Pew pew pew
Let’s talk about LASERS.
I’ve complained about lasers before on this blog. It’s mostly because of how they are placed haphazardly in a room it has no business in. Are you trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb? Lasers. Are you here to kill a vampire? Lasers. Are you here to laser a laser? Lasers.
Let’s forget theme-appropriate usage. In terms of game mechanics and design, there are still better and worse ways to implement lasers. I’ll talk about how and why some of the execution is better in some cases than other.
Laser grids are pretty cool, and an interesting way to add an agility component to escape rooms. With the more considerate escape facilities, there’s usually one ‘easiest’ route designed into the game. If you think about it, this makes sense since some players might be more heavyset than others, and having a game that might be impossible to beat for certain people is ultimately bad for business.
The most common implementation of this I’ve seen is also one that I’m not a fan of; If a player touches a laser, they have to go back to the start to reset an alarm before trying again. The reason I don’t like this is that design-wise is that it has a weakness to player count. It’s not a spoiler of any room, but I’ll write the next sentences in white text to explain what I mean. Hilight the sentences if you’re interested, or skip ahead if you’re not.
What I mean when I say that there is a weakness to player count is that these puzzles aren’t designed to work with all numbers in mind. You can send people through, and keep some others back to reset the lasers without any consequences. Even if the game requires multiple people to reset the laser puzzle, you can still keep that many people behind. For example, if 1 person needs to make it across the game to turn off the lasers, and 2 people to reset the puzzle, 1 person can just walk right through the lasers. After setting all of them off, the 2 that stayed behind can reset, and then the single person can turn off the lasers without having had to dodge anything. You can make the argument that players should be playing the puzzle in good faith of what was intended, but that’s a whole different discussion for another day.
My favourite implementation of the laser grid is actually the Entrapment room at Xscaper Arts’ Unionvile location. I have other issues with the room itself, but I did enjoy the execution of the laser grid. In the Entrapment room, touching a laser reduces a minute from your 60 minutes. It’s probably harder to implement this logistically, but this resonates with me. It seems very intuitive that the punishment is a reduction in your time remaining. I know this doesn’t actually make thematic sense, but I think this falls under normal levels of suspension of disbelief, since setting off any security system should result in the police being called and your heist being cut short anyways.
A second implementation of lasers is similar to the laser maze. In this case, there’s a very minor agility component, and you still have to dodge lasers, except that the punishmentis that an alarm is set off. The alarm itself doesn’t really do anything, but you have to disarm the alarm to proceed. The execution of this is different in that the lasers aren’t really the obstacle. They’re a thematic extension of whatever the puzzle to disarm the lasers actually are. I know of at least two rooms in Toronto that have this setup, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s fine. However, I prefer the lasers to be the focus of a puzzle if you are going to include them.
A third way I’ve seen lasers used are when they have to be fired at a target. Oddly enough, I think I’ve only been to one place that has done this right, but I’m not going to mention it for spoiler reasons. The more common and crappier version of this is that you just shoot the target, and something opens. What’s wrong with this? It’s a binary puzzle. If you don’t realize you have to hit the target with the laser, you’re completely stuck. If you do know you have to hit the target, it’s not even a puzzle at all. You’ll get past it in 10 seconds, if that! So what was the better version of this? The execution of this that I’ve liked is one that required bouncing the laser across several mirrors to hit the target. The advantage of this is that figuring out what to do is not the puzzle in its entirety. There is a neat aiming dexterity component to the puzzle, where you have to figure out angles and positioning mirrors properly etc.