The eccentric millionaire Mark G. is a renowned recluse and art connoisseur. You and your team of ‘art recovery specialists’ have received word through underworld contacts that Mark is in possession of the lost Vincent Van Gogh painting, the Poppy Flowers. The painting is valued at $50 million, and is considered the crown jewel of Van Gogh’s career. Should be easy enough…
Design-wise, the game will be broken up into 3 parts. However, you will only inform players that there are two. You will let them know the backstory, and that the first portion of the game is a planning phase. Players will be able to divvy up their time however they wish, but should be warned that everything may not go according to plan when they actually execute the second phase, the heist.
The first phase is the planning phase. It will be contained all in a single room. This room will have a computer, a TV/VCR, filing cabinets, and lockers. Virtually everything will be locked, and the first thing accessible to players is a video tape labelled ‘PLAY THIS’. The video will show a very old news interview between Mark and a reporter, giving a tour of his large home, and showing off his security system.
The game is intended to be open-ended. The video will give the players a hint of what they need to do to complete the heist, but the actual tools and information they choose to take from the first room is completely up to them. For example, one locked drawer of the filing cabinet might be labelled OUTDATED BLUEPRINTS. Players have to make the decision – Do we need that? Would that be useful? Or what about this locker labelled FLASHLIGHTS? Or this one labelled UV LIGHT? Maybe I don’t even have any idea where it would be used, but I’d rather be safe than sorry since UV lights are just so prolific in escape rooms.
The actual route players take will also be up to them. There is a laser maze guarding the painting in the final area. Do I try to manuever past with agility? or do I divert more time to cutting power to the maze in the generator room.
At any point, the players can start the heist by leaving this first room and entering the second. Players will be informed that if anyone leaves the first room, the heist will have begun. The door won’t be locked for safety reasons, but there should be no travelling between rooms, nor any transfer of equipment between rooms.
Regardless of the route and the path the players take, all puzzles/tasks up to the actual area with the painting will be solvable one way or another without input from the first room. This way, if for some reason players were being dumb and decided not to take anything from the Planning room, they could hypothetically still get to the painting. The more time players spend in the Planning room, the better the quality of the heist section. Using the example I listed above, the laser maze would be physically very difficult to do without setting off the alarm. Cutting power to the maze take more time because it would require unlocking files on the laser maze in the first room, along with the corresponding tools to disable the generator. However, it would give you complete access to the Painting without any risk.
The puzzles and tasks up to the last section with the painting take up time, but run no risk of setting off the alarm. Tripping a laser or taking the painting off the wall will activate the alarm, and a plastic barrier will fall, making the painting inaccessible if it hasn’t already been taken. Regardless of whether the players have the painting, they have entered the final portion of the game, the Escape. Audio will be played, revealing that Mark has made numerous upgrades to his security and that the police were on their way the moment the players stepped onto his property. The route they took to enter the property has been sealed. The final portion of the game would be of a linear design. If players reached this point with the painting, they could escape successfully. If players didn’t, they would have to escape just to evade capture from the police. There isn’t really danger to the ‘Escape’ puzzles being discovered before they’re supposed to be, since players at this point will have already seen several puzzles in the game and ignored it (as it would be a different route they didn’t prepare for).
I’ve given this one quite a bit of thought, but also didn’t want to write too much on the topic. The idea, from a design standpoint, is that players will get to see the entire game regardless of their skill level. If they plan poorly, or are poor puzzle solvers, or are impatient, they will inevitably enter the heist underprepared. At that point, they are still given a chance to finish the game perfectly and to steal the painting and escape. They might also get to the painting, fail to steal it, but still get to escape. Rewarding good players but not punishing poor players is a good general directive to keep everyone happy.