Submission – Superhero

One of our first submissions for Themed Thursday comes from Milton. I’ve left the submission unaltered, and gave my thoughts on it below!


Everyone loves a superhero. We have all been captivated by a certain one since childhood or may have just entertained the idea of having a special power.

Here is how these new superheroes were born:

Escapers begin the game being held individually on a “bed” that holds their wrists, ankles, and waist down.  They are all in a laboratory that has been conducting experiments on average people against their will.  Throughout the course of escaping the room they discover who has been keeping them captive and for what purpose. The person on the team who happens to have super strength breaks out of them and then frees everyone else.  An alarm sounds when he breaks free signaling the guards. The frantic escape begins.

The players have to figure out and utilize their unique special ability as they try to break out of the room/s they are confined in and escape with their fellow guinea pigs.

If time runs out before they escape, the secret facility that is holding them busts out their swat team (the people who work at the escape room) and invade the room.

The key point of this room is that the special power is essential for escape and solving puzzles in the room. At times, two or more powers (and thus players) need to utilize their abilities to finish a puzzle.

Everyone is given a different wearable item (bracelet, glove, earpiece, goggles, etc.) that can act as a sensor representing a different power. Everything given to each player is for that player’s use only. For added realism, player may all have the same various items so it is less intuitive to figure out what your ability is.

Tasks that can only be done by the person with super strength can be done because the environment senses by proximity or touch the bracelet/gloves that he is wearing (ie. “super strength” sensor breaks the chains when he applies pressure to them)

List of possible special abilities:

  • Super strength
  • Super hearing cause he starts with the earpiece and only he can hear it
  • Telekenisis/magnetism
  • A power that only works when 2 people are holding hands 😉
  • Heat touch
  • Ice touch
  • Facial transformation (can tell what you look like by looking at a mirror that senses the player with the ability, can be used to get through a section that needs a retina scan)
  • Electrical manipulation (maybe affect a computer)
  • Some sort of special vision
  • Telepathy, if it is a split room, one person can have the ability to “speak” into the mind of someone in the other room

Some people will have more than 1 special ability to compensate for a smaller group. For example, a room designed for 6 people, each person has a special ability. If only 4 people play, then 2 of those people will have a 2nd special ability for a total of 6.

For fun, if the super strength guy tries to force open a door, the handle will break (though it doesn’t mean they can’t escape, it would just be hilarious)

For fun, the super hearing guy may hear this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ


The last link given actually leads to Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. I don’t know if Milton was trying to Rickroll me or the readers, but I’ve left it as is. I’m actually very fond of the idea of easter eggs in escape rooms – just a little something to reward players who explore the design space further than normal. There definitely has to be a balance concerning whether an idea is a fun easter egg or a red herring though. The idea of the player with super strength breaking the door knob is actually awesome, but I’d be concerned about players not ‘getting the joke’ and thinking they actually broke a door knob.

Overall, I think the idea is great. I’ve considered similar ideas after doing the Hero room at Prison Breakers. I don’t want this to turn into a review of the Hero room, but I did leave feeling like their superhero aspect was exaggerated, and pondering what cool superpowers would be interesting in an escape room. Milton listed several possibilities, but I think it’d probably be more enjoyable to have three or four powers, and to devote your game to finding different ways to express them. If you gave a player with super strength gloves that had NFC tags in them, they could do all sorts ‘feats of strength’. Milton’s example of the chain reminded me of the sword scene from the movie The Illusionist (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osb_Fklz5ag).  I like the idea of ‘electrical manipulation’ as well. Maybe not something so complicated as affecting a computer, but I think it would be cool if proximity to certain electronic parts of the game disabled them (security cameras/lasers/whatever). Supervision can be interesting too from a design perspective. I’ve seen many puzzles in many rooms where you needed to don glasses to see special text. It doesn’t feel interactive enough though, it might be cool to give a player several types filters. For example, one example might require a polarized filter (http://i.imgur.com/Z9aj2Gi.jpg), while another might need a red filter (http://i.imgur.com/MGQDqSI.jpg), or a third might need a blue filter (http://i.imgur.com/Wx3rL2b.png). The player with that power might have to ‘scan’ through different vision to look for hidden text. You can also hide different pieces of information within the same picture, hidden by the different filters.

Anyways, very cool submission from Milton. LOTS of possibilities depending on where you wanted to take it. Thanks for contributing!

