A tiny bit more from Budapest

copyright Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

copyright Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

A fantastic photo of the UK team, to be referred to as Team United Kingdom, about to start their semi-final. It doesn’t show their best sides but it’s still a great photo!

Red Bull have posted another article with more information from the combined days of the semi-finals. It also features a photo of Team United Kingdom’s Sera in full flow in what appears to be a laser maze or something similar. Here’s an updated quote with progress:

Based on how challenges to various intelligences were solved throughout the Semi-Finals, an ultimate Dream Team pulled from the full two days might include talent from Australia, Canada, France, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the USA. But to make the Finals on Saturday night, teams must have combined all those diverse mind skills within their own four teammates, and any one of the 24 contenders could be announced as a Finalist.

At least for a while, there’s also a video clip available with edited highlights from the semi-finals. The quality and speed of the editing by the Red Bull team is hugely impressive, the game looks amazing and it makes me really look forward to tonight’s show. See you back here just before seven!

Tonight is World Championship night

Drinks canCompletely generic beverage container pictured there, yeah?

I’ve been trying to cover Red Bull Mind Gamers’ Mission Unlock ENOCH, the first really serious international competition between escape game solving teams. The official Facebook and Twitter are still keeping things fairly firmly locked down, and participants are respecting the privacy embargo impeccably, so this report of what there is to know about things so far is necessarily going to be pretty short. There’s no more inside information than one player having described the room as “really, really cool”.

That said, it has been suggested that the restriction on discussing the games on social media was lifted at dinnertime on Friday night, so here’s what has been mentioned. Teams played a series of seven challenges; solving each one opened a door to try the next. The challenges have been compared to things from The Crystal Maze or The Krypton Factor, except with very heavy focus on co-operation between team members; the challenges were primarily mental, but with heavy physical elements in the implementation of the puzzles, as opposed to testing athletic prowess. They involved unusual equipment rather higher-tech than you would see in most, but perhaps not quite all, escape rooms; it’ll be really fun to see (at least footage of) the teams playing with some very fancy toys on the broadcasts. If I can get permission to suggest what the challenges were before the broadcast then I’ll paste what I’ve heard in.

It is known that Thursday and Friday each saw twelve teams play the same game, with the fastest qualifier of the day qualifying for tonight’s final. The Thursday and Friday games were different from each other, presumably as a spoiler protection measure, so performances can’t be compared exactly from day to day. Thursday saw the UK play, along with eleven other teams who had arrived in Budapest relatively early. The UK faced off against Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, Italy, France, Hungary, Norway, Spain, Lithuania and Estonia, so there will be some European interest in the finals.

We do know a little – and I mean little – about how Thursday went, courtesy of an official “surprises and stats” article. The juiciest quote runs like so: The early results are as top-secret as the details of the Escape Room itself. But organizers did reveal that, looking at the strengths showed by the teams in the various intelligences challenged – the dream Mind Gamer team for the day would have been a combination of Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia and the United Kingdom. There’s a lovely photo of the UK team just before they go into the room, as well, even if it doesn’t show the team members’ best sides.

While the UK team were only the 17th fastest out of the 22 national champions in the qualifying competition, the actual escape room-based tests of the semi-finals should have played to their massive experience and their strengths. Second place and twelfth place are practically interchangeable so this may not be the most meaningful thing to say, but I have a feeling that the UK team will have acquitted themselves really pretty well. (If I’m going to pick a second tip, the Swiss team were mentioned above, plus had the fastest qualifying time among the European teams.)

Friday’s play featured teams from Singapore, Korea, Russia, Azerbaijan, Romania, USA, Oman, Turkey, Ukraine and Sweden, as well as the two wild card teams. Obviously I’m going to be cheering for UK to qualify from Thursday, but my loyalties on Friday are more heavily divided. I’ve met one person on each of the two wild card teams; both wild card teams and the US team are represented on the Slack, so I’d be happy if the Friday winner were any of those three.

