escape Divas. [1:02:23]
    • Lisa talks about the different types of tickets and “tracks” available for RECON: one for enthusiasts, and one for industry professionals. [1:03:45]
    • We talk about how supportive the escape room community is, and why we are incentivized to encourage each other to create the best games possible. [1:05:19]
  • Theresa Piazza—Official Catch-All Task Master [1:07:42]
    • Theresa calls herself “your walking talking to-do list’s worst nightmare.” She talks about project managing the different teams and aspects of RECON. [1:08:07]
    • Theresa talks about the different sponsorship packages for RECON. [1:11:30]
    • Theresa says she’s most excited about the different ways they’ve structured the Exhibit Hall and how they’ve made the vendors more accessible to the attendees. [1:12:23]
  • Cindi Saiewitz—Speaker Wrangler / Logistics Coordinator [1:14:22]
    • Peih-Gee describes Cindi’s role as like the “concierge” of RECON for the speakers. She coordinates schedules, follows up on paperwork, and holds hands through stage fright. [1:14:54]
    • Peih-Gee tells a story about emceeing a corporate event without a speaker “wrangler” and how horrible it was having to wait on stage while people had to hunt down the next speaker. [1:15:29]
    • Cindi describes herself as “the one who worries.” By that, she means that she is often the one who considers the mentality of people on the fringe, perhaps the group who is being underserved, and making sure that everyone feels included. [1:16:20]
    • Peih-Gee talks about how Cindi is so representative of the escape room community in wanting everyone to feel welcome. Peih-Gee goes on to talk about how accessible RECON is to newbies and experts alike. [ 1:18:23]
    • Cindi says she’s most excited to feel the positive energy that she experienced at last year’s RECON. [1:19:39]
  • Michael Augustine (Auggie/ @OkapiKid)—ARG Master [1:21:06]
    • We talk a little bit about Auggie’s background as a very competitive puzzler, including competing in the Red Bull Mind Gamers and winning cash prizes in treasure hunts. [1:21:54]
    • Auggie talks about what an ARG (alternate reality game) is. [1:22:27]
    • Auggie talks about The Beast, an ARG created by Elan Lee, who will be one of the speakers at RECON, and was also the inaugural guest of REPOD. [1:22:57]
    • Auggie talks about the ARG that he created for RECON and he says he wanted to design something “that’s got a little bit of everything for everyone. So some puzzle hunt aspects, some ARG aspects, some interactivity.” [1:23:52]
    • Auggie tells us about the other members of the team who are helping with the ARG including Errol Elumir of Room Escape Divas, who will be one of this year’s speakers; John Brummels; and “Charmandacure”, Amanda Dupuy, who creates manicures with puzzles on them. [1:25:30]
    • Auggie talks about treasure hunts, and Peih-Gee invites him to come try one in L.A. [1:27:12]
    • Peih-Gee tries to sweet-talk Auggie into giving a clue for how to start this year’s ARG, and finally manages to squeeze out the clue of looking for a logo. [1:27:53]
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest Bio

  • For more information on today’s guests, you can find them HERE.

Other recommended podcasts

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.

stylized logo of the letters "N" and "P", logo for the no proscenium website.

No Proscenium Podcast

The No Proscenium podcast is a show covering everything immersive.

Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

REPOD S2E4 The King of Smash – Ken Hoang on Competitive Gaming

In season 2, episode 4, we discuss possible futures for competitive escape room playing with the King of Smash, Ken Hoang.

Ken was the world champion of Super Smash Bros. Melee for five years and helped create much of the high level competitive gameplay. Ken was also an extremely strategic player on Survivor: Gabon

asian man wearing a blue t-shirt with a white jacket standing in front of a blurred crowd.

Smash Melee was originally designed as a party game, not for competitive play. However, by exploiting glitches and mechanics that were built into the system, whether intentional or not, Ken was able to develop an expressive and unique style within Smash Melee, and become a top competitive player. This same strategy of exploitation has caused much of the recent evolution in Survivor.

