October links

A golden chain of linksA few news stories that have been doing the rounds recently, courtesy of – in no order – Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, Dean from Escape Review and the denizens of (mostly the #uk-general channel of) the escape room Slack chat:

  • An interview with Tom Lionetti-Maguire of Little Lion Entertainment, the people behind both The Crystal Maze Live Experience venues. One crucial quote: “We will potentially be opening more Crystal Maze live venues. And we’ve got lots of new, exciting projects with Little Lion Entertainment, not just in the UK but hopefully abroad too. It’s a really exciting time for us. Hopefully we can announce some stuff early next year.
  • I really enjoyed this piece from Nowescape about ten reasonably closely-linked alternatives to escape rooms. Less closely linked, I would add Branson Tracks of Montana who permit go-karting on a track with hefty rises and falls, as a step towards a Mario Kart vibe, or at least 1988’s Power Drift.
  • There have been a couple of attempts to run events which would seem to have quite a bit in common with running-from-location-to-location puzzle hunts, sold as corporate challenges, but unfortunately neither seem to have stuck. (I don’t know why.) At least the Breakout Bristol web site is still up; the mooted We Are Not Alone event in Leeds seems to have had its tracks covered, with the only evidence for it remaining is this post on the UK Escape Room Enthusiasts Facebook group. There’s a spectrum between purely athletic, non-mental running races and purely mental, non-athletic puzzle hunts, with steps along the way including orienteering and the Intelligent Sport adventure races with incidental puzzles. These looked extremely relevant and interesting. Fingers crossed that someone can make them stick in the UK at some point down the line.
  • CluedUpp run dectective “Manhunt” games in towns across the UK, which feature city centre walking tours combined with operation of a custom Android (only, at this point) app. “On the day you’ll be competing with up to 100 other teams to track down virtual witnesses, eliminate suspects and rule-out murder weapons all across town. It’s like Cluedo meets Pokemon Go, but will your team work out whodunit?​
  • A company from East Kilbride called Spy-Quest.com have a noisy web site detailing their espoinage-themed puzzle-solving games, which are apparently available to play from participating restaurants and hotels. Trouble is, it’s not clear where these might be. If you know, do comment below.
  • Professor Scott Nicholson recently appeared on episode 159 of the Ludology podcast. “Gil and Geoff are pleased to welcome Professor Scott Nicholson from Wilfrid Laurier University to discuss Escape Rooms. What are they, how do they work, and what lessons do they hold for game design?” Scott discussed Wizard Quest of Wisconsin Dells in passing, which is a long-term background interest. He is also rather more explicit in his views than most about the potential for mainstream leisure-focused escape rooms being on a bubble of popularity. I’m not sure I’d go along with that, but I have privately called the top of the UK market already several times and been wrong each time.
  • A date for the DASH 10 puzzle hunt has been announced: Saturday, September 22, 2018. The first DASH took place in September 2009 but DASHes 2-9 were all Spring events. No indication when DASH 11 might be; many thanks, as ever, to everyone who works on the project to bring the game to the people.
  • Lastly, congratulations to Tom Collyer who won the Times Sudoku Championship last month and wrote up his experience for his blog.

Watch and listen

Videos and podcastsA video, a channel of videos, and (saving the best for last!) a series of podcasts.

You probably know the story of Masquerade, the 1979 picture puzzle book that spawned the armchair treasure hunt genre. It’s fully discussed at Dan Amrich‘s site, and there was a BBC radio documentary about it a few years back. (Cough.) It is known that the person who won the hare did so by dubious means, and that they later on (co-)founded a company of their own to start a second competition with the same prize, distributing the cryptic clues through an unsuccessful pair of computer games rather than through a book. Dan Amrich’s site discusses the computer games briefly, but Stuart Ashen, who shoots fish in barrels through discussion of old computer games, has a charming video of a presentation he gave making the case that Hareraiser may have been the worst game ever. Well worth a view.

