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.

An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: The Netherlands Day 2

Today was Day 1 of Up the Game!

It. Was. Awesome.

Canadian Bumpkin Adventures

Europe is still amazing and I keep finding new ways to fail at it.

I had troubles figuring out my shower.

The complete lack of bike helmets concerned me.

I managed to get completely lost on the way home. Luckily the locals were helpful and it was only a little scary.

When I finally got home I could not work the lock correctly. I had to wake up my poor AirBNB host.

Still I am having a grand time and can’t wait to explore it more!

It still looks like a fairy tale.

Enough about that. What about the conference?!

The Dome

Pretty much everything in Europe so far has been at least twice as pretty as whatever we have in Ontario. The Prison Dome in Breda is no exception.

This place is huge and such a unique way to use the old prison space! It is also the location of the prison escape I will be doing on Thursday, which I am super excited about.

The dome itself provided a space for exhibitors as well as a general meet-up area for attendees. This is pretty much how I met up with everyone I already knew.

Speaking of which…

The People

I cannot say enough how fantastic everyone I came across was. I got to reconnect with friends I had already met, meet online friends in person for the first time, and meet entirely new friends altogether.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming despite my awkward conversation blunders. We nerded out all day about escape rooms. Naturally there were rants, but we managed talked about what we loved as well :D.

These are just a fraction of the selfies I took

The most interesting conversations I had were with owners from around the world as we compared the trends happening in the industry. Was one country more tech obsessed? Did another just get out of that phase? And so forth.

Apparently in Eastern Europe there is a haunt in which you are chased down a hallway by a maniac with a chainsaw. A real, running, spark producing chain saw.

..nope. Just nope.

I would list everyone here but…there were so many people. They will more than likely be mentioned or heard in the podcast recap later.

One more selfie

The Talks

This is the first conference in which I had difficulty deciding what to watch. There was SO much going on often at the same time and I had to make the agonizing choice of what to miss.

I managed to get to three talks today in between chasing attendees for podcast interviews.

The first was a talk from my friend Ken and Sera of The Logic Escapes Me about player experience. Even if they were not already my friends, I would say this was chock full of valuable information for owners. It covered bigger topics like flow but also went more detailed like how to be careful how you use colour in a room.

Also they had the best slide.

Seriously I couldn’t stop laughing.

I saw another one on meaningful choice in rooms. This was probably the most philosophical I have seen a talk about escape rooms get. It was really interesting and not a topic I see get covered a lot (at least not a constructive one with possible solutions).

A lot of people wanted to talk to the speaker, Jasper Wille, afterward. I don’t blame them. I was one of them.

(Side note: Jasper later spotted me wandering hopelessly around the streets of Breda and leant me his WiFi signal to get me directions. So that makes him double awesome)

I missed out on many other fun talks such as one on VR, one on the future of the industry, one on playtesting, one on breaking the fourth wall…

You get the idea.

My Panel!

On top of all that I got to be on a storytelling panel! I was in heaven. Well…also nervous. Nervous heaven.

If I were a good blogger I would have gotten the full name of my fellow panelists. Instead I am listing them by first name like the amateur chump I am.

Except one! Lisa Spira of Room Escape Artist (okay I already knew her but it still counts). There was also Bart who was from Belgium, Zohan from the UK, and Emmi from Finland. They were all pros and really had some interesting ideas.

It was different being in a room of like minded individuals. When I talk about story, I am used to defending the need to have story in rooms (although this is becoming less frequent).

Here, everyone already agreed on that point. We could now focus on the actual “how” and the evolution needed. It was a lot of fun. I talked way too much.

Me after the talk. Super happy face.

PARTAY!

I ended up buying a ticket for the dinner event at a nearby pub. I am glad I did! We got to relax, have some drinks and just gossip about escapes.

There was also SO MUCH MEAT.

MEEAAAT

So far I have been loving Up The Game. I can’t wait for Day 2!

An Escape Enthusiast Abroad: The Netherlands Day 1

Back in February I decided it would be a grand idea to attend the Up the Game conference taking place in the Netherlands in May. I have never really travelled far outside my country and I can think of worse reasons than an escape room conference!

My friend Errol suggested I write a daily blog on my adventures experiencing the escape rooms of the Netherlands! I thought it was a splendid idea! Then I spent 10 hours flying, 2 by train, and jumped ahead 6 hours from my normal time zone. I am crashing to say the least.

I am still determined to plow ahead! So below is a report of things I have learned so far :D.

Day 1:

Flying– It’s awesome. It’s also incredibly nerve wracking. It turns out all the sounds a plane makes while taking off are the same sounds a video game makes when everything goes wrong. So my nerves were a bit frayed by the time we went above cloud level.

