Category Archives: Geek things

Escape Room Narrative: Player Roles

A short while ago, I was playing a horror themed escape room. Like all good horrors, it was more narrative driven and had a mystery to solve. We solved puzzles, we got scared, and overall we had a lot of fun.

At the end of the experience however something was nagging me. As we sat talking with our game master about the experience, I asked him a question: who were we in the room and why were we there?

He gave me a confused look and replied he did not know. Was it important that I did know?

I said, yes. Yes, it was quite important.

rings-ring-3-reboot-prequel

Because who WANTS to find this thing?!

Read the rest of this entry

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An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Netherlands Summary

Welp, that’s that. I went on my first European trip and did not die in a plane crash/got lost down an alley/got run down by a bike.

I’m STILL letting the whole experience sink in, but here is my best attempt at summing up the whole trip.

I also did not fall into a canal like this car is about to… seriously, are railings are impossible?

European Escape Rooms

If this trip taught me anything it’s that I need to experience more escape rooms around the world. It’s really interesting to see the trends and habits of the most successful escape rooms worldwide.

From what I have seen of European escapes, the focus is far more on making an immersive experience. The innovation I saw happening with the pre-game experience with games like The Vault and The Catacombs is the kind of thing I would love to see more of in the escape games of Canada.

Even when we were stuck on a potential tech problem, the GM/actor did everything in their power not to come in and interrupt our experience. They wanted us to have as smooth a process as possible and I appreciated the effort.

This is just more opportunities to post pics of friends

The sound and light design were some of the best I have seen. It was not just there to provide atmosphere. It also provided subtle signposting to guide us along the way. There was usually a narrative reason for a sound to appear, and the player would be rewarded later if they were paying attention.

I also liked seeing how endings were treated. In the better games we played, every player got an ending, regardless of win or loss. Both endings were satisfying even if they were not happy. I really wish I saw more of that in future escape rooms.

On the flip side, I did notice the puzzles tended to be on the simpler side since they had to fit more naturally into the environment. This is not a bad thing. They still made sense and were all logical and enjoyable. It’s just something I observed. It’s a topic I know is beginning to be discussed in the enthusiast group. I’ll be curious to see if challenging puzzles in an immersive game are possible.

I realize the majority of the escape rooms I played in the Netherlands were cherry picked from the best. I am aware there are bad escape experiences in the country as well. I am also aware of the amazing experimentation that is beginning to happen in the US and Canada (Strange Bird Immersive, Escape My Room and Secret City Adventures are three that immediately spring to mind).

But the one thing my continent does not seem to have is that atmosphere of creative focus. When I spoke with owners in Europe, I rarely heard talk of business practices. I only heard ideas and recommendations for similar escape rooms nearby. There is not nearly the competitive streak that I see in North America. It was very refreshing.

There are theories flying around about why European games are so elaborate. Personally, I think they are getting past the point of being marketed mostly toward the newcomer who “will have fun no matter what”. The initial phase of a fun new form of entertainment is ending and designers are beginning to see how they can make satisfying experiences as well as a successful business. North America is getting there, but it might be another couple of years.

Lessons as a Narrative Designer

I have now designed the narrative for three large scale theatrical escape events. Prison Escape was the first time I got to experience such an event from the player perspective. I am so glad I did.

I have put this here because of the advice I read in every book about video game narrative: if you want to write games, play games. Understand what makes them work, take note of where you are frustrated, take note of where you feel joy.

Prison Escape attempted something I have been far too afraid to undertake: multiple storylines. I do not envy anyone who has to design that and I really admire them. Some storylines were constant, hair raising adventures. Others felt somewhat tacked on and resulted in a disappointed player.

The actors were great!

It made me realize how difficult it is to provide a consistent experience to every single player of a large scale event. It makes me wonder if it is possible. I did have fun in the end, but I knew other players who did not. It made me wonder about my own events and what I could do to improve them. So I am happy to have walked away with so much to think about.

Up The Game

This was my first time attending Up The Game. It is the second official escape room conference I have been to (third if you count the Unconference). It is by far my favourite so far.

