Escape from Your Mind
by Carmen Gutierrez, Marc Huo, Asa Kohrman, Andrew Tam, and Jessica Yeung
“Escape from Your Mind” is a 3-4 person escape room based in the Enchanted Broccoli Forest’s library that follows the story of you and your friends taking a bad “trip.” By solving three puzzles and escaping the library, players are able to enter a clear headspace. With a combination of sound design, psychedelic lighting and decorations, and puzzles that focus on working different parts of your brain, players have to work together to escape from their own minds.
INITIAL CONCEPT AND IDEATION PROCESS
- This escape room is a mix of collaboration and introspection.
- Players have decided to take a fun “trip” that takes a turn for the worse and have to figure out how to exit the dark side of psychedelic experience. Inside this room, or players’ minds, players must work together to solve various puzzles that lead them out of their “trip.”
- Upon attaining clarity after solving the puzzles scattered throughout the escape room, players receive both a literal and figurative key to a meditative space – in it, players are greeted with pleasant smells and calming music.
- While not a universal experience, we believe having a bad trip can be a universal fear that motivates players to try and escape as fast as possible, similar to when you actually have a bad trip.
- Suspenseful. We want our players to feel on the edge of their seats and uncertain about the next thing to happen.
- Psychedelic. Whether it be with visual distortion or auditory sibilance, we want to replicate the raw and unsettling feeling of a “bad trip”
- Dissociative. We want players to experience a momentary separation from reality while engaging with our game.
- Mystery. We want players to be searching for clues and hints to discover the hidden vestiges of their own minds.
- Our escape room takes place inside players’ minds. To create atmosphere, we will incorporate a set of sensory experiences including music, lights, and visuals.
- Music: We will have music playing inside and outside of the room to create tension between the escape room and the end destination (speaker set up on either side of the room).
- Ex: Whispering undertones (ASMR)
- Discordant, unsettling noises and spatialized sounds
- Desert/Melodic house/techno
- Disorienting, grating yet calming music
- Dissociative and experimental noise music
- Strobe lights, projector, psychedelic paintings
- Projector will be streaming goopy and melting visuals that will make players feel like they’re being absorbed into the room
- Psychedelic and psychological paintings will be plastered across the escape room to fully immerse players into the mental landscape of a “bad trip”
- Candles and other props will be laid across the scene
- We want the visuals of the escape room to be a centerpiece of the space, and to be an art installation in addition to an escape room
- Given our subject matter, we prioritize our escape room’s ability to evoke emotions from within the viewer
- Riddles hidden within real-time spoken poetry
- Hidden numbers behind paintings that form a pin code (ex: unlocks a small three-number lock)
- Projected visual animation with hidden clue, combines environment with game
- Discovery of a phrase to say out loud
- End puzzle:
- The key that unlocks the computer cluster will be hidden inside of a book
- Design Challenges
- How will we make it a subliminal space that mimics a mental state?
- How do we create enough tension in our gameplay to fit the tone of our room?
- How will we place speakers inside/outside the room to create a suspenseful (and slightly disorienting) soundscape?
- How will we alter our chosen space to fit the needs of escaping? (e.g. adding locks, exit area, etc)
- How will we change/add lighting to create a spooky atmosphere?
- Tech Challenges
- Sound setup and speaker placement to provide spatialized sound for escapists
- Creation of the auditory mix to introduce feelings of dissonance and chaos within the escape room
- Digital puzzles – how to create immersive digital puzzle spaces without breaking the “Magic Circle” of the Escape Room
- Where to project visuals without interfering with gameplay
- Art Challenges
- Creating psychedelic digital art that contains clues.
- Sourcing of visual art and curating a sense of uneasiness and fear.
- Creating a stereo soundscape that contributes to the tone
- Writing poetry that contains clues that are clear enough for players to understand
- Design Challenges
- Target Audience
- For adults, regardless of their experience with psychedelics.
- People who enjoy exploring their thoughts and mind.
- People who like suspense and fear.
- People who enjoy altered realities and experiences.
