Heist! At the Cantor: Games in Space

Heist! At the Cantor

Game Designers: Alahji Barry, Cathy Zhang, Jialin Zhuo, Ji Hong Ni, and Kathleen Yuan


Artist’s Statement

Heist! At the Cantor is an escape room puzzle hunt game that blends the fantasy of narrative and satisfaction of fellowship while leveraging the beauty, utility, and imagination of Stanford art installations and destinations. 

In the game, you and your team are the “chosen ones.” Your mission? Carry out a $13 million dollar art heist of Cantor Center’s Lhuyen Ke. Begin by meeting a Cantor security plant, who will set you off with the portrait itself on a thrilling escape of puzzles and activities across Stanford’s art campus. Team up to explore the famed Rodin Sculpture Garden, scrutinize the crevices of Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone River, and appreciate Richard Serra’s engineering masterpiece Sequence—in just thirty minutes, can you find the mysterious location where the handler is waiting for you and successfully accomplish the heist without being caught by Cantor security? 

As game designers and as “Cantor’s top-notch security team,” we carefully designed a series of puzzles, a set of mechanics, and a narrative storyboard. By encouraging collaboration to tackle challenges, leveraging existing Stanford space in a new light, and designing a gripping and cohesive narrative environment, Heist! At the Cantor creates an experience for groups that is uniquely spatial, immersive, and rewarding.


Target Audience

Our game is perfect for anyone who enjoys both scavenger hunts and escape rooms, as it contains elements of both. In addition, our puzzles play into an overall story of completing the art heist mission, making the game great for gamers who appreciate deducing stories and completing spatial challenges. Narrative and fellowship are the two key aspects of our escape room that we seek to evoke. Our target demographic is folks who enjoy being outside, as our escape room takes place in several locations and requires a significant amount of walking. Our game is for players who are of middle school age and above or anyone who can read and count.


Core Concepts

Formal Elements

We designed our game with the Formal Elements guiding our intended aesthetics of fun. Here is an outline of our decisions for the Formal Elements.

  • Players: Ideal number of players is 4. We chose this number of players so that a team can effectively and efficiently solve our puzzles, which generally involve cooperation and teamwork. The minimum number of players is 2, as one of our puzzles requires 2 people to complete. The player dynamic is multiplayer and cooperative play (all players are playing together with one shared goal of successfully completing the heist).
  • Objectives: The objective of the game is for players to solve the puzzles and identify the final meetup location, where they will hand the stolen art piece to a handler and thereby successfully complete the mission. They must do this within the time limit of 30 minutes, after which the handler will leave.
  • Outcomes: The outcome is zero-sum: either the players complete the mission in time or they do not.
  • Rules: The text group chat is the main communication method for the players with the handler; we thought that this communication system would feel immersive, simulating what communication might be like for actual art thieves conducting an actual heist. The handler will send the players texts regularly, and the players can ask for hints up to 3 times by messaging the handler in the group chat. The last major rule is that there are no penalties, meaning the players should feel free to play the puzzles and try out puzzle solutions without worry of being penalized; the only penalty is getting caught by us, the security guards when time is up.
  • Resources: The initial resources for the players are the initial message sent in the text group chat, including the narrative premise, ground rules, and first task. With each completed puzzle, we provide an additional resource, a piece of the map, and an image of McMurtry, which players use to identify the next game location. Regarding resources for individual puzzles, we provide clear tape so players can easily put together the paper slips for Stone River, and we provide a special QR code scanner web application for Sequence.
  • Boundaries: The physical boundaries are the puzzle and art installation locations⁠—Cantor YO/OY, Rodin Sculpture Garden, Stone River, Sequence, and the McMurtry rooftop. We indicate the limits of these physical boundaries by centering the puzzles on individual art pieces and by labeling and directing players to these specific locations; at the same time, players are encouraged to explore these spaces and exhibits, allowing freedom of movement and discovery. 


Aesthetics of Fun

Fellowship: A major tenet of our game is collaboration. Many of our puzzles encouraged teamwork. Rodin and Stone River could be completed by a single person or a team moving together at once; however, especially with the time pressure, players would find it more efficient to split up and come back together, reinforcing the collaborative nature of our game. Furthermore, our Sequence puzzle required a pair. The two players, with separate devices, had to each scan a QR code simultaneously, and these QR codes were placed far from each other in a symmetric manner. 

