Themed Thursday – Rogue A.I.

Before I get into the Themed Thursday post, I wanted to talk a little about heads-up mode. Chris from Exit Games recently wrote about eight places in the UK where different teams can compete in identical games simultaneously. For the lack of a better term, I’m going to call this Heads-Up mode (poker reference).
To my knowledge, there are five places in Ontario where you can play heads-up mode. The two Adventure Rooms have ‘Duel’ modes, Exodus Escape Rooms in London has the aptly named Gemini rooms, De Code Adventure has De Triad Code, and Escape Room Niagara Fall has the Bunker. Adventure Room, Escape Room Niagara Falls, and Exodus Escape Games have identical rooms, whereas De Code Adventures takes a different approach. The De Triad Code room actually has two different rooms for players to compete against one another in. I wonder how ‘balanced’ the rooms are, because I imagine it would take plenty of testing and tweaking to get the rooms to equal level of difficulty.

I’ve always found the notion of Heads-Up mode interesting. I’ve tried to consider the pros and cons of it. On the one hand, you’re using up space that could be a different room altogether. The business loses out on potential repeat business if loyal customers have completed their other room(s). On the other hand, the business gains the ability to host larger groups that want to split up. There’s also the bonus that the business doesn’t have to re-design/balance/test a new room, and I assume most escape room businesses would have extra identical parts in case of wear-and-tear anyways. What determines when the pro outweighs the con? Just food for thought.

Anyhow, I’ve pondered on what interesting trick you can pull when you have heads up mode, and I came up with a Rogue A.I. theme! Coincidentally, Mark of QMSM also decided on a similar theme for Themed Thursday! Link here:
My approach is different, and essentially comes from trying to pull off a trick! Onto the game.

You and your team enter a stark white room. You have been dispatched to investigate a research station that has recently stopped transmitting data. All attempts at communication have failed. The last messages from the research station have indicated that they were nearing a breakthrough in their development of artificial intelligence. Your mission is to find out what happened to the scientists, retrieve them, and retrieve the data on their project.

Spoiler alert, none of that’s going to happen! All the scientists have been disposed of, and what you have here is a HAL9000/Skynet situation where the artificial intelligence project has gone awry. For the rest of the article, I’m going to refer to the rogue A.I. as ETO9000. Your team will have to defeat ETO9000. The overall narrative to the room will be that players enter the room to find that the ETO9000 project was a mixed success – the scientists created a sentient computer, but it did not turn out the way they wanted. As players continue playing, ETO9000 will lie (in an obvious GLADDOS manner) to them, making claims like the scientists all went on simultaneous vacation. The game ultimately culminates in the destruction of ETO9000.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, this game is intended for two groups to play two seperate but identical rooms simultaneously. It still works for just one group, but it’s less interesting. Maybe readers can try and figure out what I’m trying to pull off as they’re reading.

In terms of decor, I think a bright futuristic stark white look would be appropriate. It’s probably impractical because of how quickly it would get dirty, but at Themed Thursday, we can dream.

The malevolent ETO9000 will be communicated to through a keyboard and a large monitor. Instead of a walkie-talkie hint system, players will be able to type directly to ETO9000 (who will be played by staff on the other end). The game will actually start out heavily scripted, without need of much manual input from staff. On the large central monitor, set automated responses will be made when puzzles are solved, or to prompt the next puzzle. Other than the requested hints, there should be no real indication that the game is not automated However, as the game plays on, there will be more flavour and interaction with players. In true 2001 A Space Odyssey Style, comments like “I’m sorry, _____ . I’m afraid I can’t do that. ”
“I know that you and _____ were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”
You fill in the blanks with player names, ascertained from the waivers they’ve signed. At that point, players are fairly clued in that the staff at this escape room business is manning ETO9000.

When players eventually shut off the generator, the room goes dim and red. ETO9000’s monitor is still on, and he reveals that there’s a back-up generator players don’t have access to. ETO9000 expresses that humans are stupid meatbags, and that computers are all around superior. He has had the capacity to email himself elsewhere, and that he’s just been messing around with the players as they’ve been trying to delete him. He offers them one last chance – Beat ETO9000 in a game of chess, and he will delete himself. Lose and he will purge the facility the same way he did to get rid of the scientists. Okay, so, spoilers below the following line! Let’s see if you’ve guessed the trick I’m trying to pull!
So, two teams are playing simultaneously in this scenario. When they reach the final chess challenge, one team is playing white, while the other team is playing black. The two respective teams think they are playing ETO9000 (the staff), when they are in fact secretly playing each other! This setup makes it such that both teams finish simultaneously (they would have to, theyre playing the same game). I think that’s a good thing psychologically that one group didn’t just crush the other. It also works out nicely logistically for your business. You reveal to them the secret of the last game, and hopefully a good time was had by all.

Obviously, Chess is a terrible game to have to endure in an escape room. I only picked it because it gets the point of the trick across easily. Beyond the length and how boring it would be, you can also tie in chess, which would defeat the purpose of forcing one group to win over the other.I would probably make a new (but simple) game altogether for the final puzzle.
The biggest concern would be timing. What can you do if one group is just honestly much worse than the other? Well, you’d have to use a guided hint format similar to Real Escape Games/Lockquest/Real Escape Adventures. Staff will have to prop one group up, or slow down the faster group so that they reach the final ‘puzzle’ simultaneously. You could play it by ear. Maybe you can just treat the faster group to a bit more ‘flavour’ and lore?
What kind of room would you want to see out there? Email me at and let me know.


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