Hidden My Game By Mom [Review]

Weird A.F.

Platform: iOS & Android

Price: Free – ad supported

Overview & setup

Hidden My Game By Mom! and its sequel Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 were short, episodic escape room-style puzzlers with the same basic problem running through all 60 levels:

My mother had hidden my handheld video game console and I needed to find it.

It was utter nonsense. It was bizarre, funny, and entertaining.

Hidden My Game By Mom title screen features the main character, his mom, a couch, and a chest.


Each level took place in an exceptionally simple 1-room or 2-room structure. Within each room, I needed to find the items necessary to recover my beloved gaming handheld.

Everything was minimalistic, but the levels were filled with instant failure traps like snakes and of course… mom.

In game: Game over screen. The main character looks distressed after opening a closet and revealing his mother.

These puzzles ranged from predictable to some of the strangest lateral thinking that I’ve seen in any puzzle game.


Many of the puzzle solution and failure states were hilarious. I actually laughed out loud at the crazy shit that went on in these games.

One of the puzzles in Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 might have had the most genuinely funny puzzle solution that I have ever encountered.

In game: The stage clear screen featues the main character triumphantly holding his gaming device in the air.

These were fast-paced, quick plays. Together, both games took me about an hour.

Both games were free.


The music, sound effects, and some of the menus got a little annoying.

Some of the puzzle solutions felt repetitive.

A few of the puzzle solutions were a bit too out there for me.

Should I play Hidden My Game By Mom!Hidden My Game By Mom! 2?

I got a kick out of both Hidden My Game By Mom! & Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 when I played them on long flights. They were straight up strange and equal parts clever, annoying, and funny.

They were games of trial and error; level failure was inevitable. I was fine with this. In fact, as I got better at the games, I found myself deliberately failing levels when I suspected that it would achieve a particularly humorous fail-state… Hidden My Game By Mom! frequently made me giggle.

These were not high production value games, but they each provided a solid half hour of entertainment. I’m still amused that these games even exist.

Download Hidden My Game By Mom! &  Hidden My Game By Mom! 2 today.

Download iOS

Download Android

Sherlocked – The Vault Mobile App [Review]

An app to train for the real thing.

Platform: iOS & Android

Price: Free

Overview & setup

Created by the famed Sherlocked in Amsterdam, The Vault mobile app was a free iOS & Android game that served as a training/advertisement for real life The Vault escape room.

In game: An old safe's number dial with the Sherlocked cross-keys logo on the knob.

This short game was a heist-style escape room complete with puzzles and mechanical interactions. Most of these bore no resemblance to puzzles or interactions in the real The Vault escape room.

The game emphasized learning how to operate an antique safe. This set piece did play a role in the real life The Vault escape room where its operation was a serious challenge.


The puzzles were pretty typical digital escape room-style puzzles; they were neither great nor terrible.

In game: An old safe on a small table in the middle of a large room.


The Vault was entertaining. It was also free.

While it was not required training for the real life game, it was great for getting in the right mindset and learning how to operate a particularly cumbersome safe.

In game: An invitation to play the game in real life. It reads: "Well done. You've passed our test. Your job awaits you in Amsterdam."

It may have been an advertisement… but it was a really good one.


There was no hint system and a few of the interactions were not quite intuitive. When an interaction didn’t click, the game ground to a halt. At that point the only options were to:

  • Poke and swipe at every object until something happened.
  • Hand the game off to a friend and hope that that particular thing would be a little more intuitive to them.
  • Check out a YouTube walkthrough video

Should I play Sherlocked’s The Vault Mobile App?

I’d say so. Here’s my math:

If you’re going to play The Vault in Amsterdam (which I highly recommend), then it is a cute primer for that escape room’s most challenging input mechanism.

If you’re not going to be able to play The Vault in Amsterdam, then it is an interesting innovation for both escape room pre-game care as well as advertising.

It’s fun and it’s free. Why are you still reading this?

Download Sherlocked’s The Vault Mobile App today.

Download iOS

Download Android

Tormentum: Dark Sorrow [Review]

Point & click escape rooms had a baby with Iron Maiden’s entire catalog.

