The holy grail of escape room narrative is having a seamless integration of puzzles and story. This is difficult to say the least. The very presence of puzzles in a narrative already is somewhat unnatural. Ideally, the puzzles at minimum tie loosely with the theme. The rest is a suspension of disbelief on the player’s part.
This is fine, but there is always room to evolve. Attempts to make puzzles more natural usually involve making them simpler and more task based. It makes sense to do it this way. For a natural narrative, puzzles that could actually be found in the natural world is the way to go.
But what about difficult puzzles? Those “aha” puzzles that involve finding patterns in constellations to find a passcode for a computer? Surely there is no way to make narrative and puzzles seem like one when they involve so many illogical steps.
Okay, let’s talk about Myst.
“Immersive” is definitely a buzz word that has been growing in popularity in the escape room industry over the last few years. Designers and companies strive to make their players feel immersed in a world. There are many discussions of elaborate sets, seamless technology, and environmental storytelling.
But there is one tool I have rarely seen discussed: music.
Music has shaped so much of our art and entertainment. Whether it is opera, film, or video games, I doubt there is anyone who can imagine these mediums completely devoid of music. It lets us know how to feel. It helps tell the story. It builds the world. It is one of my favourite parts of the entertainment I consume. And yet I rarely see it discussed in escape rooms.
Spoiler alert: I will be talking about the ending of the Sixth Sense. It is twenty years old, but there might be a likely hood you have not seen it….but still, I am going to discuss it.
I remember being in the theatre when I first saw The Sixth Sense, long before it became one of the most quoted movies of all time. Come on, we all know the scene. Little Haley Joel Osmand clings his blanket closer to him, looks fearfully at Bruce Willis, and utters the phrase “I see dead people….”
Today was the last day of our vacation. It has been an intense three days and felt more like three weeks. We played 16 escapes in just over three days. Although we are tired we have sworn to make this an annual thing.
EDIT: If you are interested in our thoughts in audio form, check out the podcast we recorded on the trip!
Our second day in Seattle was less intense than our first but no less interesting. Today was the day we finally got to try out the fabled Locurio! Read the rest of this entry
Today was our first marathon day in Seattle. We did six rooms. Six very puzzle heavy rooms. I. AM. TIRED.
I am back with another escape room vacation! Yaaay! This time we are tackling some of the west coast of North America!
Shortly after booking our NOLA trip, my friend Errol learned that his sister would be in Vancouver for a week while her daughter went to camp. She was despairing about how little she would have to do other than miss her daughter.
So naturally the solution was to invite ourselves along and travel to the west coast to do as many escape rooms as we could! I very briefly considered whether two escape trips in a year was too much/costly…then decided not to think about it anymore. And here we are!
Ontario Bumpkin Status: 60%
Because I am still in my beloved Canada, there is not really much culture shock going on. That does not mean however that British Columbia does not have its differences!
There are mountains! They’re huge! And misty!
In Toronto it’s about 30°C and summer has officially kicked off. In Vancouver it is 16°C. I am already sick of wearing pants again.
In BC there are many traffic lights that flash green. Apparently this means they will only turn red when a pedestrian needs to pass. To us it looks like something is just very wrong with the light.
The water in Vancouver is better than Toronto. Hands down. It’s wonderfully soft and is probably drawn from some wonderful mountain stream. I don’t want to go back to Toronto water.
The jet lag is only 3 hours, but it’s still jet lag (that was originally spelled “lage”. Hurray for minor post jet lag editing!). I am so tired.
I saw a steam clock! I went full tourist and took about twenty photos of it.
We managed two escapes today at Find&Seek. The first was The Curse of Madame Zita’s Curiousities and the second Mystery At the Magestic Theatre.
I think there was some sort of overarching narrative for the entire facility…something to do with time travel or dimension travel…but darned if I could actually hear the initial monologue all that well. I must be getting old. Luckily it was not integral to the rest of the room so we still managed to get through. Still, it would be nice to find out what sort of narrative work went into the rooms.
I’ve come to realize how much I’ve come to appreciate good feedback in a room, even if it does not always make sense to the narrative. Having sound effects declare whether you got a puzzle right or not really helped with the flow of the room.
There were some neat little reveals and the puzzle solutions all made sense. The sets were solid. Everyone got a chance to have a hero moment. For the most part, we had fun.
But then came…the logic puzzle.
Let’s talk about logic puzzles. I love logic puzzles. Actually. I love the feeling in my brain when another solution slides into place.
But in escape rooms…they are difficult to do. They are naturally designed to be longer, usually only one person can work on them, and the more complex you make them the more tedious they get in an escape room scenario.
This logic puzzle was…more complex than usual. There were two or three layers to each clue before we were able to confirm which item was what, there was a lot of information to try and hold in our head, and there was some outside historical knowledge that very few people would know off hand.
