What is an Escape Room

Her: “This door with code has a picture of Anubis on it. Anubis has a jackal head. Jackal, jackal… WAIT! It’s Jack AL - Jack City in Alabama. Isn’t it on Route 87. The code is 87! “

*Crickets. Everyone else stared at her.* 

"Guys, what the hell is she talking about?”

“No idea.” 

***

Cut. 

I’ll explain what is going on. 

It’s holiday time and every year when we get together for another family gathering, the first thing we do, while we still speak to each other, is we head to a local escape room venue. 

It’s become our new Thanksgiving add-on tradition since we tried it for the sake of experiment five years ago. 

We’ve always tried to do something together for such occasions but It’s been a pain in the neck to pick an activity to everyone’s taste, excluding food elimination at the dinner, of course. Dah!

Over the years board games of various kinds turned into a type of torture, which even The Holy Inquisition would have envied. 

One fine day everything changed when this bearing fruit fell in my hands in the form of a gift certificate my childhood pal obtained for me. 

He said: “Escape Room Game is the place where you could have a whole family locked up in a room with objectives to achieve by means of working together under time pressure”. 

Hm, what could go wrong? I’m in! 

That particular game still calls up hilarious memories and family inside jokes every time we meet. Since then we play games together because it helps us to admit boundaries, expose weaknesses, understand strengths and qualities of each member, and last but not least, mercilessly humiliate each other for failing. 

I got hooked on the concept pretty quickly and as a result I complete a pile of them on a regular basis with friends and coworkers. Now I am nobly qualified to share my knowledge with you. 

 

Escape Room Definition

 

Escape Room is a real-life adventure game which takes place in a themed space. Participants must accomplish assigned tasks within the allotted time. Core gameplay revolved around mental thinking and some physical activity, including, but not limited to, interacting with props, observing, making connections and reasoning. Each experience has a backstory which supports the theming and gameflow. The activity is also supervised over cameras by the venue's staff, who have witnessed some outrageous things happen during the games.

  

What’s Inside an Escape Game

 

“Omg, there is another room!”

Escape Game multiple rooms meme

Typically the space consists of multiple areas or enclosed settings (rooms) to which  players receive access by progressing throughout the game. I personally find games with 2-3 spaces the most optimal, without major negative effect on the average room size.

If a game has more than 3 spaces, you would want to make sure that it was not built to the detriment of the space, so you don’t find your teammates packed like sardines. My advice, follow the guidelines of the recommended number of players. 

Interior game design is directly related to the property specifics and resources. Therefore, it’s somewhat unlikely the owner could create spacious multiple sets in an office-like building.  And vice versa, if the venue takes the entire building or warehouse space, they have more freedom for creativity. 

I admire multiple rooms in a game because several changed environments help to get a sense of progress throughout the game and create intrigue that tickles your curiosity. It’s like passing a new level in an obsessive video game. You got to see all of it!

But there is a risk for you to irrationally distribute time between the rooms. Don’t worry, you will eventually get this trained eye and will be able to evaluate timing properly after several games under your belt . 

 

Game interior 

 

If you find yourself on a pirate ship with carpet, drop ceiling, and lamps just like the ones above your work desk, get ready. This is an opportunity for an intense training of your viviest imaginative faculties. 

Nifty games don’t literally look like rooms any more.  Lightning-fast industry evolution progressed through the past five years enormously in both quality and creativity. 

Unlike other somewhat traditional business sectors, entertainment services require constant development. Venues are racing to attract new clients by means of surprising, delighting, and offering something new and special. Those who are not ready to keep up, leave in this marathon at the start. That made the business industry level as inventive as it gets today.

   

Look at these game sets. They create spirit that will take you on a journey. Such sets require a whole production facility and creative team with qualified skills. The designers go miles out of their way to fabricate such impressive sceneries. 

 

What is behind the sets 

 

Modern game designs extended its boundaries and turned in some degree  into rocket science. 

Today’s games are more scenario-based with thought out non-linear flow paths. Puzzle sequences are pre-programmed to avoid leaps, clunky and confusing situations. Moreover, most of the actions are accompanied by synchronized audio and visual effects which are woven into one complex system. Engineers and programmers work closely with prop makers and script writers to bring you an exceptional activity which you can only experience once. 

 

behind escape room sets

 

 

Who is the Game Master

 

“Game Master” is a dedicated staff member who watches over the gaming session, provides clues to the teams, if they ask for any and monitors the backend systems to ensure the game's technical side proper functionality. 