Platform: iOS, Android, & Steam

Price: $4.99 on iOS, $3.99 on Android, $11.99 Steam

Story & setting

Your mysterious cloaked protagonist began Tormentum: Dark Sorrow imprisoned in some sort of medieval fantasy steampunk inquisition dungeon. In typical escape room fashion, the goal was to escape.

The entirety of Tormentum was beautifully painted from the characters to the panoramic settings. The art had a Frank Frazetta heavy metal style about it that gave the game a unique feel.

In game: A dark dungeon with a menacing horned knight stating: "This place will purge you of all evil hatched within your bowels.
All of the character talk purdy.


Tormentum: Dark Sorrow was a point & click, pixel hunt digital escape room. It leaned heavily on searching. There were some entertaining puzzles, but they were not the centerpiece of the game; the art was.

In game: A dungeon with a woman trapped in a small cage that hangs from the ceiling. A strange looking demon statesL "But why am I telling you this. Leave and don't wassste my time, human!"
A demonic guard just casually forgetting his place and giving puzzle hints. The usual.


The art was gorgeous. Everything looked like a bleakly beautiful hellscape. It worked.

In-game: The hooded main character in a room filled with mummies and sarcophaguses.
Book your vacation in the next 5 minutes to receive one additional night at no cost to you!

I enjoyed the fictional world of Tormentum. It felt like a heavy metal album had been turned into an escape game.

There were some great puzzle designs.


While I liked a lot of the puzzle designs, I found myself wishing that they had leaned into their ideas, pushed beyond basic execution, and asked me to more thoroughly master those puzzles.

The pixel hunt searching overstayed its welcome. It was easy to completely miss critical things within the game’s elaborate art.

In-game: A massive demon stating, "It is easier for a thousand crows to fly through a fiery mountain than it is for you to pass safely through my entrails, wretched human."
And they squeezed in a few stage bosses from Contra for good measure.

On more than a few occasions I made critical in-game moral decisions, by accident, without any intention or understanding of what was about to happen. These moments kind of pissed me off. If I’m gonna murder someone, I want to know that I’m about to do it.

Should I play Tormentum: Dark Sorrow?

Tormentum went all in on the art. If you like point & click escape rooms and this game’s art direction appeals to you, then it’s worth a few bucks and a few hours to play it.

If both the game format and the art don’t speak to you, then I don’t think it’s worthwhile. There were some great puzzle designs, but they left me wanting more. I found Tormentum’s interactions were often too opaque, especially when it came to moral choices, which frustrated the hell out of me.

If Tormentum feels like a fit for you, it’s got a dark and twisted beauty about it.

Download Tormentum: Dark Sorrow today.

Download iOS

Download Android

Download Steam (Don’t play it on Steam, $12 is too much to pay for this game)

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game [Review]

Haunted with ads.

Platform: iOS & Android

Release date: November 12, 2016

Price: Free – ad supported

Story & setting

A self-described “escape the room” virtual reality game playable with Google Cardboard or as a standard point and click escape game, Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was straightforward: I was trapped in a haunted house and needed to escape.

In game: a ghost in a hallway holding a chainsaw.

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was broken up into 6 episodes, each playable in less than 5 minutes.

It looked and sounded pretty good:

However, look and sound only carried it so far.


Calling Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game an “escape the room” was a generous description. The puzzles were non-existent.

In game: a piece of paper reads, "5-30-7" above it a message displays reading, "This might be a clue!"
No kidding?

At best this was a virtual scavenger hunt. Items either screamed “USE ME! I’M BRIGHT RED!” or, on a couple of occasions, they required pixel hunting because they were the same drab color as the background.

If I touched a thing that needed “solving” it straight up told me what to do.

In game: a door, a message reads, "It's locked. Maybe I can try shooting it?"
I’m not sure what I should do. Could someone give me a hint?


It looked pretty great, especially for a free game.


There was no depth to the story, puzzles, or frights. It was staggeringly one-dimensional.

