Example of 4th Generation Escape Room we made
Perhaps you’ve heard the statements like «Escape Rooms are boring for everyone», «Escape Room is a matter of the past.» It’s all nonsense. Look at the graph of interest in the query «Escape Room» in Google over the past five years: An interesting period comes now all over the world, when the so-called generation Z begins to spend the main money in the economy. It is the generation of people, born after the 90’s. People, who grew up with the Internet and pocket gadgets. But most importantly, people who spend a much larger share of their income on travel, entertainment and food. The loan for training and mortgage for life cease to be a role model for millions of people. Now they prefer to enjoy their life here and now.I would like to say that everything is just beginning. And since we have come to this conclusion, let’s figure out where it is now, and what to do with all this. The number of escape rooms increases exponentially in the world. But not the quality, unfortunately. Low-quality escape rooms from people going to this industry just for the sake of quick money form a negative image for the consumer. However, making quality escape rooms requires a lot of human and financial resources, which increases the return on investment. These are not all the problems that the owners of escape rooms face. One-time visit. Much to our regret, the team, once passed the quest, is unlikely to come to play it again. It’s not interesting to play the same game twice. Thus, marketing should be built on the constant attraction of new customers. A possible solution is to build some new or upgrade old escape rooms, which require constant new financial injections. Limit of patency. With a 10-hour working day (or less), the escape rooms owners cannot accept more than 8 teams, which limits their revenue even at 100% load. High operating costs (maintenance, salary). Game master is not the Indian God Shiva: he has only two hands. He cannot serve a large number of quests alone. We have to hire more and more operators and increase salaries more and more. Sometimes players cannot calculate their straight, and frequently we have to fix something. All this lays on the owners of the escape rooms a heavy financial burden. Wow effects. Many teams have escaped dozens or hundreds of quests. But all puzzles are typical and even the greatest fans grow tired of them. How can we continue to please and surprise our customers? It is a difficult question. It sounds a little sad. But at least we know what we have to face. And now I will tell you how our Company tried to solve these problems by creating an escape room of 4th generation. Historical reference: The process of escape room changing from generation to generation can be briefly described like this: 1) 1st generation The first generation of escape rooms heavily relied on simple mechanisms – padlocks, lock boxes, magnets, etc. The more complex technology was almost non-existent so, as a result, first-gen rooms were fairly easy to maintain and install. The props didn’t require any advanced knowledge from staff – almost everyone with basic skills could do it. This simplicity challenged escape rooms owners’ to put limited tools into something creative and appealing. 2) 2nd generation Second-gen rooms introduced basic electronic controllers and sensors, adapted more magnets and also sound-and-light systems that are adapting to the story’s progress. This opened the door to much more complex and exciting scenarios. Setting up a “master puzzle”, activated in the last phase of the room, was not possible before. Now, games were able to build up to a jaw-dropping finale. 3) 3rd generation The third generation introduced escape rooms integrated with electronics, sensors and other new technologies. Padlocks are finally replaced with computers, which allows designers to think about more automated – thus much more immersive – scenarios and puzzles. 4) 4th generation With the fourth generation being almost at the doorsteps, escape room owners and players alike should very excited. Escape rooms of the future will bring full automation and many mechanics known from video games . As you can see, many things have changed for the escape rooms creators and players in a short period of time. Naturally, we saw all the problems in previous generations of quests, and we looked for ways to solve them. The most effective and bringing the maximum benefit (as practice has shown) is the solution is maximum automation of the quest process. When one operator is able to manage several quests simultaneously, this makes possible to optimize/reduce the total expenditure, namely the salary budget takes its lion’s share. And a very important point here is the minimal participation of the operator in the reassembling of the escape room after the game. Last but not least is the format of the quests, which are called Simultaneous or streaming games. Streaming game solves a very important task — it increases the number of games per day from the standard 8 games within a 10-hour work schedule to 15-24. This is possible due to the creation of a modular quest. Developing the quest itself and taking into account the