Speaking with others, I feel like there are three different experiences:

The first are for those who attended last year and were returning. In general, they seemed to have enjoyed last year’s content more but did enjoy the talks and to reconnect with friends old and new.

The second was for people like myself who were attending for the first time. Most of the talks were about theories we already knew of but it was refreshing to be in a room of like minded individuals and satisfying to see practical examples to back up the theories. Occasionally we would attend a talk which introduced ideas we had not thought much about yet but for the most part it was reaffirming what we already believed.

The third and final group were newcomers who were also new owners. These were the attendees that benefited most from this year’s conference in my opinion. When I spoke with them, they were wide eyed and brimming with inspiration and ideas. Most of the talks were on topics they had rarely considered in their designs. These were the most fun people to talk to at the conference.

Yes, there were organisation problems. We often did not know where to go to register. Our lunch vouchers only covered one drink and it was very warm. The activities booked up too quickly before most could take advantage of them.

But these are nitpicks in what was largely an incredibly positive experience for me. Up The Game is the most important escape conference I have been to. The talks going on here are the ones necessary to further this industry beyond just another fad. If you get a chance next year, I would highly recommend trying it out.

If I were to do anything different, I think I would put a couple of more talks focusing on puzzle design and tech. Much as I love immersion, escape rooms are like theatre. There are a lot of wheels and cogs required to make them work so it’s good to have a balance.

If I were to talk about story again, I would also want to focus on something more specific. We have had the generic “story is important” talk many times now. Up The Game seems like the perfect place to start to focus on specific topics like the pre-game experience, player roles, non-player roles, flow, climaxes, hint systems, and so much more.

With that said, thanks so much to everyone who read! It was fun to chronicle my journey! Thanks to all the friends, new and old, who let me join them on escape and for all the awesome conversations during and after the conference!

Most importantly, thanks to the folks at Up The Game for organizing this! It is not easy to run such an event and it was well done! It also prompted me to finally get up off my butt and actually travel outside my country. I hope you are all getting sleep!

I know I am. I am a big jet lag wimp. Until next time!

Sad Manda is sad to leave.

An Escape Enthusiast Abroad- Day 3

Today was the final day of Up the Game! It was just as great as the first day.

But first! How did I fare in my European adventures?!

Canadian Bumpkin Status- Still Bumpkin, but with 70% less scared eyes

I figured out the shower. My relief knows no end.

I am having extreme paranoia about my outlet converter. I keep watching my various appliances wondering if they will explode at any second.

You know what? I LIKE that the toilet is separate from the bathroom. I don’t know how I will deal when I get back to Canada.

So. Many. Bikes. Bikes rule the road in the Netherlands. That much is clear. God help you if you are a pedestrian and you walk into a bike lane by accident. The lack of helmets is still weird to me.

Quaint but dangerous!

On the flip side, the sheer amount of pedestrian friendly areas is astounding to me. I am getting spoiled for sure.

Macarons are awesome here. That is all.

The Talks

Back to the conference!

Much like yesterday, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what talks to attend.

First I attended Ariana and Juliana’s (of Escape the Werewolf Experiment fame) talk on how escape rooms can expand their business without building whole new rooms. They of course had great ideas.

My crappy, very far away picture

One bit of frustration with the conference so far has been the way they handled activity registration. The first frustration was that we did not really know where to sign up for activities. By the time we found out, they had all been booked.

The second frustration was that not even the staff really knew what classified an “activity” and whether they even needed a sign up. This led to my confusion about how to get a spot on Ubisoft’s new VR project. They were not in the official schedule nor were they on the showroom floor, so no one knew how exactly you got to try it out. By the time I found out of course, it had been booked up for the day.

*Note: I know how difficult it is to organise these things. This was just my individual experience.

Crestfallen, I followed Lisa down to the basement where she was scheduled to try the VR game. My hope was her game partner would not show up and I could take his place. It was almost a lost cause, but suddenly a man came out of the room, looked at me and asked if I wanted to play. It seemed his wife was trying it out and discovered she had a fear of heights. They needed someone to replace her. What luck! (Well…luck for me…poor woman).