HOW THE CONCEPT HAS CHANGED
We settled on having three main puzzles instead of four. After testing out our puzzles, we realized that our three puzzles encoded enough playtime to fill a 45 minute escape room and did not want players to feel too rushed to complete the game. Additionally, we decided to create layered puzzles in an effort to increase the nuance and complexity of the escape room – we found through playtesting that layered puzzles made our game much more immersive and complex.
Our three main puzzles try to use different parts of the brain to keep players on their toes and force them to think differently in each situation. Given that our escape room is heavily reliant on the psychological and mental headspace of our players, we wanted to deeply immerse them in puzzles that simulated mind games that one might play during a “bad trip”. We have a pure logic puzzle, a collaborative physical maze puzzle, and a brain teaser mixed with physical elements puzzle (clock puzzle). Each lock is also distinct so that players can have some variety in the type of codes they are trying to produce. Additionally, instead of following a linear path, we decided to put out all three puzzles at the same time so that players can bounce between them in case they get stuck/frustrated with one. Players may also strategically decide to save specific puzzles towards the end of the game, thus giving our escapees a chance to shape their own “psychedelic journey”.
We decided to also stay away from “sound” puzzles since 1) we did not want the puzzle to be inaccessible to players and 2) based on the guest lecture from Laura Hall, sound clues can be very easily missed (her story about the hint alarm caught our interest and helped us make decisions on what types of puzzles to include/not include). Instead, we decided to reserve the soundscape to dissociative and trance-like ambient music to evoke emotional immersion into the game.
The puzzles and environment design are explained in further detail below.
The Box and Locks
Upon entering the room, players are confronted with a locked box and a message, explaining the situation to them. The message is reproduced below.
There are three locks attached to the box, each a different color that corresponds to a specific puzzle. The corresponding puzzles are also bordered with the same color as their lock. For example, our maze puzzle has blue worms on it, so the lock also has blue worms attached to it. Our clock puzzle has purple bordered cards, which unlock the purple lock. Players must complete all three puzzles to unlock the box.
The box contains the key to escape to the computer cluster, which represents a clear state of mind at the end of the dizzying journey through your labyrinthine mind in the library. Once players solve the three puzzles, they retrieve the key, can exit the library and enter the computer cluster, the end lobby of our escape room.
The computer cluster has calming music and soft lighting and contains a nice message congratulating the players for completing the escape room. During our official playthrough, we provided players with fresh berries as well as a sign of their successful escape.
Our first puzzle is a logic puzzle whose solution provides three digits to input into a three digit number lock. Below is shown the logic puzzle’s prompt and iteration history.
On a beautiful Spring day at the Enchanted Broccoli Forest, there were three Stanford students – Ruby, Natassia, and Nina – who each took a tab of acid. After they dropped and painted in the grass for a while, they saw three dark shadows ahead. When the Stanford students met the shadows, they split into pairs. Next thing you know, three pairs walked away in different directions.
From this information and the following clues, determine each student’s shadow companion, her favorite activity and how many revelations each girl and her shadow had.
- Guilt chose the girl who liked to play piano, but she was not Nina.
- Pride’s companion liked to smell flowers.
- Ruby loved to spend time with her shadow after a long afternoon nap in the sun.
- Nina had two more revelations than Guilt’s companion.
Players get a logic puzzle grid to help them solve the puzzle.
From there, players use math to combine the puzzle answers and get the three digit key code.
Transparency and Clock Lock
Our second puzzle is a multi-step puzzle that involves finding a poem that leads to discovering marked pieces of transparent paper around our escape room which, when overlaid on top of one another, allows the players to find the correct clocks from which to read the combination lock’s solution.
To solve, align the transparencies so that the circle outlines and dots align and are the same color to identify the three clocks that correspond to the numbers for the lock combo. The top left, middle, and bottom left clocks are the correct clocks. Players then add the times together (8:02, 1:12, 5:15) to get the final lock combo 10, 13, 20.
This was one of the more interesting puzzles to watch people solve since there are three main steps, and different people found different steps easier and/or harder than others. For example, some people were able to immediately identify the clocks required using the transparent cards, but had trouble translating the time into the lock combo. Others found the transparencies really difficult, but were able to deduce that you have to add the hours and minutes together to get the lock combo very quickly. We liked how this puzzle was able to cater to different people at each step, almost necessitating a collaborative effort to solve it!