  • “Participating in tasks that I could not accomplish alone made the game experience more satisfying for me.” –Tristan

Narrative: The art heist narrative piece of our game is what ties together the puzzles in a cohesive manner, and likewise, many of our mechanics are tied together by the narrative. We wanted players to feel like they were “actually” on the run, stealing an expensive art piece from Cantor, and attempting to meet a mysterious handler. See the Narrative section of this blog post for an extensive discussion of the narrative component of our game.

We also touch on Discovery, empowering players to explore and discover the Stanford campus art locations and art installations; Challenge, offering a balanced amount of difficulty in the puzzles alongside an added time pressure; and Fantasy, because while we strive to make our narrative as real and immersive as possible, ultimately this art heist is a form of fun, movie-Esque fantasy for the players.


Game Architecture

Our game’s main interaction loop revolves around solving an individual puzzle at an art installation. After solving the puzzle, the players should be identifying or receive a passcode that they can test on a physical combination lock, which serves as feedback for the players to know whether they successfully solved the puzzle or not. If they indeed solved the puzzle correctly and thereby successfully opened a locked box, the players will know where the next location of the game is. The players repeat this interaction loop until they identify the final location. The arc of the game follows this development, as players continue to progress and piece together the map and McMurtry picture, which is when they can signify to the handler that they have accomplished all steps of the mission by meeting the handler themself at the final location.



The interwoven nature of the narrative, space, puzzles, and interaction in the game makes the overall experience immersive. The narrative element as stated before is based on an art heist around the Stanford Cantor area. With the handler maintaining constant, mysterious communication with the players, this layer of obscurity moves the story along. The game itself also creates an immersive experience since it interacts directly with the Cantor art center space, which highly accentuates the art heist objective. 

Here are specific ways we coupled mechanics and the narrative:

  • First and foremost, we gave the players a role: a team chosen by the handler to help complete an art heist.
  • The role of the handler itself was a way for us to implement game progression, but it was also embedded in the narrative.
  • We played the role of Cantor security, and Jialin was a security plant, making the onboarding process embedded into the narrative as well. This security plant role initiates the game itself. This role presents to the players the goal that they must complete and lay out the process by which they must go through to complete the mission. 
  • Each puzzle was introduced with a text from the handler that contextualized the puzzle and art installation as one step of the heist process. 

In regards to our game’s usage of space, we planned an escape narrative that brought players around Cantor, outdoor sculptures, and McMurtry. One of our initial design approaches was to create puzzles based on public art installations and their physical features to increase players’ immersive in the space. For example, the Rodin Garden puzzle had players inspecting each sculpture to identify which had information that the others did not. Clues to Stone River’s puzzle were taped into the crevices of the piece for players to find, and Sequence’s symmetry led to simultaneous interaction. Solving each puzzle, therefore, required players to scatter around the installation and occasionally reconvene. Then, we linked each puzzle together with a specific route around the area that followed the narrative of meeting the handler, and players had to figure out how to navigate using a map we provided in segments. By using several locations in the “art district” of campus, we used the map to encourage player exploration. As our playtester, Peter critiqued: “Of particular fascination to me is how space, even that I was relatively familiar with, could change so dramatically in the context of a game.” We strongly aligned with the “space” theme of this project and believe our use of space, embedded with our puzzles and the escape narrative, is the most defining and unique aspect of our game.

Game Onboarding:

Prior to the start of the game, we collected the phone numbers of the players that are planning to play our game. Then, at the beginning of the game, the handler sends a very cryptic task to meet their assistant, the crooked security guard, in front of the Cantor. This sets off the game’s ominous tone and mysterious energy that we want the players to feel. When the players arrive in front of the Cantor, the crooked security will go through the list of rules (Day of Schedule), which the handler also sends for accessibility purposes later. 


As designers, we made sure to seamlessly integrate the objects at our chosen locations into our puzzles, leveraging the physical space to make the game an immersive and realistic experience for the players. One of the most insightful pieces of feedback we got from our first on-site playtest was to ensure that our puzzles were purposeful, in that the tasks that the players had to complete had a connection to the location and, equally as importantly, to our narrative. In terms of the difficulty levels of our puzzles, we made sure that it was reasonable through playtesting and that difficulty terraced upward throughout the game. The first puzzle we made was relatively easy, as we wanted players to start off the game feeling motivated and confident in their abilities to complete the heist. However, subsequent puzzles were more challenging as they required critical thinking, problem-solving, and visual awareness. As the game developers, we acknowledged our own biases and our perception of the difficulty of the various puzzles, which is why we implemented a self-service and thus adaptive hint system where players can communicate with the handler via text for any assistance. By requesting a hint for a particular puzzle, players would get a series of progressively more detailed information to help them become self-sufficient once again and be able to solve the puzzle.

