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.

Mazes and Crystals

It all started with a big CrystalThere is much more to say about the Red Bull Mind Gamers finals show, much of it very positive. Not tonight. I am still bitter about my Internet access here yesterday, and how resetting a router can make things worse when every other time – including a measly ten minutes after the show finishes – it makes it better. That’s not important right now. (At least I got to see the show, even if I have used up half my mobile phone data for the month.)

The live The Crystal Maze experience is clearly a hit, selling out months in advance in London and sufficient to inspire a second official maze in Manchester. (There are some very positive reviews of the Manchester maze previews at Escape Game Addicts and at Brit of an Escape Addict!) When the show comes back to TV, after the one-off Stand Up To Cancer celebrity special, it will come back further into people’s consciousnesses and be a rising tide to lift all boats further. Hurrah!

Here is a statement which I don’t think reflects any great insight, but I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else yet make. The world of escape games is already enough that there can be reasonably well-established subgenres within it: a zombie game, a prison break game and so on. Aside from the issue of whether the live The Crystal Maze experience “counts” as an escape game or not, I think there is room for the existence of a “The Crystal Maze” subgenre of escape games, and that there will be more escape and related games in the UK that, for want of a good adjective, have some degree of the essential The Crystal Maze nature.

This is a gradual scale, with shades of grey, rather than being a binary distinction. There have long existed scored games, an early example (and probably the most famous?) of which is Clue HQ‘s The Vault. Some use the score element to reflect how quickly you were able to solve the regular puzzles in the game which you must complete before you can get to the scored activities. Others use scores in different ways; I enjoyed reading The Logic Escapes Me‘s reviews of the Ruby Factory at Trapped In and Bad Clown, as was, at Escape Quest. More topically, Time Run’s new The Celestial Game game is a scored game; from what I know about it, I thought it sounded quite crystalline, though Escape Review’s, er, review (which is spoiler-y for format alone, though certainly not for content) tended to differ.

The Bolton News recently wrote about an upcoming site called Crack The Maze, in which “teams between two and six are tested in physical, mental and skill challenges to win time for an ultimate final challenge. There will also be escape the room challenges in the huge complex.” So there are plans for an explicitly labyrinthine game on site and escape rooms as well. Exciting!

I also enjoyed reading about Never Give Up which opened in Newcastle-on-Tyne about a month ago. “Take on various challenges to successfully complete each type of game. 1 or 2 players can play each game while the rest of your team shout instructions through the doors or windows to help. ((…)) Successfully completing a game will earn your team a “clue sphere”. Collect as many of these precious sphere’s as possible to win clues for the epic centre-piece of the game, the escape from King Tut’s Tomb. ((…)) The various Egyptian themed rooms- mental, skill and physical games are up to 3 minutes long and will last for approximately 35-40 minutes in total. The final challenge, the King Tut’s Tomb will last 15-20 minutes.” So it’s two parts The Crystal Maze, one part escape room. Thumbs firmly up from here… and it has a great name, too.

Part of the reason why escape games have done so well in the UK, I am convinced, is the high esteem in which The Crystal Maze is held, even decades after the fact, and the extent to which people can relate to it as an immediate cultural touchpoint. (Escape game owners, raise a toast to Challenge TV. I’m not kidding.) It strikes me as logical to wonder whether Fort Boyard, the French predecessor show, might have a similar effect in countries where it is beloved. For instance, Oslo in Norway has a game called Fangene på Fortet, which is also the name of their local version of Fort Boyard. The game seems slightly more Boda Borg than anything else, but that’s another game that… if not quite along the same axis, is another asteroid in the same cluster.

Flying slightly into fantasy, it’s tempting to wonder whether other game show properties might ever see the light of day. Given the popularity of the Knightmare Live theatrical shows, I find it easy to imagine that there would be people who would pay to play a Knightmare experience – and that certainly could be replayable. (LARP is a whole different topic, but one not at all far away.) Flying considerably into fantasy, I’d rather like to visit the alternate universe in which John Leslie is providing a star guest appearance at the opening of the (1994 ITV one-series smash-miss) Scavengers experience…

The Crystal Maze is coming to Manchester

The Crystal Maze logoThe one-off revival of The Crystal Maze is being broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm this Sunday – perhaps this might be a slightly updated logo, perhaps not – and is apparently set to feature a cheeky cameo or two. It’s been filmed at London’s The Crystal Maze live experience and it’ll be a challenge for a set that is designed to see a couple of hundred players per day match up to the demands of a TV set. It also remains to be seen how the games come across on TV.

