Why choose Angel?

Didn’t that chap who used to be in a band called Take That once sing about loving angels instead? Now being an employee of Escape Rooms, I wholeheartedly endorse this message. Love Angel instead. Our Angel venue, that is. It’s about an 8 minute walk from Angel, Old Street and Barbican. But, more important than its accessibility, the two games we have there are something truly different.

Our London Bridge venue was one of the first escape rooms to open in this country and our team has played more escape games than your average sane person. Some of us have even remained sane. We know the usual model, we know how it works, we know what to expect. There’s an almost-infinite variety of themes and settings, a huge range of truly innovative, imaginative puzzles out there – it’s truly remarkable what can be achieved with a few boxes and padlocks, but we disparage neither our London Bridge venue nor our competitors when we say that, just perhaps, there can, must, should be more to it than that.

Yes, there are games out there already which experiment with VR. But anyone who’s ever been involved in tech knows that VR has been The Next Big Thing for at least twenty years. The possibilities with VR are almost endless. But they are still possibilities, and the technology does not yet exist which enables us to transcend the physical and visual aspects of what visual effects artists call ‘the uncanny valley’ – the theory in applied aesthetics which holds that the closer the virtual approximates the real, the greater the discord generated by increasingly subtle differences.

Many people, most especially film-makers, treat the ease and the variety afforded by the green screen as an excuse to go for super-reality, forgetting that so much of how we relate to the world relies on plausibility as conveyed by the real and physical, and our unconscious reactions to same. The Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back was filmed in sub-zero temperatures in Norway. Sure, you could green-screen the same setting, but the actors, by virtue of their presence in a comfortable studio with central heating, would not move with the same stiffness true cold creates. Ditto some of the mountain scenes in The Lord of the Rings and their CGI-mirrors in the later adaptation of The Hobbit.

Their visible breath would look like but not as really visible breath. And the genuine frost that coats ‘80s facial hair in sub-zero temperatures can only be approximated by CGI frost on CGI ‘80s facial hair in a fake-freezing setting.

The difference, however subtle, between the fake and the real will be accentuated by the same subtlety: so much of what we know about the world is based on our imagination rooted in real experience, so we can spot a fake without really seeing it. We know, almost intuitively, when a thing is real; we know, almost intuitively, when it is pretend.

The games at our Angel venue take the former approach. They are sci-fi, but they are a physical, malleable, tangible sci-fi. They are more akin to original Star Wars, not prequel Star Wars. And can there be higher praise? You’re transported into a high-tech, science-fiction world – and transported physically, not virtually. You’re really there. You’re not holding a virtual laser gun; you’re holding a real one. You’re not holding virtual power cores; you’re holding real ones. You’re not plugging in virtual moon base power generators; you’re plugging in real ones. (Though not actually on a moon base – imagination still has its place, and our budget isn’t quite that big.)

We’ve dispensed with padlocks (excepting the one there is in the Dark Side of the Moon) in favour of other, more imaginative, physical variants: digital dial pads, sure, but also button-panels; and, one of Project DIVA’s special features, a light-up pressure-pad floor grid. Cables, laser beams and robots bring to life the immersive nature of the games. You’re not playing a glorified video-game, you’re in the game.

So, if you’re a seasoned escape game veterans in search of something different, or if you’re total new-comers unsure of the genre and hoping for something unique, you really have only one first port of call. I’d recommend them even over our games at London Bridge, tried and tested and approved though they are. If you want something different, something immersive, something which can marry your physical skills and your virtual wits, something that has been more than once compared with The Crystal Maze, come to Escape Rooms: Angel.

By Benjamin Mercer

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

Our New Year’s resolutions

Well, we’re ended a decade and moved forward into another. Many wonderful things have happened for us within the last 10 years. The biggest, of course, being that we opened up two different venues, 4 games in total. Being one of the first escape rooms opening in the UK, we believe we’ve been part of a major movement in the beginnings of the escape room industry. But we’ve also done some other amazing things. We’ve attended the Escape Rooms conference; we’ve seen over 50,000 teams and we’ve game mastered for some incredible people.

But as we’re coming to the end of one decade and entering another, we’re starting to think about what we can do differently over the next 10 years. So, what are we planning on changing?

We’re hoping to open up another venue within the next couple years with new, unique games. Perhaps somewhere close to what we’ve already got open to make team building for larger teams easier. We’re looking into different types of games as well. We want to lead the path on making Escape Rooms more immersive, based thoroughly in story-telling, and incorporating new techniques for communication that can be tailored for the team’s experience and skill level. We’re looking to also revamp and update our current rooms to ensure we’re giving the best experience we can for every team.

We want to introduce more people to Escape Rooms through outreach projects, connecting with schools, communities, and universities. Escape Rooms are a niche market, so why not widen it to engage with a wider audience. After all, escape rooms are for everyone.

We want to see our current game masters through university, and other projects that they might be working on. We love our staff, and we will help as much as we can to push them in the right direction. By offering a supportive and well organised workplace, we can ensure our staff have the best possible care they need.

We also want to start an escape rooms community, connecting with other businesses around us. This isn’t just going to help us as a business grow, but it will also help others. Offering advice, feedback and promotion opportunities means that the industry stays united.

But what about you? What are your decade resolutions? Will you be joining us in reaching out? And do you have any fun suggestions on what else we should aim to achieve over the next few years? Let us know via our social media, or by leaving a comment below.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

By Charlotte Potter