Game Progression:

To move the game along, we implemented the role of the handler to provide the moving pieces as the players complete each puzzle. At the beginning of each puzzle, the handler sends a blurb about the puzzle/location which also provides a small hint about how to solve the riddle at the station. After solving the puzzle, the players also unlock a piece of the map that guides them to the next puzzle area, and the back of this paper piece is also a part of a McMurtry rooftop picture, which signifies the final destination. The handler sends encouraging messages to maintain communication (see the Final Playtest Script for exact text messages). We also imposed a time limit that the handler will send to the players to force them to move faster before the clock runs out. 


Justification of Design Elements and Choices

Main Design Elements:

  • Core loops: See the game Architecture section for a discussion of core interaction loops. We designed this core loop system to make all the puzzles feel interdependent and cohesive, and each puzzle can seamlessly flow into the next without anything feeling disjointed. 
  • Player relationships: Given the exploratory nature, our game is best played in collaborative teams. Players are expected to strategize and communicate with each other through their preferred medium in their quest in trying to solve each puzzle to discover the location of the handler. We encourage this player dynamic because of the expansive area required to explore, as well as the time pressure to finish the puzzles. 
  • Tone: The premise is for a group of robbers to carry out the most perfect robbery in Stanford history – to steal the famous Lhuyen Ke. The game is filled with pressure, fear, and suspense as players try to navigate through several puzzles and successfully escape without being caught by the Cantor security guards. Humor is also expressed through the handler/hint system, which infuses messages with cheeky characters. See Appendix for mood boards and Spotify playlists for the vibes we wanted to bring.
Visual and Auditory Choices: 

From playtesting, we improved the sensory experience of our game by incorporating as many physical components as possible such as an annotated map of Cantor that had to be puzzled back together and combination locks on various colored and sized boxes containing new information. Our early playtesters preferred this to text-only interaction as it felt more interactive through tactile problem-solving. We chose a pop-art and collage design for our game’s promotional image and kept extra items or stimuli to a minimum during the puzzles in order to keep attention drawn to each puzzle’s unique location. When we needed extra props, we themed them to the puzzle location. For example, Stone River’s message slips have an illustration of the sculpture on them. 


Map of Game Mechanics



LINK for the Figma File


Playtesting and Iterations

We will discuss our narrative iterations, as well as our playtesting and iterations puzzle by puzzle.

Puzzle #1 YO / OY Playtesting and Iterations:

Puzzle Overview: Before embarking on the escape route, the players must first retrieve the valuable art piece from the double agent security guard who has already stolen it from Cantor. The Lhuyen Ke was double-locked by the security guard with special software for higher security. The player would only gain access to the artwork if they solved the password. Then, the security guard would hand them the first piece of the full puzzle to the next location. To solve the puzzle, players try to guess the correct password within four tries. With each guess, the system provides feedback on the number of matching letters the current guess has with the password.

Puzzle Link: https://zhuojl00.github.io/CS247G/

Iteration 1:

In the initial playtest we wanted to test for the difficulty and duration of the puzzle. We weren’t sure if the puzzle would be too simple, resulting in the gamers having no pleasure or enjoyment. However, we were going to utilize the puzzle as the initial puzzle to achieve the art work, so we wanted to see if a lower level of difficulty would be fine. Two participants (Chu and Grace) attempted the puzzle.


  • They look intrigued, lots of “huh” and “okays”
  • “Looks so cool!”
  • “It’s like wordle!”
  • “Does the order matter?”
  • A lot of collaboration, talking back and forth
  • Clicking through the interface 
  • They won! 1 min 42 seconds


  • Really liked the website and the hacker visual style is cool
  • Puzzle is fun and not too hard (good for a intro puzzle)
  • Has some element of luck (guessed on the second try)
  • Really liked it but winning felt underserved since they narrowed down to 4-5 choices but got lucky and picked the right one on the first try
  • Due to their luck they did not get to exercise their thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Main confusion was on the meaning of matching letters (position and character) 
  • The win message is not obvious enough
  • Curious about what happens if they lose


  • Made the congratulations message bigger to be more obvious and indicative when the game ended
  • Modified the instructions to clarify what the matching letter meant

Iteration 2:

Now that we knew the difficulty and duration of the game was suitable for the puzzle to be an introductory puzzle for the game, we mainly sought feedback on if the changes made in the last iteration improved the game. Three players (Wilmer, Ulo, Tyler) attempted the puzzle.