Our final puzzle was a physical puzzle which involved one player guiding another player through a physical maze which is hidden from view from the maze-solver. The diagram of the maze is discovered taped to the wall, while the real maze is stuck to a table inside a wooden casing that obscures it. Using a magnet, the player can guide the key stuck inside out of the maze given directions from another player viewing the diagram from across the room. Below, you can see images of the maze’s diagram and the physical maze, both opened to see the insides and enclosed in wood (the way players would find it).
We found that people really enjoyed this puzzle! The strong magnets allowed players to feel when they had dropped the key, even though they couldn’t see it, giving them a very strong sense of “sensation” fun. During every playtest, we heard exclamations of joy and delight when they finally got the key out of the box and were able to unlock the lock. It seemed like we made a very satisfying experience, and we were happy that we got players to work together consistently.
ENVIRONMENT, LIGHTING, AND SOUND DESIGN
We decided to use the library in the Enchanted Broccoli Forest (EBF) as the space for our game. It allowed us to create an immerse and thematic space in alignment with our vision of a bad “psychedelic trip” and ended up serving as an ideal setting for various reasons.
First, since a library represents a place of knowledge, the EBF library felt appropriate as the setting of our game since it also acted as a symbolic representation of the player’s mind. Thus, the act of escaping the library also metaphorically represented the escaping of the player’s mind as well. In terms of the space itself, it is characterized by a wide assortment of books, colorful yet provocative paintings, and miscellaneous objects (such as skateboard decks and a chest). The diverse yet ornate setup of the room creates a “fairytale” feeling to the room and matches well with our puzzles which all contain elements of fantasy. These objects also make the space feel like a place of creative chaos and further enhances player stimulation and engagement. We additionally displayed a video containing “psychedelic”-like visuals on the library TV which provided unintentional lighting and general atmosphere (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICmWwxaTmB8&ab_channel=GoodForYou). The space is also decently sized and holds adequate space for 3-4 people. During our playtest, players were all able to divide up spatially around the room and had ample space to walk around to find the cards for the clock puzzle. Overall, compared to the room in Durand, the EBF library presents an enormous step up due to its presence as an organically created space and ability to draw on many years of history.
In addition to the library, we utilized the EBF computer cluster as the final meditation room. The computer cluster is fairly minimalistic and we designed the space to include an assortment of plants that surround the final letter. Here, we create a contrast between the chaos of the library and the simplicity of the computer cluster in order to emphasize the feelings of escape and to double down on the serene feelings of the meditation room.
In terms of considerations, we were worried about the potential of having too many red herrings in the room but we discovered that players for the most part were able to navigate the room in order to find relevant materials (i.e. clock cards). We also toyed with the idea of having players find a book that had the final key inside. Although we were never able to refine the logistics and execution of that idea, we would certainly attempt this route further in a future iteration.
The room also utilizes light as a key source of ambience. The library is decorated with various colored string lights and party lights that are equally spread out throughout the room. The room also receives natural light from the open window and provides organic hues to the space (however, ideal play time would be in the late afternoon or early evening since the room does receive a lot of sunlight). There is one light in particular that acts as a “spotlight” and shines on various paintings which gives them an unnerving and life-like feel. There is also a cult leader figurine with surrounding candles that contains a spooky quality and the visuals from the TV add to the overall visual ambience of the room.
Since many escape rooms are dark, we wanted to replicate the same approach but instead with more colorful lighting in order to emphasize the “creative chaos” mentioned earlier. Using standard dorm lighting certainly would have broken immersion due to its sterile nature but strobe lighting was not appropriate either because of its potential for distraction and epilepsy concerns.
To introduce even more immersion to our room, we carefully incorporated the element of sound into our game. We curated a playlist of ambient but unnerving electronic music that represents the inner voice of the player. We feel that the playlist successfully elicits our intended feelings of anxiety, uncanniness, and slight discomfort. The songs contain dissonant notes, eerie sonic textures, and generally have an abstract and experimental feel. For example, the first song in particular utilizes a voice sample that warps in different patterns and has the feeling of a nostalgic yet dystopian modern art exhibit. The songs are all assorted in a specific order that builds up loose feelings of anxiety and also keeps pressure on the players to accomplish the tasks quickly. However, in the meditation room, we play a peaceful and relaxing ambient song that represents the comedown of the trip. This allows the players to enter a calm mindset after completing the game and presents a huge contrast from the dark textures and off-beat rhythms that are played in the library.
