Themed Thursday – Shifting Labyrinth

A college student enters what is clearly a haunted house to look for his friend. He walks through the living room into the dining room. Nothing. He turns back to leave the way he came… Huh. That’s strange. There’s a wall there. He must have gotten turned around somewhere…

This is a classic haunted house trope. Shifting walls and mobile mazes – this stuff doesn’t happen in real life, but I imagine it would be very fun (or disorientating). Would attempting to make a room like this even be practical? Cost-effective? Probably not! but what the heck, it’s Themed Thursday, let the ideas flow. This one’s going to be LONG too.

1) Replicating the disorientating feeling listed above (presumably while keeping the game safe for players)
2) Keep the game within as practical as possible.

I triedto think of a game where both goals are met. What I came up with was a dimly lit labyrinth, with shifting walls and a dedicated staff member behind the scenes. More details below.
The first goal is actually entirely possible, but requires the use of shifting walls. How would this be done safely? For one thing, you’d definitely need a human element observing the game (via cameras) and making sure no players are crushed or even trapped by the shifting walls. This starts off the Internal Game Rules (IGR) that the staff operates by, but the players are not informed of.
IGR #1 is that staff does not shift a wall if a player is within eyesight of said wall. This serves two important points – first and foremost is safety. If players aren’t ever in proximity of a shifting wall, all the less likely they will ever be crushed by one. Secondly, the conceit of the shifting walls is just more fun if players aren’t aware of it.  If players think it’s just a regular maze, but things are strange and disorientating, all the better.
IGR #2 is that players will always have some access to their objectives. It’s not fair to box an objective within walls and make it inaccessible.
IGR #3 is that the game gets easier the longer you play. Staff of this hypothetical game could definitely dick around and make the game incredibly difficult, but that’s not very fun. As the game carries on, I think it makes sense to actually close off areas that are irrelevant to the game, so players are gently pushed towards where they need to go.

To further facilitate the first goal, the game needs players to be travelling throughout the maze a lot. I would do this through puzzle design. Players would be told that they’ve been trapped in EscapistTO’s completely-normal-immobile-maze. The only way to escape is if they retrieve three mystical items (more on that later) and place them on the altar at the center of the maze!  The puzzles to unlock each mystical item will be longer than normal, and require multiple trips back and forth between the altar and where each mystical item is held. It would definitely be the kind of puzzle that would be greatly assisted by pencil and paper (which I wouldn’t give).

Goal 2 was tricky. I was talking with a friend about it, and it seems like labyrinths probably take up a lot of space. Not so! I realized that the shifting nature of the labyrinth will actually do a great job of hiding how small the maze is. Excuse my crappy MS Paint drawings. The blue 1 2 and 3 represent the mystical items you need to find. The A represents the altar. Puzzle information to unlock each item is listed at the altar.

The picture above is of the maze without any of the shifting walls in place. The entrance/exit is at the bottom. In the examples below, I’ve actually put in zero shifting walls within sight of the center Altar, so that it isn’t immediately obvious that shenanigans are being pulled with the architecture. The corners are definitely a good hint for the more observant players

Now I’ve added in some shifting walls (red lines). Lots of twists and turns! The labyrinth will hopefully feel considerably larger than it is in actuality due to its disorienting nature. Take a look at the picture above and trace the path from the Altar to Relic 3, and then back to the Altar again.

However, as I said, the nature of the puzzles will require travelling back and forth. So what happens if the labyrinth switches to this new configuration? Players would attempt to take the path they previously took, but would find that it leads to a dead end. Players would have to find an alternative path to Relic 3 at this point, and even after they find the correct path, they would have to take a long route around the top to get to Relic 3.

I think this game is logistically very difficult, so I think it’s good balancing of the game design that the mystical items actually help the players out. The first item would be a Mystical Torch. I’d put NFC tags in plastic torches in every hallway in the labyrinth. The inscription for the Mystical Torch would reveal that if you waved it nextan unlit torch in the labyrinth, it would light up for two minutes. This would actually be helpful to players because the player with the Mystical Torch has the ability to leave a trail for other players to follow if they split up during searches! The second item would be a Mystical Jewel. This is more or less just a very bright light in the guise of a jewel. It would be hepful to players as the player holding the gem’s location would always be visible to other players on the ceiling. If players were smart, they could also just leave it in the center area as a beacon to orient themselves. The third item would be a pair of Mystical Sea Shells that allowed one-way communication. You talk in one and listen in the other. I wouldn’t want it to be two-way communication because it would break the nature of the puzzles. With only one-way communication, a player can speak remotely to another player, but they won’t know if something said was missed, or needed to be repeated. All three puzzles and objects can be worked on right away with information from the altar, so whichever player solves their puzzle first can use their relic to assist the others.