  • Reads the instruction carefully 
  • First try to randomly select things 
  • One of us had to explain the premise of the puzzle which is trying to get the password to steal the painting 
  • They won! 2 mins and 6 seconds 


  • Visual for colors (since people might be color blind)
  • Love the font and style of the website
  • Penalizing users if they can’t get it
    • Introducing a little block into the game, solving a little riddle or something to move on
    • Like an alternative riddle to solve the puzzle 
    • Given the chance to battle against someone to revive 


  • Adding more connecting narratives into the puzzles to make it more immersive 
    • Maybe texting the narrative
  • Accessibility changes
    • Colors changed from red to blue

Final version of password puzzle game.

Puzzle #2 Rodin Statue Garden Playtesting and Iterations:

Puzzle Overview: After successfully retrieving the valuable painting from the crooked cop, the players must try to unlock a mystery box with the help of the statues at the Rodin Sculpture Garden. Players must identify the differences in three specific statues to figure out the combination to the lock. In order to solve the following puzzle, players were expected to identify the three statues that had casting dates written on their placard, count the number of heads on those statues, and arrange the numbers in order based on ascending order of when the statue was casted.

Iteration 1: Nassir, Aidan, Ji Hong

In the initial playtest we wanted to test for the difficult of the puzzle, specifically if the players would be able to figure out the task from the cryptic message.

Some of them were cast in 18… huh, I forgot. [hint: Darn, I used to remember the order of which they were originally cast.] Well, you could find out. Maybe it’ll be for our next heist. I’ll only let you proceed if you figure out my three digit code among the statues and text it to me. Remember, time is ticking, so good luck – and don’t lose your heads over it!

 Our major concern was that the following puzzle would take a long of time, primarily because we believed that the players would not have been able to know to count the heads on the three specific statues without any guidance.


  • Aimlessly walking around
  • “Is there numbers on the statues?”
  • “What are we supposed to do?”
  • “Does the order matter?”
  • Search for objects that are possibly hidden next to certain statues
  • Strategy:
    • Focused on the hint text “don’t lose your heads”, looked at the ones without heads
    • Later thought to focus on statues with heads, but did still did not exactly know what to do with that information. 
    • After getting the hint that three statues had dates, they knew what to focus on and eventually got the correct combination (0 3 1)


  • Both players felt very confused on what to do and believed that we should have been clearer in our message
  • The puzzle felt difficult and annoying but had the potential to be fun
  • Took a while figuring out to count heads, but it wasn’t too much of a problem
  • Started to wonder if they had to google when every statue was casted
  • Was curious if they had a limit to how many chances they get to guess
  • There was uncertainty about if they can ask for help


  • Change the wording of the introductory message to Rodin Sculpture Garden to make the task clearer to the player
  • Modiefied our onboarding process to remind users that they are able to ask for at most three hints throughout the game if they run into a roadblock
  • Had a locked box visibly present so that players would know that they had unlimited attempts to unlock the box for their next clue

Iteration 2: Ma Nasa Team

For the following playtest, we made significant improvements based on the feedback we received from our previous session. We made sure to make the text message to be less confusing/time-consuming, more explicit, yet not too direct.


Darn, I used to remember the order in which they were initially cast. Well, you could find out. All I can say is that three statues have signs with information the others don’t. Figure out what the difference is between those statues to find the code to unlock your next clue. Heads up, time is ticking, so good luck! 


If players experienced any roadblock, we gave the players a hint upon requesting it, which provided them with some guidance without neccessaritly giving away the answer.

Hint: Look up, keep your heads straight!



  • Asked me if I was security but then realized that I can’t talk
  • Immediately figured that it had something to do with the statues with dates and took pictures of them 
  • “The front one has a date. Does this one have a date? Yeah, so we have two that have dates so far. We need one more.”
  • Try using the last digit of each date to unlock the box
  • “Is it the number of people maybe for the three statues?”
  • Collectively decided to ask for a hint
  • Once they received the hint, a player said, “Do we count how many heads?” 
  • “Yeah, that would make sense.”
  • After 8 minutes, the players cracked the code and got their next clue


  • Great use of the statues
  • I liked how the puzzle fit into the narrative
  • It felt good figuring out the combination and opening the box


  • There were no explicit constructive adjustments.
Puzzle #3 Stone River Playtesting and Iterations:

Puzzle overview: At Stone River, 10 paper slips that form one puzzle prompt are taped in the cracks around the sculpture. The prompt says “In ascending digit order, list the top three most frequently occurring numbers in the years on Stone River’s placard.” Players would then go to the work’s placard to crack the next three-digit combination lock code and obtain the next map segment.