But then I got to see the wonder that is being 33,000 feet above EVERYTHING and most of my nerves were forgotten. I think I hogged the window the entire flight. I only felt slightly bad.

Look how pretty!

Jet Lag- It is my first time going so far into another time zone and thus my first time experiencing jet lag. Naturally I had no idea what I was in store for. I have slept 3 hours out of the last 20 and my body does not seem to quite know what to do with itself.

My friends however seemed impressed I was functional. I credit my friend Mike, who advised me to eat at local times in order to trick my body. It seems to have worked so far. I am still very tired am at least coherent and know where I am. Starting to crash though.

Me right now.

The Enthusiast Community

I do have to say, it barely feels like travelling alone when I have so many escape enthusiasts from the community to hang out with for this conference. Today it was Juliana and Ariel, creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, Ariel’s husband Mike, fellow enthusiast James Cobalt, and his partner Salem. They made the journey that much more enjoyable.

Also, they give rides. In a Tesla. Rides in a tesla are awesome.

It’s like a space ship!

Escape Rooms Played

As soon as I was off the plane, I rushed off to play my first two escapes (all I have seen of Amsterdam so far is part of a train station). Today was Escape Nederlands, the first escape room to be opened in the Netherlands!

We played two games:

The Lab– This was the very first room to appear in the Netherlands, so it felt pretty cool it was also my first escape room to experience in the country. This goes for both rooms but it has been some of the most solid tech I have ever seen. EVERYTHING was perfectly timed.

The puzzles may not have been perfect but if this is the room that is considered “Gen 1” in the Netherlands, I am soooo excited to see what the newer ones are like.

Girl’s Room: I could really see the progression from The Lab with this room. It blew the first one out of the water in my opinion and made for a more cohesive experience. There were a few Ask Why’s that we nitpicked afterwards but over all it was an awesome experience.

Happy enthusiasts!

Also, both rooms were scary. I screamed. A lot. I was quite useless. Errol would have laughed at me. I was glad he was not there.

The customer service was some of the best I have experienced. The GM was nice and chatty with us. It was one of the most impressive lobbies I have seen in a while. They even had a self serve bar!

Look at all the fun drinks! And this was just the tip of the ice berg!

I was bummed their new room, The Dome, wasn’t ready yet. They have been working on it for two years! If I manage to make it back, I will definitely have to play.

Okay, I am actually about to collapse. Until tomorrow! And by tomorrow, I mean the first day of the UP THE GAME CONFERENCE!

Escape Room Narrative: Exposition Part 3

And now we get into some of the more involved escape room exposition tools. Super exciting times! (said the nerd) Read the rest of this entry

Escape Room Narrative: Exposition Part 2

There are many ways to introduce an audience to a story. Mediums are not limited to any one method although there are usually a couple that are most effective.

Escape rooms are still going through some growing pains. Like video games, they are an interactive experience.  Unlike most story heavy games, escape rooms have a set time limit, making it next to impossible to allow players the leisure to discover the story by interaction alone.

So what DOES make an effective exposition for an escape room? Let’s take a look at some of the methods currently used, the pros, the cons and how they can be taken to the next level. For consistencies’ sake, I am going to look at all of these methods using one of the most common escape room themes: The Mad Doctor/Scientist.

doc Read the rest of this entry

Escape Room Narrative: Exposition Part 1

Most of my friends are now well aware of my recent nerdy obsession: escape rooms. Since they became popular in North America a few years ago I have made them my primary creative focus in life.

So far I have played just over 200 games (I think…it’s hard for me to keep count), run three large scale theatrical events and even have a podcast devoted to all things escape rooms. Much like Myst when I was a kid, there is little else I will talk about.

Myst

Although this puzzle still causes me rage.

But it is not just the thrill of seeing my favourite adventure games come to life in the real world or the fun of working with my friends that draws me to them. It is fascinating to see a potential art form from its inception. Read the rest of this entry

The Odyssey: Learn through reading…in a game!

 

Educational games are hard. Like…exceedingly hard. I’m not talking about playing. I am talking about designing. Growing up in the 90’s, I was subjected to many “edu-tainment” games.

Most of these were on a scale between “boring failures” (Treasure mountain and that animation math game I failed a test for on purpose just so I could stay in for recess to answer multiplication questions to gain access to animation) and “Fun but rarely actually taught me anything” (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Cross Country Canada).

 

carmensandiego

I learned that Paris has the Eiffel Tower, see?!