With this perspective, we discuss whether there is room for competitive play in escape rooms, and what that evolution could look like. Episode 4 is a bit of a smashup mashup, but it was fascinating to look at escape rooms through a competitive lens.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season, SEO ORB and Buzzshot. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

seo orb logo. cartoon man wearing pink sunglasses holding 2 puzzle cubes

SEO ORB

Marketing and SEO optimization created specifically for escape rooms by an enthusiast.

logo for telescape, a tower antenna on a greenish blue and orange square

Telescape by Buzzshot
Virtual escape room game creation and interface software. Bring increased functionality to your virtual escape rooms.

Escape from Mibo Island by Sherlocked
Virtual escape room played on a uniquely immersive web-based platform. First-person point of view avatar using your own webcam video that is ideal for anyone from families to corporate events. Try out Mibo Island for 20% off with the code MARVINRULES.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Peih-Gee and Ken talk about how they bonded over Survivor and playing custom maps on StarCraft. [00:37]
  • David talks about how neither Smash Bros. nor escape rooms were created for competitive play, and yet the communities have turned them into competitive sports.
  • Ken explains what Smash Bros. is and how it works. [1:35]
  • Peih-Gee compares it to a challenge from Survivor China, then talks about how well known Ken is in the gaming world. [2:55]
  • Ken talks about how Smash Bros. started off as a party game, and somewhere along the way, it evolved into a competitive sport. [3:45]
  • Ken explains that the game was released with many glitches that the players learned to exploit, which allowed for more creative gameplay. [4:20]
  • Peih-Gee compares it to how Survivor wasn’t originally intended to be a strategically heavy competitive game either, but the players themselves managed to exploit the mechanics of the game. [5:56]
  • Ken talks about how the game needs to be played on CRT televisions (the old heavy style) because of lag, and talks about player idiosyncrasies. [7:12]
  • Ken discusses the difference between the West Coast and East Coast competitive scenes, and the different viewpoints on using items in game. [8:52]
  • David compares the luck of items to skill sets in escape rooms, and certain things like disc spinning or brute forcing a lock when you’re only missing 1 digit. [13:33]
  • David discusses puzzle bypassing when you can jump out of the sequence of the expected flow of gameplay. [15:56]
  • David and Peih-Gee debate competitive conditions for escape rooms. [17:09]
  • Ken talks about how the competitive scene in Smash Melee evolved over time and how the rules adapted accordingly. [19:05]
  • David talks about how George Mikan, a 6’10” basketball player in the 1940s, changed the rules of basketball with his unbeatable strategy – to just stand under the basket and smack away any shot that anyone made. [19:56]
  • Ken compares it to “planking” in Smash Melee. [20:55]
  • Ken talks about the schism between Smash Bros. Melee and Smash Bros. Brawl, and how Brawl removed many of the glitches that pro players exploited in Melee.[22:55]
  • Ken talks about figuring out how to game the glitches, and how different counterplays were created. [24:56]
  • David compares this to the escape room world and some of the different play styles within the industry. [26:04]
  • David, Peih-Gee, and Ken discuss the concept of the metagame and how game strategy evolves over time. They start by discussing how the meta for Survivor has evolved, and how even production has had to change because of people exploiting the system. [29:31]
  • David and Peih-Gee discuss changes in the escape room scene and how rooms have evolved over time. [33:10]
  • David says he actually thinks that the escape room scene has shifted away from a competitive meta towards higher entertainment value. He recommends puzzle hunts like the MIT Mystery Hunt for people looking for competitive puzzling. [35:29]
  • David talks about a few different attempts and approaches at competitive gaming for escape rooms, including Red Bull Mind Gamers. [37:52]
  • David talks about EGO—The Escape Room Olympics. [38:41]
  • David and Peih-Gee discuss again the need for a set of rules for competitive play within escape rooms, and Ken mentions that it took 15 years to finalize the rules for the competitive Smash scene. [41:29]
  • Ken talks about how for years, Smash was ridiculed as a party game, not a fighting game, and they eventually had to form their own competitive scene as a platform fighter. [42:26]
  • Ken talks about his strategy going into Survivor, and why it all went down the drain after meeting his fellow players. [43:03]
  • We discuss how one of Ken’s strong points is separating his emotions from his gameplay, and we discuss the mental game. [44:03]
  • Ken talks about his coaching career. If you’re interested, you can message him on Twitter @liquidken [45:42]
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest Bio

