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?

Unconferences past and future

unconferenceJust quickly:

The second “The Great Escape UK” unconference took place in London on April 25th. People took notes from many of the sessions at the time. A few sessions remain unscribed and attempts to chase the sessions’ scribes have proved fruitless. However, as something is much better than nothing, please enjoy the notes that have survived from most of the sessions; if you are in a position to add to them, please do so.

The third “The Great Escape UK” conference will take place in Leeds on September 6th, also known as next Tuesday; specifically, it will take place at Dock 29 between 11am and 7pm. Take a look at previous unconference coverage on this site to see whether it sounds like your cup of tea; if so, book your ticket now. You’ll need to pay for your ticket at the time of booking because (a) booking includes lunch and (b) there were many people who booked free tickets and didn’t turn up last time, so there were plenty of other people on the waiting list who wanted to go but couldn’t.

This third meet-up for the UK Escape Room Industry welcomes anyone involved in running, designing, or creating Escape Room Games in the UK, or associated industries. We also welcome keen players, as long as they promise not to rip out the fixtures and fittings in search of clues. We also allow suppliers to attend in the spirit of sharing not selling. ((…))

Our quarterly Unconference returns to Leeds. Everyone can propose a session on the day, on anything they like, people signup for whatever tickles their fancy, then the agenda is decided as we go along. ((…))

Some offerings include a report back from the first Chicago Escape Room Conference, and an offering (from me) on Curiosity and Player Motivation and how it impacts Room Design – a summary of a week-long symposium on Game Design at Utrecht University (actually more fun than it sounds).

Unrelatedly, but still excitingly, on the day after the London unconference, 32 escape room owners, staff and players visited the The Crystal Maze attraction in London. Yesterday The Sun suggested (and, today, reports have reached as far as the BBC) that there will be a one-off revival of the show on Channel 4 for their Stand Up To Cancer night on October 21st. There won’t be a full-scale maze made for a single show; Buzzfeed report that the event will be filmed at the attraction in London. This is an extremely spectacular setting for an event you’ve paid tens of pounds to play in person and a somewhat unspectacular setting for a TV show featuring a team of celebrities. We shall see, and hope that it proves a prelude to a full-scale, big-budget soup-to-nuts revival of the series at a later date.

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!

2 The Crystal Dome

A pentakis dodecahedronVery quickly:

This Saturday afternoon, my better half and I will be going to the The Crystal Maze attraction in London with a team of four lovely people, three of whom you might know from past puzzle hunts. As the game is designed to be played by teams of eight, this leaves two places on the team spare and the tickets are available at cost price.

The Crystal Maze is essentially booked out for months and months, barring stray cancellation places. For instance, there’s a rare space for five at 3pm tomorrow as I type, then nothing until three individual spaces dotted around August. Accordingly, this is a pretty unusual opportunity, and the company should be rather good as well.

Are you interested? If so, please get in touch ASAP. The places might have gone by the time you do!

P.S. Too late!

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!

Mechanics Monday: if you had to invent The Crystal Maze, would you?

A pentakis dodecahedron

A few days ago, this site was delighted to see job adverts for the exciting-looking position of Maze Master at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze live attraction opening in London in a double handful of weeks’ time. It might seem a shade strange at first to see them go down the acting recruitment route to fill the positions, but any customer-facing position in either an exit game or any other live entertainment game is definitely a show business position, playing to the audience of (usually) a single team at a time. Don’t forget, Richard O’Brien was (among many other things) an actor before he became so familiar to audiences in this particular role.

The hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of Kickstarter campaign pre-orders are an excellent indication that people are very, very excited about getting the chance to play the game – and, from there, it doesn’t seem too implausible to suggest that there may be many other people who would like to get the chance to do so but might not, for geographic reasons or many other possible causes. The number of other games that have made either explicit reference or implicit allusion to The Crystal Maze when trying to explain their appeal, or just as a familiar point of reference, also goes to reference the strength of the show as a cultural touchpoint at the very least.

It’s public knowledge that one of the distinguishing advantages of the live The Crystal Maze attraction is its authenticity, not least from the work they have done with the rights holders and the people who made the show in the first place. It’s also true that some part of the appeal of the show, to a (presumably reasonably large) part of the audience, was the wonderful and elaborate environment that the show worked so hard to create. It would seem unlikely to implausible that any other site might ever be able to match this; if people want to play the show they loved, they have no other alternative – and are delighted that the live attraction exists as a possibility at all. In case it’s unclear at all, getting to play the live attraction is one of the things that this site is most looking forward to in 2016.

However, it could be possible for a game to describe itself as “like The Crystal Maze but better” and then provide a number of reasons why it makes that remarkable claim. It’s certainly true that The Crystal Maze was designed to be watched rather than to be played by a mass audience. Some of the distinguishing properties of The Crystal Maze are not necessarily conducive to being an ideal experience when played live; the live experience has hinted at some concessions to authenticity for a better live experience and it will be fascinating to see, in time, whether further such concessions will have been made.

For instance, this site tends to believe that nobody really wants to be locked in and to have to, at least nominally, wait to be bought out. Playing a game is more fun than not playing a game, which is why player elimination mechanics have fallen out of fashion in modern game designs. With this in mind, the suggestion that “locked in” players in the live attraction will also be able to rescue themselves by solving additional puzzles rather than by waiting to being bought out – or not – by their team seems like a wise one in terms of the gameplay experience. A friend made a suggestion to the effect of “If you pay £60 to go round The Crystal Maze and end up being locked in on game one then it’s your fault for being so rubbish”, which is fair enough on one level and the roughest of justice on another.