They rarely control actions happening in a game and are not supposed to interfere into activity on its own initiative. Their main job is to monitor the player's actions as the adventure progresses in order to provide appropriate hints for certain stages of the game and also supervise client’s safety. 

Depending on a location, sometimes GM can have additional duties assigned. Some of them step into a role and act for game story introduction, others provide pregame rule breathing. 

Either way, these people are pillars of strength and essential part of any escape room facility. If you haven’t heard the hilarious tales of what they’ve seen while monitoring groups, I highly recommend checking out reddit and other forums. You’ll thank me later ;)

 

Play time 

 

“Look at this mummy! Is it real? Shall we do anything with it?”

“Not, if you don’t want to be cursed” 

“Ooops, the finger with a ring just broke off it”

*forgets about the ring and spends 5 minutes trying to finder every possible  crack she finds*  

Games can vary in components, some are more action-oriented with others being focused on in-depth thinking. I'd say, the golden mean is concentrating on mind work, while having action points. The perfect harmony between these two delivers the best experience because it allows players to switch activity of brain zones. 

It is impossible to be in constant tension, be it mental or physical. At some point you will get tired of overload, and you will begin naturally looking for a distraction to release that pressure.  

 

And Action! Physical elements in escape games 

 

Actions could rely on searching, engaging with props or even require some physical strength to maneuver through. 

It’s not common to come across a high intense action game where you feel like  a soldier on  training with crawling and climbing but there are some places famous for escape game world championships which could include physical performance. Exhale, the facilities always warn about them. 

Typically actions in games are easy and quite entertaining.  They are there to give you some laugh and a mental break before you approach the next brainteaser. 

 

Tough nut to crack. Puzzling job

 

An intellectual work is mainly what people seek for in an escape room. Heck, people pay to get their brains fried! 

This is also the hardest part for the designers. No one likes solving puzzles which are  difficult for the sake of being difficult. Riddles need to correlate to the story and must be figured out logically based on the information within the game. There should not be any knowledge needed in order to solve a crux.  

At this phase the adventurers take the experience more seriously and concentrate the team's collective intelligence resources by brainstorming. In other words, this is where the miracle happens, if you’re willing to peg away.   

I must warn, it’s painful. When you come upon a hard multi-step mental task which calls for reasoning, logic, focus, deduction, analysis, comparison and etc. you may have a choke point accompanied by it’s little brother - frustration. 

Irritation along with other not so pleasant feelings are an integral part of the brain's defeat mechanism. When we have a hard time making connections, the thinking portion of our brain where logic and reasoning remain, can trigger the limbic system - emotional center of the brain and it gets hijacked. Released hormones hit the ceiling and flip your lid. 

Now, this may take up to 20 min before you can become more logical. But knowing this body neurological mechanism can help you to deal with it and perhaps train yourself by controlling it. Hey, how cool is that? That’s why the more brain teasers you do, the better you become at it. Like building muscles, with every next attempt you become mentally prepared to dive right in. Personal growth needs stressors, endurance, and constant work. Without those things, you can’t improve yourself. 

Escape games can teach you how to persist through discomfort and think straight. Not all puzzles are difficult. Some can be solved by guessing, or through sheer dumb luck. But the hard ones, with multiple steps, are the most satisfying to complete. They are not meant to hand the answer on a silver platter, you need to push yourself and get your teeth into it.

The reward is the sweet insight moment - a sudden understanding of a complex situation. A brilliant solution to a difficult problem sparks the brain's reward response to achievement called dopamine. Oh, yeah, that pleasant hormone we generate when we eat and do other great things.  Guess what, the core of Eureka!‐experience is the feeling of relief, happiness and certainty. Some research also indicates a close relationship between dopamine, exhilaration, and creativity. 

Therefore, escape room experiences help you train mental agility, boost creativity, control feelings, and structure your behavior.  A seasoned player is more likely to  exclaim “this is genius!” and less “this does not make sense”. Which one are you?

Have a peek at our blog How to work through a tough cookie, if you would like to learn some techniques on how to prepare yourself to resolve complex tasks.

 

Escape Room Games, Themes and Stories 

 

There is no point in having sharp images when you have fuzzy ideas.

Jean-Luc Godard

Impressive sets will not please a player, if there is no neat idea behind them. All that glitters is not gold. Often enough, in pursuit of creating spectacular visual impressions, logic goes out the window. 