Whether it’s a hit or a miss, the live experience has proved such a hit in London that, as previously hinted, a second maze will be opening in Manchester. The Manchester Evening News suggests the location will be the “old Granada studios”, as predicted by a detective on the Bother’s Bar forum. Sales opened today; currently, tickets are available for April 2017; the opening date of April 1st is possibly a tad inauspicious.

There are many similarities to the London site, but a few exceedingly curious differences. It’s still a game for teams of eight, and it’s still closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). However, instead of four teams starting at the same time, the starts seem to be staggered at five- and ten- minute intervals, so eight teams start every hour. This has me wondering how this will work. (Is it possible that they plan to build two copies of each zone, just to double throughput? Could they even build two different mazes, with different games for replay value, in parallel?) One interpretation is the possibility that all the teams will play the zones in the same order – or, if the “two copies” hypothesis is correct, conceivably there might be different, but fixed, starting points in the two mazes. Another difference is that the experience is suggested to take two hours, which is longer than the London equivalent. There will be differences and it’ll be a treat to find out what they are.

The pricing has been announced, and games on Tuesdays to Thursdays are £45 per player (plus 5% booking fee). That’s pretty tempting. Earlier this year, I organised for 32 people, mostly site owners and staff but also enthusiasts, to take over The Crystal Maze for an hour, the day after the London edition of the unconference. Should we do it all again in Manchester next year?

The Crystal Maze live: what a rush!

This is how you do a team photo“What a rush!”, as the wrestlers used to say a quarter of a century ago. Perhaps it was a little more like “Oooohhuurrgghh what a rush”.

The second most frequently asked question I had in the Exit Games UK years racked up all its appearances in a single day: when I organised the industry-wide trip to the live The Crystal Maze attraction in April, I was asked remarkably frequently which team I was playing on and people were surprised that I had sold all 32 spaces and wasn’t playing myself that day. I had long known that I would be playing in a group on Saturday June 18th. It was well worth waiting for; the game left me beaming with joy for a good hour afterwards. No wonder everyone had been buzzing so much on the day in April!

The recent two tickets left post bore fruit; Shasha and Avi completed the team of eight. The operation at the site is labour-intensive, but clearly a very tightly-organised ship. We were the green team, which meant that we entered through the Medieval zone, but also that we made it to the Crystal Dome last and got to see everybody else play the Dome before we did. (The photo above wasn’t my team; it was another team playing at the same time, but one who led to an utterly boss photo.)

I was first up, playing a physical game, and I got to play the one I hoped; no spoilers here, but it’s an authentic game from the (fairly spoiler-heavy) official trailer. I fairly threw myself into it (the top of my shoulders and the back of my neck did rather hurt later, but probably due to lack of sleep rather than due to the maze) and escaped with the crystal, feeling modestly heroic, with an announced twenty seconds remaining. Later on, I successfully solved a maze in an unfamiliar-feeling mental game in the Futuristic zone.

Our team was great fun and did well; nobody got locked in. In total, we played seventeen games and took thirteen crystals to(-o-o-o-o-ooo) The Crystal Dome. Here we earned a score of 390 gold tokens, which tends to point to a different sort of exchange rate to the one found at the industry-wide trip – for instance, our 390 was only good enough for third place and the winning score was not far off 500. (Our crystal total and token score would have beaten all four teams in the next game, so I felt happy enough about it.)

Our maze master was Jezebel, not one of the eight I had seen at the Dome on the industry trip. The different maze masters interpret their role in ways between the authentic O’Brien (or Tudor-Pole) and factual or fictional members of the Village People; while Jezebel is a name with its own cultural baggage that I wouldn’t want to disparage, the way Jezebel played the position had something of the manic pixie dream girl to it, which definitely worked for me. The hosts worked really well, particularly in the set piece at the Dome, to set an appropriate tone; it was clear that the hosts were here to sell success throughout and the level of refereeing was rather more… generous than the famously rigorous show, but the level of competition was not quite toned down but put firmly into the appropriate context with a wink in its eye. It’s a fine line to tread and the hosts manage it well.

Playing seventeen games between the team was slightly fewer than I was hoping for, having first-hand evidence of a team going 15/19 on the industry day (and hearing that there has been a team who brought 18 crystals to the dome from some unknown number of games). In part, it seems very likely to be that we weren’t all that quick at the games. In part, it seems very likely to be that we definitely weren’t all that quick transitioning between the zones. In part, it seems a little likely that Jezebel didn’t completely prioritise trying to fit as many games in as possible… and that may well have be a decision that arose as a result of her reading our team and our body language to see what sort of team we were, not being the team in the biggest rush of them all.