If you like watching people discussing puzzles and their solutions, you’ll very likely enjoy the The Aha Moment” channel on YouTube. It takes real-world puzzles (five so far, of which four came from a reasonably recent month of Puzzled Pint) and explains how they’re solved, or reasonable approaches you might take along the route to solving them. These videos fill a niche for people who think that “they couldn’t ever solve these sorts of puzzles” as they do so much more than just going down the single line that happens to work in any particular instances, and they’re lovingly made. Part of me looks forward, in time, to the same sort of approach being applied to incredibly difficult (e.g. some of the tougher MIT Mystery Hunt) puzzles, and the lines that people might go down before they find what happens to work.

Lastly, “Escape This Podcast” is something new under the sun. It’s a podcast series in which puzzlemaster Dani has designed a number of fictional escape rooms and invited her friends to play through them in the style of, roughly, a freeform tabletop role-playing game, where the real-life players describe how they would interact with the items in the room in order to solve the puzzles. More generously still, Dani publishes extensive notes for each game, so that someone who reads the notes can act as referee and run the game for other players in turn, which is hugely cool and a delightful addition to the world of escape room games at home, at a cost of zero. (I’m aware of people having used these notes to re-run the games, and it does work in practice as well as in theory.)

The podcast is skilfully made; Dani has a really good attitude and wants the players to see all the hard work she has put in. There have been five episodes to date, and I’ve listened to the first three; the players in each so far have not sprinted through trying to set an unbreakable time, so it may well be that you – as first-time listener – can solve the room more quickly than the players do on the podcast, which is always fun. Highly recommended; fingers firmly crossed that Dani keeps enjoying sharing the products of her fertile imagination with us!

On podcasts

A microphone by a computerI recently very much enjoyed an old podcast about escape rooms and haunt attractions. (Haunt attractions are the generic name for haunted houses, noting that they’re not necessarily restricted to houses, whereas the term “escape room” seems to have won out over “escape game”, despite a related issue.) It’s episode 11 of No Proscenium, and one of the reasons it’s delightful is because it dates back to July 2015 and yet people who don’t seem to be in the escape room community seem, even then, to have independently reached the same conclusions as the rest of us.

It also has some really exciting ideas at the end, which I’m reasonably sure haven’t caught on in the UK and I’m not sure have caught on elsewhere. If you own a game, or series of games, and pride yourself on a continuous narrative, or set of characters, or game world in which they take place, there are interesting things that could be done to provide what this podcast refers to as “additive narrative”; your games would still stand alone, but there could be optional extras for people who want to dive further into the game world if they wanted to. The podcast suggests the possibility of an optional scavenger hunt beforehand, visiting a series of local businesses or locations, with the promise of extra information about the game world. It also points to the different escape-room-like-boxes-by-mail / puzzle-crate games that exist, and suggests that this could be a good way to extend a game world and hence a brand. There’s at least one game world where I’d love people to try this and surely others as well.

No Proscenium covers all manner of immersive entertainment, thus features escape rooms, their creators and their bloggers reasonably frequently, though the other topics they cover – while less familiar – are often at least as enticing. I discovered the podcast first through episode 73, an interview with Lisa and David from Room Escape Artist; they go in-depth on a particularly interesting room which I’ll never get the chance to play. They’ve cropped up on other podcasts in the past and are always worth listening to, notably the most recent episode (at time of writing) of Room Escape Divas.

Speaking of which, the previous episode of Room Escape Divas features an interview with Ken, who runs The Logic Escapes Me and also runs Exit Games UK much better than I ever did, and me. There are points in it where I give Ken quite a hard time for no good reason whatsoever. Sorry about that!

A little mid-April news

Rolled-up newspaperVery little, but more than none.

After yesterday’s post and a few nudges, the remaining tickets for the exit game unconference in London in a week and a half’s time have all gone. A waiting list has been opened and that’s already filling up quickly as well. If you have a ticket and end up not being able to attend, please cancel so that it’s possible to invite someone on the waiting list who really can make it. Thank you!