Benefiting from others’ fears! (I am terrible)

It was super fun! Honestly, I can’t wait until the game launches officially! I can’t say much about it alas due to the press freeze but more info should be coming soon! All I can really say is that trying to aim with your left hand when you are clearly right handed might be a bit…dumb…really dumb….

I attended three more talks that day. One was on safety in escape rooms. This was the first talk in which the language barrier made it a bit difficult to understand. From what I heard though, the Russian escape community had a lot more safety rules to implement (think chainsaws with sparks again).

There was also a world building talk from Andrew Preble of Escape My Room! It was really interesting and gave some practical advice for how to build your escape world with every resource you have. This could be from the room itself right down to your website.

A better, close up type photo.

Then of course there was Lisa and David Spira’s talk on the good and bad habits of the escape room industry as a whole. What can I say…if you have the chance, watch this talk when it comes up on youtube. It said everything that was in my brain, supported it with examples AND was well spoken to boot.

A close up but blurry photo. I am a podcaster, not a photographer.

Finally I joined Bill and Dani on their live show of Escape This Podcast! I really wish more people had come but it was a tough time slot and there was a lot of confusion over whether it was considered an activity and thus had to be signed up for. Regardless, those that did show up were engaged and laughed. Dani and Bill were both energetic and fun as ever.

I had such a blast being a guest. My fellow guests Nick, Ethan and Ken all had a sharp wit that leant itself well to the podcast format. I really hope they get to do it again next year. I would watch in a heartbeat.

Look, just accept the fact that I tried to photograph and go and actually listen to their podcast.

I missed SO MUCH during this conference but I have been assured the talks will be available online. When they become available I would highly recommend you check them out!

Partay!

With the conference concluded I and all the other participants headed to a nearby bar for the after party. In the tradition of all after parties, the music was far too loud and the people far too awesome. I made some more friends and swapped conference and escape stories.

I will admit that I am coming at this conference from the perspective of a newcomer. Up The Game is unlike any conference I have ever attended. That is not the case for everyone though.

For some, this was the second time they were attending. And when I inevitably asked how they enjoyed the conference, a few replies came back as “It was good. But not as good as last year’s. I really liked meeting people, but I wish they had talked about such and such more.”

This was not everyone’s opinion. But it is important for me to keep this in mind when writing of my experiences. For myself, I rarely get to be in a room full of like minded individuals to talk about immersion. It was incredibly fulfilling for me.

But for others, they had hoped either for a bit more evolution or a for a few more practical examples of how to accomplish their lofty goals. They still enjoyed themselves, certainly, but they did hope for more from the content being presented.

All that being said, I would absolutely attend this conference again. I think it’s important to keep these types of talks going. More importantly, I think it’s important to keep the community going. The more we talk to each other, the more we can grow as an industry.

I had so much fun at Up the Game :D. The things I learned, the discussions I had, and the people I met made the trip more than worth it. If I manage to save my pennies again I would definitely go next year.

Also to get moar macarons

That is not the end of the blog series though! Tomorrow is some sightseeing and a prison escape! From a real prison! With actors!

My hope is that I can be the prison snitch. I always fancied myself a Wormtongue.

Story Game Corner- Oxenfree

Oxenfree is the game of my childhood. No, neither of my parents died nor divorced. I was not a rebellious teen who went to beach parties for some underage drinking shenanigans. I did not even dye my hair blue though not for lack of wanting.

But Oxenfree is about friendship and it’s the sort of adventure my friends and I craved growing up. We consumed every episode of X-files the moment they aired and quoted them much to the annoyance of our peers. We loved the idea of secluded islands with rich and tragic histories, big, mysterious houses holding dark secrets from the past, caves full of whispers and supernatural phenomena and a group of quirky friends who must discover the key to solving the mystery. Read the rest of this entry

My Name is Manda and I Can’t Play Crafting Games

I hate crafting games. Or rather, I hate crafting games because I suck at them. Yes. I am one of those people.

It’s not limited to digital games either. I was never a lego kid. We had legos. We built little lego towns around our pool during the summers. But my job was never to build the actual houses. It was to build the story of what went on in those houses.

I preferred it that way. Anything I ever built usually took the form of basic boxes. If I was feeling particularly creative I would make room for the hole in the box that would serve as a window/door. It was not an option to make the effort to put in an actual window that the Lego set provided.

lego

These blocks were a means to an end.

