Some of you may have already played an escape room, and I’m hoping you were thinking it was a great escape room. For those that haven’t, I’ll briefly explain the concept. You enter a themed room as part of a team. You have an allotted time to either complete an objective or escape the room, sometimes both. Working with your team you’ll need to find clues and solve puzzles to reach the end goal. Sounds simple right? However it takes a lot of work to make an escape room, more so to make a great escape room. Here are some key components we like to consider when designing our escape rooms:
Seems obvious, but good set design is fundamental to a great escape room, it sets the the tone for the game and without it you’d just have a room with random puzzles. It also underpins all the other aspects, so if the set design is off, everything else will be too. It includes everything from the layout of the room, to the props and items you place in there, it would be no good to have a Mayan era themed room with a bunch of items and props that are obviously current. Layout is also important. Rooms should flow in terms of gameplay and the layout of a room should have that in mind.
Again this sounds like an obvious point, but having puzzles that fit into the theme is important. It just wouldn’t make sense to have a high tech room in an era that would not have technology. With that said, a lot of puzzle designs require a high tech approach, but the props must fit the time and the tech must be disguised. Puzzles also have to make sense. Leaps of logic should not be required. Leaps of logic can detract from the flow of the game and require players to take hints. Although hint systems can be great, as detailed below, we want to make sure that the game is playable without hints.
In my experience, an improperly thought out hint system is my biggest bugbear. You’ll often have a walkie-talkie or a screen in the corner. They do the job but don’t really fit with a theme and are overcooked. I much prefer a hint system that blends well with the room, so it doesn’t feel out of place or break the immersion. At Other World Escapes, we use Hint Personalities, such as Tommy and the God of Death. They are characters that players can interact with, receiving clues, hints and some story elements. They each also have a specific personality with they convey through the game. Having characters and hint systems that fit the theme supports the immersion and interactivity.
Interactivity is one element largely missed from escape rooms. Hint personalities are a wonderful way to increase the level of player engagement with the room and increase overall immersion. People love characters. That’s why we love to watch films and read books. We want to enter that world and be engrossed in it. Escape rooms are much like this. The difference in escape rooms is that the players can change the outcome of the story. They have real power to be able to create their own story. If we add in a level of interaction that matches that customisation, the story feels more real. Characters that are reminiscent of the theme and the era can make a great escape room, bringing with it a completely new perspective on how we play escape rooms.
Essentially you want to feel as though the scenario is real, like you’re actually in the location at that time, trying to complete that objective. Having a soundtrack true to the era and setting makes a world of difference. If I’m to believe I’m in a jungle, then jungle sound effects will be needed. Other elements can really add to the immersion too. One of the most overlooked element is smell. Smell is linked very closely to memory, and its one that can instantly ramp up the immersion and realism of the game. If I were to go into a room set in a cave then I’d expect it to smell of dampness and earth. We can use a senses checklist for this immersion: visuals, sounds, feel, smells (taste is possible, but one must get around the hygiene issue).
Finally making sure all the elements that Ive mentioned; set design, puzzles, hint system, are cohesive with the chosen theme is the best way to make a game immersive. I believe ticking all these boxes is what makes an escape room great. Players are expecting better gameplay, with increased immersion and more unique puzzles. So let’s give it to them. It is very important for escape room designers to lead the way for the next generation of escape rooms. I can see them on the horizon.
What do you think makes an escape room great? We would love to know. Join the conversation on Facebook.
Talking of escape rooms, are you aware of the huge things in the future for Other World Escapes? We’re super excited to be building the worlds first soft play escape room, we hope you are too. Take a look at what’s in store by checking out PLAY .
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