It’s worth noting that the levels of fitness varied heavily through the team, from experienced obstacle race runners to those with joints that didn’t work all that well, bordering on mild mobility issues. In practice, it wasn’t an issue, though a few more ups and downs and it might have started to approach becoming one. On the other hand, the ups and downs were fun (at the time, though they started to add up and tell later on through the day…) and added considerably to the adventure playground feeling aspect of exploring the landscape.

Some non-spoiler-y tips: in the darker zones (and that’ll make sense in context), there are things to look out for outside the cells, to give you something to do other than watching the game and shouting suggestions. Talk to your maze master and see if you can get some hints. Another tip is that with time being so critical, if you’re in a game with an automatic lock-in on a third failure, that’s a borderline invitation to make two failures just to save time. A risky tactic but one which may save tens of seconds.

The whole experience felt convincingly thematic, barely stopped moving and was an absolute thrill. Some of the games were less brilliant than others; the ones that were of the form that we would consider similar to what we know as an escape room now and were not the most wonderful examples of the genre. If part of the attraction is being surprised by something you’ve never seen before and having to work it out on the spot, as well as to execute it within the time limit, then if you’ve seen a lot of episodes of the show recently, you might not quite get everything you want here. On the other hand, Challenge have been giving lighter emphasis to the show on their schedules recently, so it might not be so much of a problem.

For another view on the whole enterprise, I’d recommend the review at Bother’s Bar – there’s nothing there to disagree with, even if the whole experience adds up to something moderately closely approaching practicable perfection for me and marginally less so there. The Dome is the best sort of mayhem, full of completely benign sensory overload, to the point where I wouldn’t recommend it to the overly sensitive or easily overwhelmed. I’m glad to note that more and more theatre shows are occasionally staging deliberately calm performances of plays from time to time for the neurodiverse; a deliberately calm performance here would appear to be a contradiction in terms. (On the other hand, I would be delighted to hear from a knowledgeable expert who knew better.)

Does the experience offer good value? This is going to be an intensely personal decision; the experience is so unique and benefits so much from authenticity (noting the points at Bother’s Bar that it cannot be completely authentic and so does not even try to be a replica) that you may find the premium worthwhile. Would you get more from playing two really good, high-end escape games, some time apart? If you’re not bitten by the nostalgia, quite possibly so. The prices offered at the Kickstarter (£1,000 for 32 players; £300 for 8 players) definitely seem entirely justified in context, simply because there is so much really cool stuff to play with; the prices available now are a step higher still. In terms of smile duration and happy memory per unit cost, this certainly does well. It was an utter adrenalin rush and joy rush, as well as a non-stop frantic dash.

It’s tempting to play a game where you can imagine what the rent and rates bills for the Maze might be (for commercial properties’ rental prices can often be found online, at least until soon after the property goes off the market – though there’s no guarantee that the listed rental price is actually the price at which the deal was struck), try to look for counterpart commercial property in – say – Manchester, estimate the number of players over the course of a year, try to amortise the lower bills over the number of players and then conclude that the whole enterprise could be done for x pounds per head fewer in Manchester than in London. The economics probably bear much closer comparison to that of a high-end theatre show, though; not many shows will play in both London and Manchester at once, and the concept of travelling to London to see a show is so well-established that this should be considered more as an attraction than an activity.

It’s very tempting to wonder how much more there is that we didn’t get to see. Certainly there seemed to be more cells that we didn’t get to explore than I was expecting, the trailer video points at unfamiliar-looking games, and I wasn’t quite cheeky enough to start looking behind random windows to see if there really were lots of other games that were good to go at no notice, or if there’s some magic going on. (Surely maze masters and black-clad game resetters would not approve, but there’s definite scope for stealth.) If you played a second time, would you get to play different games? How does the experience compare for teams who start in different zones; what exactly happens to the team who get to the Dome first?

Lots of open questions to enjoy thinking about, and it would be great fun to know a little more about how things work behind the scenes. It’s highly intriguing to ponder how the maze will change over time; it’s noticeable there have been changes already – teams went around the Maze wearing the bomber jackets in late April, but were advised to wear a single light layer only when playing in June and only wore the bomber jackets for the photos. Looking at the tickets site, there’s an extended break over Christmas and the New Year, and perhaps the contents of the maze might be refreshed at that point. I’m definitely very idly thinking about a second trip at some point, but – of course – it’s booked out so far ahead that that might be a problem.