It’ll be a lot of fun to find out. The teams are being kept in suspense as to how well they have done until the big reveal on the live show on Red Bull TV online from 7pm UK time tonight. I’m going to try to provide minute-by-minute liveblogging here at Ex Exit Games, as befits coverage of the world championship final of a mind sports event, and because it was fun when I tried something similar a dozen years ago. See you just before seven!

Second-hand bits and pieces from Budapest

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightAs discussed recently, the de facto escape room world championship that is Red Bull Mind Gamers’ Mission Unlock ENOCH is just about to spark into life. While play hasn’t started yet, there haven’t been a great deal of specifics posted on either the official Facebook or the official Twitter, so time to dig a little further.

This site has made passing mention of the tremendous Room Escape Divas podcast; it’s a running joke that virtually every episode makes prominent mention of the not-at-all-secret escape rooms secret Slack chat. (If you’re not familiar with Slack, it’s rather a lot like old-fashioned IRC text chat, only with a beautifully-designed user interface that’s a joy to use.) There are a couple of hundred people registered for that Slack chat, including site operators and prominent industry participants as well as bloggers and other enthusiasts, and spending time there is a lot of fun. (In particular, the inhabitants of the #uk-general channel are especially dear to me.) It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s pretty good representation of English-speaking Mission Unlock ENOCH participants in the chat, and this seems to have been a pretty good source of information.

You can well imagine that one of the potential barriers to running an escape room competition on the up and up is avoiding spoilers. If not all teams can play at the same time, then there have to be measures in place to ensure that players on teams who play the room early cannot give tips to their friends taking part later on. Accordingly, a tight lockdown on communications is about to come into effect, which is why I use “seems to have been” rather than “seems to be” above. People seem to be respecting the intention as well as the letter of the law and are keeping quiet about relatively small details of their experience, for fear of transgressing the lockdown and risking disqualification. It seems likely that we’ll not get to hear too much about the event until it’s all over – but here’s what we do know.

There are 24 teams taking part: 22 national representatives, plus two wild card teams. Twelve teams are playing in one semi-final today and the other twelve tomorrow, with the fastest team from each day (or possibly the two fastest teams overall) facing off in the live final on Saturday night, to be broadcast on Red Bull TV from 7pm UK time. The teams will be sequestered from each other reasonably aggressively for spoiler prevention. It may well be that the twelve teams playing tomorrow are those who have had to come further to get to Budapest and thus might need slightly longer to get over the time zone differences; certainly the UK team are playing at some point today. All the team members have been provided with some very snazzy-looking jackets, complete with national flags sewn onto the forearm, as well as the branding you might expect.

You can find out who’s on which team on the official site. The breakdown is something like 80% male, 20% female. Certainly among the briefing held for the twelve teams playing today, it was observed that a reasonably strong majority of the participants were young, pale and male. Day two looks like it will have rather more diversity, though.

The Slack chat referred to above means that I at least vaguely know people on at least four of the teams, so I’m hopeful of having someone to cheer for on Saturday night. The best of luck to them all… but mainly, from my perspective, to the UK team!

It’s World Championship week with Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock ENOCH

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbHMonths ago, this site posted about the then-upcoming UK qualification rounds for Red Bull Mind GamersMission Unlock ENOCH campaign. National qualification championships were held in 22 countries around the world, though mostly in Europe, which each qualified a national representative team for the finals, along with two wildcard teams, each of which featured four players earning their places via additional online competitions. These 24 teams are making their way to Budapest in Hungary this week for the world championship.

As I understand it, the 24 teams will take on the same room, one at a time, over Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th March. The two fastest teams face each other in the overall final, set to be broadcast online on Red Bull TV live from 7pm UK time on Saturday 25th March. (It’s not clear how, or if, we’ll be able to follow the action on Thursday and Friday, but Red Bull’s social media would seem like a good place to start. There have even been some suggestions that everything will be kept pretty much locked down until the start of the live show on Saturday; we’ll see.) What else do we know about the room? “It’s the first escape room based on quantum logic, and is designed to challenge 4 problem-solving skills: creativity, logic, visual thinking and strategy“, the titular ENOCH to be unlocked is a quantum computer, and you can see a six-part vlog series about the design of the event.