It got very frustrating very quickly. Admittedly, we made a mistake on our own that did not help our situation. But even without that, we spent about ten minutes on one puzzle. By the time we finally asked our GM for the answer, I was done with the room.
Which is a shame, because it started so strongly. It’s a bit of a bias, but logic puzzle by committee simply does not work as well as designers like to think it does. Every time it has happened in an escape, especially where there are more than five clues, it grinds the whole game to a halt and I am jolted out of the experience.
Errol was not shy about pointing out his problems with the room after. Our poor GM was a good sport and did his best to take the criticism and frustration in stride. The puzzle ended up leaving a bitter taste in an otherwise perfectly good experience. Still, looking forward to what else Find & Seek will come out with!
Vancouver does not really have much in the way of an escape room community. There are actually only about twenty facilities in Vancouver and the surrounding area. That does not mean it’s non-existent though.
We had lunch with Brian Hughes of Pandora’s Locks and proceeded to talk escape rooms for a full three hours. It was glorious. It was nice to hear an owner talk about experimentation and finding the next generation of room. Without experimentation, the medium cannot grow. We play his rooms on Wednesday and are looking forward to it!
Tomorrow is Seattle…we have six rooms booked…this should be entertainingly intense.
I have been home a full day now, slept many hours, and had a chance to let the whole trip process in my head. It is 14 degrees Celsius here so I am forced to wear long pants again. It’s sad. So…time for some final thoughts.
First things first: The trip was fantastic. Escape rooms aside, I loved seeing the city of New Orleans. It has an insanely rich history. Even if you are not a party person, there is a lot of stuff to see there (and eat!). I would 100% go there again…after all, there are more Gabriel Knight locations to find!
Our last day in Houston found us back with Strangebird Immersive‘s Haley and Cameron. We spent the almost the entire day eating, geeking out about escapes, venting about escapes, and playing a couple of escapes. It was a great, relaxed way to end our trip. Despite not getting to play Man From Beyond, it was so wonderful to meet these fine folks and hang out.
Canadian Bumpkin Status: 50%
Now I know from several sources that giant cockroaches are just a thing in Houston. I still do not approve of them and squeal like crazy, but I somewhat accept they are here.
I tried some southern US Mexican food! It was yummy!
We want to have southern accents. We probably sound horribly offensive.
It was great to have Haley and Cameron to tour us around today. Not just because they know the area, but because they know more about the escape community in and around Houston.
We started at Escape Again in Sugar Land (no, it’s not a town made my Willy Wonka) and played their Hike room. It was a fun mid-tier room. It followed the trends of other rooms we have seen here: okay set, standard puzzles that did not always make complete sense but were still enjoyable, and plenty of locks to open. Overall there was a good flow though. There was one really neat environmental element I have not yet seen in any escape room. That’s always exciting!
We got to chat with the owners after and it was evident they are aiming to make each room bigger and better than the last. It’s always great to see owners passionate about learning lessons and applying those lessons to future projects. When we saw the new rooms they were building it was evident they were trying to make things as immersive as they could.
It was also nice to see owners getting along. Haley and Cameron greeted the owners like old friends and we all sat around and talked shop for half an hour before a birthday party came through. It’s encouraging to see this kind of collaboration going on in the industry. Owners gain everything by helping each other. I look forward to hearing of Escape Again’s progress.
The second room of the day was Houston Escape Room. We played a room called Grandma’s Code Breaker. This almost felt like a throwback to some of the earlier games we played years ago. It was pretty low tech. There were a lot of combo locks. Weirdest of all, our GM was in the room! We have not experienced that in years. He was really good at fading into the background though. I practically forgot he was there.
It was a cute room but nothing incredibly special. It did make me realize though that most of the games we played in the southern US have a LOT of puzzles, way more than we are used to. I wonder if that is a local trend or if it’s a product of the public system and bigger group sizes.
I could investigate further, but…I have to get up for a plan in….ugh…four hours…it’s time for sleep. Thank you so much for joining us on our adventures. I have had so much fun but look forward to my own bed and some salad. Stay tuned for my final thoughts on this whirlwind trip. I can’t guarantee I’ll be awake enough to write it in the next day.
Our original reason for going to Houston was to finally see Strangebird Immersive’s Man From Beyond. Unfortunately, their new location is currently going through red tape hell and they were not ready for our arrival. They felt super bad but this is a common theme when it comes to building escape rooms. As sad as we were, it was understandable.
We did end up going to meet the owners/designers, Haley and Cameron, for dinner where we could vent and nerd out to our heart’s delight about escapes. Despite the setback, I am really glad I got to meet them in person.
And besides, one hiccup not about to stop us from trying out escapes anyway! Read the rest of this entry