REMOTE ESCAPE ROOM, PART 3: VISUALS & PRODUCTION • Remote Escape Room Information Feature Series
PART OF A SERIES, "REMOTE ESCAPE ROOM"
There are understandably many curious questions about remote escape rooms as they are relatively new, especially for the US market.
I, too, initially thought it's a simple video transmission of what otherwise would be a normal game play for already existent rooms, but that's only the partial truth, and even an inaccurate description in some sense.
Join me on this journey by reading previously published posts in order:
Here's a very concise version of what happened in Part 1 and Part 2.
You'll need to install Zoom or other conference app to play remote escape rooms. Make sure your devices can run the game smoothly without issues.
During an actual game, you'll control a live staff member known as the "avatar" via verbal commands. You can see their every action and hear their surroundings via a live feed. Sometimes, you'll also have a supplementary screen or menu to help you along the quest.
Now onto today's topic...
FIRST, I MUST DECLARE...
While Part 1 and Part 2 are more factually based, this Part 3 is most definitely more of an opinion piece. This is my own observation and analysis, and you absolutely do not have to agree with it.
WHAT HITS YOUR EYES FIRST
In a remote escape room, the first thing that strikes your eyes (or your Zoom window) would be one single view of the room. You may also hear some sounds, but in general, the background accompanying music (that would otherwise be included irl) would be turned off for clarity sake.
Depending on the theme of your room, the lighting may vary. There are, in fact, many other possible variables involved. The live feed camera's model, the recording quality, the internet transmission rate, your device's CPU power--all these things affect what you can see.
Compounded by the fact that you're only viewing through usually just one camera's lens, this potentially severely limits a player's ability to evaluate the production value of the set. For better or for worse, visually, both the players AND the owners have to adjust to this new situation.
(Note: A supplemental 3D model, or extra photos, will sometimes attempt to compensate for this shortcoming. Results vary and depend on execution.)
For most cases, you'll get a single camera view. It's the new normal.
From the participant's point of view, which is the role that I take the most often, this means I lose that "Wow!" moment when you first get escorted through the entrance door into the heart of the story world.
Any escape room enthusiast can fondly recall that feeling.
The sudden rush of experiencing, for the very first time, the impact of many visual stimuli presented all at once. Like stepping into a fairy tale land. I witnessed how hard work transformed ordinary buildings into works of art.
In the remote option, without the set and props surrounding you on all sides, enveloping you into their domain, it'll most likely evoke a... different feeling.
Meanwhile, from the owner's perspective, now you can only offer your assets through a limited portal. This is even more unfair to the business than to the customers. Imagine, being capable of offering your 100%, but the delivery vehicle is only operating at half capacity, how would you feel?
Zoom offers only "a window view", a snap shot, and participants may not enjoy the visuals to its fullest potential.
OTHER DISABLED SENSES
Although sounds are technically available, it'll be limited to conversations usage most of the time.
Sense of smell is not applicable, along with sense of touch. Tactility is integral to a live escape game, one that separates it from digital ancestors.
Ironically, with the current escape room trend of moving everything towards being visually focused and immersion dominant, this spells bad news.
Big budget production, special effects for sensory overload, and everything that makes the contemporary rooms stand out rely heavily on immersing the patron into a physical world of excitement, something hard to achieve when they are sitting in their home, separated by a monitor screen.
BUT THERE IS HOPE AFTER ALL!
Just because certain things that we've taken for granted are now missing from our favorite escape games, it doesn't mean remote version is not fun. To discount them without trying is a misjudgment.
Because, no, not only are they not not fun, they can be incredible!
In fact, I can tell ya, remote versions of even already existent rooms can be just as gratifying when executed with care, creativity, and expertise! I can personally attest to this, because I've seen it, heard it, lived it!
Did you know, I actually found an online version of an escape game I've already played surprisingly more engaging than its in-real-life counterpart? I myself did not expect to come to this conclusion. Though not an easy feat to pull off, when there's a will, there's a way.
Do we abandon the endeavors for a good looking set? No, not necessarily, because a nice set will, regardless, be a nice set, players will still appreciate something that looks good, just not to the same degree of amazement.
Well! No "two finger force" rule in remote, at least!
This actually gives the businesses a bit of an advantage. Any imperfection can be hidden with ease. There is no up close inspection, and the avatar can now actively avoid minor imperfections by a simple shift of the camera.
Moreover, budget for upkeep will be low, since as long as something lookspassable on camera, it'll work. And no one can use excessive force and break stuff now. Owners, rejoice!
In addition, there are many ideas the developers can infuse to make things more interesting and worthwhile. While the visuals take a backseat, other cast members can rise up to become the main stars.
To game designers, what other elements should now receive the most spotlight? Some unique puzzles? An entertaining avatar? A more interactive story? To patrons, what's the next best thing for you?
For instance, now participants have no choice but to communicate with a real, live human being. Exchanges not only happen among teammates, but with the avatar as well. So seize this opportunity, and make your avatar charming, for awesomeness can be felt, need not to be seen.
(Pssst, one company that does this well is Trapped! Escape Room. Their Operation X-13 mission is captivating both on and offline! And so funny! My avatar's impeccable character acting won me over from start to finish.)
"Operation X-13" (remote) fills the game with charisma and humor (Credit: Trapped! Escape Room)
Another obvious choice would be let the puzzles speak for themselves. Puzzles are the heart of any self-respecting escape game, and will the topic of discussion Part 4 of this remote escape room series.
NORM WILL RETURN ONE DAY
A global pandemic, though life changing, will be over one day. Soon, hopefully, everyone can once again enjoy the amazing production value we've come to expect and cherish.
Until then, even as visuals temporarily become less significant as before, as long as certain adaptations are made, remote escape games is a not simply a replacement. It can become a new form of entertainment. Surely not exactly the same, but thus far, it's proving to be quite as addicting.