Here's a concise version of what happened in Part 1, 2, and 3.
You'll need the Zoom app to play remote escape rooms. Make sure your devices can run the game smoothly. During a game, you'll control a live staff member known as the "avatar".
Because of various limitation factors, visual components of an escape room may not be as awe-inspiring or as immersive when compared to irl.
In fact, production value isn't the only thing affected, the meat of the game, the *puzzles*, need undergoing adjustments as well--shall we begin?
A NEW DIRECTION
Naturally, as the escape room industry expanded its market and began receiving widespread attention from the general public, the focus of this genre of entertainment started to shift.
What was once a puzzle-solving and mental-exercise dominant activity gradually evolved into more of an immersive sensory experience.
This isn't surprising. Not everyone in the mainstream market enjoys figuring out 4 digit codes from cryptic clues. But almost everyone loves a good fantastical adventure.
"Houdini", one of the best live action, physical escape rooms LA has to offer (Credit: 60Out)
Thus, in the past few years, escape venues started to saturate their games with the latest gen of escape game sets, props, and equipment. Puzzle steps became less about code deciphering, but leaned more heavily on performing physical actions, and be stunned by subsequent special effects.
THE OG MAKES A RETURN
However, the problem with the above is, when running a room remotely, these otherwise super fun and engaging tasks simply do not translate well when played out in front of a camera.
For example, scavenger hunt in a colorful ball pit may be fun when done physically; watching your avatar do it for you miles away... not so much.
That's why most escape rooms I've played so far decided to revisit the roots: good ol' gen 1 puzzles. They are making a huge comeback!
Gen 1 elements, like numerical combo locks are back, beeches!
REMOTELY, GEN 1 WORKS THE BEST
Why is gen 1 the best choice?
Well, it's more of why the other candidates are not.
As explained, actions aren't as satisfying if you are NOT the doer. Puzzles that you complete on your own--you ARE the doer--are way more engaging.
You're the one paying to have fun after all. So your own participation and interaction is integral in generating that euphoria. Having to struggle through a tough puzzle challenge, and finally arriving at a solution, fits that bill.
And that is why Gen 1 works best.
In a nutshell, Gen 1 challenges usually can be boiled down to riddles that can be shown on printed media; and thus, presenting them through a video broadcast is easy. The same can't be easily said for other forms of puzzles.
Common gen 1 steps I've encountered in recent escape history include collecting 4 items that would grant the 4 numbers on a numerical lock, solving a word riddle that would open a 5 letters lock, and converting a sequence of images into a 4 directions lock. Classic.
WOULD GEN 2 WORK AT ALL?
Technically, yes. It isn't so much that they are completely physically impossible, it's more of their not being able to bring joy to the customers.
Recently, I've seen a laser puzzle in action. Shooting the laser beam through a series of mirror reflections opened a hidden compartment. The idea worked, but without my actually fiddling with the mirrors, it was not nearly as fun. The reveal also packed less punch for the same reason.
Plus, the laser was practically invisible on the video feed. Awww.
So imagine if an existing escape room was full of these design choices; converting them into a remote experience doesn't make the most sense.
Therefore, of the currently available remote adventures across the globe, many conform to using mostly gen 1 elements.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK
And then there are things that would flat out not work.
Puzzles that require smelling, tasting, and touching (as in, you need to feel the texture of the clue) are out. Obvi.
Situations that are meant to be done in close to or pitch black darkness are also axed. If you can't see it through your avatar, you can't play it.
Some of my favorite and most daunting tasks that I love taking on in a physical escape room, the split room challenges, are also goners:
In a remote setting, no matter how big your team, it will always be reduced to one solo player, the avatar. Any game that employs communication barrier by splitting the team into smaller groups is now impermissible.
Since the team now controls only one single avatar's perspective, the game play will organically become more linear. Rooms that are not already designed as such will usually have its contents modified for fit this "criteria".
This is the almost inevitable results of having just one individual (avatar) in the game. Non-linear style is hard to realize. In fact, even if everyone in your Zoom conference wants to split up and explore a different part of the room, you'll still each have to wait for your turn to command control...
...But! It is indeed possible to bypass this limitation.
Essential to have when remotely escape room-ing
To streamline working on several objectives at once, copy down the contents of the first puzzle on a sheet of paper, then pass on your avatar to the next teammate, so they can start working on the next.
Additionally, linear progression has the advantage of keeping everyone on the exact same page. It could be a nice change of pace for once! (Does anyone recall ever having miscommunication due to having too many things going on at the same time? Anyone?)
After actually processing all this information, it's dawned on me that everything described thus far will become the "new standard", at least for the time being. For better or for worse, depending on what you prefer best in an escape game, some expectation adjustment may be required.
GAME DESIGNERS' REACTIONS
However, I've already begun to see many companies coming up with different methods to enhance their games to make an online experience more ergonomic, personable, and unique. Some strategies include:
1) Inventory list carrying multiple items: not only super helpful in keeping tracking of key items, but also serves as a way for team members to work on different puzzles all at once. (Basically the same idea I've suggested above, except now no transcribing needed.)
2) 360° 3-D panoramic room view: this somewhat eliminates the problem of having one single camera's perspective. This makes any type of action based steps more feasible, since having a clear, unobstructed wide vision decreases the risk of missing anything from the live feed.
Excellent usage of 360° panoramic view in a remote escape room (Credit: The Escape Game)
3) Avatar casting: give them interesting characters. Have them fully committed to their acting role. Encourage them to engage often with the customers. When done right, they pull us into the story, effecting immersion without our ever stepping out of our homes.
A STILL EMERGING AND EVOLVING BREED
As different companies experiment with various approaches on how to run their visions of remote escape games, I am sure, in due time, all the obstacles I've discussed in this series of feature will be overcome.
Until then, I've come to really enjoy playing a remote escape room almost every single day of this week! While I really don't see their popularity ever surpassing their live action siblings, I do see potential for this nascent subcategory to be a sustainable alternative.
Escape Mattster & friends genuinely having a great time in a remote escape game
In fact, as long as the escape room community doesn't expect remote versions to be exact equivalents, and instead, treat them as a specialty online spin-off, I think they're here to stay. And I, for one, welcome them!