 

A rare few were somewhat more successful, such as Egypt II The Heliopolis Prophecy which let the environment and the characters speak for themselves instead of pausing to give a history lesson…most of the time.

Taking the cake of all of these was the Nancy Drew series, which so far have combined learning about a different culture, science or history with fun detective hijinks. They are by no means perfect but have been a source of immense entertainment, especially given that I only discovered them in my 30’s.

 

nancydrewwater

I learned about Japanese ghosts! Worst/best day ever!

 

I have been eagerly awaiting the next chapter in the Nancy Drew series for the last couple of years or so. Each time I scour the website there is no news to be seen. Imagine my delight when I discovered Her Interactive partnered with a company called The Young Socratics to make a game entirely about  discovering the very foundations our modern science is based on.

Okay…so let’s talk The Odyssey.

Odyssey1

You, the unnamed and I can only assume amazing protagonist, have picked up a distress call from a remote island in the Caribbean once home to pirates, WWII soldiers and…others, I am sure. The distress call is from a 13 year old girl named Kai. She is certain some not so trustworthy sailors are going to attack and needs your help. You will need to find her and her family but first you must navigate the myriad of safeguards the family has erected to protect themselves from intruders…all based off ancient sciences. ‘Natch.

The Odyssey is aptly named. Not only are you learning about the journey ancient scientists embarked on in their attempt to understand the world, you are also viewing the journey of Kai who is attempting to understand the world around her without the aid of Google to tell her why things work the way they do.

On that level, I admire Odyssey. Here is a child who has almost nothing handed to her. If she has questions about the world around her, her father insists she work it out for herself rather than simply tell her what today is considered common knowledge. Why is the earth round? Is it the centre of the universe? How do you prove that with no space ships to help you see? And so on…

But…that is about where the admiration ends.

I really wanted to like this game. I did. But 70% of Odyssey…is journal reading.

So. Much. Journal. Reading.

 

odyssey4

Aaaagh

 

And this is coming from someone who normally loves reading journals in her adventure games.

The game is structured as follows: you traverse a certain amount of space. You come across a box. You open a box. You find a series of journal pages. You read them, making note of the yellow highlighted passages which will no doubt serve to help solve the next puzzle. You follow a coloured cable from the box to a station of some sort where sits a puzzle. Based on the journal entries you have found you solve the puzzle. Wash. Rinse. Repeat 50 times

There are two problems with the journal reading:

One is a practical problem. Not everyone learns the same way. Those who learn by reading the written word could easily get this information from a library book rather than spend additional funds on a game. That poses a problem when your medium is one that promotes other types of learning: listening, observing, physically experimenting. I found myself reading those in-game journals over three or four times until I finally grasped what they was trying to tell me.

Eventually it got to the point where I was simply skimming the journals until I saw the relevant highlighted sentence that would tell me how to do the next puzzle. Guilt caused me to go back afterward and read the entire entry.

 

Odyssey3

And then I would ponder the luck this kid has to have the materials/engineer parents to make these contraptions

 

And yes, I realize I am a woman in my 30’s having difficulty grasping basic scientific concepts. But that’s the thing. I don’t do my best learning by reading. I absorb a lot more by listening and demonstrating. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with learning by reading.

But this is a game. It’s an interactive medium. Players of a game learn through physically experimenting with the environment. They observe. They listen. They play. Reading vital information in a game should be minimal and used wisely, especially in this day and age. Odyssey depends on it.

The other problem is a much larger one: you are not on an adventure. You are reading about the adventures and experiences of another character. Even though you are learning alongside a character through her journals, it is still very much her experience.

 

Odyssey2

At least I got to walk on the pretty island.

 

I do not want to read about someone else’s adventure. I did not want Kai to tell me how thrilling science was. I wanted to experience it for myself. I wanted Kai’s father to be questioning me. I wanted to be the student.

The glimpses of understanding I had throughout the game were satisfying enough to make me think about the history of the scientific process, but at the same time made it more frustrating. Each of those glimpses showed me what promise this game had. It showed me the creators are passionate about their subject matter. It made me want so much more than what Odyssey offered.

Is it possible to have an educational game in which you make discoveries not through scouring journals, but through your own observation, experiments and a teacher by your side? A teacher who guides rather than lectures?

The truth is I do not know if it is actually possible.

It is a shame. The idea of learning about the history of science without the aid of Google or really any modern technology is so ambitious and interesting. But it is not truly experienced by the player. It is instead experienced by an off screen character. I hope she had more fun with this than I did.

 

 

 

 

Working With Anxiety Part 1: Mistakes

Disclaimer: I am not a professional counselor nor have I studied mental health issues. This blog is based on my own personal experience with anxiety. It is entirely subjective. If you happen to share my experience, that’s great! But please do not take this as objective advice.

