Games: 3 Ideas from the new kid.

Being new to developing and making games I have learnt many lessons in the past few months. One thing I have come to believe is that people have to win.

Whether you are making a game as a induction into a library or designing an hour long escape game, you have to ensure that it’s possible. The feeling of joy when walking out from a building knowing you have completed the game and that it’s all over is something that the player needs. On rare occasions a “if I just did that a bit more…I could have just about done it!” is a good feeling, but it never tops the “YES!” I just finished that. The feeling you get Happy team
when you finally end the challenge that was set can be gratifying because of the effort and time you put in or the nice feeling when the narrative is over and all loose ends are tied. In the end a game is something designed to be completed (eventually), so finding a point where you either complete it or almost do is something that’ll get good reviews.

Another thing not to forget; it’s better for a part of your game to be too easy rather than too hard.

When designing a game, your thoughts can often turn to how you don’t want it to be over in a flash. That’s true, but from the perspective of someone new to games, they don’t want to get frustrated at something too hard. Again, whether this is aEscape room angry puzzle with clues that people can’t get their heads around or one where there is a huge difficulty spike (whatever format your game is in), players hate the feeling of being stuck on one problem with no way of solving it, even if it makes sense to some. So this is again finding the point where people can look at something or grab a controller and have enough time with that section without losing their cool or giving up.

Another piece of advice is always test a game. No matter what you make, something will probably go wrong eventually and better in a test than Talkingwhen in full swing. Whether it’s only a hiccup or a full blown catastrophe, being around people who understand that what you have made isn’t finished will provide a much more conducive atmosphere to getting your game back on it’s feet. Even if nothing goes wrong, once you’ve seen what happens and how people play it you can rest a little easier.

Most things on this list may seem simple, but they are what makes a good game great and a great game even better. By using these points to ensure people aren’t put off you can focus on making the experience the one you want to deliver to everyone.


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Go analogue talk and thoughts

Having watched this fascinating TEDx talk by Matthew Duplessie on how to create a truly interactive experience, Toby Jones voiced some of his ideas.

* The cost of the experience (amount of technology) doesn’t correlate to the enjoyment
* People love torches and light beams, as much as huge effects like droping ceilings
* People do not like having to have courage or strength, and they don’t much like mazes
* People love spectacular experiences – large scale visuals
* People love “being the hero”
* People love being challenged, but not too much


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5 cool things at Random String

Random StringWe sent our newest member of the team, Farne, to Random String. A symposium hosted by Ludic Rooms, where creative professionals and artists came together to learn how technology could be used within their process and field of work.

Having arrived at Warwick Arts Centre, it was clear that this was an event for creative people to use technology, because even the badges were produced by selecting an algorithm on a macbook and then using this to create a pattern of dots, with everyone’s being different.

I found that technology can be used by writers, musicians and artists, sometimes covering all three at once like in Algoraves, a feature shown by Dom Hett. Dom is now a freelance coder and artist, having quit his job that week (so get in touch!). Algoraves combine coding, music and artwork in a live event which is all controlled by code. It certainly shows something considered boring and dull can be a creative outlet.


The talks by Leila Johnston involved her telling us about how when working with the crème of the creative crop at Rambert Dance school (one of the top dancing schools in the country), technology can still be used in a way which they find interesting, such as using an infra-red camera to capture their movements to help them with co-ordination and to show other very creative people how they use technology to create something alongside what they normally make.

Antonio Roberts uses technology to create works of art. ‘Glitch art’ is something that blurs the lines between tech and creativity. It is very detailed artwork, often with an underlying political context such as how artist relate to copyright. This caused Antonio to be commissioned to create a MTV logo video used on national television, a video worth watching to see how artistic complexity can be shown via technology.

Why does a circuit have to be straightforward? Paint that can be a part of a circuit, making the paint a button, is something has been developed at Bare Conductive. This paint can be fully integrated into any circuit. The touch board is another innovation, a board which controls sound, a certain connection when triggered will make a certain sound. This technology can work very creatively as shown by the video above showing both the sound board and paint in action.

random-string Random String was a day full of creative people showing how to make the most from technology. Key ideas about what to do was a key feature with savvy advice, like to always start a project with the people and not the technology. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and will be there again next year. Until then I highly encourage readers to sign up to the newsletter and have a look at their blog. Thank you Ludic Rooms and thank you Dom. 

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How to create a Puzzle Room in a Box

Learn how to create your own Locked Box Mystery Game

Sunday 6th March – 11am-1pm

£6/4 in advance, £7/5 on the door

Otley Courthouse on a sunny day

We’re excited to be leading a workshop at Otley’s “Courthouse Words” festival in March.  Attendees will get to try a locked box mystery in teams before having a go at creating their own.

