Category Archives: escape rooms

Escape Room Narrative: The Teaser

As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold—everywhere the glint of gold…. When Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.” Howard Carter

As a kid, I was a pretty big King Tut nerd. Perhaps to an unhealthy degree, but I couldn’t help it. Like millions of others over the decades, I was fascinated by the discovery of the boy king’s tomb and the stories, both mysterious and controversial, that came out of it.

Fake curses and British colonization issues included…

One of those stories was the moment Howard Carter, an archaeologist desperate to find a rumoured tomb of an almost forgotten king but on the brink of running out of funding, literally stumbled upon a set of steps that, when cleared, would lead down to the now famed tomb. He called his funder, Lord Carnarvon, immediately to come down.

And when they reached the sealed door of the tomb, Carter cleared away just enough of a gap to be able to stick a candle through. And when he did…he got a glimpse of the “wonderful things” mentioned in the quote above.

BR6AK1 Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor in Egypt in November 1922. Image shot 1922. Exact date unknown.

The next few days he and his team would be hard at work to fully open the tomb in all its glory. Of course they would have done so regardless if Carter had glimpsed the treasures beyond. But that glimpse, that small teaser for the excitement that awaited him, most certainly must have fueled his excitement and imagination.

In narratives, reveals are tricky to figure out. How much of a major plot point or grand setpiece do you reveal to an audience? How much do you hold back? How much do you tease? Too little and your audience might forget or lose interest in the story. Too much and you’ve given away the best parts of your story or world far earlier than you should, and the audience loses interest in the rest.

Escape Rooms like to play it safe. A lot of money and energy and time and blood and sweat is put into set pieces. Why would you spoil the fun by showing these big reveals earlier on? And so players are often kept in the dark until the great big “Wow!” moment when all is revealed in a grandiose transition.

But what if it went the opposite way? What if you teased the big reveal earlier, gave the players a bit of a taste of what’s come? Does it ruin the surprise? Or…will players, much like Howard Carter putting a candle into a tomb, be fueled by the brief glimpse of the treasures that await them?

Video games do this more often than you think. Showing an area that looks enticing but is otherwise inaccessible does two things to the player:

  1. It gets them excited for what’s to come
  2. It gives them a clear goal: this awesome place is where you want to be. Figure it out.
Games like the Uncharted series does this very well

I recently did a room in Montreal that incorporated this idea wonderfully. Alas, I cannot spoil which one or what that reveal was, but I can say that shortly into the game we came into an area with a gate in front of us. Normally it would not be a gate. It would flat out be a door, solid and sturdy, blocking our view of what lay beyond. But we could clearly see through the gate in this place.

The designers helped keep the bulk of the mystery intact with some clever use of lighting. We could see there was a big, exciting room beyond, but much of it was shrouded in shadows.

This was at least a good 5-10 minutes before we actually got through. I did not feel deflated. I did not feel like some surprise had been ruined. Instead I thought “wow, this looks insane! I really want to get I to that room and see what else there is.”

Sure, we were obviously keen to finish the room regardless of what was shown to us, that small teaser helped further fuel our resolve and excitement.

So the next time you are concerned about your players seeing too much too soon, consider the value of teasing a big setpiece. That’s not to say holding everything back until the right moment does not have any effect. Some of my favourite rooms had a sudden transformation.

But sometimes even just a small tease can help convince your players that it’s very much worth going through these puzzles to get to the really great stuff. And it will make the eventual true reveal that much more thrilling. Give them a glimpse of the gold. Then let them excavate the rest of the tomb.

Escape Room Narrative: What Spiderverse Can Teach Us About Intro Videos

So two weeks ago I finally saw Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Yes, I know. I’m more than slightly late to the game here. Part of it was intimidation of my Marvel fan friends (they can be intense). Part of it was my fatigue with Marvel and Spider-Man movies in general. A very small and petulant part of me simply didn’t want to get on the hype train. Whatever the reason, the important thing is that I saw it!

And I. Am. OBSESSED.

ALL THE SPIDERS

Yes, the hype was real. Despite knowing only the very basics of Spider-Man, I was still in love with this movie. And there is a lot to love. The ground-breaking animation, the engaging characters, the humour, the heart, everything was almost pitch perfect in execution.

But there was one scene in particular that caught my eye. And I’m not talking about the “What’s Up Danger” sequence…although that is an incredible sequence, and it definitely took my breath away and I may or may not have that song on my jogging playlist now so that I too can feel like a Spider-Person while I huff and wheeze my way down the street.

Every frame of this scene looks iconic.

No, the scene I am talking about comes almost exactly one hour into the movie. It lasts approximately thirty-five seconds. And it is an excellent example of what we could be doing with our escape room intro videos.

I am talking about the Kingpin backstory reveal. Spoilers ahead for…well…a very tropey backstory, I guess…

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Escape Room Narrative: The Remote Avatar

It’s been three months since my city locked down. I’ve had to adapt to working from my dining room chair and lining up with anxious citizens outside a grocery store.

Likewise, Escape Rooms have had to pivot to try to survive the next few months. How successful they are is still up for debate, but it has resulted in some interesting new trends that are becoming the new norm.

Now is a time of uncertainty. But it is also a time of opportunity. Innovation is often born out of  limitations. There are creative mines to be delved here. I wanted to dedicate my next few entries to some of these trends and narrative possibilities: what’s working, what’s not working, and what we could be doing with the time we have now.

The first thing to talk about is one of the first things escape rooms decided to employ: the remote avatar.

No…not that one…although he is awesome
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Escape Room Narrative: What the Myst Series Taught Me About Narrative

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.

Or…

myst1

Is…

myst2

There…

atrus

Okay, let’s talk about Myst.

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Escape Room Narrative: Music

“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.

bugs

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.

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Escape Room Narratives: Plot Twists

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….”

Movie_i_see_dead_people-769472

Insert meme here.

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An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Seattle/Vancouver and Final Thoughts

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!

http://www.inversegenius.com/roomescapedivas/2019/7/12/95-seattle-and-vancouver-escape-room-marathon

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An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Seattle Day 2

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

An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Seattle Day 1

Today was our first marathon day in Seattle. We did six rooms. Six very puzzle heavy rooms. I. AM. TIRED.

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An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: NOLA, Baton Rouge & Houston Final Thoughts

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!

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