REMOTE ESCAPE ROOM, PART 1: INTRO & PREPARATIONS • Remote Escape Room Information Feature Series
THE BIRTH OF A NEW CREATION
Playing an escape room on a computer or smart device was never new. In fact, that's how real life escape games got started--they were inspired by early "point and click" exploration games available online:
Back then, on a computer screen in a Flash interface (remember those?), you click on a box, open it, find a key, so on so forth, you escape the locked room! In more recent times, things got real--literally--and you get to do the same actions, except live in person, in the real world.
That is until recently, COVID-19 pandemic hit, and many, if not all, of our favorite escape room entertainment venues were forced to close indefinitely due to safety reasons. Resilient business owners, determined to combat the misfortune, went back to the basics, and provided a viable alternative...
Playing an escape room remotely back on the computer!
Escape Rooms, now available in a new flavor--remote!
LIFE CAME FULL CIRCLE
It's interesting to note that, what started out on a computer monitor, has now found its way back to its root.
While it's grossly inaccurate to say digital escape games and remote escape rooms are the same--they are definitely NOT--it's hard not to notice the resemblance. But just as there are recognizable similarities (play onscreen), there are also striking differences (eg, live video feed).
Having done a select few remote escape rooms by now, I feel as though different businesses are approaching this "remote" idea with varying formats. While not all companies are conforming in the same fashion or "interface" per se, it does seem to boil down to two main elements:
The 1) live video feed, and 2) a supplementary panel for additional info, clues, hints, and whatnot.
THE VIDEO FEED
This is what makes remote escape room the essence of what it is. You are still enjoying an actual brick and mortar room, somewhere out there at a location, you're just not physically there. Through the marvels of technology, we can now see and hear across the city, the country, or even the globe via high speed internet. You're already familiar with this, hello, Facetime.
What is essentially happening is, your once "game master" will now be your "avatar". They will now act as your eyes, your ears, your hands, and your body. They've probably donned on one or even several cameras on them, on their head, on their torso, in their hands, streaming live.
You tell them to turn right, they turn right. You tell them to look up, they look up. Get it? (But command with respect!)
Sample of actual remote game footage, featuring me & EscapeTheRoomers
THE SUPPLEMENTARY PANEL FILLS IN THE GAP
Not physically being there though, presents several fundamental problems. Possibly, you won't be able to see things up close, hear with full clarity, and colors could be distorted. Hey, these are just realistic limitations of modern equipment. They are good, but at times, they just fall a bit short.
Thus, many remote escape games opt to show the players additional information on another "panel", or screen, in another browser. This extra panel can achieve a variety of purpose, all depending on how it's utilized:
Your avatar can show you a detailed look of a map, broadcast a sound file that he's listening to, or even help you keep track of an inventory of items you've collected or used thus far.
I haven't quite played enough remote escape rooms to form a solid opinion for this new form of entertainment, and what it can truly offer, but as days go by, it's becoming more and more evident to me that this is a sustainable alternative if a healthy dose of creativity is mixed in.
If you're ready for your first remote escape room, then you gotta download the conference app of choice. Check with your venue or its website to see which one they are using. I'd say a majority of the time, it's Zoom.
Zoom is an application that specializes for enterprise video conferencing with real-time messaging and content sharing. It's available on a variety of platforms; I use mine with Windows on a PC.
Don't just download Zoom and let it sit though. It's extremely important and highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the app.
First, verify that your system has all the requirements to run the program. Namely, you should have reliable, high speed internet, and your computing system should have proper processing power.
Next, run it, and check to see if all necessary components are working. Can you receive video feed? Can you hear audio cues? Can you transmit your own video and sound to another party? Some escape room companies offer a test page prior to launching the game, so do so way ahead of game time.
Also, fiddle with the setting, both in app and out. Is the video setting ideal for smooth running? Is the sound loud enough, or too loud? Do you want to set a customized virtual background? (In that case, set up a green screen behind you in real life.) Do you want to tidy up your house a bit before broadcasting to your team?
DON'T LEARN ON THE DAY OF, PRACTICE NOW
Finally, for those of us who are a little slow on using all things tech-y, let's be honest: there's a learning curve.
Practice using Zoom with your friends and family, run a mock conference or two. Get accustomed to moving your mouse cursors quickly, and darting your eyes back and forth between the video feed and your supplementary panel. (Or just be comfortable with the idea on the day of.)
For best results, use two monitors, screens, or devices.
Don't get caught off guard, know what to expect
It may be a little daunting at first for some, but wasn't that also true when first stepping into a physical escape room? Just have a little "rehearsal" before the game day, do your best the day of, and gradually master the newfound skills of remote escape gaming.
OPTIMIZE YOUR PC OR DEVICE SETTING
Lastly, I would highly recommend that you just do an assessment on your PC if that's what you're using. Remove any extraneous programs that you no longer need, or at least disable them during actual session. Restarting your idle devices 1-2 hours prior to start may be clever, too.
Any kind of lag can only ruin your experience!
And trust me, you don't want any technical difficulty or operation interference. The typical 60 minutes time frame is *a lot* shorter than you'd think for remote game play. (But I shall elaborate on this in later blog posts.)
BE PREPARED, BE READY, BE ON TIME
I think you're pretty much set.
"Arrive" or sign in to your Zoom meeting on time. Don't keep your fellow teammates or the host waiting. Respect is still important, quarantine times or not.
Please understand that many small businesses are still struggling. Do your part, be on time, so they can run all their scheduled sessions without delay.
And oh, have pen, pencil, eraser, paper, and a calculator in front of you. Those will often help. And no, I don't care if you think using calculator is cheating. I need it. Desperately.