EnigMarch Day 28
Things have been busy! But I wanted to get another puzzle out. Can Manda stay consistent with whatever crazy story she has written so far? Hopefully! Will she make a fatal error in her puzzle? Likely!
Yes, I am excited about Halloween! I’m thinking of going as Scully. Red hair and all, and I can just borrow one of mom’s pant suits. I don’t know if anyone at school will get it though. Except Amber. I just met her, and she seems just as nerdy as me! Don’t worry, she’ll never reach your levels! We’re going to watch The Exorcist. She was amazed I’d never seen it and insists it’s a right of horror movie passage. I’m a bit nervous I admit it.
I don’t think mom likes it here. Dad says we’ll get used to it, but she seems bored already. She misses the city. I hide in my room whenever they fight about it. That’s been a lot lately. I mean, I miss the food options in the city. Here, we’re lucky to get more than a Tim Horton’s. There is a decent pizza place though.
Oh man! I just remembered I forgot to give you my new number! I love these letters but it would be awesome to hear your voice. Here it is!
18 5 1 4 16 1 7 5
I know, I write phone numbers weird. What can I say, I like to do things my way!
Talk to you soon! Sunday! After X-files?
EnigMarch Day 21
Okay! Puzzle attempt #3! Things that have happened so far:
My first puzzle had a bunch of spelling errors in morse code.
My second puzzle had a character writing a letter to herself, but at least the Pig Pen cipher wasn’t misspelt.
How about the third puzzle? What mistakes shall I make today! I did it pretty quickly. For those who might have figured out what to do but are like me and too lazy to do all the work, here is a handy site (if you don’t want to be spoiled right away, hold off until you figure out what to do).
Wow, I must be on your brain. You signed your letter with my name instead of yours! Ha, loser! Kidding. But seriously were you just sitting there thinking “JENNY! She is the key to all happiness!” You know what Mr. Vigenere would say. He’d be all “clr gmvi vf krwfvlp fhg g qeir rqi evrdey cypi!” At least, that’s what adults all sound like to me. You know what I mean though.
No way, you found a new hideout?! I’ve always wanted a forest hideout. Don’t get me wrong, my parents’ crawlspace is convenient AND near the minifridge, but a forest just has that much more atmosphere.
Halloween is coming up. It’s not going to be the same without you, for sure. I gotta admit, I’m pretty excited about my costume. I won’t tell you what it is yet, though, I want it to be a surprise! All I will say is that I have been putting the sewing machine through a gauntlet! What about you? Got anyone to Trick or Treat with? Or watch cheesy scary movies with? The idea of you hanging out on Halloween makes me sad!
EnigMarch Day 19
Here is my EnigMarch attempt for Day 19!! This time I handwrote it out. You can see the explanation and my first attempt at EnigMarch here.
I am finding I am enjoying the challenge of fitting in a cipher into the content of a letter, and the different ways it can be done. Where am I going with the narrative? Not sure yet! But I am liking the process.
EnigMarch- Day 18 (or…Day 1)
I am trying out EnigMarch! It is a daily puzzle creation challenge for the month of March! Now you may be saying “Manda, it’s March 17th…and you’re just starting now?”
Yes. It is March 18. And yes. I am just starting now.
You might also be saying “But Manda! You’re not a puzzle designer!”
Okay, you’re probably not saying that. Because I know nice, supportive people. In fact…it’s just me saying that. But yes, I haven’t really done much in the way of puzzle design before and it’s a huge hurdle. So we are going to keep these puzzles simple! Because…I really don’t know what I’m doing.
Every day, EnigMarch provides a word prompt to either center your puzzle around or be inspired by or ignore altogether! Today’s word prompt was Royal.
And because I love letters, and know nothing about graphic design or photoshop, and because it’s easy to get into a blog, I’m going to try embedding these puzzles into letters. Here is the first one! See if you can solve it! And point out my errors!