Ken Hoang is an American professional Super Smash Bros. Melee player and television personality. Ken plays Marth in Melee and is known for his comparatively aggressive style of play. His dominance with the character has led to his becoming the namesake of the “Ken Combo,” an effective combo used in gameplay. He also largely brought about the implementation and popularization of “dash dancing,” a movement technique involving rapid side-to-side dashing that has since become integral to all levels of competitive Melee.

Ken was the highest-ranked Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the United States. He was also the world champion for several years, having defeated reputable players from around the globe, including top Japanese players.

Ken possesses the highest major tournament win-to-loss ratio of any Super Smash Bros. Melee player from 2003 to 2007. His five years of dominance earned him the nickname “The King of Smash” within the community.

He was part of MTV’s True Life: I’m a Professional Gamer. Ken retired in 2006. In 2012, he officially returned to the Melee scene. In 2014 he and fellow Melee veteran Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung joined Team Liquid as the team’s first Smash Bros. players. Ken was also a contestant on Survivor: Gabon, which aired in the fall of 2008. He was the fifth-place finisher and sixth member of the jury.

Follow Ken Hoang

Other recommended podcasts

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Escape This Podcast

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

Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

REPOD S2E3 Creative Alchemy: Sarah Zhang & The Pursuit of the Assassin Artist

In season 2, episode 3, we chat with Sarah Zhang from Omescape Escape Rooms in the California Bay Area. Sarah is one of the creators of the award-winning online escape room game, Pursuit of the Assassin Artist, which was voted the #1 online escape room in the 2020 TERPECAs – the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Awards. It was also a winner at our own 2020 Golden Lock Awards.

asian woman in glasses smiling, with a poster of paint spilled in the shape of a body on the floor.

2020 was a difficult year for most escape room companies. Many operators adapted their games for virtual play, allowing players to experience the games through a digital interface. Omescape elevated the online escape room, creating an experience that took advantage of the virtual format by introducing a time-loop mechanic.

Sarah walks us through their creative design process, citing many games that excited and inspired her. She talks openly about borrowing concepts from her favorite games. Through some magical alchemy, she has managed to distill various aspects and mechanics into what is far and away one of the strongest games to emerge from the virtual escape room scene. Sarah was incredibly humble and such a sweetheart. It was an absolute delight having her on our podcast.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season, SEO ORB and Buzzshot. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.

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SEO ORB

Marketing and SEO optimization created specifically for escape rooms by an enthusiast.

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Telescape by Buzzshot
Virtual escape room game creation and interface software. Bring increased functionality to your virtual escape rooms.

