The latest links

A golden chain of linksRather than contrive a connection, perhaps it’s best to be blunt and just say that this site thinks the subjects of these links are cool and hopefully you may do too. Let’s start with some interactive theatre.

  • The Lowland Clearances has been running at the Camden People’s Theatre daily at weekends for the last two weeks and does so again this weekend; indeed, the Sunday performance is sold out already, so it’s Saturday or bust, hoping for repeats down the line. This is explicitly playable theatre, happy to describe itself as live role-playing, safe in the knowledge that the intended audience knows that live role-playing doesn’t necessarily imply rubber weapons in the woods, as fun as that is. It’s a game about city-building and use of space and this review makes it sound spectacular. Kudos to Hobo Theatre for putting it on and to Camden People’s Theatre for hosting it; more, please!
  • Further down the line, A Door In A Wall Have announced an attractively-priced preview for their next public event. This one is set indoors, rather than being a trail around town as they have used in the past. This preview has no marking of answers and declaration of a winner, which hints that you will effectively be invited to decide whether your interpretation and understanding of the story is sufficient for you as a metric for success. It’s not yet clear whether this non-scoring system is a one-off for the preview or the plan for the final version of this piece.
  • Further still, the Sedos theatre company are putting on Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On for two weeks in mid-April, billing itself as an “immersive adventure through Shakespeare’s final play“. In this, “The Docklands Shakespeare Society has invited respected Shakespeare historian Dr. Bianca Corbin to speak at an evening of recitation, interpretive dance and song ((…)) Four hundred years after William Shakespeare’s death, his final play, The Tempest, and the Bard himself both come to life on a lost and forgotten island… only, not quite in the way he remembers writing it… ((…)) Sedos’ first immersive theatre production takes 15,000 sq ft of a building in London’s Docklands and brings the world of The Tempest to life in a celebration of Shakespeare’s life and works. Audiences will be able to explore the island unguided, hear its sweet and sinister noises, sit in Prospero’s armchair, drink with Stephano and Trinculo and follow the spirits of the island as they torment and entertain the island’s mysterious inhabitants.” Sounds like this may pack a punch. *blows dog-whistle*

What else is cool right now? This little lot:

  • A Kickstarter campaign that has recently funded but still has a week left to go is Puzzle Your Kids! promoted by Eric Berlin, who has a long and storied track record. Subscribe and receive weekly word puzzles for kids aged nine and up! Might be a little US culture-specific, but that’s the worst thing that’s likely to be said about it. If the campaign reaches a stretch goal, everyone will get weekly logic puzzles as well, and there are occasional kid-friendly puzzle hunts (six to ten thematic puzzles plus a meta-puzzle) planned as well.
  • This site wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as a preview site for crowdfunding projects, but apparently there is and a crowdfunding project called Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment is coming soon. (Very soon, depending on time zones and how quickly Kickstarter move.) US$45 plus potentially considerable shipping and you’ll get a box of puzzles sent to you for you to solve with your friends in a self-assessed hour time limit. The makers have anticipated replay concerns and are heading them off at the pass with plans for a refill pack so that multiple teams might each be able to enjoy the same single box. As Liz Cable pointed out, this is something of a renaissance of play-by-mail gaming. Back in The Day, if you wanted to play a game designed to be played by far more people than you could fit around a table, you had to play games postally; it was a little like a MMORPG with a latency measured in days rather than tens of milliseconds and bandwidth measured in… well, in elastic bands. These days games are playing to their strengths by sending through serious physical artefacts that cannot be transmitted electronically. Looks exciting, anyhow. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this out.
  • World of Escapes is another UK exit game directory with the distinguishing feature that you can provide user ratings, not for sites as a whole but for individual rooms at each site. It also looks rather smart. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this out.
  • It would be an exaggeration to suggest that this site has wish-grumbled this into existence, but an entertaining exaggeration. The Logic Escapes Me now has a beta version of a reviews aggregator for London escape games – and, if you’ve played more than a handful of them, you can have your ratings included in the aggregation as well. This is a very exciting development and a suggestion of what the future might look like – perhaps a more critical TripAdvisor where you can have reason to take the reviews without a large pinch of salt. Many thanks to Ken for working this out.
  • Intervirals recently pointed to Somewhere Secret in Fort Collins, Colorado; this pay-what-you-want exit game (cool for the pricing alone!) sees people try to open a treasure chest. Inside the chest is a map; winning teams get to take a copy away and are then invited to follow it to obtain a token hidden somewhere in Colorado that might be exchanged for a real prize. This doesn’t need monetary value; by the height of adventure alone, this is beautifully cool already.

Surely something there to tickle your toes!

