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Escape Room Project | Inside the Mind of Dr. Finkle

In this last post on Escape Room Project, I am reflecting on how the background research supports our escape room design, I am telling about the lessons that I have learned from the experience of creating our own escape room, and I am acknowledging the major weaknesses and strengths of our project. You may also find the link of gameplay videos of play groups recorded in the two days of running our escape room.

Affects of background research on the project:

I have completed several escape rooms back in my home country before starting the MA program. As a class, we also played several different escape rooms around London. Since we did not all go to the same escape room, we could tell each other about our own experiences and compare the rooms, debating about their strengths and weaknesses. We decided to take in some attributes to our game from these examples, and leave some of the attributes, which did not feel right, out of our game. Seeing other escape rooms was helpful to get started to the project and refer to when we have an issue during the design process. For example, Lady Chastity's Reserve escape room utilised the game host too much, to keep the game flowing, even though the game host was in character this practice broke the immersive experience, so in our own game we tried to intervene with the play as less as possible. We enjoyed the unique, handmade puzzles from the same game which utilised unconventional materials, so we decided to incorporate this feature to ours as well.

We also watched several Youtube videos of escape room gameplay; there are TV shows which include celebrities playing escape rooms. We observed how the players would react to certain challenges, and interact with puzzles.

Lessons drawn from the process:

Completing the escape room project made me understand that designing a functional and fun escape room was more challenging than I thought it would be. It requires a lot of game-testing and connecting of puzzles for an immersive and seamless experience, before putting the game out there.

One of the hardest things about an escape room is that the puzzles need to work well holistically. It does not matter if one of the puzzles is very intriguing, when the whole set up of the room does not flow. I also realised that this situation may apply to games in general. There should be a holistic approach while designing a game, and the theme by itself is not enough to reflected this holistic feeling. I believe that in the practice of game design, there need to be one or two lead designers who call the shuts when there is an indecision, and they should be responsible for the holism of the game. A very flat hierarchy does not work well with a team’s organisation in game design, because if the hierarchy is flat and there is no lead, the game may end up with disconnected sections. Since our escape room was a course project, we did not have a boss, so the puzzles in our game was disconnected and the game overall was not holistic enough. Our major issue while running the game was that even though the puzzle would work fine by themselves, when they are solved separately, they would not always work well together when they were put inside the room. Not having a boss also makes it hard to make changes when a problem is detected. It was time consuming and tiring to decide what to change or eliminate from the game, because as a designer it is hard to cut out what you have already made and put into the game.

Another lesson we learned was that game design is a blind practice because we could not assume how people would think and act, before testing. Since we were familiar with the game and puzzles, we could not see the potentially confusing parts, which would cause the game-testers to get stuck.

Since we could not allocate enough time to work on the game as a whole, we did not engineer a feedback system. So, even if the players solved a puzzle correctly, if there was no visible place to input the result, they wouldn’t know that they achieved to solve it, and visa-versa. They weren’t able to know when they were on the wrong track. Feedback and some communication with the players inside the room, would definitely help the operation, and improve the gaming experience.

If I was to do the project again, I would insist on agreeing on certain roles for the team members. Even if we would not have a boss, we could have certain people calling shots when issues arose. Creating our own puzzles taught me a lot and gave me a perspective, but I believe that we could have limited the puzzle preparation time to 1 week and then focus on the connections and holism of the game including working on a feedback system for the remaining 2 weeks.

Major strengths and weaknesses of our escape room project:

The major strengths of our escape room was the ambience, theme and original puzzles. The fact that it was all handmade by us, reflected a special energy and made the experience unique. Computer consciousness program was also a very interesting feature, though I believe that it confused the players from time to time, because the way the players desired and tried to interact with it did not always match our expectations and the actual designed system.

The major weakness of our escape room was the absence of a feedback system and the confusing content, which caused the two separate puzzles to be merged by the players. As explained above, a feedback system could solve many issues by supplying short-term achievements and guidance to keep the players on the right track. The confusing content could be addressed by testing the game as a whole, simplifying the puzzles, differentiating them by assigning different themes and eliminating the some of the noise.

Overall the escape room project was a good practice thinking about smart design, the perspective of the player and team-work. Learning by doing was a beneficial way of gaining design and team-work experience. I do not think, we will ever forget the lessons we gained from this project.

Inside the Mind of Dr. Finkle - watch gameplay video recordings:


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