17 Apr 2015

How do we review rooms?

So, what's our secret to how we review escape rooms? Or are we just making everything up? lexi and pyko discuss.

lexi: Reviewing escape rooms. Not exactly the easiest thing, and pretty subjective. What's the first thing you think about or do when we finish a room?

pyko: It depends if we escaped successfully or not. If we haven't, I usually lament over the stupid things we did and/or the last puzzle and how close we were to solving it.

lexi: I know, it always irks me when we're so close, but just didn't make it! It's almost like a catharsis for me.

(*pause to define catharsis for pyko*)

pyko: Yeah, it's especially frustrating, because when you step through it, everything seems so easy or obvious. Then I start to calculate how many minutes we would've saved if we just used our eyes... those precious minutes could've been used to solve that final puzzle!

lexi: It does cause some major facepalms! That's only in the case of well-designed puzzles, though, which is the 'Ah-hah!' factor we always refer to in our reviews. It's different to, say, not being able to solve a puzzle because it made no logical sense.

pyko: 100% agree! That's when I realise how smart the puzzle makers are. So hard when you don't know the solution, but perfect sense when you've cracked it.

lexi: Though, puzzles having similar mechanics has worked against us. We think we know how to solve a puzzle and don't look closely enough, and our assumptions lead us totally down the wrong path. Like in the Bear's Surprise Party room.

pyko: Ah yes, the problem of being "experienced". Oh, just thinking about it frustrates me!

lexi: Does that colour your experience of a room?

pyko: What, being frustrated?

lexi: Just being 'tricked' in general. I find that it gives me a more positive view of the room because it puts a spin on my expectations.

pyko: Yeah, the puzzle that we got tricked on was solid and completely our oversight that caused us to waste so much time on it.

But the puzzles that leave me with a slight negative experience are ones where you know what to do, but the actual doing is a challenge. It almost becomes a task rather than a puzzle. I think once you've figured out what to do, the "doing" part of the puzzles should all be simple, or at least quick.

lexi: Yeah, I'm not a big fan of puzzles that require physical ability to accomplish. There was also one puzzle I did I went to where the solution was trial and error, and that was it.

pyko: That must be frustrating! Though I must admit, there was one puzzle that I initially thought would be one of these time consuming "i know what to do, but just got to do it" types. But on closer inspection it wasn't!

lexi: Oh, the one in The Blocks?

pyko: Yep. The designers had made it so you still need to figure out what to do, but the actual doing was so simple anyone with basic maths skills could accomplish it. Now that left a positive impression.

lexi: I liked it too! That counted as an "Ah-hah!" moment for me.

pyko: How about you, what sticks in your mind after finishing a room?

lexi: Hmm, the puzzles are a big part, but walking into the room for the first time strongly colours my overall impression as well. Then again, I am rather shallow and callow...

pyko: The first impression I have of a room is usually is quite similar to the impression I have based on the lobby/waiting area. So I already start forming an opinion before I even go into the room.

lexi: How about actually starting a room? What makes it good or bad for you?

pyko: In most rooms I have zero clue on where to start or what to do. I just hope that looking at random things and poking around will surface some clue or hint of some description. And that's normal.

lexi: Yeah, but in good video game design, the idea is that the user should alays have some idea of where to go next or what to do. Shouldn't it be the same with escape rooms?

pyko: Hm, so far none of the rooms have left me completely stumped. There has always been something to start off with. Though I would imagine if a room has no start point at all, that would be very frustrating (one of the rooms I've been to came close to this). I guess there's the possibility of asking hints?

lexi: As long as the hint system is good. I hate rooms that just have generic hints, or where the staff have to come into the room to give you hints. It really ruins the immersion for me! Now, the rooms where they have people monitoring you at all times - it sounds almost stalkerish, but it works.

pyko: Yes! As much as I hate asking for hints, I think a good hint system is critical to a good experience. I mean, I would love to be able to complete a room with zero hints (we only did that for 11.07th and that's because it was way too easy), but just the knowledge that you'll get a relevant hint makes you feel better.

lexi: Haha, my pride is too strong - a lot of the time the staff have to step in and give me hints because I'm running out of time and haven't asked.

pyko: Of the times that staff have stepped in to give hints, I find they've all been welcome, like during In Memoriam where we were doing something really really stupid and the hint was a simple "try turning it around".

lexi: I remember that! And you even said we should turn it around, but everyone else thought the other end looked like a handle.

In that case, the staff waited until we should have unlocked the next item, but didn't, which I was grateful for. We could've spent way too much time trying to find another solution to a puzzle we'd already solved.

pyko: I do like the monitoring and well-timed hint when required. The ones that monitor and provide contextual hints, are great - even more so the ones where the staff give you hints as though they're part of the story.

lexi: Yes! I just did a room where although you could call any time for a hint, no one was monitoring us. We wasted a lot of time by not calling for hints. The general reason we didn't solve puzzles was simply because we hadn't found the really well-hidden stuff, too. I was wishing so much for a monitored experience by the end of it, because it's hard to know when you just need to spend a bit more time thinking through a puzzle, or when you simply don't have all the pieces yet (or are barking up the wrong tree).

pyko: Definitely. I did one or two where the method of hint delivery wasn't stable, and the hints themselves felt like they were from a stock list... Hint A for Puzzle A, regardless of how much of the puzzle we had worked out, or how far off we were.

lexi: Yeah, there's just no subtlety for hints like that. It's like they have a book with a full walkthrough and can't be bothered to tailor the experience for each group who goes through. It makes you realise just how important the hint system is in creating a good experience, and that tends to skew my view one way or the other in a review.

pyko: This isn't exactly related, but I've been thinking about it while we were chatting. You know what amazes me about escape rooms?

lexi: Do go on.

pyko: The fact that we've been to quite a few, and yet there is still so much diversity in puzzles. So much so that I want to keep trying out more to see what new awesome puzzle is around the corner. Granted, there are a few mechanics that are similar, but overall the way the clues are given is different enough that it's almost a different puzzle.

But those times when a puzzle is just completely different and gives the 'Ah-hah!" moment--that is just gold.

lexi: I couldn't agree more. Though my wallet doth protest too much (with no undertext, either), the hope of finding that next golden puzzle keeps me going to yet more escape rooms. And on that bright note, let's end this chat before everyone falls asleep.

pyko: zzzZ...

lexi: Ha. Ha. Ha. (For the record, pyko genuinely can fall asleep just about anywhere, any time... and wake up after a pre-determined amount of time, robot that she is!)

If you have any other topics you'd like to see us discuss, let us know!

posted in discussion by lexi