Iteration 1: Peng and Jialin

Our initial playtest objectives were to find out how well the puzzle fit with the space, any lack of clarity on solving the puzzle, and how long it would take to solve. 


  • They immediately split up to find all the papers 
  • “How many papers are there?” “how are you so fast Jialin?” “Jialin you missed one!”
  • After walking to the end of Stone River, they were double checking the other’s path to make sure they didn’t forget any 
  • “I don’t know if order [of the papers] matters?” “there’s green (ink) and then there’s black (silver ink)”
  • It’s windy, so provide something to put papers on or they’ll fly away
  • Peng has all the black ones and Jialin has all the green 
  • Took turns reading, Peng/black went first, didn’t check the black ink message at all though
  • “Ascending order” is unclear if 610 or 016 (both are wrong either way but this needs to be fixed)
  • Didn’t read all the years on the placard, had to subtly nudge them
  • They eventually got it, took 6 minutes to complete


  • While the players thought that the puzzle (finding a three-digit code from answering a riddle about the years on Stone River’s sign) was of good difficulty and challenge level, the experience of finding the paper slips that contained the puzzle prompt in Stone River itself was frustrating for a number of reasons. 
  • Peng felt that we should reduce the portion of Stone River players had to traverse because it was too big to walk around. 
  • He also felt that there was no need for two different messages (the puzzle riddle and another message) spread out across the work, as they only put together the puzzle riddle to succeed. 
  • Additionally, Jialin thought that it would be more fun to not be told to find paper slips and discover the task herself. 


  • Based on this feedback, we did not tell the future players what they were looking for directly. 
  • We also identified playtesters’ frustration with traversing Stone River due to predictable paper slip locations (one in each curve), so we decided to place the paper slips in random locations for future playtests. 
  • Finally, we implemented Peng’s suggestion that instead of numbering the paper slips to help players unscramble the riddle, we could theme our slips with an illustration of Stone River that could be pieced together in the right configuration. 
  • We did decide to keep the paper slips scattered across the entirety of Stone River, as our target number of players was higher than two. 
  • We also kept both messages to test with a larger group.

Iteration 2: with Nassir, Aidan, and Ji Hong

In this playtest, we were looking to find out how long the larger group would take to solve this puzzle, and how placing messages in different locations (not predictable) would affect their experience.


  • It took a long time, around 20 minutes because they couldn’t find all the slips of paper (12 out of 17). Probably wind or someone took them
  • Need to ask them to bring charged phones, Nassir’s ran out of battery
  • Walked on one side together, no time pressure 
  • Aidan took a photo of the placard
  • They used the tape provided for the map to tape together the message slips!
  • Once they got the message, it took little time to solve the puzzle


  • Felt fine about having two messages 
  • Needed tape to align the paper slips together once all were found. Too windy
  • Also would like us to tape down the paper slips in the cracks because several likely flew away or were taken by others
  • Enjoyed walking around Stone River 
  • This puzzle was straightforward once they found all the pieces
  • Was questioning what 157 meant from the handler’s text
  • Would be helpful to know how many slips of paper total, or having some way to know that you’d found all of them (but not necessary) 
  • Two separate messages was fine
  • Tape was critical to put them together


  • Reduced number of paper slips to find from 17 to 10, tell them how many through the handler’s text pre-puzzle
  • Removed the second message as it doesn’t really have an effect and decreases slip number
  • Provide tape before this puzzle
  • Tape down the paper slips

Iteration 3: with Ma Nasa team

In this final playtest, we wanted to know how long it would take this larger group of people to complete the puzzle.


  • Immediately found the box with the lock on it and took it with them
  • Discussed amongst themselves and figured out that there were paper slips
  • Split up quickly
  • Did not take the slips with them? Someone started to collect them towards the middle. Came back at the very end to pick up the ones they left
  • Did not need to put together the puzzle message in full to figure out what it wanted them to do
  • Solved the puzzle in under 10 minutes
  • “Who is the handler? I love the personality in the messages!”


  • They did not provide specific feedback on this puzzle. They mentioned that all the puzzles were of good difficulty.
  • The only general feedback applicable to this puzzle was that the boxes with the map pieces in them were all somewhat similar and maybe mixing up the method of unlocking them or something like that would make it more novel.