The puzzles were lame and would barely even qualify as puzzles.

There were jump scares, but they didn’t impress. These were seriously overused.

Every milestone triggered an ad. Exiting the game triggered an ad. Opening doors triggered ads. (Don’t get any ideas, escape room owners.)

Should I play Rabbit Mountain’s Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game?

Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game was not an escape room game. It was a reasonably pretty ad-supported tech demo.

This app got a lot of press, so I figured it would be worth playing at the low cost of free. I was wrong. It wasn’t worth my time.

Room Escape Artist 2016 Holiday Buyer’s Guide

Update: Looking for more ideas? Try the 2017 and 2018 holiday buyer’s guides.


The holidays are around the corner, so we figured we’d make your gift giving experience a bit easier with some creative gifts for your room escaping loved ones.




Puzzle Locks

Multi-staged, strange, and layered physical interactions are required to unlock and relock these nutty things.

Two of my favorites have been this ugly bastard, and this beautifully intricate one.

Note that we do not recommend these for use in room escapes. These are for fun puzzling outside of the game.


Yellow to Red Gradient Jigsaw Puzzle

Are you looking to terminate a friendship this holiday season? Nothing says “you deserve to suffer” quite like a 500 piece gradient jigsaw puzzle.


Laser cut wooden jigsaw puzzles

Got a jigsaw puzzler in your life who you truly care about? Give them a Liberty or Artifact puzzle.

These beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzles are laser cut into intricate and unusual interlocking patterns.

Brace yourself, they are challenging, but rewarding. A 300-piece Liberty Puzzle is far more challenging than most common 600-piece jigsaw puzzles.

While we have less experience with Artifact Puzzles, they are also awesome and have their own charm.

Tabletop games

Mystery at Stargazer's Manor contents.

ThinkFun’s Escape the Rooms

There are a number of wonderful at-home escape room games, but at the moment the two most approachable, affordable, and available ones are produced by ThinkFun.

We’ve reviewed both Stargazer’s Manor and Dr. Gravely’s Retreat.


Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Lovingly reviewed by Shut Up and Sit Down, Consulting Detective is an intellectually heavy tabletop puzzling experience.



Lock Picks

I’ve been picking locks since high school. It’s fun and challenging. There’s always something new to learn. Occasionally it’s also useful.

A small set of lock picks would make a great gift for a responsible and ethical loved one. Don’t go too crazy and buy a massive pick set, beginners only need a few basic picks, rakes, and tensioners to get started.


iFixit Toolkit

iFixit, the website behind all manner of product teardowns and repair instructions, sells their own toolkits.

I’ve kept this one on hand for years. It has helped me open every strange screw that I’ve ever attempted to remove.

iFixit has a ton of different kits available for every manner of tinkerer.


Makerspace Membership

Makerspaces are magical places where creators of all sorts of stuff and skill levels gather to share knowledge, tools, and ideas.

From robotics and rocketry to sewing and knitting, most makerspaces welcome all makers. In my experience, most teach classes, have 3D printers, and woodshops.

Each one is a little different in terms of equipment and culture, so find the ones nearest you. I would recommend stopping by a few times before committing to a membership. Find the right fit.

Video games


Nintendo 3DS XL

Nintendo’s handheld system is a great platform for puzzle gaming.

Decades of exceptional Zelda games are available:

The Zero Escape games are also available:

There’s plenty more puzzling on the 3DS.



After decades of failures it looks like it may finally be virtual reality’s time. While we’ve dabbled with three of the big platforms, we’re not picking sides… yet.

We’ll keep an eye on the space and let everyone know which is best for adventure puzzling.

If you have a computer powerful enough to power it (or plan to buy one), the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift both have solid libraries of games available.

PS4 with Playstation VR is less established, but it is easier to set up and use.



Design of Everyday Things

If you only ever read one book about design, it should be this one. It’s approachable and dead-on. Its lessons apply to literally everything. (Paperback) (Kindle)


Atlas Obscura

A traveler’s guide to the world’s oddest stuff. This guide to Earth’s curiosities is worth reading even if you never travel to see the strange things it reveals. (Hardcover) (Kindle)


Path Puzzles

Simple to learn and difficult to master, these puzzles are a ton of fun.