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5 comments

  1. Hi! Ryan from LockQuest here. Hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to Black Hat your Blue Sky escape game concept. I’ve been thinking through a number of the same elements, but they have design/practicality problems that I’d like to mention, in case there’s a way to brainstorm some good solutions.

    Strapping everyone to individual beds: this would take quite a long time. You’d have to make sure that if people wriggled free when they weren’t supposed to (which often happens), subsequent puzzles wouldn’t be ruined from their early escaping. It would also be important to have an alternate bondage scheme in place for players who couldn’t use the bed. We recently hosted our first wheelchair-accessible game at LockQuest, and it was a point of pride that our entire game, Escape the Book Club Killer, was playable from a chair.

    Individual abilities: I’d like to see more of this in escape games. One challenge is how you prevent people from stealing each other’s tokens. Grab that bracelet, and now suddenly the ice power player has the heat power player’s ability? It helps if (as you suggest) the tokens are wearable, because it makes them more personal and discourages swiping.

    There are a couple of problems, though: the first is that not all players are as … clued in as others. You could risk having the game bottleneck with one person who’s supposed to do one specific thing with his ability, but he hasn’t quite caught on.

    The more difficult problem to solve here is that of elastic team sizes. You can’t always count on having exactly x # of players in a game (and if you make it an etched-in-stone requirement to only ever have exactly a certain number in every game, you’re counting yourself out of a lot of potential revenue). So if the game is designed with 6 special powers, and you have 4 players, maybe you can double-up so that certain players get extra powers. (But which players? And how do you decide? And are some players going to be upset that they didn’t get extra powers? Believe it or not, these are real issues that affect player experience and your bottom line.)

    Worse, if you have 6 powers and 8 players, what do you do? Do you have duplicates of one power so that either of two players can solve the puzzle? Then you may have one player who is upset because his “twin” player got to solve the puzzle and he didn’t.

    Finally, something about making the special abilities super powers kind of bugs me. You’d have to put very specific parameters around your world-building to explain why those powers only work in certain situations. I found The Minish Cap to be a big letdown; the game advertised this cool ability to shrink down to the size of a flea, but when you play the game, you realize you can only shrink in these very specific locations, so it didn’t feel special. Same with Epic Mickey. You can paint buildings? Cool! Oh, but only THESE buildings, and THESE specific parts of those buildings. Not very cool.

    So I have super ice touch. Why can’t I freeze every object in the room? I have flame fingers. Why can’t I just burn that door down? Your players are going to come with all kinds of emergent, alternate puzzle solutions and you could never account for all of them, and it would be kind of a drag that you can only use your super breath in this ONE spot in the game, you know? (But maybe that’s just me? I’m really logic-driven. I dislike plot holes, and I want everything in my fictional universes to make sense within those universes’ rules.)

    So there’s my dismantling of your idea! Hope it wasn’t too painful. Can we fix some of these holes and make it work?

    – Ryan

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    1. I think the short answer is, no, we can’t fix some of these holes. The fact that you use the term blue sky should indicate that you are aware that these ideas are not necessarily grounded in reality. It’s just an idea, and I doubt Milton actually tried to think through all the logistics of what such a game would entail.

      Clearly there’s always a level of suspension of disbelief when players are in a game. Why doesn’t the person with super strength kick down the door? Why doesn’t the person with heat touch set his teammates on fire for fun? The reason is simply that they don’t actually have super powers, and thus you wouldn’t (nor should you try to) account for every alternate solution. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to account for some, but it’s unfeasible to try to account for everything. I’m sure that the same reasons apply to your videogame examples, but I’d make the argument that it applies much more so to a live-action game.

      I think your two points about individual abilities are really under the purview of the players themselves. Most rooms (95%+) do not involve pitting strangers together. I don’t think it’s up to a hypothetical escape room designer to account for the hypothetical dickery friends may be up to. Worrying about players stealing each other’s items is no different than worrying that one player has the ill-will to secretly sabotage his team. If anything, I’d make the argument that players SHOULD be able to trade items and powers. The point of escape rooms is ultimately to have fun, and I think it would only enhance the experience that they can explore more of the game. “Oh wow, your bracelet that turned off the lasers is pretty cool, can I try it? Sure, try out my super-strength gloves”.
      As for players being less clued in than one another, it really is no different than any other normal escape room. Players are together, and have access to certain clues (or items in this case) and they collectively either have (or not as the case may be) the insight to apply them to the correct puzzle. If Super-Strength Sam doesn’t realize that he and his gloves are required to lift the weight labelled ‘100 Tons’, then Telepathic Tom can still just suggest the idea.

