Approaching the redesign and iteration of an escape room
Redesign an existing escape room and make it good; It was a simple as that.
2 months design time | 10 months (approx.) build time
Seamlessly integrating game design with physical elements is hard
A large part of my work was envisaging the players interpretation of the room and toying around with that until I had what felt like an enjoyable balance between exploration, discovering, problem solving, and execution of the solution.
One puzzle that required a lot of design and iteration was one I call the alchemy box. It is a colour mixing puzzle that has the players observe other objects in the room, their orientation, and both sides of the doors to the box.
I layered previous and future puzzles with information that when looked at in the context of a new puzzle revealed what was now in plain sight. I also designed unique physical interactions, such as there are masks on the walls, when a drum is played the eyes of the masks light up revealing colours, these colours are used to associate with the alchemy colours that they create, helping them identify which ways to rotate the masks heads.
The original musical puzzle to illuminate the masks eyes. Re-iterated on after usability issues with location and wiring.
The creation of one of the final puzzles, the gemstone wall. A new puzzle that was designed in conjunction with the new narrative, allowing the plot to tie in nicely towards the end.
The use of colour in the gemstone wall. Escape rooms need cool and wow factor to stand out.
The progress of the second room in the experience. At this stage a large part of the game play had been built and wired up.
Narrative is glue
The puzzles all flowed and supported one another to step the players through the experience, however, I failed to focus on the why: why are the players here? Why are they doing all this? Why would they want to do this? Motivation and reason were absent.
To address this I:
- Changed my focus to story first
- Spent time exploring a unique and endearing storyline
- Tested the catch of the story with friends and customers, taking on feedback
- Allowed the story to guide the puzzles and experience
Designing and building an escape room is a challenging prospect, because its hard to test the real puzzles with players due to the integrated nature of the entire experience. To alleviate this, I tested the puzzle in virtual recreations, paper prototypes, and lo-fi versions.
I conducted 3 weeks of intense testing of 2-6 groups a day, where I rapidly iterated on the problems and positives in the evening. This saw the room go through big changes and really stabilise as an overall experience.
However, this was nothing for the real world.
As soon as the room went live, the players started producing results that very much surprised me. I captured all this feedback and started to plan iterations of the room, of which this process has never stopped. I spend time with the manager capturing the most common feedback and when the room needs some maintenance, I make changes and iterations to the game puzzles and flows as well.
A live product is never finished
Lost in Paradise has been live and playable for approximately 18 months, at the time of writing (June 2019), consistently getting bookings accompanied by a variety of qualities of reviews, some people love it and some people hate it. The process to keeping the room polished and adapting the experience to address design flaws is a never-ending task, learning to digest this feedback and turn it into useful and usable data has been one of my biggest learnings from this project.
"Great fun! Some of the puzzles were a little esoteric, but we all enjoyed when we could split into groups to work separately and come back together to solve the bigger puzzles. Really good way to spend part of an evening, went out for dinner after and couldn't stop talking about it."
G. Byron Williams
"The escape room itself (Lost) was fine, and it was a good length but the puzzles were at times disconnected and not as refined as the other Canberra escape rooms."
"We really enjoyed our time here. We did the Lost in Paradise room and had a blast, though our group of six may have been a little too big.
The theming of the room was spot on and the level of challenge was perfect. The staff member (Noah) was super friendly and helpful and made it a great experience.
It was a tad on the expensive side, but overall it made for a fun night out. We'll be back to try mission and Da Vinci as soon as we can."