News round-up for mid-January 2016

News round-upThis site is off to the unconference called The Great Escape UK today, so here are some news stories that have been queued up for a little while. There may be live coverage on Twitter with #EscGamesUK, but no guarantees.

  • Congratulations to Kelly and Alyson who became engaged to each other before Christmas at Escape Rooms Scotland! A report on Facebook suggests that Kelly had no idea, making the surprise proposal even sweeter. The best of health and happiness all round!
  • Clue HQ have already revealed that their next branch to open will be in Birmingham; even before launch, the Birmingham Post have a big piece on the forthcoming site. The suggestion that it might hold 36 guests gives a clear hint as to the ambition behind the location, suggesting it’s clearly one to watch.
  • Puzzlair of Bristol are also in the news as the Bristol Post visited the attraction and had “a great night out“. The reporter also noted that they had played Locked In A Room a few weeks earlier, so this site now has a favourite Bristol local newspaper. Some day the national press will start reviewing rooms and games…
  • Escape Asylum of Leicester are planning to launch in March but are already being covered in a piece in the Leicester Mercury that gives good detail about the founders’ backgrounds and starting-points and – along with the video – will give you a clear idea whether it’s the game for you. The site is set to launch whether or not its crowdfunding campaign reaches its goal; East Midlanders who like darker games should get in early and perhaps quickly pick up a discount.
  • Thanks to Ken for that one and for this: speaking of Kickstarter, there’s a campaign for a site in Preston called Timed Trap. While the campaign hasn’t got off to the best of starts, it’s far from unknown for an exit game to struggle with crowdfunding and then thrive in the fullness of time, so it’s definitely one to keep on the radar.
  • Further afield, the Brantford Expositor of Canada – and compare Expositor to Post and Mercury! – featured a piece on the BreakoutEDU Game Jam this weekend. Looks like an excellent time was had by all; it’s also exciting to read that there are more to come.
  • Even further afield still, Intervirals points to a panel on exit games at the PAX Australia convention in Melbourne. It takes a little listening, but fun to hear how they do it down under!

The (Puzzle) Hunting of the Snark

The Hunting of the Snark campaign logoThere are many interesting crowdfunding campaigns going on at the moment, but here’s an unusual one for a puzzle publication that deserves a wider audience. Puzzlebrains presents The Hunting of the Snark will be a printed and digital edition featuring the “full text of the poem combined with a collection of specially-written quirky puzzles and, if we raise extra funding, a whole new set of equally quirky illustrations too“. The campaign has a week and a half to run and is currently only a few hundred pounds short of its goal.

Behind the scheme is David Brain of Puzzlebrains, which has been mentioned in passing in the comments to a previous post; it’s an online magazine published as a .pdf file, that has been running since 2008 and is full of puzzles of many different styles, often (pop-)cultural requiring investigation and research, with each issue also featuring a metapuzzle. Compare to P&A magazine, perhaps.

It’s clear that David has copious puzzle-setting experience; you might also have encountered him as part of the excellent Game Control team for the London leg of DASH 7 in the Spring. As well as being able to reserve your copy of the new edition of Snark, you can also subscribe to the four issues of Puzzlebrains planned for 2016 at the same time. The most inexpensive reward in the campaign is a back number of Puzzlebrains, so you can get a sample of the house style for a single pound and find out whether it floats your boat or not.

History does not judge author Lewis Carroll without reservations, but considering his known penchant for wordplay – he’s strongly associated with the style of puzzles known today as word ladders – then it’s tempting to believe that he would have approved. Callooh! Callay!

Crowdfunding round-up

Savings jar graphicThis site has long had a policy, among many others, of prioritising efforts not to play favourites. While the policy continues as ever, the biggest challenge to it yet has arisen; for the first time, it happens that people who I already knew and liked are starting their first UK exit game. Impartiality (as far as consciously possible, and making efforts to consider subconsious effects) remains critical – but, by way of full disclosure, there’s more of a reason for me to have a rooting interest in this one particular case.

This site has given a few mentions to Mink Ette, one of the team behind the Spark of Resistance game in Portland, near the Pacific coast of the US, and also mentioned Gareth Briggs of last year’s MOLE game and more. The two of them, and others, are teaming to start an exit game in Brixton, with an associated Adventure Society situating its headquarters in the site’s retail presence; the crowdfunding campaign has started like gangbusters.

It would be fair to say that the UK has not previously seen an exit game crowdfunding campaign with such a hot start, this side of a more inclusive decision of exit game that might permit comparison to Hyde or The Crystal Maze. It would also be fair to point out that other sites have reached their targets even after a less conspicuous beginning – and that other sites again that didn’t reach their targets at all have still come to fruition, flourished and made a great many people happy.