      I do think your point about elastic team sizes is a very legitimate one. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great logistical answer for that. You listed out several of the possibilities, and I think your analysis of it is spot on. There really isn’t a clean solution for this, and maybe that’s been a major barrier for the design of hypothetical superhero games

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      1. The thing I’m always trying to avoid at LockQuest is players blaming the game for their own lack of success. If players leave thinking “we didn’t escape, but that’s on us,” it’s a much better situation than “we didn’t escape, but it was the game’s fault.” I’ve had too many experiences at other places where it was the game’s fault – where props didn’t work as expected, or puzzles were obtusely designed, or the staff outried lied to us about their game’s rules (really!)

        We played one game where the puzzle was very much like a D&D style interaction with staff. The problem and solution were in the imagination of the players. So it was like “Hey – there’s a big dragon that you have to defeat to win,” and one player said “I turn invisible with my invisibility cloak and stab him in the back of the head,” but the staff said “Oh – sorry. That’s not the right answer. You were supposed to use your dwarven axe to cut the rope on that chandelier so that it knocks the dragon unconscious.” So because the staff hadn’t brainstormed (or wouldn’t allow) perfectly viable alternate solutions, we didn’t escape from the room. That’s very much the game’s fault, not ours (and I daresay it betrays the staff’s arrogance and unfairness).

        Giving everyone special abilities is great. Superpowers could work, but I think that to minimize those “game’s fault” risks, you’d need to make the special powers really, really specific, and then sort of play that up for laughs. So one player’s super power is, say, the ability to turn yellow vehicles into fruit. That player isn’t going to run around wondering why his power doesn’t work, because there aren’t any yellow vehicles to be found. But at a key moment in the game, you introduce a schoolbus to the situation, and everyone smiles because they know it’s fruit guy’s turn to shine. He turns the bus into a banana, everyone has a good laugh, and the game carries on. 🙂

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  2. Hi Ryan and EscapistTO,

    Thank you both for your thoughts and comments. I appreciate the time and effort you have both put in reviewing my idea, especially to EscapistTO who is hosting this space.

    As you both have suspected, I did not pitch my idea with a business plan in mind. I actually have very little knowledge of the technical aspect of escape room design, which seemed fine since the spirit of the first Themed Thursday post was for “theme to dictate design.” So with that in mind, I started with the theme that I really loved and thought would be appealing to most people. I created a basic storyline and setting that would be enough for any reader to be able to visualize themselves in the room and to let their imagination take it from there. I gave very loose ideas as to how some super powers may work in the room, an example of a potential problem considered (# of people), and easter eggs as starting points for imagination for other designers.

    When dreaming up the room, I just imagined my core group of friends just enjoying themselves. I have thought of all of the problems that you both have mentioned but most would not apply to my friends. We would just be happy to see what powers everyone else had (whether one of us had more or less) and if the Game Masters told us not to switch our wearables and to instead just communicate, then we wouldn’t since we know that’s part of the experience and we wouldn’t want to cheap out on that.

    Having said that, I don’t really want to go into the details of how to physically make this room a reality or explore other alternative ideas since that is something that think should be left to those with the resources to do so (also it would take to long to discuss over this medium :P). Apart from that, this has been a very enjoyable experience and I secretly would like this idea to come to fruition. If either of you or anyone else thinks there is potential for this idea and want to make a room out of it if we just worked out the pot holes, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this possibility.

    Thank you again for reading and giving feedback on my submission. I look forward to reading other people’s ideas for Themed Thursday in the future 🙂

    Cheers,

    -Milton

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    1. Starting with player enjoyment and working backwards from there is definitely the right way to go about it! Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda & Mario creator) famously revealed his design philosophy at GDC a few years ago: he starts by picturing his players smiling and having fun, and then works through his design to reach that result.

      There are superhero-themed escape games (in fact, EGR has reviewed one on this very blog!) But the escapers’ code of Not Giving Stuff Away keeps us from knowing whether they let you have cool individual super powers. (Maybe EGR can drop us a hint?)

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