  • No adjustments made.
Puzzle #4 Sequence Playtesting and Iterations: 

Puzzle Overview: Our last puzzle was the Sequence puzzle. Our goal with this puzzle was to require users to explore the curvilinear walls and torqued ellipses of this mammoth steel installation. We placed QR codes throughout the walls of the installation. Most of the QR codes will direct to Google Documents that say “Not this one!” or “Keep trying!”. To solve this puzzle, two players must use our custom QR code scanner and scan two correct QR codes, which are placed at symmetric points of the installation, at the same time. When they do so within ~3 seconds, they will be directed to a Google Document that provides the combination for the final lock.

Scanner Link: https://15lz2m.csb.app/


Early on, we identified that a digital component—scanning QR codes—could work well with this puzzle, as the installation has many places to leave many QR codes on. Initially, we designed this puzzle for players to scan each QR code until they find the right one, which would be hidden somewhere at the end of the paths in Sequence. After internal discussion, we felt that this puzzle was solely a brute force activity and required little to no thinking nor teamwork. With collaboration as a key pillar of our game, we pivoted this puzzle to require (at least) two people to complete this puzzle by instead choosing two QR codes as the right QR codes, and thereby requiring two QR codes to be scanned. Knowing that this art installation is special in its symmetric nature, we leveraged this spatial aspect by deliberately leaving the two QR codes at symmetric points (the beginning and end of Sequence). With a hint in the introduction to the puzzle that points to the symmetry of the installation, players can more strategically solve the puzzle by identifying which two points in the installation that have QR codes are symmetric. This also encourages collaboration as these two points would be physically distant, so distant that two people must separate. 

Iteration 1: Nassir, Aidan, Ji Hong


  • We playtested this iteration with Nassir, Aidan, and Ji Hong during our first full run through. 
  • Aidan very quickly leaned into the symmetry hint and identified the beginning and end as symmetric, so they completed the puzzle very quickly. 
  • First, we expected players to immediately just try scanning a QR code to see what happens. However, Aidan did not do this initially, and it was Nassir who after a few tens of seconds vocalized that they should try scanning one. 

  • Second, we expected players to have to yell loudly up into the sky in order to communicate a “3… 2… 1…” and sync up scanning of the two QR codes, but Nassir ended up using a phone call to communicate with Aidan. This was funny, because we made sure to choose symmetric points that were far but not too far that one person could not hear the other, but this playtest assured us that our players can also find their own solutions!


  • They loved that the puzzle required teamwork in that two people must each complete an action simultaneously. 
  • They particularly loved how this puzzle took advantage of the unique space that is Sequence.


  • They encouraged us to increase the difficulty by choosing symmetric points that were farther into the paths; accordingly, for our future iterations, we placed the right QR codes much deeper into the installation. 
  • Aidan gave us feedback to make it clear what penalties there are and aren’t (he was potentially worried that scanning an incorrect QR code might result in some sort of penalty), so we made that explicit to players at the beginning of the game for future plays. 
  • Since the QR code scanner was custom, it was a tiny bit confusing whether they could use their own phone cameras to scan, and then whether the link we provided was something they could put into their web browser. We made these both very explicit in the text that introduced this puzzle.

Iteration 2: with Ma Nasa team


  • Initially had some small technical difficulties with permissions with the QR code scanner
  • They first spent quite a while walking through the entire installation to see how many QR codes there were in total
  • After a few tens of seconds, eventually tried scanning one
  • Quickly found one correct QR code, realized this was one half, and then used the symmetry hint to the find the other
  • Took only a few minutes to find the other correct QR code
  • One person was designated to the first correct QR code, one to the second, and one person was in the middle counting down “3… 2… 1…!”
  • All smiles and laughs when both parties saw the success Google Document page

[LINK to Success!]


  • Really enjoyed the synchronized scanning of the QR codes by counting down
  • The collaborative aspect made the game feel satisfying
  • Found the digital component cool


  • There were no explicit constructive adjustments
Narrative Iterations:

  • In our first iteration of the narrative the story begins with the player being abducted and waking up tied to a chair inside a sinking island in an abandoned academy. 
    • Things we considered are how to evoke this sensation of sinking? Was the narrative too out of touch with the spaces we have around Stanford? 
    • We still wanted to keep this feeling of rush, fear, and thrill 
  • In our second iteration, we moved onto the heist theme, using the Cantor as our starting point. However, we still didn’t know the space around Cantor that well and the legal issues that go behind using the Cantor museum itself and the area around it
    • We wanted to explore the spaces around Cantor to see what we could use
    • We wanted to keep this spatial exploration element but also try to figure out how to keep the emotions of thrill and fear
  • In our final iteration, we figured out the spaces we are planning to use (McMurtry, Stone River, Rodin Garden, Sequence, and the YO/OY statue) and use those spaces to craft a narrative of the heist that helps move the players throughout the Cantor area. 
    • Added the handler communication to reinforce the emotion we want to evoke by being eerie and mysterious
    • Wondered if this heist game would be even more interesting if played at night to simulate a real heist? This would require a lot more safety precautions and consensual use of structures. 