We have an in-depth review of the book.


The Code Book

A brilliant and approachable walk through the history of code/cipher making and breaking. I am in the middle of reading this one and I learn new and exciting things each time I turn the page. (Paperback) (Kindle)


Do people still gift movies in the age of streaming? If you do…


Tim’s Vermeer

If you know someone who loves the overlap of art and technology, Tim’s Vermeer is a strangely moving documentary about Tim Jenison’s mission to recreate Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s photo-realistic painting “The Music Lesson.” Produced by Penn & Teller, the documentary follows Jenison, a Texas-based tech entrepreneur who had never lifted a paintbrush in his life, through his discoveries, triumphs, and failures as he seeks to uncover a 350-year-old secret.

I may have shed a tear or two while watching. (DVD) (Blu-ray) (Stream)

Stocking stuffers


Zelda Boss Key Keychain

The only door it opens is a door called “nostalgia.”

A small comination lock used as a keychain.

Master Lock 4688D

This TSA-friendly lock is a joke of a lock… but it’s a convenient keychain.

Room Escape Gear


The Original Cryptex®

A Cryptex is a common locking mechanism in room escapes, but most use the junkie Da Vinci Code replicas (and yes, both are junk, even the more expensive version).

Justin Nevins, the creator of the first Cryptex, handcrafts this insanely solid Cryptex. They start at $300 for the normal version and become increasingly expensive for exquisite versions inlayed with wood and marble.

They are the perfect escape room prop, conversation piece, or proposal puzzle device. (I considered using this when plotting out my wedding proposal.)

That dog looks so guilty.


The obligatory blacklight.


If you’re feeling charitable, these two organizations do wonderful work creating opportunities for children who desperately need to play.


Able Gamers Foundation

These folks help make video games accessible for people whose disabilities would otherwise prevent them from playing.


Child’s Play

This charity works to get games and toys into the hands of children who are in hospitals and domestic abuse shelters. You can send the gift directly to the hospital or shelter.

Thank you!

If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We truly appreciate your support.

Escape Games Canada – Geist Manor VR Demo [Review]

Frightening, fast, and fun.

Location: played at the Chicago Room Escape Conference, but available in Toronto, Canada

Date played: August 13, 2016

Team size: 1

Price: Free at the conference, pricing TBD by hosting facility


Story & setting

Played via the HTC Vive, Geist Manor was a one-player virtual horror escape room experience. I played the 7-minute demo (of a 10-minute game) that was available at the Escape Games Canada booth at the Chicago Room Escape Conference.

This is a game that Escape Games Canada created in partnership with a EscapeVR. The game will be available for players to experience in Escape Games Canada’s facility, as well as a number of other escape room facilities that have purchased the rights to use the game.

Set in a haunted house, the game was dark, creepy, and a little bit freaky. Everything from the staging to the lighting to the sound pushed me deeper into the experience.

In a beautiful way, I felt like I was in a horror movie.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit haunted room.


The puzzles were your basic seek, observe, and input interactions that I’ve encountered in my previous Vive escape room experience.


Escape Games Canada likes to toy with their players’ minds and this game was no exception.

It looked great and sounded even better.

Escape Games Canada did a masterful job of throwing off my equilibrium and playing with my senses.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit cabinet. A drawer is open and containing a cup of dice. Beside the dice the words "ROLL THE DICE" appear in blocky chalk writing.

The setting truly enhanced the experience. Lisa was a bit rattled by the horror; during her playthrough she had more trouble focusing on the tasks at hand.

The hinting was heavy handed, but well executed; it was clearly designed to keep the player moving.


There were some physics problems, both those within the game and those inherent to the Vive.

It wasn’t particularly puzzley.

If you don’t like horror, then that’s going to be a deal-breaker.

In-game screen shot of a dimly lit long spooky hallway. A small femine figure stands in the shadows at the opposite end.

Should I play Escape Games Canada’s Geist Manor?

