You and the other custodial staff start your shift and begin to clean up in an experimental physics lab when the door shuts behind you! You hear the whirring of machines turning on. Uh oh. What is this a lab of again?
I’ll preface this by saying that I have done REG Volume 2: Escape from a time travel lab. This won’t be similar in any way, and I won’t make any spoilers or even any references to REG volume 2! I am a huge fan of time travel (NERD alert). Ryan from Lockquest recently made a
twitter/pinterest post about Time Travel movies, and there are some great picks in there too.
This idea came to me after doing a particularly crappy room. The thought came to me.. Is it possible to make a fun or interesting room out of badly designed puzzles? Leaps in logic? How about puzzles where altering the configuration makes the puzzle unsolvable? These things generally make me want to tear my hair out.. but challenge accepted.
The game will consist of 3 rooms. Players aren’t told this to start. They will be given two door passcodes, and are told that they can use the codes whenever they’d like, but you suggest that they wait at least 20 minutes before using the first one. Players also cannot take anything from room to room. Once a door to a new room has been opened, all players will have to promptly walk into the new room, and to close the door behind them.
That’s the setup! The 3 rooms will be identical. Players will have to figure out that thematically, they are being looped back in time ala Groundhog Day/Source Code/Edge of Tomorrow (or the boardgame Tragedy Looper, if you like boardgames). There will be a machine in the room that will clearly be a time machine that players will have to disable to stop the loops from happening.
Here’s where the crappy design comes in. You WANT to have puzzles that require a leap in logic now. You want to have puzzles where touching it makes it unsolvable. You want these things because you the players to go through the first room frustrated. You want them cursing how poorly the game was made. It will be demoralizing because it will seem like there’s an overwhelming amount of puzzles in the game, considering there are more rooms up ahead.
When they enter room 2, you want players to be hit with a wave of bewilderment. This room looks identical to the one we were just in.. but that can’t be, right? But lo and behold, it will be identical. And thus solutions will be the same. They will know not to open Cabinet A this time but to open Cabinet B because A is boobytrapped. They can continue working on a previous puzzle, where they left off, and ignore a section they previously completed. Realizing that the game is repeating itself will probably be the narrative high point, as players will probably get a lot done all of a sudden.
However, the expectation is that players won’t remember everything they need to know from Room 1. How could they, afterall; They were never told that the rooms would repeat. This is why they get a room 3. It’s to tie up loose ends. I don’t remember what the note said after we unlocked box 2, so let’s check it out in room 3. This is where players will turn off the time machine, and end the game. This game has a whole three-act narrative structure! You’d want to design the game so it’s technically solvable in room 2, but super difficult.
You might have to spell it out and make it thematically clear that players are in a time loop. Maybe the old journal trick (scientific logs in this case?) alluding to time travel or the movie Groundhog Day. The conceit of the game is highly abnormal, and it would be perfectly understandable if players had no idea what the heck was going on.
Here’s a bonus to this absurd game! Because players dont have access to previous loops, your staff can just start resetting a room once a team has moved on to the next room. How’s that for turnover time? You can even have a staff member take their time debriefing a team, considering the next group has to traverse through Rooms 1 and 2.