Or might it not be so much of a problem? Looking at that tickets site, you may spot a gap on June 30th when no tickets are apparently being sold. A little detective work suggests that that is not the case.

Gay Times suggests that The Crystal Maze is due to be taken over on June 30th. “The Crystal Maze Pride Takeover will commence on 30 June, and will see a host of characters from London’s cabaret scene guiding guests through the recently revitalised maze. HIV-awareness charity Terrence Higgins Trust will collaborate with the venue ((…)) Drag superstar Jonny Woo will host the event alongside The Family Fierce, a collective of quirky queer cabaret stars who will act as ‘maze masters’ during the event.” Richard O’Brien would surely approve wholeheartedly – if you look at O’Brien’s work, it’s hard to imagine he would choose it to happen any other way. It wouldn’t be a surprise for this even to be a personal O’Brien initiative.

There are tickets going for this unusually special day at The Crystal Maze, so perhaps you might only be waiting until the Thursday after next to play, rather than months and months. Tickets for this one day are the special price of £69, plus 5% booking fee. I imagine that it will be one of the best days of some people’s lives!

Who cracked The Crystal Maze?

It’s been a good couple of days. After the unconference on Monday, another plan came together after a long, long time. Last June, this site proposed a get-together for the exit game industry at the then-planned live The Crystal Maze attraction. A thousand pounds was duly plunked down and all 32 places were resold to exit game owners, staff and enthusiasts. Many months later, all 32 people turned up and formed four teams of eight to travel the four zones. (Special apologies to Escape Hour who had to cancel due to flu, but at least their tickets were resold and nobody missed out.)

Tuesday saw some unexpected weather in the morning – at least one thunderclap, some sleet and possibly some hail – but this didn’t stop people getting to the venue in good time. Each team of eight has its own mazemaster that marshals them; the teams circulate about the zones so that each zone is played by each team in turn, the four teams coming together for the Crystal Dome finale. The mazemasters do not attempt to be authentic replications of Richard O’Brien or Ed Tudor-Pole, but they’re very much in a spirit that fits the tone of the enterprise.

Each team member can expect to play two games over the trip around the Maze, but a fast team can fit more than four games per zone in. Some games are original, some are faithful to the show… possibly to a fault, but in any case there has been considerable thought put in to ensure that the whole team are engaged and feel like they’re getting their money’s worth even when they aren’t the ones who have the chance to get their hands on a crystal… or to get locked in. The winning team managed to play a total 19 games over the course of their trip around the Maze, winning a total of 15 of them. The record is apparently bringing 18 crystals to the Dome, so 15 is probably very good.

I took photos of the four teams at the start. I took ten photos in all and not one of them was good enough to use here. Fortunately there are official photos taken at the end and posted to Facebook (hence the day’s delay in making the post…) so here goes:

Team Breakout at The Crystal Maze Team Breakout: 192 tokens (15 crystals)
Breakout Manchester
Breakout Liverpool
Agent November
James Curtis
Jason Cook
Nick Gates
Green Dreams at The Crystal Maze Green Dreams: 170 tokens (13 crystals)
Escape (Edinburgh/Glasgow/Newcastle)
Dan Egnor
Wei-Hwa Huang
Gareth Moore
Orange Team at The Crystal Maze Orange Team: 163 tokens (11 crystals)
Escape Live (Birmingham/Essex)
The Escape Room
Blue Team at The Crystal Maze Blue Team: 124 tokens (11 crystals)
Escape Quest
Enigma Quests
Archimedes Inspiration
Larger versions available in the official site’s album
(Presumably their copyright)

The faces during and after the Crystal Dome were covered in smiles, which is a fine recommendation from a picky audience. I didn’t play; my own game is in six weeks’ time and I’m looking forward to it more than ever. If you want to know more – ideally, if you’ve already played, or if you just don’t mind spoilers – then take a look at Nick Gates’ detailed write-up of his experience. Recommended!

It was fun (and somewhat like a certain part of Back to Reality from Red Dwarf) to stay and chat long enough to see the next set of four teams go through. Some of the mazemasters there sang and danced along to the music while the teams grabbed tokens in the Dome, which was cute, though surely rather more practiced and less improvised than they’d have liked it to appear. Top score in the next game was 150, which wouldn’t have got even third place in this game, which reinforces how well you all did.