Escape Games Canada put me in an experience that I knew wasn’t real and managed to make it feel intimidating.

This is only for folks who are open to a horror adventure and don’t get motion sick in a VR environment.

If you’re down for an excellent immersive experience that is light on puzzles and heavy on brain-tricking interactions, then this is your game.

It’s brief even at full length, which makes it a great add-on to a room escape outing at Escape Games Canada’s Toronto facility.

Contact Escape Games Canada to book your session with Geist Manor, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Pre-PAX West Interview: Debra and Alex Beardsley, It’s A Trap!

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Debra and Alex Beardsley of It’s A Trap! (Winter Park, FL) about how their experiences in gaming and theater continue to influence their escape room designs.

In-game image of a dragon locked behind bars.

Room Escape Artist: Tell us about your games. What’s the style?

Debra and Alex: Our games look at the more comedic side of escape rooms instead of the adrenaline side. A lot of people are nervous about getting locked into a room for an hour, so we like to make sure everyone laughs through the game. We achieve this through a detailed narrative that is delivered through our performers, props and clues. Our performers are masters of puns and will help lighten the mood for the more novice or nervous players.

Explain your concept of “reversible rooms.” How did that come about and how does it work?

A game room is a basically a theatrical set. When you see a play, multiple scenes happen on the same set multiple times throughout the show. So why couldn’t our game rooms work that way? We are able to show two sides of a story within one game room. For instance, one week you will break into the superhero’s apartment as the villain’s henchman. The next week, after we have changed all the clues, disabled/enabled some different tech props, and introduced a different character guide, you can now play as the policemen aiding the superhero (which, chronologically, happens after the henchmen broke in!).

A princess looking at her reflection in a mirror.

It sounds like your escape rooms are heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. How has that game, as well as video games, influenced your escape room design?

Adventure games lend themselves to escape room-style puzzles. We are big fans of point and click puzzle adventures like Zork, Monkey Island, and Myst. Were also huge RPG (role-playing game) fans (Final Fantasy, tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, etc.). When we made our escape rooms, it was obvious we would go for the geeky themes, but we also fed off of the narrative aspect of these games. We didnt create a live action sudoku puzzle or Tetris. We created a game with consequence and motivation that players could lose themselves in for hours, just like the millions of hours weve lost to those RPGs!

On the topic of geeky themes, we have a story about a wizard with nearly 30 pages of backstory describing realms of magic, plight of wizards, royal hierarchy and important NPCs (non-player characters). This enables us to influence our puzzles in a way that is incredibly detailed. Forgotten Realms has nothing on us.

Your game also incorporates live actors. What influence has theater had on your escape rooms?

In NYC and London, immersive theatre is taking off and producing amazing shows that make the audience members part of the story. These shows require you to move through a labyrinth-style space, interact with actors, and search for hidden narratives in props. After working on these shows for a few years, we felt there was an easy mash-up of the immersive theatre concept with the budding escape room industry. With the aid of the actor in the game room, we can help people let go of the outside and keep focused. We can dissolve frustrations with a well-timed joke or a “punny” riddle. Most importantly, we can deliver a richer story since we can tell you parts of it throughout the game instead of having to push it all in during the pregame briefing.

You concept takes video games, theater, and puzzles and meshes them into one genre of entertainment. Where does it go from here? How do you plan to evolve?

Having deep roots in immersive theatre, we plan to create bigger immersive projects that contain both strong narrative and gameplay mechanics. Right now, we consider our escape room to be 75% game and 25% theatre. Wed like to scale up to a full-length production that is closer to 50/50 utilizing all of the gameplay insight weve gathered. We would like to get closer to creating a real-life, fully immersive adventure game complete with a full cast of colorful NPCs and an epic story.

Pre-PAX West Interview: Edwin Tsui, The Locked Room

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Edwin Tsui of The Locked Room (Calgary, AB) about his experience as a game enthusiast and game creator/owner.

Photo of Edwin and his partners in one of their horror games. It's dark and there are body parts as well as implements of destruction postioned throughout the room.