The UK team looks very strong to me. It is made up of Ken Ferguson, of The Logic Escapes Me fame as well as a little blog called Exit Games UK, Mark Greenhalgh of Really Fun as well as Sera Dodd and Sharon Gill. The team is hugely experienced, having played a total of 1,000 escape games between them – possibly not far from 1,100 by the time of the finals. Ken wrote about the qualification experience in detail and I look forward to seeing and reading more about the finals in the fullness of time. Ken admits that they weren’t as well-prepared for the qualification event as they could have been, and some amazing qualification times came from teams who analysed videos frame-by-frame in preparation. However, this week will test raw escape game skills; it would seem unlikely that the UK team will be out-experienced in this regard.

While this is the first event of its type and so there cannot be a form guide, there are some very familiar names on the other teams. The US qualifiers include a US Sudoku champion, ahead of some very stiff competition, and if you search for the other names on that team, it’s clear that they have some extremely serious puzzle chops as well. Speaking of which, the wildcard winners team includes four-time World Puzzle Champion Wei-Hwa Huang and ClueKeeper co-founder Rich Bragg; I’m sure the other two members are likely to have very considerable skills as well. Long-time US Puzzle team captain Nick Baxter is on the DxM wildcard team, as well. And those are just the names I recognise! I’m sure that representatives of other countries are just as accomplished in their own ways, too.

There’s so much that we don’t know, but it’s going to be great fun following the week and finding out!

Also coming soon to London: GameCamp 9

GameCamp logoGood news! Hear ye, hear ye!

GameCamp will return for 2017! Tickets for GameCamp 9 are on sale now. ((…)) This will be the 9th London GameCamp Unconference, where we invite all doers, makers and thinkers from the broad community of “games” to gather into a freely organised series of talks, discussions and activities under the same roof for a day.

The secret ingredient is YOU; come along with a topic about which you’re personally passionate, write your session’s title on an index card and place it on the living schedule in a time slot and a room, then host the activity with your audience of fellow Unconference participants. Or spend the early parts of your day visiting other sessions and schedule your own when the inspiration strikes you! Other not-so-secret ingredients include lunch, a special giveaway, and after-hours drinks at a local pub.

The venue is London’s South Bank University, the time is 9:30am to 5:30pm (and then onwards), and the price is somewhere between £13 and £19 depending on how soon you book or whether you are eligible for a concessionary rate. Further details are available at the official site. I went to GameCamp 8 last year and had a corking time; indeed, I’m still kicking myself over missing one particular session whose existence I didn’t know about until too late. This year’s event has every reason to be at least as good and quite possibly better. So will I be going this year? Ah, well; there’s a bit of a problem.

The problem happens to be the date: Saturday 6th May. Not only is that one of the dates for Horses for Corpses, as discussed in the previous post, it also happens to be the date for a certain puzzle hunt called DASH 9. There are few events for which I would throw GameCamp over, but DASH is one of them. Pity, really, but there must be something exciting of some different sort or another on every single week and the organisers would never practically be able to find a perfect date, not least because they must work around their venue’s schedule.

Admittedly tickets for DASH are not currently available, which might make your decision easier, but do bear in mind the well-placed suggestion that further DASH tickets may well be made available closer to the time. Whether you go to the ninth DASH or the ninth GameCamp, I’d bet good money at short odds that you’ll have a whale of a time!

Coming soon to London: A Door In A Wall presents “Horses for Corpses”

"Horses for Corpses" by A Door In A WallEvery time London interactive theatre company A Door In A Wall (for the company capitalises its words, even if its logo remains lower case) announce a major new work, this site gets excited. Spring and Autumn of the past few years have seen hit after hit, and this site has got excited about them more than a few times. One of those times of year is coming up, and the company will be putting on Horses for Corpses.