It’s worth asking what has made the difference in this case; at a guess, informed by other articles on successful crowdfunding such as this one by beloved band the Doubleclicks, getting your name out there and being a known quantity makes a big difference, and one way to do that is to work on many other people’s projects. It also helps that other reputable people have been willing to lend their credibility by volunteering on the project, on the crowdfunding rewards or simply by being vocal about it. The whole “having run the game before in another country” issue may also make it a somewhat more plausible proposition, too.

This is far from the only game in town, though. There’s another Kickstarter project for Code Rooms, a putative exit game in Cardiff looking to open in 2016. Kickstarter is not the only crowdfunding route; on Indiegogo, the campaign for Escape Rooms Cardiff is offering early bird tickets ahead of the launch, planned for December, at a very attractive rate. This site has also mentioned Mystery HQ Wigan, though the crowdfunding campaign seems no longer available.

More about all these games, as and when news becomes available!

Crowdfunding Enigma Quests

enigmaquests1Enigma Quests of London are a month or two away from launch, but have already launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help cover the costs of the last few parts of the set-up process. You could draw comparisons with the successful recent Enigma Escape crowdfunding campaign which launched on time and has got off to an excellent response; fingers crossed that this campaign turns out as well for Enigma Quests as Enigma Escape’s did for them.

Enigma Quests take a different approach. They don’t consider themselves an exit game as such; instead, as the name suggests, they are a purveyor of Quests. (Not unreasonable at all; compare with Boda Borg describing their activity as Questing.) As the campaign says, “We design the puzzles with innovation in our minds, and aim to be very high-tech. There are no padlocks in our rooms, no hunt for numerical codes with tiring amount of numbers. Everything feels real and highly interactive.” While the experience caters for teams of three to five, your progress is not measured on a “Did you get out in time?” pass-fail basis; there will be many themed activities available within the room, and you will be assessed on how many of them you complete within the limit of an hour – and, perhaps, which ones. Exit Games UK imagines that the precise details would be likely to vary from game to game and finding them out will be part of the fun.

enigmaquests2Were you looking for number nine? Some other Searchers got there first

The first game will be set in a completely generic school of witchcraft and wizardry, noting the broad and rich literary tradition of magical school stories. The campaign suggests the themes of their intended second and third Quests. If they can raise the funds to make the experience as immersive and as theatrical as they hope, the results could be quite spectacular. (Ah-ah, all the things I could do, if I had a little money…) The hardest parts are out of the way, namely that a location near Liverpool St. station has been secured; this is all about the finishing touches.

The campaign’s video is a great deal of fun, and the campaign gets straight to the point. Your pledge buys you the chance to play the game – either as beta-testers of the nearly-finished product at a cost of remarkably little money but also a little time spent giving feedback, or early-bird tickets at what is still a highly preferential rate. (Beta testers can also play as a two or as a six, which is not the intention for the finished work.) Being on Kickstarter, your contributions will only be collected if the project funds completely.

It’s a slightly different approach, aiming at a different target to the other games. Fingers crossed that Enigma Quests get the attention they deserve and take the chance to really show us what they can do. If this sounds relevant to your interests, or if you just like a bargain, here’s that Kickstarter campaign again.

Late July news

Mystery HQ Wigan imageThree quick news stories:

1) The warmest of welcomes to London-focused new exit games weblog The Logic Escapes Me. It’s full of well-written reviews, noting that that is a route that this site has never gone down. It’s not completely clear who the site author is, but this site has a pretty good guess. (Actually, one pretty good guess and two moderately good guesses, with hopes that the two moderately good guesses do start their own weblogs before long.) Highly recommended and a very welcome addition to the blogroll; there are already plenty of cracking exit game (and related topics – in fact, especially when weblogs go on to related topics) around the world, but there’ll always be room for one more.

2) Wigan has no exit games yet, but there’s a crowdfunding campaign under way to launch Mystery HQ Wigan, which would be the town’s first. The campaign also hints at an exciting-looking hunt on the day before the site launches, which strikes this site as an excellent publicity stunt.

It would be fair to say that this site hasn’t yet got too far with its crowdfunding campaign, but it would also be fair to point out the history of UK exit games crowdfunded on Indiegogo; Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are excelling after a moderate crowdfunding campaign, and it’s also a joy to see progress described at the Quest Room Facebook page after their own Indiegogo campaign didn’t really catch traction. Yet if we’re talking about crowdfunded UK exit games, a round of applause to Engima Escape, a winner on Kickstarter, which launched last week, is attracting favourable early comment and still has a 25% discount offer available!