We learned from the Week 9 class lecture that sound has the capacity to provide profound immersion within a game and elicit strong emotions. We believe that our playlist has an arc and sonic aesthetic that matches perfectly with the intended feel of our game and successfully adds to the overall immersion without also distracting the players.
Specifically, our approach to playtesting our games was to have players solve each individual puzzle that we’ve contained within our escape room. We wanted to have various teams and groups of players try the puzzles to imum amount of players required to complete the room, as well as observe group dynamics at each iteration. At each iteration of our puzzles, we had players try a new feature that we’ve added – slowly, we build up the final puzzles from a foundational idea into a fully-fleshed out and complex mystery. With player feedback, we continued to either alter current revisions that we’ve made or even add changes based on what we observe and are suggested to do.
We recruited playtesters from both inside and outside of the classroom. Within the classroom, we continuously gave vertical slices of puzzles, and gave players backstories and context to inform them of where they are up to in the escape room if they were actually playing. We made sure to have our playtesters try all of our puzzles equally, and we iterated based on what we see.
Changes that We Made after Playtesting
For our initial maze, we had originally made a rough sketch of a maze on a piece of paper, to which players had to trade in order to reach the “end”. After this initial sketch and reproduction of the final maze onto paper, we manufactured, designed, and created the initial version of the maze contained within the wooden box. In it, we had pasted cardboard walls to simulate the drawn maze in a 3D space, as well as had a magnetized key that traversed the maze. At this iteration, players could not actually see inside the box, but were given access to the hand-drawn sketch of the maze, to which they could follow on the actual boxed maze.
- During some playtests, we discovered that individual players were able to complete the entire maze puzzle on their own if they acquired both the physical maze and the diagram and compared them side-by-side. In order to make the puzzle more collaborative and force teamwork, we decided to make both the maze diagram and the physical maze unmovable, so that one player viewing the diagram was forced to guide another player, who navigated the magnet through the maze. This created a much more fun experience in our opinion.
- Some players were unable to form the initial connection between the maze diagram and the maze box, which was initially made from plain wood. We chose to create the blue worm motif across all parts of the maze puzzle to act as clues that help players link the pieces of the puzzle together. It also fits well with our psychedelic theme!
- We found that some players could not feel where the walls were or visualize how long one “unit” in the maze was, which sometimes led to frustrating teamwork experiences. To ameliorate this, we painted the worm graphic on top of the maze such that the worms vaguely followed the gridlines of the underlying maze, and aided struggling players.
- After hearing some people express complaints, we applied lacquer to both sides of the physical maze’s wooden casing to make the physical sensation of moving the key using the magnet a more satisfying one.
We initially really liked the hand-eye coordination that players had to put into use in order to traverse the maze, but we quickly realized shortcomings of this approach – the maze was far too easy and the maze itself was not engaging for all members of the playtest. In fact, we noticed during our playtests that only one player really needed to be playing the maze in order to finish it, while the rest of them idly looked on. We then changed the actual mechanism of the game to have the sketched and physical maze on the opposite side of the room, glued down so the “maze-runner” could not actually see the sketched maze. Instead, a team member would have to be verbally giving directions to the maze-runner by cross-comparing the sketched maze to the physical maze’s location. This allowed for team members to participate equally in the game, and it also added another dimension of teamwork and collaboration to the actual puzzle.
Initially, the logic puzzle was going to be hidden in a poem.
Our playtests revealed that the puzzle was far too long. Players lost focus after a few lines. Moreover, they struggled to pull the logic puzzle out of the poem. Lines that weren’t clues were read as clues and other clues were glossed over. Instead, we pivoted to the more traditional and familiar format of a logic puzzle. By being completely direct about the clues, users could focus on the puzzle itself rather than deciphering the poem.
Players liked the logic puzzle but struggled to answer it without the grid. Adding the grid improved the playtest experience. However, students who were unfamiliar with logic puzzles didn’t realize that every character in the story only had one favorite activity, one shadow companion, and one set of revelations. They spent most of the playtest trying to understand the premise of the logic puzzle rather than trying to solve it. By adding an additional clue about the fact that players only had one relationship with each category, the players were able to engage with the puzzle better and have more fun.