Maybe I didn’t get to play myself, but while the teams were travelling the zones, my time was far from wasted. More of that soon, perhaps!

Meetings of minds near and far

"Up The Game" adApril 2016 is set to be an extremely interesting month. The banner above is an advert for Up The Game, a conference focused not just on exit games but also other real-life games, which will take place in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, on Saturday 18th April 2016. “ As one of the fastest growing entertainment trends since the rise of cinema, real life gaming has taken the world by storm. ((…)) Where traditional games are a bit of a niche, real life gaming attracts a wide range of customers and people who exit a great escape room do so with shining eyes and a budding addiction- ‘where can I play more?’ But it doesn’t stop here, new games keep adding even more crazy ideas, more technology and more compelling interaction to the experience. We love to see all those new ideas as the better our games are, the more people will become excited about real life gaming.

That’s not April’s only attraction, though. Back in June, this site proposed that the UK industry meet up at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze live attraction. We have a date – Tuesday, 26th April 2016 – and an afternoon timeslot. (We don’t have a location, other than King’s Cross, London; this site’s uninformed guess is “somewhere within the Granary Square complex”.) There’s no guarantee who’ll turn up, but tickets have been bought by representatives of Escape Hour, Enigma Quests, Escape Quest, Archimedes Inspiration, Agent November, the The Escape Room chain, Breakout Manchester/Liverpool, Escape Live (both Birmingham and the forthcoming Southend branch) and the Escape chain, as well as by five fans with no business connection. 31 tickets have been paid for in total with a 32nd still available, plus potential resales from people who can’t make the event in the end. That 32nd ticket is available at cost price – £32.50 – which is rather cheaper than the £50 or £60, plus booking fee, you’ll pay for a ticket today. If the company appeals, as well as the price, then please get in touch by e-mail. ((ETA:)) Someone has called dibs on the 32nd ticket but if you’re still interested in going, I’m operating a waiting list in case there are resales.

Why wait until April, though? On Wednesday, 13th January 2016, there will be an exit game unconference in Leeds at a central venue to be announced. This has been discussed previously and the discussion of the counterpart unconference in Canada sounds intriguing. Be sure to grab yourself a ticket today.

Why wait as many as five and a half weeks, though? This Tuesday is Puzzled Pint day, and the December theme is Mad Men – though, as ever, no knowledge of the subject is required. The location puzzle has been posted; solve it to find out where the event will take place. My partner and I will be helping to run the London East location; being December, we’ve had to guarantee a high minimum spend so that they don’t pass us over for another Christmas party, so we really hope to see you there on Tuesday night!

Good news for the end of November

"Good News for a change!" - adapted from Rick Warden, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Adapted from an image by Rick Warden, released under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence,
originally created using a Flickr Commons non-copyrighted archival photo

Never enough good news stories. Never, ever enough of them.