Room Escape Artist: How did your enthusiasm for escape rooms turn into a business?

Edwin: When my girlfriend and I first heard of the concept of the escape room, it sounded like an amazingly fun activity. After we played our very first escape rooms in Prague in early 2014, we knew it was fun, and we wanted to bring the activity back to our home city of Calgary.

I met with my two future business partners, Kyle and Adil, while offering them DJ service for their zombie-themed fun run. At the end of our meeting, I casually brought up the escape room idea, which intrigued them. From there, we launched our first two-room facility as a market tester and things just took off.

Your background and interests are in video games and puzzling. Tell us how video games have influenced your escape room business.

My favorite types of video games are RPG and strategy games. Well-crafted games of those genres tend to have good flow, and give players a sense of accomplishment as they progress through the game.

I want players coming through our escape rooms to feel like they have that sense of progression, with a mixture of some easy wins, and some tougher battles. This is accomplished by having a combination of puzzles and activities – some of which are straightforward and intuitive, and others that may require a bit of head scratching before the ‘aha’ light bulb switches on with the correct answer.

It’s important to listen to the players who come through and use their feedback to make improvements and changes. This goes for the games themselves, as well as marketing, customer service, and market conditions, which are equally important as the content in the escape rooms themselves. We always want to ensure that the fun factor is maximized and the frustration factor minimized. Visiting gamefaqs.com (in the olden days of the internet!) to find a walkthrough or tip for a certain boss or game sequence always felt like ‘giving up’!

You’ve played many escape rooms all over the world, but your business partners haven’t played as many escape rooms themselves. How do your design interests align with or differ from those of your business partners?

Part of playing more games is that quality expectations as a player are always increasing. I’m always comparing the puzzles, immersion and overall fun factor of each new room to pre-existing experiences (and also to my own offerings!).

When designing my own escape room games, it’s important to understand my market and to offer puzzles and activities that will be appropriate for that particular demographic (newer players vs. corporate team builders vs. puzzle hunt specialists). What may seem fun or intuitive to me after playing 100 games may be too difficult or non-intuitive for a first-time player. Thus, my partners do a great job of keeping me grounded and finding that balance of challenging, yet fun (without being frustrating), for our target demographic.

As a player, your favorite games cater to enthusiasts. How do you keep the gamer/enthusiast market happy while still executing on a viable business model?

The beauty of the escape room as an activity is that it’s accessible to a wide range of players; there is no steep learning curve, no inherent safety issue (generally), and everybody can share in the fun and adrenaline of the experience.

Gamers and/or puzzlers will have an inherent advantage because of the style of challenges in most escape rooms, but a player with 5-10 escape room games under their belt will already be on par or better at these real-life games than a brand new (but with games/puzzle experience) player.

We try to offer a wide variety of themes and difficulty levels so that everybody has a chance to find the right fit for themselves. Not everybody is going to love every game that they play, but it is our responsibility to provide as much information as possible so that we can manage player expectations heading into an escape room game.

When you started, you wanted to expose your audience to those awesome moments you had first encountered in escape rooms. How do you evolve so that you can continue to produce that wow moment?

There are many ways to achieve the ‘wow’ moments in a game, but as players become more experienced, it takes a bit more thought to find new ways to surprise them! Some of my personal favorites are clever use of ordinary everyday items in MacGyver ways  or hidden objects (or passageways) concealed right under the players’ noses!

Electronics and technology are also useful tools for creating ‘wow’ puzzle components and, when used appropriately, can help bridge the gap between what can be achieved in real life and what is possible in video games.


Pre-PAX West Interview: Nate Martin, Puzzle Break

In advance of our upcoming panel discussion on room escapes at PAX West, we spoke with each of the panelists about their experiences as gamers, perspectives on room escapes, and future evolution of their games.

In this interview, we talk to Puzzle Break’s Nate Martin, an avid video gamer and PAX enthusiast, about the new games he is developing aboard cruise ships.

PAX West logo

Room Escape Artist: There is a panel on escape rooms at the upcoming PAX West in Seattle! How did this come about? And why does it belong?