Hallo all! Over the last few months I have been kept incredibly busy helping to do the narrative design for an large scale escape room on a train…

A moving train…

An escape room…

On a moving…train…

tenor

Needless to say, when the opportunity first came up Errol immediately pushed himself onto the project and I followed suit. We both love the mystery and romance of trains. The idea of being able to design an adventure on one was too good to pass up. Read the rest of this entry

The Dilemma of Easter

In a very short while, American Gods will premiere.

When I saw the first look trailer, I was giddy. I continue to be giddy. American Gods was a book that changed my life in the best of ways.

Despite the giddiness, I know to temper my expectations. I know this is an adaptation. I know Bryan Fuller will bring his own interpretation of this epic story to the small screen. I know that changes will be made and I will try not to let that affect my own vision of adaptation. I will watch it and I will love it no matter what.

Except in one regard.

A few months ago it was announced that the character of Easter would be played by Kristen Chenoweth.

americangods-easter-191771

Kristen Chenoweth is talented. She oozes charisma. She has that southern US charm to win anyone over. In many ways, she is a good choice for Easter.

But she is not Easter. Not to me.

In the books Easter’s first appearance is described by the following:

“She was–not fat, no, far from fat: what she was, a word that Shadow had never had cause to use until now, was curvaceous. Her hair was so fair that it was white, the kind of platinum-blonde tresses that should have belonged to a long-dead movie starlet, her lips were painted crimson, and she looked to be somewhere between twenty-five and fifty.”

And then later on, she describes herself…

“New Orleans was such a mistake–I put on, what, thirty pounds there? I swear. I knew I had to leave when I started to waddle. The tops of my thighs rub together when I walk now, can you believe that?”

Maybe I read too much into it but Easter is a part of what made American Gods so important to me. She was confident and insecure all at the same time. She looked like me. She was a chubbier woman like myself. Unlike myself though, she was completely comfortable in who she was.

In my fantasies I imagined American Gods getting an adaptation dreamed of myself getting cast in the role of Easter. Even before I quit professional acting (which partly had to do with my inability to be a proper weight), I knew this was not a possibility. She had a natural confidence and sexiness that even at the pique of my acting career I had to fight to exude.

When I heard that American Gods would miraculously get the television adaptation so many of its fans desired, I imagined actresses like Christina Hendricks getting offered the role: shapely women who exuded confidence and charm.

CHRISTINA HENDRICKS at Promo Shoot for Mad Men Season 5

Instead we got Kristen Chenoweth…full of the confidence and charm, sure, but very much a skinny woman in a skinny world that would always accept her and would never have trouble finding her place within it. I should not have been surprised. But I was. And I am saddened by it.

I wish it did not bother me so much. I wish I could shake it off and just let it go. But there she is. Skinny Kristen Chenoweth. Accepting a role meant for a shaplier woman while other actresses continue to scrounge for parts relegated to “chubby best friend/co-worker”.

I do not mean this as a sleight to Kristen Chenoweth. I adore her. I understand why she was chosen. Bryan Fuller worked with her before on Pushing Daisies. She is extremely talented. Nor am I mad at Bryan Fuller. It is not his job to appease every fan’s desires. It is his job to bring his own interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s words to the screen.

I am simply sad. As much as we say that every body shape is important and beautiful, there is still not much room for those body shapes to be represented in our media. It is changing, ever so slowly, but the big budget endeavors still play it very much safe when it comes to physical appearance on screen (apart from comedy perhaps). 

American Gods Season 1 2017

Seriously, don’t get me wrong. She looks stunning here. But…

In my eyes, Easter will always be a chubby (or curvaceous) woman who mattered. She had dimensions and a character arc. She knew who she was and she was never ashamed of that. She went for what she wanted. She made me feel better about who I was.

That is the Easter that I will remember and hold on to. I will of course still watch the miniseries and more than likely adore it. But my Easter remains in the books and she will continue to inspire me when I write. If anything good came from this, it is that small comfort.

american-gods-easter

“Real” Escape Rooms: A long ranty rant

I’ve been seeing lots of talk about the Red Bull Mindgamers tournament that happened recently. It’s sparked some interesting discussion but there’s one point in particular that seems to keep coming up that almost warrants its own post.

That point is the competition design did not really feel like an escape room. Either the puzzles were too cerebral or it did not feel immersive enough (To the viewers. According to the players, there was much more story there to follow) or there were too many task based puzzles or a myriad of other complaints. Read the rest of this entry