Further down the line, the eighth nearly-annual edition of Gamecamp on Saturday May 21st in London has started selling tickets. This too has an unconference, themed around games of all sorts and in all media, but “As well as talks and workshops, GameCamp has a lot else going on. The ‘Run What You Brung’ playtest/demo area is open for anyone with a prototype game to show off. There will be live games of all sorts kicking off around the venue throughout the day, and a library of board-games for anyone to use. Plus lots more to be announced before the event. Keep checking the website!

If you’re disappointed about not getting tickets to the exit game unconference this month then, honestly, this is likely to be better; on the other hand, (a) they’re bigger, (b) they’ve been doing this rather longer and (c) they aren’t specifically about exit games. (That said, Adrian Hon gave a talk about exit games at GameCamp two years ago, back in the days when there were only a double handful of them around.) Take a look at the Gamecamp site for details of the crazy stunts they’ve been able to pull in the past. They’re very good at this. Tickets are limited, but two more batches will go on sale at a higher price in coming weeks.

Lastly, Mark at Really Fun has started a podcast about exit games called Escape From Reality; the first episode was posted a few hours back. Guest starring Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, they provide a highly enjoyable half-hour-plus of listening. Hurrah!

A DASH 7 podcast

A microphone by a computerThis will be this site’s last piece of DASH 7 coverage for now, though not forever. Well, you wouldn’t want infinite incantatem, would you?

On Monday night, while the event was still strongly in our minds, four close friends got together electronically to share their experiences of playing the Experienced track at DASH 7 in London, sharing their mishaps and reliving their misadventures. The conversation has been edited down to something a little over an hour long, to fit all the laughs along the way in. Bear in mind that the teams of solvers discussed might politely be described as “mid-table”, so you’re not going to get insight about how people crushed the puzzles in ten minutes flat. Anyway, you can listen by clicking on the traditionally-styled “play” button below; if you’d prefer to download the podcast to treat it how you would any other, there’s also an obvious little “download” button in the top-right.

This podcast references this site’s recap of DASH 7 in London along with QMSM’s recap of playing the Novice track at the same event. The world would love to read – or hear, or even see! – more of people’s experiences at the various legs of DASH 7 around the world. Please share them with us!

If you want more to listen to – from people who really know what they’re doing with their podcasting – then this year’s London city lead, Iain, recorded a brilliant podcast about his experiences as a player at DASH 6 last year; download it from this page and Iain starts about 1:54 through. Very highly recommended, not least to get a sense of Iain’s inspirations and motivations for this year.

If that‘s not enough, or if there are some references in the DASH 7 podcast that still mystify, you can listen to 213 episodes of the wonderful Snoutcast, of which something like 85% discuss puzzle hunts. 100% of them are delightful, whether they discuss puzzle hunts or not, and there’s more than a little of the sincerest form of flattery in the DASH 7 podcast above.

The panellists were:

Right; back to exit games now!

Mid-April news

breaking-news

This site has got a little behind on news, so this post and the next will catch up on stories arising, some from within the country and others from overseas.

The most recent episode of Push Your Luck podcast features Prof. Scott Nicholson talk about, obviously, exit games along with one of his friends who used the exit game format to co-organise the very exciting-sounding Library Lockdown, teaching upper secondary students in Singapore about library skills. Every time Scott speaks, there’s something new worth listening to; he estimates that his white paper contained about 30% of what he learnt from the survey, and more and more of the remaining 70% is being revealed in different ways.

This time, there is a particularly interesting take on designing replayability in exit games, with mention of an unnamed but extremely exciting-sounding live-action adventure game in Wisconsin Dells – at a guess, Wizard Quest? Scott has a charming and practical take on safety as well; with hundreds of thousands or millions of players, we’re into the territory where one-in-a-million accidents will happen, and so it’s worth making sure that the worst consequences happen once-in-a-billion rather than once-in-a-million.