Initially, we imagined this to be an individual game. However, our play testing revealed how much more fun it is when it is collaborative. Playtesters bounced ideas back and forth. Sometimes they pushed each other in the right direction and sometimes they led each other astray. The variability and banter made the game funner and funnier. So, in the actual game, we encouraged players to work together to solve the logic puzzle.
Finally, we needed to find a way to connect the logic puzzle to the lock code. Based on playtesting, we decided to use simple arithmetic to translate the puzzle answers into lock box numbers. The arithmetic pushed them to use a different kind of thinking and made the game feel more like a scavenger hunt. However, many play testers struggled to remember order of operations and consistently got the wrong number for the final code. We included a clue about order of operations to make the arithmetic more approachable.
Initially, we fell in love with the idea of visual cryptography and were thinking about including it within the game. We would have players retrieve separate transparent sheets of paper scattered around the escape room and have them piece it together to form a number on the lock. This layering of different sheets of paper was something that we really liked, as it incentivized players to scavenge and explore the nooks and crannies of the escape room, emphasizing our game’s usage of space. While we didn’t end up using cryptography in our game, we still took this concept into consideration when designing the layers and nuances of the clock puzzle and pulled inspiration from the card game, Swish, shown below.
- We started out by trying to use 4 transparencies with circles and dots. However, it was pretty difficult to make sure that there was only one solution. Depending on the ways the cards were flipped, people could interpret the solution multiple ways. Additionally, people were a little confused by the multiple dots and didn’t understand that the colors of the dots had to match up with the same colored circle outlines. Playtesters also continued to try and align the cards not by stacking them, but arbitrarily, so we added borders to the cards to try and guide players into stacking them directly on top of each other.
- Our second iteration of the transparent cards aimed to make it clear that the circles and dots needed to be completed. Below, we used 6 cards and tried to make the solution have all dots and circles filled, and to identify the correct clocks, you would only use the circles and dots that are of the same color (the green on the top left, pink in middle, and blue on top right). However, this card set also resulted in multiple solutions and had a few configurations that we missed that also had three dot and circle combinations that matched colors.
- After these two iterations, our main feedback we received was that the cards were too complicated and people would prefer to arrive at a solution more immediately. We reduced the number of cards down to three and only had three circle/dot pairs. However, we still left two “loose” circles and dots that did not belong in a circle/dot pair (shown below). Playtesters recommended we remove these red herring marks from the cards, so our final cards now look like the cards below. Now, there is only one explicit solution and the circles and dots align without any straggling dots/circles (first picture shown).
- We also had some playtesters recommend adding a grid to the transparent cards to make the 9 clock locations more apparent – however, we received mixed feedback from other playtesters, who thought that adding the grid made the puzzle too easy. In the end, we decided to remove the grid and leave this part as the main challenge. It is not our goal that ALL players be able to immediately solve our puzzles, the three puzzles are designed for a 45 minute escape room, so we want it to be challenging and push people to think about all the options to solve it.
- We also iterated the clock display a few times.
- First, we initially had it organized in a square. To make the correlation between the cards and the clocks more clear, we also changed the clock organization to be more rectangular.
- Additionally, to help orient the transparent cards correctly, we added colored dots to the side near the clocks to indicate to users that the blue dot should be at the top of the card and the green dot should be at the bottom of the card.
- We also built out the poem with more hints for each step of the puzzle since there are three main components – finding the transparencies, assembling the transparencies to identify the clocks, and translating the times into the lock combo. At first, we only encoded a clue to find the transparencies (behind the paintings) and that the cards needed to be “aligned.” We changed the wording to “stack”since players were initially trying to align dots and circles by arranging the cards perpendicularly, diagonally, and pretty much any configuration you can think of besides stacking directly on top of each other. We also added tape to border the cards so that players would see a boundary and be less inclined to organize them arbitrarily. We added lines about which clocks to use (minute hand less than 30) and hinting at using arithmetic to convert the clock times to 3 numbers for the lock. Finally, we made sure to include that there are 3 cards they need to find to make sure players feel confident they have found all the pieces before attempting to use them to solve the puzzle.