Led by Liz & Catherine Cable, this 2 hour workshop will get you making your own locked box mystery game.  Learn how Escape Rooms create their puzzles, and then make a set of five puzzles to confuse and confound your friends and family.  Will they discover the secrets within your Locked Box Mystery?  Or will they run out of time…?

Catherine works at the Tick Tock Unlock Escape Room in Leeds, and has been a Rookie Coach at Kings Camp. Liz is Senior Lecturer in Digital Narratives and Social Media at Leeds Trinity University; they are part of the Time Games development team.

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#EscGamesUK – a roundup of our first Escape Room UnConference

Just a quick note to give a shout out to all the great guys who travelled to Leeds for the inaugural Great Escape Unconference. We had a buzzing room, and I was delighted with the levels of honesty and generosity from everyone attending. The sheer scale of peoples’ achievements, ambitions and hopes for their rooms was inspiring. In particular, I felt a deep connection with all those discussing the importance of narrative and immersion alongside customer service.

So in no particular order, here are the Escape Room folks I talked to on the day:

Nathan, the man with a plan from Agent November  – running London-based outdoor spy trails, indoor escape rooms, and planning the break the Guinness World Record for organising the world’s biggest treasure hunt this August. Two other mobile room runners argued the business case for no-fixed-address: Steve who runs Puzzle Rooms –  the first and only escape room experience in East Anglia, and my Time Games colleague Toby who got on his bike to launch his business in Utrecht.

We had four folks from Breakout in Manchester and Liverpool including Ed & Chelsea who volunteered to host us in future – so we may get the chance to do a full puzzle room as part of a Manchester event.

Thank you to Zoli of ClueQuest London, who we should all thank for being one of the first to bring the Escape Room concept here from Europe – as well as his impromptu and very welcome sponsorship of the event in the form of free pens!

Jas and Jordan were representing Escape Live Birmingham – one of their Birmingham-based games is a hostage rescue mission, which I’m tempted to travel and try.

Elaine and Mike from Escape Quest shared their experience as seasoned Escape Room owners, and as well as being very generous with their advice for newcomers, they aren’t afraid to shake it up a little closer to home: their infamous scary “Bad Clown” game has been redesigned and revamped as a 90-minute version with live actors for adults, and a toned-down 60-minute game for the younger audience, just relaunched in Macclesfield.

Loving the steampunk vibe from Escapologic, Matt and Simon spent time with Jackie of Escape Games Scotland talking geocaching whilst our german visitors from Exit Games, Mystery Rooms and Exit Ventures caught up over that North of England speciality – fish-finger butties.  Tia from Timehunter spent much of the time scribing  (Thank you Tia!) – we hope to get all your notes gathered soon.

Honourable mention to top blogger Claire of Girl Geek Up North with 30+ live action games under her belt, whose opinions on what makes a good experience were practical and useful – I’m looking forward to her blogpost about the day.

Similarly Chris, whose data-collecting and crunching sets the stage for serious industry conversations – find him and all the latest Escape Room News at the Exit Games blog.

It was good to meet John Sear and talk about immersive theatre, massive group games, and all the cross-overs between the arts and live gaming. My passion is creating immersive stories, so this is a conversation I hope to continue soon.

We’re aware that the Escape Room Industry is young, and the majority of customers are first-timers treating rooms as tourist attractions or fun fairs. We know that for the industry to grow we need to encourage repeat visits – and this is one of the reasons we have set up UK Escape Room Owners on Facebook – do come join us to continue the conversation.

Last but not least, good luck to Dan and his erstwhile builders Matt & Luke whose “Hour Escape” game is launching soon.

If I’ve missed you, let me know – so many people, so many ideas.

Thank you all, see you on the UK Escape Room owners group, and at the next one?


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The Great Escape – The UK’s first Escape Room Unconference

Come join us for the first UK Escape Game Unconference, and we hope the start of regular opportunities to get together and talk all things Escape Games. We will have three twenty minute slots at the start for more formal presentations, Scott Nicholson of the Toronto unconference hopes to Skype in, and then we will split up to discuss all the things that matter to escape game organisers.

With 24 owners and enthusiasts booked to attend from all over the UK and beyond, we have chosen the homely Cross Keys pub as our venue for the day. We’ll be upstairs in the James Watt room, but we can spread out as the mood takes us. We have the room from noon to 10pm, so feel free to arrive early and stay behind and chat (though I think I’ll head to the bar downstairs).

cross keys pub

Wonderful food will be available, and our suggested donation of £8 collected on the day will pay for the room hire and post-it notes. Any remainder will be put behind the bar at the end of the day.

I’ve had a few questions about the event, so just wanted to say the aim is just to have a structure so we all talk meaningfully about Escape Rooms and have something to take away with us that could improve our business or experience. No-one really “presents” unless they want to, but everyone should be prepared to bring an idea to the table.