It’s clear that the podcast was recorded a few weeks ago, for there is mention that the MIT Escape Room Game Jam had not happened yet. (The #escapemit hashtag hasn’t revealed much for a while; has anyone blogged about their experience at the event? Have any of the game ideas been published?) There is also mention of an interview with Newsweek, which only in the last day or two has been published; it’s very good work, especially for a mainstream piece. The research is thorough, featuring not just Scott but Dave Spira of Room Escape Artist and two site owners. Everyone comes off looking good, not least the writer Stuart Miller.

Lastly for this post, Escape Reviewer of Toronto is teaming up with Escape Games Review and Escape Room Addict to run a Puzzle Contest, fresh off the global success of the puzzle hunt organised by the latter two web sites. This has attracted even more support from the Greater Toronto Area exit game community, with 23 sites donating over 80 prizes, some free games and others discounted games. The fun starts on April 25th!

avete atque valete

ave atque vale

Don’t worry, nobody has died, nor is this to be taken as a suggestion that this site is going anywhere. However, people move on, and now seems like an excellent time to salute those who have earned glory through puzzle projects in the recent past and then moved elsewhere.

Thank you to DeeAnn Sole and Curtis Chen for 213 episodes, over five years, of the Snoutcast podcast, the last of which was posted today. 90% of the episodes considered puzzle games they had played, or run, or thought about, and the other 10% were also very entertaining simply because they seem like lovely people with a jokey but respectful relationship that works well for them. Just over a third of the episodes had interviews with people involved in running puzzle games, including the twelve monthly episodes through 2014, which attempted to remedy subconscious bias by focusing on women who run games. Loads to think about, masses to learn, and a wonderful source of inspiration if you want to dream about puzzle games that have been played and might be played in the future. Their play in the field carries on, even if the podcast has cast its last.

Thank you to Lisa Long and Jordan Smith, who were the first people to get up and dance on the metaphorical dancefloor of the modern London puzzle hunt community. The two of them were foremost, among the friends and volunteers they raised, in running DASH 5 and DASH 6 in London in 2013 and 2014, and also the Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play one-day puzzle hunt as well. Their stories and reasons for moving on are happy ones; Lisa is off to the continent where she has an extremely exciting-sounding job (and a climate that suits her better… in the way that you’re probably not expecting!) and Jordan is off to further the forefront of original research as he is off to complete a post-doc in Japan. If they go on do to even nearly as much for the local game and puzzle communities there as they have done in London, London’s loss will be very much the world’s gain; fingers crossed that their paths will give them good reason to come back to London some day.

Thank you to Daniel Peake, who started and co-ran (with Lisa Long, as discussed above) the London branch of Puzzled Pint. Dan oversaw the first month with just five teams; over time, it has more than doubled in size – more than tripled on the last occasion, and the steady growth over Dan’s year plus in charge is down not just to the fun puzzles but very much to Dan’s friendliness, accessibility, charm and charisma. Puzzled Pint in London rolls on, with Charmie and (full disclosure: my wife) Meg carrying on Dan and Lisa’s sensational start.

These good people may have gone for now, but – if London is lucky – they may not be gone for good. They are gone but not forgotten in the best way; they deserve to be praised, thanked and fondly remembered for the fun they brought and the excellent and inspirational examples they set. Onwards and upwards!

The latest links

Monochrome pumpkin graphicA blessed Samhain to all of you.

Most excitingly, social media updates lead to some new dots on the map! Locked In Games of Leeds confirm that today is their opening day and The Great Escape Game of Sheffield have launched their Facebook presence, revealing their location and thus earning a red “Coming soon” dot.

Puzzlair of Bristol have announced a one-day discount available for bookings placed on Saturday 1st November only. Book that day for a game to be played by the end of January 2015, use the discount code HALLOWEEN and you’ll earn a chunky 30% off the cost of your game. Additionally, their Facebook page is close to a thousand “Like”s; whoever turns the counter to four digits will earn a free game.

