Puzzle room design

Common Room Escape Problems

1) Forgetting you are selling a good experience.

This is the model. If a group has an enjoyable time, they’ll come back for other rooms. Or, they’ll tell their friends and families, and they will in turn come check out your rooms. Most facets of the rooms really only serve as as an extension of this rule. So what are some examples of this rule being violated?

Bad service. I think many people share the sentiment that service isn’t really a priority, but poor service can still ruin an experience.

Not explaining a puzzle after the game is over. Players want closure. It’s especially the case if they’ve been stuck on a particular puzzle for a long time. Some places want you to come back to try the same room again, but that’s a silly idea. If players finished a significant portion of your room, they would rather spend their hard-earned cash to see a new room rather than finish the last puzzle of a room they’ve already seen. Alternatively, if the majority of the room remained unexplored, consider how frustrating of a time they must have had to spend 45-60 minutes locked in a room without getting very far.

Poor puzzle design. This one’s a little trickier, since it’s partially preference. Too many places have puzzles that are just random puzzles, that do not flow very well.

2) An increase of room difficulty should correspond to an increase in the difficulty and/or number of puzzles. Difficulty gained through logistics is not enjoyable.

Increasing the difficulty through logistical problems is unfair, frustrating, and ensures that groups will have a terrible time. An example I like to use is with darker horror-themed rooms. If a large group of players is given only 1 flashlight, the bottleneck to the group’s progress is that they can only look at one item at a time. It’s certainly more difficult to have a group of 6 share a single flashlight, but not difficult in any way that’s fair or fun.

3) Unintentional Red Herrings

Blue keys are for blue doors. I grew up with videogames, and this is a videogame convention. If I find a blue key and a blue door in a game, my assumption will be that the key will unlock that door. In much the same way, finding things that coincidentally match in room escape games is very frustrating. The designer of a room has complete control over a room, so it’s not hard to avoid this issue. I see it as a lack of proper testing.

4) Theming

Theming isn’t the most important thing, but it really helps with making an experience enjoyable. I have encountered too many rooms where the theme and decor is tacked on. Their themes could be replaced with anything. I understand that there’s suspension of disbelief when you enter a room (why would ___ be locked up?), but there’s still measures that can be taken to make a room more thematic.

You can make your puzzles thematic. If you thematically have a bomb you need to defuse, don’t just make it require a code. Have the final puzzle a logic puzzle of the order of wires you need to cut!

Unfold the story and plot as progress is made through the room. Too many places have the entirety of the story in the description of the room. That’s not really plot at all. Unlocking pieces of the story simultaneously with the puzzle makes the experience more immersive. If you can tie in the developing plot to a puzzle as well, it’d be perfect.


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