The ad didn’t say much: “Investigators wanted. No experience necessary.” Some horse trader apparently. You didn’t know much about riding, but you weren’t going to look this gift in the mouth. If only you’d asked a few more questions out of the gate…

Now you and your friends are finding out that racing is a murky world. It seems like everyone’s got form and the going ain’t easy. Somewhere amid the stalls and stables is the truth, and you’ll have to find it, otherwise it’ll be you who’s in the running… for murder.

There are a couple of slight differences to the usual A Door In A Wall format. Teams of 3-6 are suggested (though teams of 2 or 7+ are OK) and up to ten players (so perhaps 2-3 teams, or maybe even 4 tiny ones) get to start in their own private briefing in one of six 20-minute slots offered each afternoon or each evening. After the briefing, you have 2 hours 40 minutes to investigate, then the same players from the private briefing present their conclusions in a private debriefing and determine whether or not they have cracked the case correctly – so the whole thing lasts 3 hours 20 from start to finish. The event is offered on Tuesday to Sunday evenings from 5th May to 28th May, with weekends having additional afternoon matinee performances and a pair of performances on Bank Holiday Monday 29th May rounding things off. The venue is Camden Market, so plenty of good opportunities (and time within the schedule, too!) to grab something to eat and drink along the way.

This site really loved the review of a previous event at The Logic Escapes Me, which suggests precisely what sort of things might be involved: varied puzzles, highly immersive environments and plenty of characters to interactive with. From a starting-point that readers over here might be more familiar with, start with DASH, dial the interactions, interesting locations, storyline and pun fun up, then dial the puzzles slightly down, but not out altogether. (Ah, the things you can do when you are running an event 30+ times, with a professional budget, rather than once with just volunteers.) Book your tickets soon before the remaining dates sell out!

Register now (no, really, NOW) for DASH 9 in London

DASH 9 logoThis site refers to “one of the highlights of the year” reasonably frequently. We are lucky to live in a time when there are lots of highlights on the calendar. If I had to pick the two very highest of the highlights, they would be the online UK Puzzle Championships and the in-person DASH puzzle hunt. This site has written about DASH extensively in the past, but here’s the short version.

The ninth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London from 10am on Saturday 6th May. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in cities across the United States and Europe on the same day, so competition is somewhat global. This year’s line-up features 14 locations in the US and three in Europe (London, Enschede in the Netherlands and Vienna in Austria) and other locations might yet be added later; Denver and Portland are notable omissions to date.

In DASH, teams of typically 3-5 players solve maybe 8-9 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, perhaps, 5-8 hours. You walk (or take the tube) from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles, though there’s an overall time limit for practicality. The cost in London is, this year, £36 per team. Each team is required to bring a smartphone running iOS or a recent version of Android; much of the administration will be performed by an app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, clipboards, lemonade, magic wands, marked decks of cards and so on.

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. Bet money on there being a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. The DASH style is to have an overarching story running through the event, though there aren’t many clues as to this year’s theme yet. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for the more difficult Expert Puzzles at the very start of the hunt, though clear guidance is given as to which level of difficulty will suit you best;
  • It’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required (indeed, the software keeps rolling hints along on a timed schedule even if you don’t ask for them) and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

This year’s registration process has… rather crept up on me. Late on March 3rd, there was a note that registration would open in several cities on May 4th. Registration did indeed open at noon (Eastern US time, I think) on March 4th. About a dozen hours later, there appear to be 3 (three) slots remaining in London. Whooooaaaa. I’m not sure if this was just an initial wave of tickets with more to be released, or reflective of the capacity of the event, or something else. Suffice to say that if the hunt sounds exciting at all, you really need to get moving straight away in order to book your place.