Escape from Mibo Island by Sherlocked
Virtual escape room played on a uniquely immersive web-based platform. First-person point of view avatar using your own webcam video that is ideal for anyone from families to corporate events. Try out Mibo Island for 20% off with the code MARVINRULES.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Peih-Gee talks about playing virtual escape rooms and mentions the potential of pushing boundaries in a format where you’re not limited by real-life mechanics. [1:44]
  • Sarah mentions Miss Jezebel by 60 Out and Agent November as inspirations for creating Omescape’s virtual escape room, especially having a fun, interactive avatar. [2:16]
  • Sarah says that from the start they knew they wanted to create a unique game that wouldn’t work in person, and could only be played online. [3:09]
  • Sarah says that their main inspiration for their game Pursuit of the Assassin Artist was The Pop Star Room of Doom from SCRAP, a real-life, time-loop game (no longer available). [3:15]
  • Sarah says she actually thinks that the Pop Star game had similarity to virtual games because you’re also observing the pop star’s house, but can’t interact physically, only via telephone. [4:30]
  • We chat about the making of Pursuit of the Assassin Artist, and David advises listeners to play the game before continuing to listen. [6:20]
  • Sarah mentions that they built the room from scratch in about two weeks, and everything is manually controlled, with no electronic or central game control. [7:23]
  • Sarah discusses the actors they hired for the game, saying that they let them take the lead with improv and camera angles. [7:46]
  • We discuss the importance of the avatar role in online escape games. [8:26]
  • David talks about going through a personal shift where he went from playing with a goal of winning to playing with a goal of entertaining his avatar and friends, and he says that led to having better experiences overall. [9:51]
  • Peih-Gee says that looking back, all her favorite virtual games have been (at minimum) 2-person operations, with one on-camera host and someone else holding the camera. [11:03]
  • Peih-Gee also mentions that some of her favorite parts of online escape rooms are being able to order the avatar around and having funny interactions with them. [11:33]
  • Sarah says that a few of the mechanics of Pursuit of the Assassin Artist are based on video game mechanics, like achievements and restarting from a save point. [12:12]
  • Sarah says that when designing the game, they knew they wanted something unique for the game mechanic, and also for the theme. They figured a time-loop mechanic hadn’t been done before, and they thought art studio was a very different theme than usual. [15:30]
  • Peih-Gee and David discuss what they liked about the game mechanics, including early on-ramping to the time-loop mechanic as well as not making it too repetitive. [18:02]
  • Sarah talks about Omescape as a Chinese franchise and discusses how she got into the escape room business. [21:24]
  • Sarah Zhang was one of the earliest escape room owners in the US, and she talks a little bit about her escape room origin story. She mentions that because her group isn’t composed of hardcore puzzle people, they try to add other fun elements in their games besides puzzles. [22:15]
  • David shares that the Omega Room at Omescape’s Richmond, CA location was the first review he ever wrote for REA. [23:51]
  • Sarah talks a little bit about the escape room scene in China. She mentions that most of the rooms there have moved to fewer puzzles and have become more like immersive adventure rooms with massive sets, costumes, and actors. [24:42]
  • Sarah mentions an experience in China that seems to be a type of open-world scenario. She compared it to Sleep No More, but more interactive and puzzley. [26:47]
  • Sarah talks about developing games in-house and mentions that they only keep a percentage of the game mechanics that are developed from the Chinese team. [28: 30]
  • Sarah says that with the success of Pursuit of the Assassin Artist, they plan on developing more virtual games. She says they plan to keep running Pursuit of the Assassin Artist as well. [29:29]
  • Sarah talks about a game she’d love to create where each player can control a different part of the room in such a way as to manipulate the actor in the room. [30:39]
  • Sarah discusses the business side of escape rooms and how it’s changed since she started in 2014. [33:57]
  • Sarah talks about different pricing structures for escape rooms. [35:07]
  • Peih-Gee shares a story about the time she was traveling and bought a ticket to play a public booking, only to find she was the only player. [36:14]
  • Sarah gets real with us about the nitty-gritty details of running an escape room business, saying that passion isn’t enough, because designing a fun room is only a small percentage of the business, while the rest of her time is spent on details like rent, customers, permits, etc. [37:51]
  • Peih-Gee talks about the difficulties gamemasters face, including acting, dealing with customers, and skillfully giving the right clues. [40:09]
  • Sarah’s team is working on several puzzle books and at-home puzzle box experiences. [41:38]
  • Sarah shares a fun story about the time one of her escape group’s members chatted up a pre-recorded audio, thinking it was a real person. [44:41]
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest Bio

Sarah Zhang fell in love with escape games in 2013, and co-founded Omescape in the Bay Area in 2014. With 3 locations and 12 different escape games, Omescape is one of the leading escape game providers in the Bay Area. 

She is one of the designers of the virtual escape game Pursuit of the Assassin Artist, which was ranked the #1 online room by TERPCA. 

Follow Sarah Zhang / Omescape

Other recommended podcasts

escape this podcast logo, microphone with a puzzle

Escape This Podcast

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

Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.