Now open in Brixton… but not for long: Oubliette

Oubliette logoThis site has always been rather… reticent to post about Oubliette, which opened in Brixon, south London, in January. The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions; as hinted at, Exit Games UK knew Oubliette’s proprietors, at least a little, before it opened and even volunteered to sand down some of the floors and walls in the building, which it hasn’t done for any other game. (Yet!) Exit Games UK even has a cracking interview with the proprietors while they were getting started which was, at one point, intended to be the “before” part of a “before and after” piece.

When you begin to play our room escape game, you walk through a door and find yourself plunged into New Pelagia, an Orwellian dystopia full of suspense and suspicion. The people here are watched over by the love and grace of JCN, a huge pervasive computer and CCTV network. The government rations and controls everything to keep things tidy – there are rumours that sometimes people get tidied away too.

You are members of the underground resistance movement who are being sent to infiltrate the ((propaganda office at the)) Ministry of Perception and find out what happened to a double agent who has mysteriously disappeared.

It’s a sixty-minute game for teams of up to eight; teams of six are recommended, but a team of three escaped, once. The price is higher than most at £30/player, but you get more for your money than from most rooms. In its months open, the site has received considerable praise from unusual sources, notably in the (mostly computer) game design and review community. Emily Short‘s review discussed the game in a way that this site doesn’t recall an exit game being discussed before:

…when, as a result of puzzle-solving, a new bit of story occurred — and again I’m being intentionally vague here — it generally ramped up the anxiety and threat level. I’m used to story-as-reward in video games, but here there was story-as-punishment. Solve the puzzle quickly? STORY GETS MORE WORRYING. This felt like a pretty natural and pleasurable extension of the existing principles. And it wasn’t as though we were going to stop trying to escape the room in order to avoid having more story bits happen to us!

If you’ve played and enjoyed exit games before, but never had that sort of experience, and if those sorts of descriptions sound like your cup of tea, then there can be few higher recommendations for the originality, intrigue and interest of this game. (On the other hand, if you know you’re lousy with dystopian stories – *raises hand* – then it might set your expectations as a game that might not be for you, and that’s cool too.) Closer to home, the game was reviewed at The Logic Escapes Me, rushing straight to very near the top of the recommendations; it was discussed in the first episode of the Escape from Reality podcast as well.

So why discuss this site now? The latest news is not good: the site is set to close, in its current form, at the end of Saturday 18th June. The Adventure Society shop, used as a framing device for the staging of the game, may also have to go on its next great adventure.

You may be thinking: ‘But I thought you were a permanent Escape Room?’ and yes, so did we. We were all set to sign paperwork to extend our lease by another year, when suddenly the landlord changed his mind. Now we’re staring at a countdown trying to get as much done as possible in the time remaining – which is kinda apt really. (…)

‘Are you going to open up somewhere else?’ We’d like to, but we don’t know, finding a space to move into and installing everything takes time and money, neither of which we have in spades. We may end up just selling off what we can and junking everything else. If you know somewhere we could move to, store things or someone who would buy things, please let us know!

All right. This is very clearly a special game in a busy field, which may very well not be around for long. On the other hand, there may be people for whom a demonstrably, tried-and-tested, game with a unique extent of focus on its story would surely be of interest in a business sense as well as a player sense. The business model for Oubliette is a bit different from that of most other games, and to try to make it fit in a similar box to most other games would be to destroy some of the ways in which it is most attractive. Nevertheless, a game this distinctive and critically acclaimed would be a remarkable addition to any facility, so the countdown is on… in more ways than the usual one.

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!

Mid-September news round-up

News round-upToo many news items for a single post, so let’s leave news of new rooms and a new site until a second news post, hopefully within the next two or three days. Eyes down and let’s go go go…

  • Canadian exit game blogs Escape Room Addict, Escape Games Review and Escape Games Toronto have teamed up with a crew of their very talented friends to put on three performances of one-night theatrical live exit game Canadian Caper tonight. In the theatrical tradition, this site wishes them all broken legs and hopes to read more about the event’s glorious success soon.
  • Exit Games UK thoroughly recommends the talk given at VideoBrains by Mink Ette on exit games, one of the team behind Spark of Resistance in Portland (and any excuse to plug the masterclass that is their talk about its design principles is welcome). The end of the talk hints at Mink teaming with Gareth Briggs of last year’s MOLE game on a project to be announced later; enter the Oubliette on Twitter if you want to be among the first to learn more in time.
  • Escapism of Nuneaton have announced on Facebook that they’ll be running a one-off game at midnight on Hallowe’en, and are auctioning the spot for the team of eight to play it. This site gets the impression that Escapism might be marginally more… aggressive? than most, based on its disclaimer, and no holds would surely be barred if you give your informed consent to a Hallowe’en witching hour game. A few sites are ramping up for that time of the year, but it’s not clear if any of them will be able to do so quite so magically.
  • A very interesting-looking business undergoing the crowdfunding process is Legend Quests, which aims to put on theatrical fantasy adventure experiences for teams of thirty, or immersive costumed experiences for teams of ten. The person behind it has an unimpeachable record in fantasy photography and videography, as well as a popular fantasy podcast, and the project has absolutely the right people involved – from voiceover by Tom Baker down to design by experienced fantasy gamebook designers. There have been LARP-for-the-masses efforts before, often taking the tricky role-playing parts out. Rules-light, acting-and-emotion-heavy freeform role-playing is doing at least as well now in the UK as it ever has done, but that’s another matter. Consider contributing to the crowdfunding campaign if that’s your cup of tea.
  • Finally, and most on-topic, the Escape exit game chain (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Dublin and licensees elsewhere) have announced that they have been shortlisted for the Scottish Business Awards in the Emerging Business of the Year category. Congratulations on the nomination; judging by the line-up of presenters at the award ceremony, it’s clearly a big deal!