I’ve got a couple of puzzley ice-breakers, including the Break-in-Box that got 300 students at the University of Central Lancaster bemused at their induction last year. Can you beat the time it took their tutors to solve it?

Suggestions for half hour sessions so far include:

  • Using Escape Rooms to encourage innovative thinking in project teams
  • What do we need that we don’t already have?
  • Beyond the Victory Selfie – using social media to extend engagement and return custom
  • Escape the Escape Room – Urban quests as alternative puzzle experiences
  • Upselling! Sourcing and creating products and souvenirs to maximise income

I’d love to talk about a methodology for mapping puzzle-flow too – but I am no expert so please someone volunteer! The secret is to get involved and see where the conversation takes you.

The day will be structured for you, but you’ll also have plenty of time between sessions to just network and chat.

See you there!

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Some escape game designers walk into a room . . .

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The Great Escape! Announcing the UK Room Escape Game Unconference

This is the first UK Escape Game Unconference, and we hope the start of regular opportunities to get together and talk all things Escape Games. We will have three twenty minute slots at the start for more formal presentations, Scott Nicholson of the Toronto unconference hopes to Skype in, and then we will split up to discuss all the things that matter to escape game organisers.

The rules of an unconference – or Open Space – are simple, the agenda is made up by the people attending choosing what they want to discuss:

Whoever comes are the right people

Whenever it starts is the right time

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

When it’s over, it’s over

Wherever it happens is the right place

Plus, the Law of Two Feet: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

A voluntary donation of up to £8 on the night will cover room hire and refreshments, plus lots of post it notes and paper. If you can’t afford it, then have the event on us.

We’ll have a couple of scribes making notes, so we can catch up with anything that happened in a different bit of the room afterwards.

I’ll update this as plans evolve, and look forward to seeing you there.

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Which comes first, the puzzle or the plot?

Do you prefer a game where you are given a role to play, however briefly defined, so you can “suspend your disbelief” for a while and immerse yourself?

Or do you want a pure puzzle game where there is no distinction between yourself and your role in the game?

In our pop-up escape games open to the general public, which we create on demand for exhibitions, conferences, gaming events and conventions, we have created a story-world around time travel and Time Agents, and we aim for individual players to experience arcing plots for themselves should they go on to play a few of our games. Happily the nature of Time Travel means individual players can participate in each scenario in any chronological order.  (We also have a plot mechanic/believable in-character reason that explains why so many people do the same Time Mission, and yet the “canon” outcome may not be effected by your actions in game.  More on this later.)

As a player I appreciate that it’s impossible to create deep story worlds in a hour-long game that will be run hundreds of times over, however I sometimes feel quite discomfited by being suddenly in a place full of puzzles with no logical reason behind it.  Bath’s “Six Locked Doors” is a case in point. No reason to be there, a bizarre set of locations including a half out-of-bounds airing cupboard and a toilet, with a series of puzzles linking across the locations that are fun to solve individually whilst not quite linking together as plot. Other escape rooms work hard to at least “theme” a game, and design all the puzzles in keeping with it.

I suppose this could be seen as the ludology versus narratology debate in physical terms. What do you prefer?

And would you choose your escape game based on whether ludology or narratology was marketed more strongly?




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The End Matters

So what happens at the end of a game? I recently played a game where there were a number of rooms to get through (not always through a door), and we had just solved an enormous puzzle that took ages to decode even once you’d cracked it.  It took the whole team to do it together. Then we raced to the next door, tapped in the code, and found ourselves . . . in the corridor, out of the room, and out of the game. It was a real let-down.  And that was when we had succeeded!

In all previous escape games I’d participated in, it had been very clear what you have to do to win, and in particular what action marked the end of the game.  In Paris we had to diffuse a bomb, then escape via a clearly marked door.  In Rhodes we had to find the crystal, and leave through the entrance with it.  Both superb games, with high production values, and a very clear goal that helped build the tension as you raced to achieve it.

In my seven-year long live role-play campaign “Forgotten Sorrows”, we worked hard to make sure if the players lost, then they lost well.  Most famously when the players failed to stop an ancient evil being resurrected around year five, the whole tone of the games changed into one of occupation and resistance, and the reverberations of failure were perhaps more satisfying plot-wise than success would have been – resulting as it would in simply status-quo.

In Escape Games you need to consider the same issues. Especially as the Exit Puzzle is the final and some would say lasting memory of your game.

As Adam Clare writes on his blog “Reality is a Game”:

” Make the ending rewarding!  No matter how the players escape be sure to make the ending rewarding.  Even if the players lose make sure that the conclusion is also an interesting experience.  Answer the question: what happens if the players don’t escape?”

I think you also need to ask what happens if they do?  How will the players foresee the ending?  How will they know whether they have succeeded or failed?And how will each be marked and celebrated?

What’s the best ending you’ve experienced?

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