  • Congratulations to Sofija and Artur who recently became engaged at Locked In Edinburgh; the story even made it onto STV! If you’re in the UK, you can enjoy the couple’s moment by watching a later part of this episode of The Fountainbridge Show within the next 30 days – and aired on St. Andrew’s Day, no less! This is the ninth UK exit game proposal of which this site is aware; this is the point at which these stories will continue to be joyously celebrated, but perhaps no longer counted.
  • On the subject of TV, Nick Gates of Bother’s Bar passes on a suggestion that Race to Escape is due to be broadcast in the UK, on our version of the Discovery channel, available on Sky and Virgin. A few months ago this site discussed covert ways to watch the show but this will be much more convenient, as well as – ahem – legal. This site considers it a varied, imaginative and entertaining show, though criticisms that it requires (and thus risks encouraging) horrible behaviour from exit game players do have a point.
  • Still on the subject of TV, though here it’s TV inspiring live games rather than the other way around, the live The Crystal Maze attraction is whirring into life with Indiegogo backers being able to select their tickets today and sales surely being opened up to the rest of the world very soon. With so many booking options sold during the campaign and literally thousands of people booking tickets, the booking process appears to have been a little bumpy in patches, but only a little and largely quickly resolved.
  • It’s been a bumper year for Rubik’s cube speed-solving records. Back in May, Collin Burns clocked a 5.25 second solve of a standard 3x3x3 cube to break a World Record that had lasted two years; on 21st November, Keaton Ellis improved on this with a 5.09 second solve, a new World Record. Unfortunately Keaton may go down in history alongside legendarily transient record-holder Olga Rukavishnikova, for his landmark achievement was overshadowed only about an hour or so later when Lucas Etter clocked a 4.904 to break the five-second barrier. Far better to have been the fastest that the world has ever known, even if only briefly, than never to have held the crown at all.
  • On the subject of records and prizes, Escape Manor in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, have announced on their Facebook that they’re holding an exit game design contest with a buxom prize pool of six thousand Canadian dollars; five finalists will be selected to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. “The top 3 contestants will be awarded a cash prize and a chance to help have their room developed at one of the Escape Manor locations!” This site contacted Escape Manor for comment, which has not yet been returned, as to whether entrants have to be Canadian and whether it might be possible for a finalist to pitch by videoconference should travelling to pitch in person be uneconomic. At the very last, perhaps it’s a model for design contests in the future.
  • A less geographically constrained, less competitive endeavour is the forthcoming Breakout EDU game jam on 9th-10th January 2016. Breakout EDU is a standard collection of equipment intended to help people create classroom games with something of the exit game nature to them – though normally breaking into a box, rather than breaking through a locked exit door. The standardisation of the platform means that if you design a game, anyone around the world will be able to play it; there aren’t many games available in this way yet, but this event will hopefully get people creating – and then using the created games. While the tools may be relatively frequently found, there’s no limit to the puzzles and ingenuity that might surround them; you can create games for four- and six- year olds, or anywhere up the scale to being for adults. Get designing games wherever you like, but the focus on one weekend will inspire physical events at which many people with a common goal can get together to get creating. Exciting times, and – again – perhaps a model for another part of the future!

The Crystal Maze live attraction delayed until 2016

The Crystal Maze liveHappily this is not a three-month game, let alone a three-minute game; the team behind the stunningly successful The Crystal Maze live attraction crowdfunding campaign have announced the following:

Thanks to the incredible response from you, our Pledgers, all expectations have been raised and it is imperative that we deliver a Maze even greater than we ever imagined.

In order to do this, we have had to find a bigger, better venue for the Maze. This has slightly changed our timeline and the Maze will now open in early 2016.

This has the consequence that this site’s plans for an industry-wide meeting in late 2015 must be rescheduled for 2016. More news as soon as it becomes available, and fingers crossed that the extra time spent on the project can result in something truly spectacular, living up to the immense potential.

10 open questions about The Crystal Maze Live

The Crystal Maze liveThe crowdfunding campaign for the forthcoming The Crystal Maze live attraction has barely 36 hours left to run. Already it has proved extremely successful, raising its original £500,000 goal and then smashing through four stretch goals up to £850,000. Many congratulations to everyone involved! It’s still possible to buy individual tickets through the crowdfunding campaign at £45 each, compared to the announced general admission price of £50 each plus a booking fee. There are still some open questions, though, worth thinking about before you decide if it’s right for you.

1) How many games will you get to play? Each team will get two more per zone than if the campaign hadn’t reached £600,000, apparently, though the facility isn’t putting numbers on it. Exit Games UK – without the benefit of any inside information – looks at the announced playtime of 1 hour 45 and chooses to interpret the graphic as a reasonably literal map. The original show played up to four games per zone; Exit Games UK guesses that there will be six cells per zone and all six will be played by each team, pointing to 24 games per team, or three per player in a full team of eight.

That said, Iain had a rather exciting theory. Suppose some of the games are designed to let two team members play at once. If there are four one-player games and two two-player games per zone, then it would mean every player in a team of eight would get to play in every zone, which would be delightful. This site suspects that the attraction will err on the side of authenticity and stick with one-player games, but would be delighted to be wrong.

If you feel that this isn’t as many games as you’d like to play, it’s always possible to buy all eight tickets and have fewer than eight participants use them, spreading the games less thinly among the team. Theoretically there could even be a single-player team where the player plays every single game, but a lock-in would cause a considerable problem – and a single player may not get so far in The Crystal Dome.

2) Will there be watery games? Exit Games UK would consider it unlikely, taking an initial clue from the decision (which it loves!) to go with the original Industrial Zone rather than the Ocean Zone. On top of everything, it would be a health and safety nightmare; there’s always a drowning risk, and large tanks of standing water have an entirely serious legionella risk as well. The original show appealed to people for many different reasons, including to those who liked to watch people fall into water tanks. Does this mean that people would actually want to play those games, though? If you don’t see a “bring a change of clothing” announcement, expect a dry experience – and when there are so many other strong things that could be done, Exit Games UK would expect the attraction not to try to weakly emulate the genre.