Katie-bear! How are you?! How was the big Move?! I miss you already! It seriously hasn’t been the same without you! Have you got a new best friend yet? You better not! Kidding….Okay, only a little bit. You should come back! I mean, who else will call you Katie-bear. No-one, that’s who! Katie-bear is our thing!
Ugh, Carrie just came into my Room and made fun of me for writing a letter. Dad just set up e-mail accounts for us. Now Carrie constantly talks about how it would be so much faster just to e-mail you blah blah blah, but come on, letters are so much cooler. Can I put Stickers on them? Or glitter? Or doodles? No! Letters are morE personal.
Things have been pretty lame since you left. Madison continues to be the queen-bee of one-dimensional bullies. It is mind-blowing how uncreative her insults are! It was a lot easier when you were here, Katie-bear, not that it’s your fault you had to move to the butt-end of the earth. Or at least it feels like the butt-end. Sigh….Anyway! Enough depressing stuff. It’s lame. Are you caught up on X-files? I hope you are, but won’t spoil it for you. I know you love her, but Scully can be such a know-it-all! Three seasons in, and still she somehow can’t accept all the weird stuff going on. Come on, Scully! You know what would be fun?! We should phone each other after the next episode! Talk all about it!
Oh, no! I have to go! Dinner time! I’ll write again soon! MISS YOU!
Escape Room Narrative: The Power of Post-its
No, really. I adore them. Unfortunately, it’s not because I am incredibly adept at using them to organize my life. It’s because they can be a very powerful narrative tool. Over the last couple of years, I have really come to appreciate the story telling power of that little yellow square. In fact, in my most recent project, I have begun to use them as a way to shorten what are otherwise lengthy passages of text.
I will admit. I am someone who struggles with…efficiency in her writing. This blog is proof of concept for that idea. There I will be, trying to write a journal passage at 200 words max and suddenly it’s 1,000. I recently submitted a magazine article where the editor told me not to worry, I had PLENTY of words at 1,250. I hit the limit halfway through my article.
Then it occurred to me. What if I took those long, meandering journal entries, and tried to distill their essence onto a single post-it. Would I be able to get the same information across limited to a few words?
It’s not like it’s a new idea. Years ago the game Gone Home (and yes, it’s old now, but it set the bar for so much environmental storytelling) introduced the concept to me. In the game you find a book with a single post-it note on it.
Now, the post-it note works in conjunction with the book. The book tells us our main character might struggle with making friends. The post-it tells us everything we need to know about who wrote this and what the state of their relationship is. From the post-it we learn Sam’s dad bought her a book. We can infer that her dad cares about her very much but has a tough time relating. Note that it doesn’t say “Love, Dad”. He obviously has trouble actually talking things through with his daughter. He would rather leave the book on a table with an explanatory note than actually talk through his daughter’s struggles face to face. But the fact that he did anything indicates he does care very much.
All of this from a book and a single post-it.
Now let’s shift to escape rooms. Let’s pretend we have a teenage character here as well. You approach a locked door. Earlier, you found a diary, a natural thing for a teenage girl to have. Inside, you find an entry:
Ugh. Dad is so annoying. He keeps barging into my room without my permission! Doesn’t he have ANY boundaries? It’s SOOOO embarrassing to be on a video call with my friends and have them watch him barge into the room and ask about my laundry. My LAUNDRY, for crap’s sake! He even brought up me getting taco sauce on my shirt! I bet everyone thinks I’m some slob now! Ugh! I don’t even know what to do. If he just knocked, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s just common decency to ask permission before you enter someone’s private space!
The entry itself is not that long, but it’s a lot of details to parse through and, as with a lot of journals in escape rooms, it’s often only one person reading it. You can’t guarantee what details they are going to pick up on. Are they going to focus on the taco sauce? The laundry? Will they pick up the fact that this girl just wants her dad to knock? Maybe. Maybe not.
What if instead of writing a description in a journal, there was a single post-it on the door instead. All it contains are the words “Sarah’s room. Knock first! (that means you, Dad!!!)”
