Building an Escape Room

If you want to join the market but have no idea where to start, or if you want to make an escape room at home for your children or friends, there are a few things you need to think about when attempting to create a successful escape game.

First, decide on your topic. What is your game going to be about? What theme are you making it? By deciding your topic, you’ll be able to make design and puzzle decisions. The story behind the game can come later, but the thematic setting needs to come first. You don’t want to waste money buying props and set without knowing how to link everything together. Let’s assume that we’ve decided the theme is going to be a medieval castle and build on that.

Next, you’ll need to start creating your setting. Things like lights, sound, and furniture are all incredibly important. Our medieval castle game setting would need things like stone walls. You wouldn’t want a standing lamp, but instead, something that adds to the immersion like fake candles or large fake windows with backing lights. The colour paint that you use is also important. If you can’t afford to re-stone the wall, wallpaper can offer the same effect. You obviously wouldn’t want to paint the walls bright pink. Your setting, including dressing for the set, must connect with your theme.

Then decide your story. This needs to include and introduction to the game and what problem it is that the team is attempting to solve. Following our example for a medieval castle themed game, an introduction for this might be:

‘Welcome, team. We must keep this meeting brief because if we are caught, we will be tried for treason. King Uther has taken a step too far with his laws against magic and currently has 12 innocent people locked below Camelot in the castle dungeons. You must rescue them before they are put to death tomorrow morning. Emrys is currently distracting the guards but he can only give you an hour, to get in, free all 12 innocent prisoners, and escape again. I know a secret entrance into the castle that you can use to sneak in, but you’ll have to be careful. We don’t know what tricks Uther has up his sleeve and we also don’t know how well he guards his dungeons.

That’s Merlin’s signal. You have an hour. Good luck…’

Let’s dissect this.

First, we’ve set the stakes. Placing the players in a role play situation, we’ve given them an idea about who they are. Next, we’re placed the setting and potential time period, the castle, medieval, possibly magical. Then they’re given their mission and motivation to complete their mission and escape. They are then given their time limit and a reason for why they have an hour within the game. So far, the team knows they need to rescue 12 prisons from a castle dungeon, with help from Merlin who can distract the guards for an hour. The stakes are raised high but adding in the air of mystery around the tasks, telling them ‘We don’t know what tricks Uther has up his sleeve.’ Finally, they’re given a reason for the time to start and the mission to begin, Merlin’s signal.

Though short, this is a fairly clear get in and get out again mission which fits in with both the theme and the setting of the game.

After deciding the mission of the game, next comes the building of puzzles. Now given our example, these puzzles can’t outwardly look too high-tech. We’re not going to have a computer in a medieval castle. Instead, it should be things like finding pieces of a map to navigate the tunnels, choosing the right 12 prisoners to release when given descriptions, and uncovering secret passageways by pulling on the right unlit flaming torch. The puzzles inside the game must reflect the theme, setting, and mission. Teams also usually need an indication as to how well they’re doing, a way to know how far away they are from finishing the game. A timer might not work so well within our example but perhaps a chiming clock every 10-15 minutes, or an ‘orb’ enchanted by Merlin to give information.

Finally, you’ve got to think about your game masters and the part they will play within the story. Will they dress up to ensure immersion from the minute the team step through the door? Or will they offer a step away from the game so that returning to the outside world is less of a shock after an hour locked away? Communication with the team is also important – so how will they information become available? Through walkie talkie, a screen or through a voice over? The questions focusing on game masters connect closely with the type of game you’re creating and how immersed you want your teams to be.

These are the steps that we take in building an escape room, but we’d love to hear from you if you have other ideas or a different order in which you do things. Let us know in the comments below if this has helped your process or if you have a suggestion for what theme we should use next. We look forward to hearing from you.

By Charlotte Potter