You all did amazing… it seems like we need to give you all another heist opportunity…

November 14th, 4 PM sharp. Meet my assistant at the Sydney Opera house. We’re going to attempt my biggest heist yet… to steal the roof off the building … see you all then…

Overall, Heist! At the Cantor was so fun to put together! Our team wanted to expand outwards of a singular room and used the Stanford campus as a space to be our escape room (per Christina’s suggestion in class one day) and we are all so glad it came together in the end. 


Final Playtest Feedback (Other Groups)


The game that I played was Art Heist, which is a thrilling game where players are tasked with tracking down the elusive art thief that stole a painting from an illustrious art museum. The target audience is probably 15+ and some of the puzzles were quite challenging and did require some preexisting knowledge. Art Heist is a multiplayer game where players are competing against the game itself to unravel the identity of the thief. Players solve different puzzles to access more clues and get closer to achieving their goal objective. The types of fun exhibiting in the game are fellowship, narrative, and challenge, as players had to collectively work together to solve difficult puzzles to find the perpetrator. The materials used in the game such as the box and images fit well with the aesthetics of an art museum, which I believe contributed well into the narrative and made the gaming experience quite immersive. While I did enjoy playing the game, I did find it difficult to complete the crossword puzzle where we were expected to have preexisting knowledge of art history. Had it not been for one of my team member, I probably would not have made much progress. Additionally, I believe that the digital component of the game would have been more fun had there been different outcomes rather than the current system where players would “eventually” win after clicking  through the different scenarios. Overall, I truly enjoyed the game, and I believe that it has great potential. 


I was a playtester for soRRRt. soRRRT is a single-player digital game with a goal of teaching players about sorting trash. The target audience of probably upper elementary school players and up. Using the arrow keys or wasd, players can explore the digital dorm room space, and the objective is to pick up and sort all the trash (using the spacebar) before the time is up, which is when the dorm admin will come. The main aesthetic of fun that I experienced was Challenge, and this was largely because the main mechanical difficulty of this game is quickly moving around, obtaining, and depositing all of the trash items with the time constraint in mind. The time constraint was probably the most fun aspect for me, because not being able to finish depositing the trash in time made me want to keep playing until I did succeed. Another aesthetic of fun is Narrative, as the premise of the game is living in a messy college dorm room with an impending dorm admin check. This was definitely conveyed throughout the game, from the onboarding text, to the visual design of the game, to being embedded into the time limit mechanic of the dorm admin check. In this train of thought, one aspect of the game I loved the most was the visual design. As intended by the game designers, the vibes of the game definitely felt cute, pixelated, and lighthearted, and these shined through the sprites, background, and music. The music was also fast-paced, which helped amplify the time limit mechanic. Lastly, one useful improvement (that I believe the team might have worked on after I playtested it) is improving the pick-up and drop-off controls. It was difficult to play these controls because oftentimes, I would pick up the trash, but the trash item would be attached very far from my sprite such that it would be off screen, and oftentimes, I would drop off the trash, but it didn’t seem to have actually been dropped off because the trash item would still attached to my sprite. This probably was the main slowdown for my gameplay. Furthermore, I am excited to see the team implement the trash sorting functionality, meaning that the system can detect whether the player correctly sorted the trash into the right bin, as I believe this would really help to achieve its goal. Overall, I enjoyed my aesthetic experience with this game and am eager to see it develop!


Ma Nasa was the most memorable final playtest for me. All of the game’s components, such as the laser-cut props, wall-filled symbols, and paper clues placed throughout the room, wowed me. People said at the end of the playtest that they didn’t enjoy the excess of props that didn’t play a role in the puzzles. However, I appreciated all of the props because in escape rooms, extra props are frequently used to mislead players and help create the atmosphere of the room. This only goes to show how much thought went into the game, which I really appreciated.

I did notice we were able to get through the main portion of the game fairly quickly but got stuck on the part where we have to align the circle panels in the wheel thing. The hint system, on the other hand, was pre-programmed, and all of the hints were aimed toward things we already knew. As a result, progress was difficult, and I felt helpless and frustrated. We later discovered that it was because the LED light was too dim and we were unaware that it was turned on. In the future, I would recommend utilizing a system that is more noticeable, such as an array of LEDs rather than just one.