3) How will lock-ins work? With the second stretch goal having been reached, those who get locked in will be taken to a special prison where they might have the chance to earn their escape, without costing the team a crystal, by completing a special challenge. This seems like a decision of practicality over authenticity, which Exit Games UK welcomes. Getting locked in and not being bought out would lead to poor value for money; much as “everybody likes solving puzzles, nobody likes not solving puzzles”, it’s a reasonable approximation that “everybody likes playing games, nobody likes not playing games”. Additionally, splitting teams between zones would be very difficult logistically, not least when there will be different teams circulating around the zones.

4) How soon will you get to play? This site estimates that the crowdfunding campaign has sold tickets to around 2,700 teams: start with the 1,600 “full team at the Maze” tickets that have gone, add 500 for the 125 “four teams head to head” tickets, and so on. Given that the “all day maze access” ticket suggests that there will be 16 teams per day (four sessions, each taking four teams) then this would imply that the facility has been pre-sold out for over 160 days – assuming the location opens seven days a week, that’s a good five months. It seems reasonably plausible that there will be higher demand for Friday-to-Sunday tickets and evening tickets so if your heart is set on one of those then you may have to wait, but midweek afternoon tickets may be more readily available. Exit Games UK wildly (and, again, uninformedly) guesses that games might start at 1:30pm, 4pm, 6:30pm and 9pm… and that the facility might well consider offering 11am games as well.

5) Will there be prizes? This one might not be such an open question, as Exit Games UK recalls (though quite possibly incorrectly!) reading a suggestion that when the four teams meet up against each other at The Crystal Dome, whichever team performs best earns a set of eight crystals. It would not be a surprise to see a monthly leaderboard with the chance for top teams to win activity days in the style of the original show.

6) How will The Crystal Dome work? There’s no reason to believe anything other than authentically – though the actual show used “the magic of television” and got its close-up shots from filming the players on a second attempt where the performance did not matter. In Buzzfeed’s brilliant oral history of the show, the captain of the first episode claims that even then “we realised that if we all lay down we’d stop the airflow and it would be easy” – expect blocking the fans to authentically be prohibited as well.

7) Celebrities? This site decided against getting a ticket to the first night party in the end. Don’t expect Richard O’Brien to show; Richard’s 73 years old, lives on the other side of the world and may not be in the very best of health. (On the other hand, a personal appearance would be a delightful surprise.) On the other hand, there would be a very welcome dash of authenticity if they could get an appearance by the captain of the team from the first Christmas children’s special, one Michael Underwood, who has gone on to have a strong hosting career. He’d be an excellent celebrity guest host if they could book him, not least from his time hosting Jungle Run, a children’s show with more than a little inspiration from The Crystal Maze. Also, just for the crossover kicks: is Hugo (“Treguard”) Myatt still in good health? Other heroes of television of those who grew up with the show, but who may now only be tangentially in the business known as show, spring to mind…

8) How will the spectator experience be? Courtesy of hitting the third and fourth stretch goals, there should apparently be a rather interesting bar area overlooking the field of play, with cameras in the cells to show the progress of the games as they are played. Exit Games UK tends to hold the view that a large part of the appeal of The Crystal Maze is rapidly working out what is demanded of you in the games within the time limit, as well as executing what is required, and that seeing the games in advance (either as a spectator, or because the site has revealed the game’s details) will rather spoil the effect. However, another (probably very much more practical) route to take would be to concentrate on games where knowing what has to be done is easy and actually performing the tasks required is difficult, as spoilers will surely get out by word of mouth if nothing else. Either way, Exit Games UK hopes that the games are really, really good, and that the project gets the very best people in to design them, including those who designed games for the original show.

9) Is there replay value? Will people want to play more than once, or is this something that can only be a one-time experience? This ties in with the extent to which working out what’s required is a part of the challenge. Part of the fun of the experience will be supporting your team-mates, but if you see your friend play a game and go “oh, that looks really fun to play!” then you might well want to come back and do so. It’s possible to go too far, though; it would be inauthentic if an eight played the maze first time, learnt the games, practiced them at home, came back and smashed them all second time around and set an immense high score. You didn’t get second chances on the show, so it would seem awry to get them at the attraction. It may be hard to avoid; it’s practically inevitable that someone will come as a spectator and see the games played through the cameras before they come back as a player themselves. A good – but expensive and probably impractical! – way to do this would be to rotate the games very frequently; a reasonable way to do this would be to replace all the games every year, much as one series of the show had different games to the next.