So if you were designing a live experience to be played by the self-selecting near-mass audience, rather than to be watched on TV, what differences would you choose to make from The Crystal Maze as we know it? While it makes sense for there to be a penalty for failing at (at least some) games other than opportunity cost, perhaps there could be other ways to express this penalty other than the “miss a turn” aspect of a lock-in. The whole aspect where only one player could play any particular game and everyone else just had to watch them play and (usually) shout suggestions might also be worth reconsidering; while shouting suggestions is one way to play a game, for many it will be more vicarious and less vicious than might make for the most compelling experience. Lastly, why couldn’t players have a free choice of physical, mental, mystery or skill genres and the ability to play more than one of a particular type in a particular zone if that’s what would make the game the most fun for them?

At this point, it’s tempting to imagine a rather freeform game. Imagine that your team might get to spend (e.g.) 15 minutes in each of four themed zones, gaining para-crystal currency units. In each zone, there are perhaps 25 opportunities to gain currency units, with each one designed to be possible to win by a single player, with teams having complete flexibility to deploy players to opportunities as they see fit – so possibly lots of people playing one-player games, or people advising other people how to play their games, or maybe even two people teaming up on a single game, or so on. Budgeting time and assigning players to challenges would be the major challenge; the only time limit could be the 15 minute limit in each zone. The currency won from each zone would then be used in some endgame to generate an overall score, which might or might not involve analogues of flying tokens and/or geodesic domes. This site is unsure what the intellectual property laws of the land would dictate.

Is this a game you would like to play? Is this a landscape that looks commercial to you?

Coming up on Friday: Geekeasy, Pablo’s Hunt and more Handmade Mysteries

Lady Chastity's Reserve comes to East LondonFriday will be busy! This site talks about exit games most of the time and about puzzle hunts frequently. There’s good reason to talk about something different this Friday: a comedy night. Needless to say, not just any comedy night: one themed around The Crystal Maze. That’s interesting.

Project2 curates Geekeasy ((…)) We populate the bill with emerging and award-winning acts. ((…)) Each month we pick a niche theme and throw some acts at it. Expect musical comedy, stand up, improv, sketch and a Powerpoint competition. This month we’re in The Crystal Maze, with guest comedians, improvisers and musicians competing to win a taxi ride home.

Project2’s background is improv comedy with a sci-fi theme; the The Crystal Maze theme was announced three months ago so people will have had considerable preparation time. It would be easy to “punch down” but the genuine fandom and love for the genres that the group have shown, plus good reviews from an improv player that this site trusts, gives this site hope that more acts than not can stay on the right side of the fine line: irreverent good, impudent goo-ooo-oood, insolent bad. The show starts at 8pm at The Miller pub in Southwark, London, between London Bridge and Borough.

Other exciting things happen on Friday, too. Handmade Mysteries open an East London location at The People’s Park Tavern pub in the part of south-east Hackney best served by the 388 bus from Hackney Wick, Cambridge Heath or Bethnal Green. This is a slight remix of their original Lady Chastity’s Reserve game played in South London; the larger location permits teams of up to six, rather than up to five, and some extra gags along the way. This site just likes saying “My! Brother! Knows Karl Marx! He met him in the bushes at The People’s Park!

If you don’t want to leave your house, there’s still fun to be had: as discussed, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt also starts on Friday, though the teaser poster will already get you started. True, there’s a hidden box to be found somewhere in the south of England, but there’s a mighty bundle of research and thinking to be done before you can even start to work out where it is!

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.

Interview with the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze team

The Aztec Zone of a branch of the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze in JapanWhat’s your favourite game of all time? Any sort of game: board game, video game, card game, puzzle game, physical game, computer game, role-playing game, exit game, all sorts of other genres of game, whatever you like; compare your favourites from each medium against each other and pick a favourite. Too hard? You can narrow it down to four.

My four, in no order: puzzle hunts at large, the live action RPG campaign I played in at university, obscure mid-’80s hybrid board/computer game Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes and The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze. You can probably have a reasonable guess, among other things, that I was born in 1975.

This site has touched on the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze in the past without going into the detail it deserves. It was a physical attraction, based upon the The Crystal Maze TV game show, where teams raced from game to game about the centre, sending team members to play bespoke physical games or computer games where physical games would have been impossible. These were often as puzzling as the mental games on the TV show, or at least emulated the demands of one of the show’s physical games. It worked heart-breakingly well. The photo above is of the Aztec zone at the branch in Kuwana, near Nagoya in Japan.

I wrote a longer piece about the game roughly half my lifetime ago, and will probably still have reason to write about it in another twenty years’ time. It’s the one topic that I’ve always wanted to write about on this blog but always shied away from for fear that I could not do it proper justice.

However, failing that, here’s something rather special instead. Some detective work led me to the e-mail address of one Carl Nicholson, one of the founders of the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze – indeed, the technical side of the outfit. Mr. Nicholson extremely kindly agreed to answer some questions by e-mail; even better still, his partner in Cyberdrome, David Owers, whose focus was the business side, contributed some answers as well, and Carl has even got in touch with other members of staff. Huge thanks to all of them for their time, effort and responses, as well as for being the people behind a sensational game; it’s fascinating to hear more of the story behind the scenes. Continue reading

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!