several zones/modules you can let another team in while the first one continues the game. Thus, we can run from 2 teams in a row without any downtime and breaks in the schedule. The next task, which is the most difficult of all, is the clients’ irrevocability and their lack of the desire to repeat one quest twice. The solution was the idea of multi variance of puzzles and the finale of the game, depending on the choice of customers. The quest then turns into the adventure with one outline of space, plot and multivariate passing through the scenario. Due to multi variance, customers can pass the same quest from 2 to 5-7 times and they will play it solving new puzzles and coming to a different ending. Modern realities are such that the customers are no longer interested in simply «rooms with keys and safes.» The current state of affairs requires making changes to the escape room space itself that we call a sound atmosphere. In addition to the very entourage of the escape room due to decorations and lighting, which should help to immerse into the game, one of the effective innovations was the sound content of the escape room. It includes the background filling with the vital sounds of each room in accordance with its purpose. For example, in the forest: the sounds of birds, insects, the rustling of leaves; in the throne room: the crackle of fire of torches, the wind outside the window, the sound of water drops, falling on the stone floor. Parallelly with the sounds each room is voiced with the «melody of mood» in meaning appropriate to the script: either frightening or inspiring. And, of course, the sound effects are synchronous to the events in the game itself; the trigger sounds at the opening of the magic chests, the creak of the opening door, the voice of the heroes of the quest. As an experiment, we upgraded one of our old escape rooms and we did not even expect that this will affect the reviews so much. The clients were completely ecstatic about the atmosphere that the soundtrack created, and so we began to apply this new approach to every new escape room. Using the latest technology in creating quests is a win-win story. Although it is matched with certain difficulties of the pioneering, it gives us the opportunity to satisfy customers by offering them a greater number of wow effects, by creating a quest in which they can go more than once, and we can reduce the costs and increase our profit. So the development and application of new methods are certainly worth it. What have we built? Escape room «Dungeon of the Red Dwarfs». The Legend: By the order of the command of the Golden Wing of the Space Marine, your detachment went to the Dragon Ridge to check reports of suspicious activity in the dwarf’s cave of the Red Dwarves. On the spot, it became immediately clear that the situation was much more serious than the command assumed. The most real Evil settled in the abandoned dwarf’s caves. The Mighty Dark Magician destroyed all the Red Dwarves and builds his fortress in the dungeon. The ways to retreat are cut off, but the bastions are not yet completed and the chance to break through is there! At least one soldier of your detachment must break out of the fortress and send information about what is happening to the headquarters. Beware! The magician ordered demons from his retinue to destroy all the strangers! General description of the quest: Number of puzzles in the quest: 14 Number of tasks (taking into account the tasks inside each puzzle): 36 2 levels of difficulty (children, adults) 3 variants of passing the quest 5 wow effects (trembling floor when moving walls, laser beam of Gorgon, teleport, moving Gargoyle, 4-meter statue of the King) The technical side of the 4th generation escape room The first big task is the variation of the passage and multi computability. From the logical point of view, everything is simple and understandable. It is necessary to create several variants of logic and have a exact track of each team’s position during their progress though the game. From the technical side, this question turns into solving the following tasks: · flexible setting of the script inside each room; · flexible setting of the order of rooms. The main idea, which lies in solving this problem, was the division of the entire escape room into stages (rooms). Each stage has several scenarios. The overall result of the team is summarizing from the results of the passed stages. This approach allows you to conduct from 2 games at the same time, and their number depends only on the general layout of the escape room. Automation of the escape room work: Most builders of escape rooms use Arduino, concluding the logic of any task in the controller, and only a performance signal of the task comes to the game master’s program. We went the other way: commands from the escape room control unit are transferred to the MQTT server via the Ethernet network made by our partner GW-Engineering, and all processing logic is entrusted to the software installed on a game master’s computer. The solution from GW-Engineering allows connecting several input devices to the network, such as buttons, RFID-readers and different sensors (including those having