10) Will it be a long-term hit? Ah, that’s the 64,000-gold-token question. Tickets have already been sold to perhaps twenty thousand or so players, and the show had audience figures in the millions. With the repeats on Challenge? over the years, the show must be familiar to tens of millions of viewers, many of whom will surely want to play. Whether it’s a compelling enough product to convert many potential players into actual players at a regular price of £50 plus booking fee remains to be seen, as well as whether or not £50 per player is actually a price point that makes sense for the organisers in practice as well as in theory. The people behind the enterprise have very convincing track records, though, so they must surely have as good a chance of making it work as any.

Exit Games UK has purchased a “four teams head to head” ticket and will be selling all 32 spaces on to members of the exit games community, both players and staff. A handful of tickets remain; you’ll get the chance to play alongside representatives of Agent November, Archimedes Inspiration, Breakout Manchester, Breakout Liverpool, Enigma Quests, Escape Hour, Escape Live, Escape Quest, The Escape Room and (subject to confirmation) the Escape sites in Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle.

The date is unknown, to be confirmed once the facility has an opening date and permits people to start booking their prepaid tickets – but the plan is an afternoon on a Monday, for Monday seems to be about as close to a weekend as the industry has. Purely indicatively, the first choice of date would be Monday 30th November, second choice would be Monday 23rd November and third choice would be Monday 7th December. (Anything later gets too close to Christmas and risks disrupting business.)

The remaining spaces are being sold at the cost price of £32.50 (that’s the £1,000 ticket split 32 ways!) so you might well be interested in them simply on the grounds that it’s more cost-effective than any of the other options, but the company should be spectacular as well. If this interests you, please get in touch by e-mail for the payment options. If you’ve got in touch in the past and received payment instructions but not acted on them then you don’t yet have a guaranteed place and need to move quickly. There may well be a waiting list started, in case people who have paid have to drop out and resell their tickets.

To-o-o-o-o-o-o… the Crystal Dome!

Around the world: Getting together

Hands around the worldIt’s definitely possible to draw parallels between the development of the exit game hobbies in different countries around the world. People start exit games, there become enough of them to inspire people to want to talk about them, eventually players and operators think about meeting up. Doubtless there will be other parallels still that develop in different places independently over time as well.

1) “National character” is lazy shorthand for prejudice, but it’s a compliment – and an amusing one – that the first country sufficiently organised to run an Escape Games convention is Germany. The line-up looks exciting, though more likely to be of interest to site owners than anybody else – but when you get enough people interested in the genre in the same place at the same time, magic will happen pretty organically. There’s a reduced price for bloggers; if there’s anyone out there who wants to represent Exit Games UK who isn’t working the night shift on September 4th and either speaks German or just doesn’t mind requiring people to translate for them all day, please get in touch.

2) Talking of bloggers, that’s not quite how it works in Canada. Some of the exit game bloggers of the Greater Toronto area, and their talented theatrical friends, will be putting on three sittings of a one-night 100-player stadium-style exit game. In your Night at the Speakeasy (a Prohibition-era illegal drinking den), explore the rooms, solve puzzles, interact with the actors, don’t get whacked by da wise guys and find the exit on September 19th in the Canadian Caper. This is horribly impressive, they’re going to have such fun, they have such accomplished track records that this site firmly hopes that the event is as huge a hit as it deserves to be.

3) Talking of bloggers and stadium-style games, EscapeGame.Paris announced that The Real Escape Game came, and are coming, to France; three of the four sessions of the SCRAP-derived mass-participation event have happened already, the fourth is set to follow soon. Given that Real Escape Game have brought their games to France and also to Spain, this site is very positive about the chance of it coming to the UK at some point as well.

4) So what does the UK have? Well, the UK will have The Crystal Maze, and this site is organising an industry meetup there. 14 tickets have gone, 18 tickets remain. If you’ve vaguely expressed interest in the past – even if just as a comment to a post – then please convert it into actual interest now; you should have received details by e-mail about how to send money and guarantee your place, but please get in touch if you haven’t.

5) However, all of these rely not just on being in certain countries, but also on being in certain cities within those countries. If you’re not in the right city, you can get together remotely this weekend by taking part in the seventh (“Swiss”) round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix puzzle competition; 90 minutes to score points by solving 23 puzzles of seven different types. The download the Instruction Booklet page will let you find if this contest is the right one for you.