This diagram illustrates IGR #3. As the game goes on, you can make it considerably easier for players by just closing off entire sections where they would otherwise get lost. They would effectively be herded towards their mystical objectives whether they know it or not.

If players win, the torches will light a path back to the exit.

I’m sure it’s incredibly impractical and unfeasible for several reasons. I’m sure it skirts some kind of safety code that you might squish a human being. Or at the very least, not having an emergency exit in a very clear manner. Or that if group sizes have to be constrained, or you’d break IGR#1. Still, it was a fun thought experiment to consider. A possible solution might be to have a ‘minotaur’ in the game (that players are told they are penalized if caught). This way a staff member could manually chase players out of an area, and then alter the playing field.
If the labyrinth truly does give the impression that it’s bigger than it is in actuality (hypothetical effect) , it would be a fun to show players after their game how small the maze actually was the whole time

What kind of room would you want to see out there? Email me at and let me know.



  1. What if the walls were actually a sheet of light or lasers? I’m sure it would lose a bit of the disorienting effect, but it would effectively make this room a lot more feasible in real life. Players could be told before hand that passing the lasers is not allowed and would result in disqualification.
    I think this is an awesome idea! How big would these halls be? 3′? You would still probably need a 50×50 room.


    1. It depends on what you mean by a sheet of light/lasers! In my mind, the conception of the idea has solid walls that you can push against and feel, and cannot see past. I wanted real walls just for the conceit of being able to sneakily have actual walls being shifted around without players knowing.
      If you were going to tell players not to touch the walls, then the material doesn’t really matter anymore. You could have big pieces of paper or cardboard, and shift that around. It does have the downside of being a little more obvious that the walls are movable!

      I don’t really know what size this might be in real life. I’m also quite certain that a big fat square is not the best shape, but I chose it only to illustrate the point as easy as I could (and I was using MS Paint, so squares were convenient). With my example labyrinths, a large majority of the space is unused (the inner squares that form the borders of the hallways). For example, if you looked at this: , there’s no space ‘wasted’. You could still have shifting walls (depending on the particular mechanic that you’re moving them with), and the maze would be more space efficient.


  2. This reminded me of some maze advice I once heard – if you put your right hand upon the right wall when entering a maze, you’ll always manage to find the exit (even if takes you a long time).
    Essa 🙂


    1. haha, yes, I know the ‘right hand’ maze rule. It works with your left hand too. It wouldn’t work on this example maze of mine, because of the shifting walls, and because it has islands that aren’t attached to the ‘main maze’. It works in mazes that are continuous from entrance to exit! For that matter, my maze doesn’t even have a conventional exit either!

      long story short, no tricks will let anyone escape from EscapistTO’s shifting maze

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The British TV show The Crystal Maze, generally available on the Internet, has had about two dozen goes at answering the confusing-maze-in-tiny-space problem, with good results. Two of the less specific tricks were:
    -Use all your space: Those middle pillars, even if they hold puzzles, eat much too much space.
    -Nuke vision: They used lots and lots of doors, a high degree of visual similarity, and lots and lots of mirrors.

    Mazes with (un)moving parts have state (See clickmazes for some discussion of the meaning of state, and some ways it can be applied). I suggest letting players in control of state, making it the primary puzzling activity of the escape, rather than a random hindrance.
    -Maybe two (not neccessarily close) doors slide movements intersect or overlap, so you need to close one to open the other. Maybe you need to push the whole of room A into room B to clear the way.
    – Buttons strewn about the room can, in the right combinations, toggle some locks – and when that still doesn’t get you where you need to be, using a spare player or two to prop the right doors open during the toggle may.


    1. haha… yeah, I mentioned in a prior comment that this design wastes a lot of space, and that I picked it just to illustrate the point! I am curious about Crystal Maze though, it sounds interesting. I like the idea of having to close a door before opening another, and I think there’s some interesting things you can do with that

      Liked by 1 person

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