- We also were thinking about getting actual, physical clocks instead of print-out clocks to add another dimension of visual immersion into the escape room, but soon discovered that the lack of minute ticks on some of the clocks made it too unfeasible. Instead, we used the physical clocks we purchased as more of a visual decoration rather than a core mechanism of the game. Additionally, having stylized printed clocks made it much more apparent that the clock grid was part of a puzzle.
Takeaways from Playtesting and Future Directions
We really enjoyed the playtesting process, and we found that we incorporated a lot of feedback into our end product, which was apparent through countless iterations of our puzzles from start to finish. We felt like playtesting was the most useful when we asked open ended questions and very broad prompts like “how did ___ make you feel” or “what do you wish you could change about ____” – these were the prompts that gave us the best answers of how our playtesters would change the game to better suit the needs of our players. By giving broad questions, we allowed players to give suggestions that were on the top of their head, and it allowed them to give us unbiased opinions about our game.
For future directions of our game, we want to further expand on the visual components and sensory aspects of the escape room itself. We would like to continue to curate the library space that we have in order to expand on our vision of a sensory experience in a psychedelic environment. We also want to continue adding layers to our games – especially our logic and clock games. Specifically with the clock game, we want to incorporate more physical mechanisms within the game – we want to have physical clocks instead of print out ones, and we also want to create a more meaningful logic obstacle that players must work through to actually find the transparent sheets in the first place. Specifically, we believe that another sort of riddle would form an effective scavenger hunt-esque experience in finding the sheets. With the sheer amount of books inside of the library, we think putting the sheets inside books and created a riddle that is related to clocks would be a great way to incorporate more elements of space and intentional story immersion into our game!
PLAYTESTING OTHER GAMES
I played Minecraft Prison Break, a Minecraft style escape room video game. I really enjoyed the first person walking-simulator format, since it made the escape room feel more immersive. The escape room requires two people, one who is on one side of the room and the other is on the other side of the room. On my side, I was presented with many switches, books, and levers, and the other room contained the hints to escape. Since I did not have access to the hints, we had to work together in order to figure out the puzzle. I thought this was a really creative way to encourage collaboration since a video game can be hard to adapt to multiplayer fun. The puzzle hinged on four number riddles, and the answer to the puzzle required keeping track of each of the answers and adding them up. I liked how I was forced to really look closely at the room to figure out what I had to count. For example, one of the hints was to count the number of torches in the room, and I had to remember to circle back to the entrance where the torches were. Another hint used a coordinate system to figure out which button on the wall I had to press. However, the main caveat with this puzzle design was that there was no confirmation that we had the right number at each step, so if we messed up on one of the hints, we didn’t have much guidance as to where we made a mistake. The coordinate wall puzzle was also visually difficult since I did not realize the wooden decorations were actually buttons until the game designer told me they were. With some aesthetic alterations (make interactive elements a bit clearer, make the room wider so you can see the entire space a bit better) and adding some visual/audio signals to the player that their intermediate answers are correct, this would be a really polished escape room video game!