3) It’s not just UK exit games that crowdfund, though; this site is unusually uplifted by this Canadian Kickstarter campaign for In Depth: a Traveling Mental Health Escape Game. What a distinctive and progressive concept! The plan is to build a game that goes on a two-week tour across Canada, and to film a documentary about the experience. Exit Games UK is really excited that people are trying to use exit games as an educational medium in this way, noting Prof. Nicholson’s historical work in this regard, and feels strongly positive about the topic chosen.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five people face the reality of living with mental illness, but less than half will ever seek treatment for it. We seek to craft an escape room that not only challenges and entertains guests, but carries a positive message in a portable package that can be easily assembled and disassembled in a matter of hours. We want the experience of the room to be clear and concise, but not preachy. We seek to create an experience that immerses people in a game that encourages communication, cooperation, and fun.

The people behind the project also run Ye Olde Dandy’s in Toronto. The area is not short of exit games, so it takes a remarkable additional attraction to make a site stand out, and Ye Olde Dandy’s has one that’s one of a kind: table flipping. Board game fans know that in Soviet Russia, table flips you, but this is literal stress-relief through table-flipping, and it looks rather spectacular and simultaneously very violent without being violent at anyone. Think of it like a punchbag, perhaps. Heck, the fee covers the labour costs of the person setting things up and tidying things up afterwards…

Nowhere to Hyde

hydeHere’s something extremely likely to be of interest to readers, in day two (of two!) of an inadvertent horror games special. The following piece was written by Iain and is reproduced by kind permission; use of the first person refers to the column where it was first published, though this site happens to endorse the sentiments expressed.

Hyde

Somewhere in London, Next Spring, Maybe

We’re also looking forward to Hyde. It’s a bio-logical maze, from the creative people at Slingshot. Here’s the backstory:

“You’re taking part in experimental trials of a new drug developed by the Jekyll Corporation. It’s designed to modify the capabilities of the human body, giving you the power to control your environment simply by controlling your physical state (your pulse rate, breathing, posture etc).

“Armed with some wearable tech your assignment is to navigate your way though a maze of connected rooms, using your new powers to complete a series of increasingly challenging tasks along the way.

“But this is a smart maze: it knows where you are, and how you’re doing. You begin to realise that someone – or something – is working against you. You’ll need to stay calm to retain control of your surroundings. Because there’s only one way out of this maze, and that’s through it…”

Some of the doors are opened by completing simple tasks: follow a sequence of lights, or find the hidden switch. Other challenges are completed by your own body: open the door by holding your breath, or lowering your heart rate. Ah! Something very new, we’re not going to get that experience elsewhere.

Slingshot describe Hyde as “Crystal Maze meets Portal in the real world”; it’s a challenge to make progress, and an unseen hand is working against you. There may even be cake. {1}

The creators are open about what they know they can do, and what they don’t know. Messrs Evans and Johnson have been working on this idea for some years – an email about their plans for 2013 intrigued us with this idea.

We can be sure that the game will be safe. Slingshot are responsible for 2.8 Hours Later, the zombie sprint game bringing the undead to the streets of your city{2} since 2010. During that time, they’ve scared almost 100,000 players witless. Some of them may actually have completed the game without being caught. Everyone has seen sunrise the next morning.

And we can be sure that the game will be scary. Slingshot’s hallmark is to bring horror tropes to the outside world. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the introductory video gives fair warning. There is nothing like a locked door to make a cat curious about what it is like behind it. Curiosity pursued the cat, shouting loudly and waving something threatening.

Hyde isn’t for everyone. It is experimental, it’s pushing the boundaries, it might be disturbing, it’s likely to break new ground. None of these descriptions apply to The Crystal Maze: from the moment we heard about the idea, we knew roughly what the end product was going to be. We have an inkling about what Hyde will be, but the end result will surprise us.

That’s if we ever get to see the end result. Like The Crystal Maze, Hyde is being crowd-funded. As with all crowdfunding ideas, this column encourages caution. Stop and think for a moment. You may not get value for money, and you may not get anything at all. Can you afford to spend this money and see nothing in return? Especially as the target of £50,000 looks out of reach at the moment; through very unfortunate timing, two projects are drawing from the same well of money at the same time.

As well as advance tickets, it’s possible to be a real-life lab rat and help to develop the game. People with lots of money and an interest in game design might choose the “Mad Professor” option, experiment with body tech and transfer the knowledge to other projects. And if we all have a look behind the sofa, we might find money to hire out the entire maze for a night.

The Crystal Maze plays to nostalgia. Hyde is cutting-edge technology. We dearly want both of them to work.

More ((…including a really evocative trailer video that comes thoroughly recommended.))

{1} Excellent, lucky, or rich players gain access to the “Soho Rooms” at the heart of the maze. Is that a cunning euphemism for “cake shop”? We’ll have to find out.

{2} Except Plymouth, much to the chagrin of everyone involved.