Why haven’t you reviewed ______?
Usually, it’s for fairness. The reviews are made to help people decide on which room escape to go to, and sometimes an experience I’ve had with a place might not be representative. For example, if I went during the opening week, and they had some kinks to work out, it wouldn’t be representative to review that experience. ESC-it would be another example. I’ve been to a few of their rooms, but that was back when they were located inside the hot suffocating hellish remains of a piano studio. They’ve since then moved, and presumably customers don’t have to deal with some of the same issues anymore. It’s also possible I just haven’t gotten to it yet.
Why don’t you give number ratings?
I feel like rating a place a singular number isn’t very representative. Not everyone cares about the same things, and I think the summary section does a decent enough job of breaking things down anyways. I think of the subsections as having a binary pass/fail. If something was particularly of note, I’ll write a little blurb about it, or make a little bonus section.
Why don’t you open your own room escape?
That’s an interesting question! I’d like to think I could build ones that are really fun. I love to talk about things that could make an experience better, and I think these businesses should continue to develop their rooms based on feedback.
I know very little about running a business. There’s going to be 28 or so businesses (minimum, assuming more don’t pop up) when they’ve all opened, and if you asked me at what point do they start cannibalizing each other’s profits, I couldn’t tell you. I can count on one hand the number of these businesses that seem to have thought this through and made proper business plans. A lot of them seem like they noticed a trend and decided to try to take advantage of it with a cash grab. On the other end of the spectrum, there are places with owners who are very prideful of their work, and are defensive of their work and not receptive to any criticisms. I don’t know that either group will survive. To me, it’s a golden age of room escape that I’m just taking advantage of in the meantime.
What would you want to see in a room escape?
This is going to be a long answer.
Fair puzzle design! I’ve written about it before, so I’m not going to bother going in depth. Nothing that requires crazy leaps in logic. Nothing arbritrary, where the answer is one thing with a certain interpretation, but could just as easily be something else. The closer the puzzles are to a theme, the better. If you give me an adventurer or Indiana Jones themed room, a puzzle where I have to find the real holy grail (or jewel, whatever), I’m going to love it. If you make me solve a murder, and at some point I actually have to figure out how a seemingly-impossible murder was done, I’m going to LOVE it. Drawing from fiction tropes just makes it feel more thematic to me.
In general, the room would be more puzzle-orientated. There are rooms at businesses that I would call ‘scavenger’ rooms, where a lot of information is just randomly hidden. This is closer to the classic flash room escapes. However, as a customer, I’m not particularly a fan of this style of room escapes. You never really know the upper bounds of something hidden. You may have nine scraps of paper, but there are actually twelve, and you just haven’t been thorough enough. From a business standpoint, your room will also incur less wear-and-tear if players understand that they don’t have check behind every nook and cranny.
I’d want an experience to be thematic and immersive. Decor often makes the setting thematic, but plot is what makes an experience immersive. I don’t know of any place has been doing this correctly. I’ve spoken to a few guys in Malaysia, where room escapes have been around for a while longer, but they have the same problem. In fact, I think it’s a problem everywhere!
I’ll loosely describe a hypothetical room here. A common theme at a few of these places has been a Prison Break theme, but they have no real plot or story that can unfold as I play the game. So how would I make a plot for this theme?
Room Description: On this hypothetical site, on this room’s hypothetical description, I would write that you’re being jailed in an impenetrable prison. There’s a urban legend among the prisoners that thirty years ago, one prisoner vanished one day. The prison staff never found him, and decided to close down his jail cell. With overcrowding in the prison, they’ve re-opened an abandoned cell, and you think you’ve found clues to his escape..
Theme/Decor: Your standard grimey prison cell! It’s probably best not to actually put in a toilet here, or you might find your customers acutally using it.
In Game: With this description, I’ve only given a portion of the story, and more will unfold as the game progresses. While it’s true that every room escape requires suspension of disbelief, the fact that there are puzzles and things you have to figure out makes a little more sense in that the previous escapee had hidden some notes during his escape.
Towards the end of the game, players would find the corpse of the previous escapee. He is, in fact, not an escapee at all! He died in the walls, and his body was never found. You have to succeed where he failed. In his hands, you see a pencil and paper (some hint to whatever the last puzzle he died working on).
It’s a predictable plot, with the minorest of twists to it. However, it still feels considerably more immersive to me. It wouldn’t even require much modification to a game’s puzzles. I really dont know why more places don’t try to have just a TEENSY bit of plot.
Would I include any technology? I break technology down into two groups. Technology can either be a replacement for something low tech, or it can be something that’s novel that cannot be done with something low tech. For example, an electronic safe, door numpad, and many other things are just an example of the former. They’re very cool, but what’s going on is that I’m deriving a number code from somewhere, and putting it in. It’s not actually functionally different from a combination lock at all. However, it can make the experience a little more smooth.
If I were to use technology, I’d prefer it to be from the latter group. If there was an audio/visual component, that would have to use technology. Or you could do even more interesting things! I like horror, but I think jump scares are pretty lame. You could technologically make a room where the lights dimmed gradually, and that would be a thematic immersive way to make a room scarier. Plot-wise, it could be that you have to escape from a haunted house before sundown, and effects would get scarier and scarier as the game progressed. Or you could tie it into the puzzle design, where clues wouldn’t actually show up until the lighting was dim enough.
Alternatively, you could use technology to alter a game design entirely. A few places have lasers right now, with a time penalty if you trip them. You could do the opposite, and you could have a room where you had an independent line of puzzles, where the team would gain a bonus in time the further along the increasingly difficult puzzles. Teams would have to divide their manpower between solving the game, and increasing their time. Plotwise, you could have a spaceship with life support repairs. Or a submarine, with a leak in the oxygen tanks!
I’d be hesitant to add technology unless it drastically improved the game. I dislike it when businesses just add in technology just because they have the technical know-how.