I played the escape room Dormbreak with other members of this team. I really enjoyed how the escape room employed both analog and digital puzzles to solve in order to obtain the password of your missing friend’s iphone. For example, one of the puzzles involved first finding the password to the laptop, which was the last person he called (JONES in numbers), and then following his homework instructions to retrieve numbers from an episode of SUITS on Netflix that was open in a tab on the computer. After acquiring these numbers, we then had to add them all together to get the correct digit for the iphone password. Since all of this occurred on a MacBook much like the ones many of us personally owned, it was easy and fun to see that we were doing things correctly – we let out a cheer when we entered the right computer password. I loved how the digital aspect allowed familiarity to guide us and affirm that we were headed in the right direction. Other, more analog puzzles were equally fun; for example, another puzzle involved using an overlay with holes cut out to read specific words from a journal, which guided us to his houseplant on which was written the number we needed. I liked how each of the puzzles involved many steps, and all of us could collaborate and piece together the larger solution. The only thing that was slightly confusing for us was the “snacks” puzzle at the end of the game. Although we did solve this puzzle, we solved it incorrectly, and were led astray by a lonely snack that a gamemaster had mistakenly left apart from the rest of the snacks. Since this snack was apart from the rest, it appeared important and ended up being a red herring. Also, the darkness in the room made it sometimes difficult to spot clues that were obvious in the light, although I did not think that this darkness detracted from the overall experience. 🙂
For my final playtest I played Dall-E Collector. The premise of the game is that players find and combine resources in order to complete tasks but the tasks are all embedded within a larger story. The game pays homage to pixel-art and open world video games such as Pokemon and Minecraft and the art style is appealing and nostalgic to someone who has played those games before. The most fascinating part of the game is the utilization of the AI tool DALL-E which is used to create images for the combined creations. Players combine resources by choosing two resources from their inventory and craft them in a UI similar to Minecraft. The creations are then delivered to NPCs which unlocks further tasks or allows the players to gain more resources. Overall, I really enjoyed the premise of the game but mainly had feedback about the controls and user experience relating to the inventory actions. First, they could have provided more instructions about what buttons to press for certain controls (they had an icon with an “I” but I didn’t realize it was referring to a capital I and that it referred to the inventory). However, my main point of feedback was related to the wording for the controls and for giving objects to the NPCs. In particular, the button for giving an item was labeled “hold” and I assumed that upon clicking the button, the user would automatically hold the item as a “hot” item and that upon talking to the NPC, it would deliver the item. However, I found that I needed to press the button in front of the NPC and that I could not automatically transfer it like in other games. Additionally, I found the wording of “hold” to be confusing and suggested that it might be better to label the button as something like “give” to clarify that it is an active action. Overall, however, I loved the visual direction and premise of the game and it felt like a cozy game that I would definitely play more in depth.
For my final playtest I played Dormbreak with other members of this team. I really enjoyed playing this game. Their game design was very clear and told a clear and compelling story. Their puzzles all fit in well with their narrative and always felt consistent with each other. One of my favorite parts of this escape room was how much it had us engaging with the physical space. Clues were hidden all around the room. However, rather than simply tearing the room apart, the clues encouraged us to act deliberately. This made solutions all the more satisfying. I also liked that they had many small puzzles leading to a final answer. This allowed the players to split up and attack different parts of the escape room individually. Their escape room was made with deep consideration for the space it would be played in. The games were built to the space rather than the other way around. There were only a few points where this didn’t feel true. At one point, they had a purple plastic piece propped on a glowing box. The box beautifully illuminated the plastic, however, the amount of energy it had taken them to create the glowing box was distracting. It made the box seem more significant than it was, particularly because the box felt so out of place in the room. Another critique is the lighting in the room. While darkness helped create an effective ambience, it undermined many of the clues they provided. The clues were hard to read and it was too dark to search the snack area for the final clue. I wish the room had been better lit so we could have seen more of the clues.
For my final playtest, I played Dormbreak, which was conducted in one of the team member’s dorm room in Toyon. The escape room was structured as a sort of murder mystery, where we had to find the location and whereabouts of one of our friends, who had left a slew of hints and clues in his dorm room. Given that the setting was in a dorm room and had a setup that really coincided with the theme of the game, I thought that their use of space was excellent. In particular, I really enjoyed how the creators of the escape room were able to seamlessly combine analog and digital elements within their escape room. Specifically, they had an analog scavenger hunt with a map, as well as a digital component, where users had to match up dots to find the location of the friend’s last location. They also had a part of the escape room where users had to figure out the password to the Macbook, and then use the Macbook to click through scenes of Suits, which contained clues to solve the lock combination. This layering of puzzles, and the fact that they had one section of the puzzle lead into the other was quite impressive and seamless! I also thought that their decoration of the dorm room was quite nice, as it was had lighting and visuals that simulated a “murder mystery” scene! There was one specific portion of the escape room that my team had issues with, which was the “snacks” portion of the game – it was a puzzle that had us count up how many cookies were iced vs uniced, and that would be the final number for the combination. However, we were all hesitant to go sifting through their snacks and touch their cookies, so we really had a hard time getting to this hint! While we had issues with this part, we didn’t feel like it detracted from the experience – the escape room really was a fun time that required a lot of team collaboration!