An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Vancouver
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.
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!
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Houston Day 2
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.
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Houston Day 1
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
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: Baton Rouge
This was it. Wednesday. May 15th. 13th Gate. It was one of the main reasons we booked our trip to NOLA in the first place. And yes, it lives up to the hype.
Canadian Bumpkin Status: 60%
There is not much here today because we have been driving for most of the day. Even in the car though I am still very much a bumpkin. Read the rest of this entry
An Escape Enthuisast Abroad: New Orleans Day 4
Toady was not as jampacked, but was still full of fun stuff!
Canadian Bumpkin Status: 65%
I think I’m getting into the laid back New Orleans atmosphere. I am only somewhat paranoid now instead of completely.
My second summation of New Orleans history: if you moved to New Orleans in the 19th century, you died of yellow fever. The end.
My skin has turned from lobster red to a slight tan. I am officially out of Canadian winter mode.
People in New Orleans seem to go out of their way to not pronounce any French names correctly. At the same time, the new pronunciations sound weirdly natural…most if the time.
We found a Trader Joe’s. There is something called Cookie Butter there. We didn’t buy it but…it worries and intrigues me.
I learned the real history of the voodoo doll! I wish someone would do a historical escape room about that.
Today was Clue Carre in Metairie. It was a Game Museum theme which was probably the better executed of the same type of theme I have seen at other locations. Nothing crazy immersion wise, and a few puzzle ambiguities but otherwise fun! I especially appreciated it as a game enthusiast. They cover all eras of gaming, not just 80’s onwards.
They have some new games in development but unfortunately the betas weren’t quite ready yet so we didn’t get to try them. I’m looking forward to see how the Clue Carre games have evolved once they come out.
Oh! And we also found out from the owner, Megan, that their name actually is a play on Vieux Carre (prounounced VooCarrey), the old name for the French Quarter. Yay local knowledge!
As luck would have it though, Escape My Room has a new room coming out in the Audubon Aquarium, and was ready to beta test! We got a chance to do so ourselves. So far we were the second group through.
It is more of a Five Wits style of game in which you play a room for a few minutes before you are pushed over into the next one. I have not played Five Wits but I have been told that this is the case by more than one person :D.
There were a couple of tech hiccups, but otherwise it was probably one of the more polished beta tests I have participated in. The set is absolutely gorgeous with some really unique pieces. Once some of the puzzles are smoothed out this is going to be a great room for kids and enthusiasts alike.
Aftwerward we got to chat a bit with Andrew Preble of Escape My Room. It’s always fun to nerd out about escape rooms and was a great way to end out day!..Okay, the Happy Hour cocktails may have also contributed to that.
One thing I have noticed about New Orleans games (at least the ones we’ve played) is that they tend toward the more non-linear style of game play. For most if not all our games we have had many puzzles to work on from the outset of the room. It’s an interesting contrast to the linear tendencies of other parts of Canada.
I am not sure whether this is a result of the public ticketing system or if it’s a local style. Of course, this is based on two companies played so far. We shall see how 13th Gate feels.
There seems to be a lot of stuff brewing in NOLA, which makes me sad to leave this week. I can’t wait to see how all the new rooms and experiences fare!
Gabriel Knight Locations Found
Today was my last in New Orleans and so my last day to find locations! I was super excited to see what must have been the exact location used from St. Louis Cemetery #1!
We technically also saw Bourbon Street, but I don’t want to post a picture of that. Trust me, no one wants to see Bourbon Street.
Tomorrow is 13th Gate. We shall see if the hype is worth it!
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: New Orleans Days 2 and 3
Since Day 2 of our trip was all tourist stuff and no escapes, I decided to combine Day 2 and 3 into one post!
New Orleans is indeed still a very cool city. We took tours of the Garden District, Lafayette Cemetery, and the French Quarter. The history here is so interesting and rich I am pretty sure I could spend a year here and not have learned half of it.
At the same time, seeing the severe dividing line with the more poverty stricken neighborhoods is striking and a little unsettling. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging around the more tourist friendly areas but am glad I get to see more of the city. Read the rest of this entry
An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: New Orleans Day 1
It’s been one year since my very first Escape Room Enthusiast adventure to the Netherlands. I loved it so much I immediately began to crave more escape experiences around the world.
So when my friends and fellow podcast co-hosts Mike and Ruby told me they were thinking of going to New Orleans and Baton Rouge, home to some of the most immersive escape rooms in North America, I immediately decided to follow them! So we booked our flights, our AirBNBs, our escapes and have finally arrived!
Of course I want to document our adventures, escape or otherwise. So here we go! Read the rest of this entry
Escape Room Narrative: Visual Shorthand
One of the difficult aspects of writing escape room narrative, and in fact all narrative, is to convey potentially complicated plot points or themes without overloading the audience/player with a mountain of exposition. Because escape rooms are relatively new, they are still somewhat guilty of trying to shove too much explanation at the player.
This is seen most often in the dreaded introductory narration. We have all been there: a game master either comes up with a single spaced page of plot or turns on a video which tells us every single piece of backstory we need to understand the situation we are walking into. I talked more about this in my exposition blog posts. Read the rest of this entry
Escape Room Narrative: Workshops and Beta Testing
Beta Testing is so important for games. What might make sense to you as a designer could utterly fall apart once it’s in the hands of your gamers. The puzzles are either too vague or overly complex. The super expensive tech you centered your room on is too finicky or breaks entirely. The eight players you thought would be totally a perfect number end up having nothing to do.
What I have yet to see as part of the beta testing process of escape rooms is to test out the actual narrative. Does it make sense? Are players following it or ignoring it? Are they feeling emotions you intended for them to feel?
My experience lies in theatre. Any script that is written is usually workshopped by other writers and actors and combed over so extensively that the poor writer is left in a daze with mountains of feedback to sift through. However, it’s that feedback that allows them to make their story the best that it can be…maybe…if they are good.
So how do we apply narrative workshopping to escape rooms? To be honest, I am just theorizing at this point but hopefully the lessons I have taken from script workshopping can apply to escape rooms. Here we go! Read the rest of this entry