Game developers must balance the interests and be able to create both cool props and intriguing stories. If the makers are the real fans of the concept, their creation attracts a great deal of attention and they can look to their laurels for the next 2 years until the next game takes over the podium. Yep, that’s right, two years. Hurry up to catch up with the games that are the best now - here today and gone tomorrow. Here are some Awards in Escape Room World you may want to check out: 

  • Golden Lock Award by Room Escape Artist
  • USA Today 10 Best Escape Rooms
  • Escape Spy
  • Bloggers Escape the roomer’s Award

It may sound trite, but a great experience is founded on an immersive gamespace, engaging tangible props, smart logical puzzles, and scenario with some spin in it. 

Let me lay it all out. 

 

Exclusive tangible interactions

 

Tangible props is an essential part of the whole escape game idea. 

It’s been painful to watch escape rooms switching to digital format after COVID-19 pandemic. Companies tried to adapt to a new reality and offered a digitized variant of their games where the player sits at home and controls a game master like an avatar in a room through means of a live web cam. It looked more like a video game which real-live adventure has always been opposed to. 

There is almost no part in which digital technology has not impacted our lives. It’s invaded daily living so much that it creates a digital overload which leads to neurological conditions. 

That is why escape rooms always were committing you to put phones away for at least one hour and engage with people and the world around. 

Tactile is a fundamental sense for human empirical perception and is the first sense to develop. Actual physical touch experience impacts the learning process. You’ve seen those restless babies  who won’t miss an opportunity to snitch a fork off the table or another fun potential “toy”. Well, that’s how humans explore the environment. 

It’s not much different when we grow up. Direct hands-on manipulations, particularly with three-dimensional forms,  support the development of mental skills.  

Players should use their hands to manipulate objects, so they can better understand the mechanics of a prop. Sometimes they need to use objects not only in their intended manner, but come up with a new solution by twirling and spinning. 

Tangible artifacts create a shared space around it for cooperative work and let participants watch each other’s gaze to achieve interaction whole lot easier than when dealing with a purely digital version on a display. 

Physical objects provide visibility of other members’ activity, better communicating the current state of the progress and stimulating situated learning. Unlike the traditional digital setup with screen, tangible interfaces often allow simultaneous interaction, brainstorming, sharing control between the participants. 

I don’t know whether the “new normal” after the pandemic situation will transform all areas of life into an online format, hopefully not, but if so, escape games will lose their main purpose and reason to exist. In danger of extinction species need support and, if you sincerely like them, continue visiting the venues as long as precaution measures can provide adequate protection. 

 

Creativity is intelligence having fun. Game play tropes.  

 

Most people have “Ah-ha” moments... I just have  “Oh, for god sake, seriously!?” moments. 

There is no theme that’s off limits in an escape room world. You can find experiences beyond any expectations. Wondering how is it to be a rat lab? No problem, got that! 

Are you a sci-fi fan? No worries, take a journey to deep space.

From a gameplay standpoint, general gameplay is based on logical connections and conclusions. First found clue calls for an action from the players which will discharge the next clue or a series of clues with its own path. 

Ok, we’re not talking about when they put a key in a box locked with a padlock. Do people still do that? It’s like having a safe-deposit box in a bank and storing a spare key from it inside. 

I’m speaking about more elaborate games where each hint is related to the story core and supports the overall narrative. Thoroughly designed games provide insightful information brick by brick. By following the sequence of clues, the players put their way through the game and unfold the entire story and reveal its mystery. 

Creation process of the puzzles takes a lot of dedication and creativity. Players must apply a variety of methods to solve them. Some require to look at things from a different perspective, others - to step back to look at the big picture. Simple but original and brilliant solutions will make players scream with delight. 

 

Game Scenarios 

 

To make a great film you need three things - the script, the script and the script” 

Alfred Hitchcock

Standard approach in game scenarios is when players receive an introduction which puts them into a story and get provided with mission goals they are supposed to accomplish.  No surprises, just normal game flow which is great for a new kid on the block. 

Alongside you would find adventures out of the norm, something more exceptional. Initially they look like a familiar path but then lead to a whole new trope. 

For instance, at some point in the game players may need to make a choice, which will determine the story or its conclusion. 

Or it may have an unexpected twist which can turn the game into a completely different one. 

Or maybe have some drama which will touch your feelings. 

And other way around, have a hysterical sense of humor from start to finish. 

If you stumble upon such a dazzling emerald, experience it to the fullest  and don’t forget to write a positive review to help to spread the word.

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