What does this get across? We have a character name: Sarah. We have a relationship: she obviously has a somewhat antagonistic relationship with her father. We have a tone: Sarah is annoyed. Most importantly, it gives an action: knock. Because the post-it is right on the door, most players should be able to see it.
This brings us up the “Need to know”, “Nice to know”, “Superfluous” rules of narrative design for games. What do the players need to know? They need to know to knock to progress the game. They know the owner of this bedroom is named Sarah, which might be important later.
What is nice to know? Sarah lives with her father and is annoyed at him. It’s not necessary for the story to progress, but it does add important character information to the narrative and can enhance the experience.
What is superfluous? I left out information on the Zoom call, the laundry talks, the taco sauce, and her embarrassment. The embarrassment should be evident in the tone. The rest of it is great for designers needing to flesh out a world, but serves absolutely no purpose but to reinforce what the players already know. And in a timed environment like an escape room, efficiency in narrative is key.
At this point, the players might knock on the door having been hinted by the post-it, and the door will open automatically. In my dream world, this is a haunted house game and it’s the ghost opening the door. But it could be used in other contexts as well.
How about another example?
Let’s say you are in a bank. There is a thick manual on what to do in case you forget your password. The process is long and involved, and it’s not entirely clear what section of the manual you need to go to. Perhaps though you find a post-it on the front of the manual: “Jay! Forgot your password AGAIN?! Just go to page 50. You’re lucky I love you. Jack.”
Now we’ve added a bit more flavour to what would otherwise be a tedious searching task. We now know immediately where to go and get a sense of what these two characters mean to each other.
This is not to say that post-its have to be littering your room. But it’s a good exercise to do yourself. It might help you figure out how much of the reading your players have to do could be cut down, or even how much of an audio monologue is actually superfluous information.
There are things to consider when writing your post-it narratives: who is the post-it from? Who is it being written to? What is the purpose? What does the sender want the receiver to know? How do they feel about what they are saying? Exclamation points can get across just as much emotion as a five-minute monologue.
Look at your narrative. Look at all of your narrative devices (books, journals, screens of text, audio monologues, etc) and give yourself a challenge: can you fit your story beats onto a post-it? How much can you still get across without having more than handful of words? You might surprise yourself on how little of the story you lose.
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad- RECON Boston Day 3
I’m sitting in the hotel lobby writing this up. All around me tired but happy enthusiasts are bidding each other goodbye as they head to a flight or an escape or to take in what Boston has to offer. It has been a whirlwind trip, and it’s definitely a bittersweet ending as I’m definitely wanting more but also craving holing away with some garbage TV for a while.Read the rest of this entry
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad- RECON Boston Day 2
The first official day of RECON has passed. I am exhausted but very satisfied. There is SO much to talk about!Read the rest of this entry
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: RECON Boston Day 1
I’m BAAAAAAAACK! And travelling no less! To Boston! For RECON (Reality Escape Convention)! For the past two years, RECON has had to be a virtual event due to that big event we all have ingrained in our brains by now. This year though they were finally able to have it in person, and so far I am so glad I was able to come!
I was a bit nervous to travel again, more because of getting to places on time than COVID nerves. Luckily it was a series of fortunate events and the flight and customs were pretty smooth. But enough about that, time to get to the fun stuff!Read the rest of this entry
Escape Room Narrative: Dialogue Considerations
Back when I was acting more often, I was in a Fringe play in Toronto. I was 25, and soaked up every project my hungry acting soul could consume. This one was particularly exciting. Like most Fringe shows, it was an original script, something I had never encountered outside of terrible university shows. It was also my first time doing something semi-professionally, and the anxiety of making a fool of myself in front of swarming throngs of judgey theatre critics was strong.
There was one line in particular I simply could not seem to deliver properly. For weeks, I had been struggling with it. The director/writer was extremely patient with me, giving me some direction, even trying to do a line reading. But no, every time the words came out of my mouth, they sounded like an elementary school kid trying to be an adult…or maybe it was the other way around.Read the rest of this entry