The types of fun I experienced were challenge and discovery. I did not feel like the narrative was weaved into the game enough for me to feel immersive. However, this would also be because I was too focused on the individual puzzles and did not pay attention to the narrative. 

Ji Hong:

I participated in the Dorm Break escape room game. For this game, since we aren’t able to engage with the physical space of the dorm, the team brought in items that are needed to solve the puzzles. It simulated the desk part of the game and the premise of the game is that the room you are in now, the person who was living in here has disappeared and you and a groupd of friends must work together to solve the puzzles left behind by the missing person to find out what happened. I started off exploring the items that were laid in front of me since there wasn’t a clear direction on where to go (besides a to-do list which I later thought might be helpful to go through that list in order). But overall, I thought the game was well executed even though we weren’t in the physical room! The narrative and use of props brought the game to life without the room and the fun evoked was narrative and challenge because through each puzzle you solve, we learn a bit more about the person missing. Each puzzle was unique and had a similar level of difficulty, which I thought was nice amount for players to get the satisfaction of solving. The diversity of the puzzles were also refreshing, going from interactive maps, show episode clips, to cookies, playing the game didn’t feel repetitive at all. Not to mention that each puzzle uses the things that can be found in a dorm room to play into the atmospheric aspect of the game. There was only one feedback I had for them and it was related to a small plurality hint that could make that section a bit confusing and tricky to figure out. But overall, amazing game! 


I participated in the final playtest of Ma Nasa (Weird Place), a multi-person physical escape room with an outer space survival theme. The premise was that our space crew was losing oxygen and needed to send an emergency message to other space explorers to be saved. By solving puzzles, we would outwit the game. During my playtest, I appreciated how each puzzle flowed into the next and was of reasonable difficulty. The initial game was to decipher a code using hieroglyphs to uncover a riddle that revealed to us how to send our emergency message. Then, with the riddle, we uncovered more clues in the room that led to another pattern-matching puzzle, which then helped us identify the items we needed to send the message. However, I think unlocking clues could have been tied in more to the environment setup because us players were interacting with props that actually served no purpose, which was slightly frustrating. One benefit to tying in the props to the puzzles is improving environmental storytelling. My memory of the narrative was somewhat weak by the end of the game, which could have been strengthened with more integration of puzzles and the space itself. I also thought the hint system could have been more adaptive based on what progress had already been made, as our player team exhausted the hint system fairly quickly and had to ask the game designers for help. Overall, I enjoyed the flow and ambiance of the game – including good background music that evoked intense exploration. 



Design Figma (Game Map, Fungible Token image, Game Art, Mechanics Map) 

Final Playtest Script (Contains every person’s job at every moment + Narrative text)

Photos and Media

Video of Playthrough

Game Day Text Sequence 

Checkpoint 1 (Contains mood boards, playlists, vibes, etc.)


Extra Credit

What are some similar games you were inspired by? How did you set yourself apart and why is your game better?

  • Any type of escape room was a starting point inspiration for us. It allowed us to learn how to design and use spaces effectively so the overall game play was immersive. What set our game apart was because we used cantor’s spaces and that is unique to the Stanford geography. This also made us use spaces beyond the limitations of a single room, one that’s more expansive. 
  • Another point of inspiration was the scavegent hunt we did in freshmen year in SF. That was crucial because the Scav Hunt forced us to explore spaces and become more attentive to the area around us. We wanted to take the expansiveness of the Scav hunt plus the detailedness of the escape room to make something in the middle that became Heist! At the Cantor. 

How did your game consider players with different abilities? (Accessibility is critical especially for people with disability)

  • One thing our game didn’t consider was the physical mobility of our players and we tailored this game toward more abled-body people (like climbing stair, scaling the slopes at Stone River, etc). 
  • We did consider people who have trouble with certain colors, as we got that in one of our feedbacks, changing texts from red to blue to aid visual abilities. 

What takeaways will the players have once they have played your game? How did you consider that in your design process? (Takeaways can be educational, awareness or any other intentional purposes)

  • We wanted the players to get familiar with the Cantor area! Since it’s so far away from the main campus and people don’t usually go their unless it’s for art purposes, this is a great way for people to learn a bit more about the installations that could be found there. We also learned a lot about it too (like looking at Sequence for the first time)! 
  • Last but not least, to have fun with friends on a nice day solving puzzles 🙂 


About the author

Junior studying CS with an Art Minor :)

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