an analog output), and so on. Such a performance gives the flexibility to configure the logic of the entire game, making changes only to the software part, which makes it much easier to maintain the location, and does not require to keep «at hand» an engineer who can find his way through ARDUINO complexities. Real-time player locating system Many of the puzzles of the quest «Dungeon Red Dwarfs» are tied to the location of players in the room. We’ve come up with a non-standard solution here. From several indoor-positioning technologies we’ve chosen an optical one. The optical real-time locating system has sufficient accuracy and relatively low cost. The technology is based on the system of pattern recognition in the video stream. Since the story has players dressed in lightly lit game waistcoats, it was decided to use them as objects for whose positions the system should watch after. The system was originally built on the basis of a standard computer with 4 cameras located under the ceiling of the room. The video stream was combined from 4 cameras in online mode and the location of each luminant object was calculated with the help of OpenCV. Later the system was optimized and distributed on 4 micro-PCs such as Raspberry, which being connected to the network with the rest of the devices transfers the players’ location to the game master computer . Escape room control system The control system has a configurable logic of operation. The system collects input data from devices placed in the escape room (buttons, sensors, positioning system) and, according to the logic settings, actuates the triggers for execution of a task. The order of tasks is also set which allows you to adjust the storyline and players’ movement path. By input triggers the system gives commands to executive and sound devices (lighting equipment, special effects, video projectors, actuators). The system allows you to customize the execution script (for example: light turns up, then a soundtrack plays through speakers and after that a smoke generator turns on). The operator can manually activate the input trigger or send a command to the output device (turn off the light, open the door, launch a sound hint if it is necessary). As it was mentioned above, the system allows you to lead on simultaneously several teams (from 2 teams and more). The operator selects the route, the number of players, the average player height (needed for some puzzles) and the logic of the system when letting in each team. The system automatically monitors each team and their playing time. The operator let in the first team and presses “the start” button. The game starts with the first part of the quest. After the team reaches the second part of the quest, the operator reset the first part of the quest and now can let the second team in. To start the game for the second team he would only need to press “Team 2 Start”-button. By the time the second team approaches the second part, the first team leaves the escape room (either the quest is completed, or the time is over and the team has lost). Now it remains only to reset the second part to the ready mode (Reset part 2). And as soon as the second team enters the second part of the quest, the operator is able to start the next cycle by zeroing the results of the first team. Sound component of the quest: To create an atmospheric 3-dimensional sound you need many sources + local sounds in devices. Most escape rooms have stereo sound atmosphere coming through parallel connected channels in all rooms and local devices sounds in the form of records on ARDUINO modules. This leads to the fact that the sound atmosphere is changing at the same time in the whole escape room. That makes simultaneous or streaming games impossible. We turned down this scheme by using the ASIO driver and applying a sound controller based on a PC compatible computer with the audio multichannel cards installed in it (we use ASUS Xonar 7.1). ASIO allows you to combine several sound devices into one virtual device with the total number of outputs equal to the physical on all cards. This solution allows you to play any sound file only where you need it. That is possible with help of Abelton Live. Abelton Live is a professional audio editor that allows to manage, add special effects and redirect the soundtrack to the point needed. The only drawback of this system is that the programmer must work in close cooperation with the sound engineer at the stage of constructing and debugging game logic. In conclusion: Work on the escape room «Dungeon of the Red Dwarfs» was non-standard, complex, but very interesting. A lot of technologies and new approaches have been studied and tested in solving each of the problems. Before we got the results and stable work, we have made mistakes and corrected them. But we worked out the kinks. A huge amount of man-hours, sleepless nights were spent; dozens of litres of coffee were drunk. Now we can say with full confidence that the experience gained while working with new technologies and approaches allows us to undertake the implementation of any modern project from a small promo-stand in the shopping center to a full-scale amusement park for 2000-3000 m².