The consistently brilliant Snoutcast podcast is putting out monthly episodes this year, featuring interviews with women who make puzzle games of various sorts. This month’s episode is particularly relevant for this site, as it features an interview with two of the six founders of Spark of Resistance, Portland’s first exit game. The people behind it have a remarkable track record in a variety of styles of game and it’s clear that the eight months of effort have led to a great deal of thought. The Oregonian have a write-up with more detail.

Lastly, a quick tip of the hat to the girlgeekupnorth blog, who has written delightful reviews of the three exit games she has played, so far all in north-west England. With the new games opening elsewhere in the north, who knows what else might be reviewed at some point?

All the news from the exit games

7segmentsIn some browsers, the up- and down- arrows above will take you from zero to twelve and back…

Here’s a quick round-up of exit game news:

  • Escape in Edinburgh are holding their “The Escape Games” promotion between Friday (er, tomorrow) and Sunday. Teams of 3 or 4 can pay just £30/team (half price!) to try to escape either of the two identically-dressed rooms. The fastest teams win free games plus T-shirts or mouse mats.
  • Whether you win or not, Escape have posted a teaser for their Dark Room set to open soon, with another message suggesting there may be a prison theme.
  • In other “new room” news, Breakout Manchester (who are struggling with their web site right now, but are taking bookings by e-mail) posted a tweet saying that they will open their second room, Virus, from Friday 6th June. Looking forward to catching the bug!
  • Escap3d of Belfast say that “Our Great Challenge is back! If you get through the puzzles with your own work and open the door within the allocated 60 minutes, you can invite a team of friends for free or we pay you back the admission.” Sounds like exactly the right sort of fighting talk aimed towards purists with a no-clue disposition.
  • Clue HQ of Warrington have posted rather a fun teaser video, an early construction photo and job ads. The site says “We’re currently gearing up for opening towards the end of June 2014” so not long to wait now.
  • The site has previously pointed to discussion of exit games on episode 41 of the The Cultures podcast; the topic is discussed again at the start of the new episode 45 as another member of the team tries a game and reports their experiences. I won’t spoil whether they had a good time or not but you can guess!

Can You Escape?

"Can You Escape?" logoEdinburgh is a very rich city and an obvious gap in the market for exit games, so I’m delighted but not at all surprised to see this Indiegogo project for Can You Escape?, a proposed exit game for the city. The video is tastefully done and the social media campaign backing the Indiegogo project got off to a vibrant start, all of which are excellent signs. The figures in the business plan section look reasonably convincing and it does look like there has been a great deal of thought put into the project, though the numbers make it very clear that this is an industry where nobody gets rich. (Edinburgh’s definitely got about as good a chance as any, though.)

It’s a “flexible funding” project, so if you make a pledge, you will be charged whether the project reaches the goal or not and the money (minus moderately hefty Indiegogo fees) will reach the people behind the project – and there’s always the possibility that the project won’t make it all the way. (The QuestRoom Indiegogo didn’t get too far, but I hope that they find their way to London before long.) The prices look reasonably comparable to those of exit games around the country, though, so this is really just pre-ordering a ticket. The people responsible are very clear about who they are, so you can get in touch and make your own investigations in order to decide whether to pre-order or not. If you really back their vision, their VIP pass for one play in each new room they design might prove a great investment. Best of luck to Alastair and Lauren and hopefully there will be more to report from them soon.

In other exit game news, I’ve long enjoyed a podcast called The Cultures; it’s not a games podcast as such, but the people behind it have worked (together and separately) on games projects, on and off, for years. The most recent episode (download episode 41) has a lovely ten-minute piece on exit games at the end, comparing experiences at HintHunt in London with those at Claustrophilia in Budapest, and discussing the genre’s UK predecessors. Co-host Andrea Phillips also appears on the most recent episode of the wonderful Snoutcast podcast, discussing her ARG and other transmedia work alongside much of her other involvement with games.