Nate: PAX West is a conference/festival that grew out of the Penny Arcade comedy and game webcomic. Seattle’s PAX (formerly “Prime”, now “West”) is a full-blown cultural phenomenon celebrating all things gaming. Puzzle Break, the first contemporary US-based room escape company, was founded in Seattle, the home of Penny Arcade and PAX West. I’ve been a fan since the beginning. Giving a talk at PAX and being an ambassador for the industry to the greater gaming community has always been in the back of my head and the escape room industry has now matured enough to introduce it at PAX.

Live-action room escapes are, in many ways, the literal physical embodiment of a video game. Escape room experiences combine the core elements of a genre of video game with real-life elements to provide a gaming experience that is indescribably fun. That’s what PAX is all about.

When I reached out to the organizers, I decided to pitch the idea as a panel discussion. I’ve assembled a diverse selection of industry leaders who will share different perspectives and ensure some great discussion.

You’ve always been a gamer, but your escape room designs lean harder on puzzles. How do we see the gaming influence in your puzzle-focused escape rooms?

I was more or less raised by the Adventure/Point-and-Click genre of video games. The lion’s share of those games were hard. Conquering them was often a significant challenge (especially before the Internet was tremendously ubiquitous), but it felt so good. My co-founder Dr. Lindsay Morse and I feel strongly that it is far more entertaining and satisfying to encounter and hopefully overcome a tough challenge than breeze through a cakewalk.

However, we are extremely cognizant of a tremendously important distinction: There’s a fine line between challenging and unfair. People often forget that many if not most of the best adventure games (Myst, Grim Fandango, etc.) had their fair share of puzzles that were simply too hard or esoteric to be fair. At Puzzle Break, we love throwing challenges at our players, but they must always fall squarely in the “fair” category.

You’ve now taken this concept aboard cruise ships. How do you have to change your approach to design for the cruise ship games?

In many ways, not very much! Royal Caribbean has a seasoned entertainment staff who have a close handle on what their guests want. We’ve had countless discussions with their creative folks on how we might modify our design methodologies to better suit their customers’ desires. In the end, we changed surprisingly little from a design perspective. 

In-game image of the Rubicon. It's a futuristic spaceship lit blue.

One of the biggest draws of the room escape experience on a cruise is making new friends, so we definitely included a healthy amount of content that requires close teamwork. However, we also made sure to have elements for folks who want to work on stuff by themselves.

What are the technical challenges to operating multiple games in multiple locations on the different ships?

The challenges are simultaneously enormously easy and stupendously tricky. Most of the general operational challenges are nothing a massive cruise line doesn’t deal with 1000 times before breakfast. We put together a reference for everything the Royal Caribbean staff could possibly need to setup, run, and maintain the games, and they do it with comparatively few issues.

The real problems are arising with our new Escape the Rubicon room. I’ve famously claimed this is the most technically advanced room escape in existence in many ways, and I wasn’t kidding. We partnered with ShowFX, a stupendously experienced fabrication firm, to create a stunningly beautiful and diabolically complex interactive experience. Maintaining the room’s electronics and mechanics is uncharted territory and we’re figuring out best practices as we go. It ain’t easy.

We’ve recently seen photos of the new room you’ve developed for a cruise ship: Escape the Rubicon. It looks like you’ve really taken design up a notch. What are the challenges to bring that level of design to your Seattle and Long Island locations?

With Escape the Rubicon, we wanted to create a truly blockbuster-quality experience. Our design methodologies may not have changed very much, but through the partnership with Royal Caribbean we now had the resources to craft a Hollywood-caliber set and use professional actors to tell a story with next-level immersion.

The two biggest jumps in Rubicon were budget and technology.

Puzzle Break is entirely self-funded. As we grow, we put a ton of resources right back into R&D for new rooms and interactive experiences. Each progressive room we make is an evolutionary leap in fit & finish. Additionally, with every project we complete, our team learns more and more about embedded technology and systems. We are continuing to work to elevate the technology, design, and polish in all Puzzle Break games.