More information will be posted at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. (If you’re less interested in playing and more interested in helping out, or if all the teams’ places have been filled, you can also volunteer to help, and maybe even playtest the puzzles if you’re really quick – so if the 6th May date doesn’t work for you, this might be your chance.)

Coming up this spring

a series of metal springs making up the word "love"In springs, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love“, as Lord Tennyson absolutely definitely meant to write. Over here, I’ll be attempting to convince myself that winter might be about to be coming to a conclusion, perhaps, by listing some events and insisting that they’re happening this spring.

This weekend, it’s the second round of the WPF’s free-to-enter online Puzzle Grand Prix competition, this time hosted by Slovakia. Once again, there will be three separate one-hour papers available, and the instruction booklets are already available. The Class C booklet is set to be an absolute old-school beauty, with puzzles in seven different styles and three examples of each, with varying levels of difficulty. The Class B and A booklets contain puzzles in five different styles; the class B booklet has two examples of each, one longer than the other, and the class A booklet has a single very difficult example of each. Do whichever paper or papers take your fancy. Last time I did about half of Class C in one hour and tackled a few of Class A in another, leaving Class B completely alone, which felt rebellious. Start your hour(s) whenever you like from half-past Friday, finishing by the end of Monday.

As kindly pointed out in a comment last time but also seen elsewhere, the first Galactic Puzzle Hunt is being organised by the wow-I-hope-this-copies-and-pastes ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ MIT Mystery Hunt team. This is an online puzzle hunt in what previously would have been called the Australian style but now should perhaps be considered the Australian/Cantabrigian style. Teams of up to ten will be given five online puzzles each day for six days from (reasonably late UK time on) Tuesday 14th March to Sunday 19th March, and have until Thursday 23rd March to submit the answers. The hint system is different to the standardised hints of the Australian hunts, with teams being able to ask limited numbers of yes/no questions of their choice for the help they need, but “Roughly one week into the hunt, we will start giving out additional hints, and we may be more generous with clarifications; we want teams to be able to solve most or all of the puzzles by the end!” This sounds very public-spirited and gets me very excited about taking part.

So that’s something to look forward to in March. For April there will be the third Now Play This games festival. The site is succinct: “Now Play This is a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world. It will run for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. There’ll be an exhibition of games running throughout, plus special events including a board games afternoon, a strange controllers showcase, and, on Friday, a day for discussion between practitioners. Tickets will be available from February 2017.” Admittedly I’m not aware of anything puzzle- or escape- specific on this year’s agenda quite yet, but the programme is yet to be announced and surely should be up before long; the people behind it are the very best of eggs and the weekend is a very safe bet to be an excellent one whether there is or not.

As for May, the ninth instalment of the DASH puzzle hunt is set to happen on Saturday 6th May. Now there hasn’t been anything absolutely explicit saying “yes, DASH is happening in London” this year, but there are two very strong clues: first, one of this month’s London Puzzled Pint teams was called “Play DASH on 6th May”; second, an exciting and authoritative Facebook comment suggests that much as both London and Manchester in the UK enjoy Puzzled Pint, both London and Manchester may get to enjoy DASH this year. Definitely one for your diary – and, perhaps, you won’t have so far to travel!

Live from the latest Unconference in London!

It’s the biggest unconference in the UK yet! The attendance number is to be confirmed but possibly around ninety. Certainly there is too much fun to contain on a single floor! We have four sessions today, each offering six different options to choose from:


H and S, legal matters

Design for unusual groups

Sourcing

In game Monitoring and clue giving

Sales and marketing tips

Venues

Bad competition and crisis plans

Designing great experiences

Finance: pricing and costs

In-game automation technology

General marketing: what games rooms are

Pop-ups

Insurance

Suppliers and Premade Rooms

Scaling Up

Booking systems

Social media

Non-room games
Copyright information
Cyber security

Franchises

Using client information

Cross Promotion

Future of the industry

An exciting, busy day! ((Edited to add:)) Sadly too exciting and busy for me and I have had to call it a day at lunchtime, but I look forward to hearing more about it for those who could stick around for the whole day.

