Accessibility Consideration: flashing lights and loud noises
Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
If you like vampires, you’ll love The Last Vampire. If you’re meh on vampires, you’ll likely still love it. If you are a vampire, well, this might not be the game for you if you want to make it out alive.
The Last Vampire was the most challenging of the current offerings at Encrypted Escape Room West Reading, and with a large quantity of parallel puzzling, it’s a solid choice for medium to large teams.
In addition to having a beautifully eerie set, The Last Vampire was also full of clever interaction design choices. A room full of puzzles has the potential to be overwhelming, but this problem was largely avoided by having spotlights illuminate which puzzle elements were in play at any given point. A tactile meta element helped us track our progress in the game. Light religious overtones provided diegetic justification for looking at things from a different perspective. And as the final nail in the coffin, an exhilarating finale made us, the players, an integral part of the story.
The discussions that followed inspired me to write about two of my favorite escape room hinting styles: Optional Hint Reception and Narrator Delivered Hints. Both of these systems lessen the sense of failure often associated with needing a hint.
Optional Hint Reception
Optional Hint Reception involves the game host supplying unrequested, concealed hints to the players and letting them choose if and when to reveal them. It borrows one of the best aspects of some tabletop escape game hint mechanics: allowing players the comfort of knowing hints are currently available, letting them judge their own frustration level as a guide, but not forcing an embarrassing public admission of defeat before receiving a nudge. Game hosts can utilize their experience and familiarity to deliver hints when they see fit without players feeling like they are being helped too much or too soon.
Players can notice a paper note slipped under the door, but it will just lay there until someone decides to pick it up. A video screen can be covered with some kind of moveable obstruction, allowing players to peak underneath if they wish. A screen displaying hints could be placed in a physical space that players must choose to visit in order to receive those hints.
Audio or visual cues can alert players that a new hint is available, but in my experience, this isn’t always necessary. An attentive game host usually knows when players need a nudge and can provide it earlier through a concealed system. Players can learn to trust their host and expect a hint is waiting for them even without a signal. Conversely, once that trust is established, if a quick peek at the concealed hint mechanism shows no hint available, this can reassure the players that they are on the right track because the host doesn’t think they need any help. If the technology allows, unused hints can simply be deleted and replaced with more current hints as the players progress through the game.
A successful game playthrough with an optional hint reception system includes a game host using their skill to provide plenty of concealed hints and players using their own state of mind to receive just what they need without ever having to stop and ask.
Narrator Delivered Hints
Some escape rooms employ a narrator character to deliver hints: an all-knowing, all-seeing outside observer who is describing the action to some unseen audience. This can really take the edge off of the negative feeling that can come from asking for help. It is somehow less harsh to receive the information when it feels like it was intended for a 3rd party.
When players feel like they are secretly listening in on information meant for someone else, hints seem more like clues discovered in the game rather than specific help intended just for them. It can be exciting or even mischievous to listen in on comments not meant for you (even if, in this case, they are meant for you.) It might even be comical or thrilling to hear your team’s actions and struggles described as they happen.
For example, the narration, “The investigators knew they were missing a key piece of evidence, so they decided to check the desk drawers one more time” takes the sting off of a search fail better than the gamemaster asking, “Did you open all the desk drawers?”
“Our smallest adventurer noticed some curious symbols. Will they turn out to be important?” or “The heroes were spending too much time on the locked door, so they decided to look for another way in.” Receiving hints worded this way feels less hint-like and more experiential.
Unsolicited nudges from the game host can be disguised as story narration. For example, “The moon was bright that night where light and shadow danced in the graveyard” could gently clue a shadow puzzle that players have failed to notice.
Many escape game themes can work with a narrator character. Think of all the movies and TV shows that use voice-over to deliver story information. That function can be adapted to deliver escape room story and hints.
A narrator should be established early and make sense in the game world. Make the players comfortable with the system by using it for the story introduction and a comment about the players or what they are doing. Use it for act breaks or other in-game transitions or discoveries. Then when it comes time for a hint, it can be smoothly delivered as if the narrator were still talking to the audience.
These are a couple of my favorite hinting styles. They are 2 great options, but not the only options.
The goal of these systems is to reduce the stark, immersion-breaking player and host interactions that are common in most escape rooms. They also reduce some of the negative feelings players have when forced to admit defeat, come together to raise their hands, and ask for a hint. One of the ways to preserve some of the puzzle-based aspects of escape rooms as many transition towards adventure games is to develop hinting mechanics that feel more like part of the adventure itself.
Episode One: Into The Fire is a free online narrative puzzle game created by So You Wanna Save The World.
We reviewed Episode 0 in October of 2019, which is no longer available, as So You Wanna Save The World has changed their product significantly since then. Episode One is the current introductory episode.
Style of Play:
Online native experience (can NOT be played IRL)
Play on demand
This is a story-based puzzle game with comic-strip video sequences delivering the narrative. Puzzles are based on static images and ARG-style websites.
Required Equipment: computer with internet connection, mobile device
Recommended Team Size: 1-2
Play Time: Unlimited, but your playtime determines your score. Figure on 1-2 hours.
Price: Episode One (reviewed here) is free. Subsequent episodes are $30 each.
Booking: purchase and play at your leisure
You’ll receive instructions via the website and explore other sites, solving puzzles to progress the story. Most of the story is given as comic-style videos with a mix of voice acting and speech bubbles. There are other types of interactions, including phone calls/ messages, that will occur as you progress through the game.
Accessibility Consideration: Brief moment of flashing lights
Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit
Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release (just for one player)
Usually it’s the little things that make me happy, but in the case of Viking Raid, wielding large fake swords while sitting on an even heftier wooden throne really did the trick.
Viking Raid was thoroughly Viking-themed in its set and props as well as the ways in which we interacted with them. The distinctively Norse mythological objective of collecting amulets representing the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil was solid structural framing for the game, though the amulets themselves — printed stickers on flat discs — could have been better crafted given their prominence in the story.
While this room didn’t have as much of the outwardly fancy tech or flashy reveals that characterized some of Encrypted Escape Room West Reading’s other rooms, it was still quite smooth in its own right, notably eschewing standard combination locks in favor of object placement.
If you’re visiting Encrypted Escape Room West Reading, Viking Raid is well worth a play, though I’d recommend playing it before The Last Vampire and Galactic War for the optimal progression of difficulty and immersion.
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.
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.
Thank You to Our Sponsors
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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 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]
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.
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