The stories my siblings and I made up though were the stuff of soap operas. There were epic and tragic storylines involving orphans and tidal waves (they lived next to the sea/pool after all). I loved it and was even happier I could depend on my other siblings to do the actual building for me.

Whenever we could get our hands on overpriced playmobil I would opt for that instead. Everything was already built and perfect looking. It meant that it was less time for me tediously attempting to build some dilapidated hut.

When the Sims came out it was much the same. My friend Kelsey had amazing houses. She made fun of me because I had square boxes with walls inside.

firework_launcher_and_rugs

And yet we never thought to comment on the fact that we would regularly do things like this…

So when the likes of Minecraft came out, I had no interest whatsoever in it. My friends would beam and expound the virtues of the game. They would tell me that anything was possible, that anything could be crafted, that you could experiment with materials to make anything.

I tried it myself once. I chopped a tree. I hopped around. I made a tool when my friend told me how. I dug a hole. Some monsters came. I stayed in my hole. I never left. I got bored.

I suck at crafting games.

minecraft

I don’t even know HOW you would begin to get to something like this.

I saw Youtube videos of grand digital cities being built and recreations of famous movies/tv shows. In all cases I was thoroughly impressed and agreed it was a great tool for creativity but remained resolute that this was not the game for me.

 

Errol got Terraria a couple of years later. Errol loves crafting games. He lives for them. Give him a crafting game and he will become its master within days. Terraria was no exception. When I asked him what it was like he told me it was basically Minecraft in 2D.

“Pass.” I thought but ended up reneging because while I hate crafting games I do love playing with my friends. So I bought it for myself to play online with him and his daughter. I tried single player mode first.

I walked around. I hit some slimy things. I built a hut out of dirt. It stayed up long enough to grow grass. I built a tool when Errol told me how to use it. I mined some stone. I got bored but instead of leaving I joined Errol to see his progress.

He had a castle. It was grand and complex and lit by torches. It had banners on the wall. It had a room full of chests to store the many treasures Errol had crafted or found. He now had a lightsaber as a weapon. I was still holding the default wooden sword.

I suck at crafting games.

terraria-ng-752x430

Though admittedly getting to see all this stuff was awesome.

I don’t want to suck at them. I feel as though I have somehow failed at being a good member of society because of my inability to picture and experiment with buildings and materials.

I see many of my friends venturing out into the world of crafting games and flourish having never done anything like it before. I see them laughing and exchanging their favourite crafting stories. I see them proudly displaying their designs and am astounded by their technique.

minecraftmario

Like this…I just…how do you even…

I tried once again to attempt crafting, this time in a Minecraft clone in which we had cheat codes which would allow us unlimited access to all resources and the ability to fly. How could I go wrong with that?

I accidently set a digital house on fire in my attempt at making a fireplace. My friend’s nine year old daughter had to put it out for me and then wonder what on earth was wrong with her mom’s friends.

legofalcon

I’m just putting this here because Star Wars.

The closest I came to being somewhat competent at a crafting game was Don’t Starve if for nothing else than the fact that dirt hut is a luxury in that game. Even then, it was rare I would survive alone. We always waited for a server to play with each other.

I can write scripts. I can craft a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I have comedic timing. I can cook a soup and experiment with the recipe. I can build a jigsaw in a day.

But ask me to make a pretend building and I am stumped. Ask me to make something out of the resources around me and I will be weeping in a corner when you come back to check on me.

I keep seeing ads about Lego and creativity. I see articles calling Minecraft the pinnacle of creativity. And then I wonder if something is wrong with me that I am completely unable to ever go further than dirt huts.

If this were an evolutionary issue, I would have been wiped out by now.

legomovie

This stupid movie made me feel guilt for not being good at Lego (okay, it’s awesome, yes, but still!)

Perhaps someday I will get better at them. Perhaps I will not be left behind by those with so much more talent and/or time. Perhaps whatever is blocking my ability to visualize anything other than simple hollowed out box will dissipate and I can join the ranks of those who love crafting and resource management.