A world championship for escape game teams? Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbH

image copyright Red Bull GmbH

Just over 18 months ago, I reported on a Escape Room Game Jam held at MIT in association with Red Bull and their associated feature film division. Things went quiet and it seemed that the trail had gone cold on this one. The trail has heated back up; it looks like it heated back up a little while ago, but I haven’t seen anyone talking about it, so here goes.

Red Bull Mind Gamers calls itself a “platform for curious minds, with games and challenges to provoke their thinking“, featuring a selection of online puzzles testing strategy, logic, creativity, visual thinking, abstract musical thought and memory to various extents. The “Brain Food” section features articles and interviews on related contemporary mental game topics.

There has been a countdown to the site’s main event, Mission Unlock Enoch, whose self-description of “global competitive mind gaming tournament” is a gussied-up way of saying “sort-of-escape-room world championship”. Hurrah! This is far more exciting and relevant to interests here than anything else recently done by any other purveyor of caffeinated chilled sugary beverages. (Unless you know otherwise…) It’s all tied up with their MindGamers movie, previously referred to in passing as DxM.

25 teams of four will receive paid travel to Budapest in February 2017 to take on the “ultimate mixed reality Escape Room Tournament”, with the overall champions earning a three-day trip to Boston. Wherever you are in the world, you can attempt to win one of four global wild card spaces by attempting to complete this single-player online game as quickly as possible. (Practising the other games on the site might help.) The other 21 spaces are awarded to national champions to parallel national qualifying competitions held in 21 different countries: Singapore, South Korea, the US, Oman, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, and a dozen current EU nations, happily including the United Kingdom. Lots of important gaps in the list: Australia, Canada, China, Japan, and so on, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Accordingly, there is a national qualifying competition in the UK to determine our representative at the world finals. This will take place at Breakout Manchester on December 5th and at Breakout Cardiff on December 7th. “Within 20 minutes, your team of four players will have to connect their mind skills and solve a multi-player mind game in order to ‘unlock’ and leave the room. The fastest team per country gets to enter the final Escape Room in Budapest in 2017.” Each player only gets one try; you’re not allowed to play on more than one team, or to play in more than one location. It’s not clear how the company are planning to avoid spoilers here; procedurally generated puzzles might be one solution that remains reasonably fair in terms of difficulty.

It’s not quite even that simple! In order to get a place at Manchester or Cardiff, you need to rack up a score towards the top of the local chart for the single-player online game. Top scorers there will be invited to pick their team and their time of choice for the qualification day at Manchester and Cardiff. You miiiight be able to get to play in the qualifiers just by turning up on the day even without scoring well at the online game, but this isn’t guaranteed and I wouldn’t risk it.

The overall pattern looks like this: play the online game alone, do well and earn a spot at Manchester or Cardiff, do very well with your team there and win a trip to Budapest, do extremely well with your team in Budapest and win a trip to Boston. (Maybe, just maybe, the prize will be to go to Boston when the MIT Mystery Hunt is on. That would be a neat circle from the location of the original game jam.)

Not much else is known at the moment, except maybe anecdotally from past players. You can read the rules, the FAQ and the terms of participation as .pdf files, but you may get more of an insight by reading the interview with the designers. One open question: who (or, I suppose, what or where) is Enoch and why should Enoch be unlocked?

Inevitably I’ll be hundreds of miles away from anywhere useful, working the day shift on the Manchester qualification day and the night shift on the Cardiff qualification day, but it would be a joy if whoever the UK representatives eventually turn out to be were part of the community. (Or, the other way around, it would be strange if the UK representatives weren’t part of the community, by choice.) We’ll be cheering the UK team on in Budapest in February!

If you do decide to go for it, the very best of luck to you – and please tell all about it on December 8th!