But for now I suck at crafting games and will depend on my friends to carry me through them. At least these franchises have managed to stay separate. There’s too many to keep track of.

minecraftlego

OH COME ON!

 

10 Soundtracks to get you in the Halloween Mood

I love Halloween. More than love it. Lurve it. I love watching scary movies involving hauntings or exorcisms. I playing spooky games. I love candy. Sure, it all leaves me in a fetal position of terror. But I still love it to bits.

Naturally, when October rolls around my playlist becomes populated with spooky instrumental soundtracks to help get me in the mood even more. My original plan was to post a song every day on Facebook, but then I thought…why not just do it all in one post?!

I’m lazy.

So I am sharing them here in no particular order! Because most of these come from video games and movies, I am going to post a mild spoiler warning here as I might discuss the context in which the song appears. Enjoy! And comment with your favourite Halloween soundtracks as well! Read the rest of this entry

How to Survive a Murder Mystery

Admit it, you all at one point or another wanted to be in an Agatha Christie murder mystery, complete with intrigue, quirkly/tortured characters and a denoument in a drawing room of some sort. ADMIT IT!

…Okay, maybe that’s only a desire of mine. I may have been binging a lot of Miss Marple, Midsommer Murders and Shetland lately and I have yet to stop jonesing for more.

And yet watching these murder mysteries, I can’t help but notice…many, many patterns. So I feel compelled to write down some basic rules should you find yourself in a murder mystery situation. But I am not talking about the murderer or detectives. I am talking about the poor innocent suspects who often find themselves dead halfway through. And so I present:

The Top 10 Rules to Surviving a Murdery Mystery (feel free to add more!)

  1. Never utter the words “Oh it’s you” upon turning around and seeing someone you recognize. Death always follows.
  2. If you get information about a dangerous murderer, do not make a vague phone call to the the police detective and say “Listen, I need to talk to you! It’s incredibly important! But I can’t explain here!”. Death is assured. Instead, rush straight to the police station the first moment you get and announce it out loud to all who can hear.
  3. Never sleep secretly with anyone. Death will be almost instantaneous.
  4. Be an obvious suspect. It almost always means you are never the actual killer and guarantees you getting arrested halfway through the murder investigation and safe away from the actual murderer. At the same time…
  5. Be an obvious suspect, but not TOO obvious. Remember, the more obviously evil you are, the more likely you are to be murdered halfway through, causing the detective to have to rethink his strategy.
  6. Don’t be too well loved. Being a well known and beloved figure in the community almost guarantees that you are either harbouring a deep dark secret, that someone has it in for you or both.
  7. Don’t hold any important local events. It doesn’t matter how many years Beet Fest has been going on. These things tend to be murder magnets.
  8. Dinner parties. Enough said.
  9. Never utter the words “You’ll have to kill me if you want (blank)”. It does not matter if the thing in question is the last slice of pie, stating this type of foreshadowing will doom you as the next victim.
  10. Finally, do not rely on the detectives. They may seem like they are making progress, but they are actually just putting in time before a second or even third murder occurs. Instead, invest in a good security system. Secretly.

    Game Distractions: Kathy Rain

    I love the wonderful experimentation that’s been going on in video game narratives in the last few years. But every once in a while I crave a good nostalgic classic adventure game of ages past. Kathy Rain turned out to be the perfect way to spend my downtime.

    Taking place in my beloved 1990’s, Kathy is a hardened, sarcastic and witty journalism student who visits her hometown after finding out that her grandfather whom she lost touch with has passed away. Naturally, not all is as it seems and Kathy soon finds herself elbow deep in government cover-ups, cults and good old fashioned super natural entities. Read the rest of this entry

    Doctor Who: Face the Raven

    Warning, the following contains extreme spoilers. It also is a very raw unedited piece of writing that probably could be better organized. But ah well.

    So….let’s talk about that last episode of Doctor Who.

    Read the rest of this entry

    Top 5: Awesome Soundtracks to Bad Franchises

    Hallo all! So I recently started writing for a site called Geekpr0n. It’s an awesome site. And I was going to make another Top 5 list of music but then figured it would be a good thing to put on a geeky site. So I’m just going to link to it here. Take a look! 😀