Our intent was to design the game mechanics-first and build up to a theme. We think the mechanics turned out more fun this way. The result is a loosely prison-themed series of minecraft escape rooms that take advantage of some of the game mechanics in minecraft to craft puzzles. Different sections of the escape game use different mechanics, but it’s all tied together with the central theme of cooperating with another player. Our game explores the idea of asymmetric cooperation by requiring players on different sides of a boundary to share information and resources with each other in order to solve the puzzles and progress. We think the game’s ending, which puts the two players into a symmetric situation with no boundary, does a good job of highlighting the separation of the other segments of the game by contrast and subverts the expectation of separation the players are used to by that point. We believe our game uses some of the basic mechanics of Minecraft to great effect as part of an asymmetric cooperative experience.
Our target audience was primarily people who have some degree of experience with Minecraft, as this allowed us to avoid overwhelming players with the complexity of our constructions on top of the complexity of learning Minecraft for the first time. During playtests, people familiar with Minecraft found our game fun and engaging, and we had some cases in which people unfamiliar with it enjoyed our game. Ideally, the game should be played between two friends, though we also saw relative strangers having fun with it.
The core concepts we incorporated into our minecraft escape room were the concepts of designing puzzles and onboarding. From the first playtest, we realized that our minecraft escape room faced the flaw of a “designer” mentioned in the Designing Puzzles paper. As creators of the escape room, the puzzles seemed trivial. This was clearly not the case. We had to design the escape room to direct the focus on the puzzles. Especially since our game was based in minecraft we had to limit so many of Minecraft’s features for players to not fall for unintended red herrings. Examples of this include disabling mining, and clearly marking pathways for players. The first two parts of our escape room were underground which added to the prison narrative and forced our players to explore our structures. During the outside portion of the prison, we fenced off the area making sure players focus on solving a puzzle within the confines of the fenced area. Another important class concept we incorporated was forcing players to master game mechanics. In the first part, a player must drop items into a water stream so that the other play can get them. To force this interaction and stress the importance of cooperation we made it possible for players to get stuck in a small hole near the water system. As one player was completely trapped, the other player was forced to think of ways to help him get out. The trapped player could see water, and the other player had ladders and also saw water. This was a much more rewarding “onboarding” process than textual hints. In our playtests, we found that players felt rewarded once they figured out how to escape from the hole. Furthermore, now that they escaped they realized that they can send other items through the water system. Our escape room was unique in the sense that players were on separate teams but needed to cooperate to get out. Having these early interactions emphasized the narrative and cooperation aspects we really wanted the players to feel.
Design Mind Map
This was originally envisioned as a co-op & competition two-player escape room with many important psychological concepts such as the prisoner’s dilemma built-in. However, due to the technical restraints of the game of Minecraft of converting multiple resources into one type of resource that would “rank” the players, we ended up building a co-op two-player escape room instead.
The original resources that were envisioned to be incorporated into would be both the “health” & the “money” in the player, and we would have built in a conversion mechanism that would turn “health” into “money” that we would use to rank the players. The outcome then would have been a non-zero-sum outcome, where players would be ranked with players of the past, and we would have incorporated the prisoner’s dilemma by asking the players to “either cooperate and win 20 dollars, or try to screw over the other player, and if the other player chose to cooperate, you get 40 dollars and the other player would receive only 10”.
Currently, the objective is to leave the escape room in the shortest possible time, and the player would have derived pleasure from the process of solving the intellectual puzzles that would slowly lead them out of the room and from achieving the objective of escaping all 3 levels of the Minecraft Room. Furthermore, we have included many game mechanics that reward cooperative behaviors and intellectual learning. For example, we designed a puzzle where both players can only advance to the next levels when one of the players figures out the binary representation of the number “78”, which needed to be pieced together by having both players piecing together the clues that are hidden in each of their respective rooms. This not only reinforced the idea of cooperation and built social fellowship between players, but also helps make the escape room a more intellectual puzzle rather than a brute-force escape room problem.
The narrative that we decided on was the storyline where 2 prisoners were trapped in a palace and need to cooperate with each other in order to escape. Furthermore, we also created a lot of sensational pleasure using Minecraft’s built-in music, such as the sound of pulling a lever while solving the binary number puzzle (the “78” puzzle) and the sound of chest opening.
Our game consists of many loops. For example, in the 3rd section of the game, the loots in the chests and trading can be seen as a loop: players come in with the built-in mental model of how treasure hunts work, then they find items in the treasure boxes, and then they immediately see how they can use those items found to create new items that their partner needs on the other side, serving as a positive feedback. Finally, they will go on searching for more treasure chests because they believe that each treasure chest they find will give the necessary ingredients for both players to solve their common
Space & narrative
There are many magical elements in our world and narrative elements that reinforce the ideas of how the 2 players are thieves who must escape the castle together by cooperating with each other. First, both of the players are dropped into this walled-up room, and then immediately gets transported to 2 separate jail cells as soon as they press the button in front of them. Throughout the escape process, the thieves can find treasure chests, decipher codes around them, in order to go through one jail door after another, which adds to the mysterious atmosphere of the games.
We divided up the entirety of the game into 3 unique distinct sections. The 1st section is where the players start out with, and have to toss each other items in order to leave the jail rooms. The 2nd section consists of finding clues in their respective rooms in order to successfully solve the binary encoded puzzle. The 3rd section finally consists of a magical underworld, where both players need to give each other items that they found on their own sides in order to finally escape this magical realm that they were placed into in the first place.
This is the aspect of our game we wish we had more time to create a meaningful onboarding experience. During our playtest sessions, we realized that people without prior exposure to Minecraft struggled with the basic elements of how the game worked (they weren’t aware of the choice space).
Therefore, besides the start of every game, we designed to have a 5-10 minute onboarding session, where we hand-by-hand taught the players some of the basic navigation skills around the game, such as how to walk around, pull a lever, or open a door.
Visual and Auditory Design Choices:
Given the fact that both players need to heavily cooperate with each other and solve many brain-intensive tasks together, it was necessary to give some of the players a break between each of the sections. In the transition from stage 1 to stage 2 of the game, we prepared a “meditative journey” experience for the player. We set up a super long tunnel with bright torches at the end of the tunnel so the players know that they are moving into the right direction. The whole journey takes around 45 seconds to complete, and we have also added meditative music along the way to help relax the player’s mind along the way.
Video walkthrough: We make our game available to the course staff with a group of youtube videos. Importantly, these videos are of playtests so they function as both playtests and walkthroughs since every puzzle and area in our game is demonstrated in them. Since our game has multiple sections and two different player perspectives, multiple videos are necessary to capture all of the relevant detail. The videos can be viewed with the following links:
Section 1 + 3 Play Test
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx3OzznrKP4 (Player 1)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk2rer1dlVQ (Player 2)
Section 2 Playtest
P.S. Section 2 was supposed to be between Section 1 & 3, however, given we chose to playtest the sections separately due to the long amount of time it takes to playtest one section
Section 1 Walkthrough
https://youtu.be/KQlOnDPlN-I (Player 1)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SRWbFehDxKRvmklXi6hCD2WjInuwuWhM/view?usp=sharing (Player 2)
The Link Below is a video of the second in-person playtest
Playtest & Iteration
Playtest 1: In-class
We had some people who were wholly unfamiliar with first-person games or minecraft test our game in class. The purpose of this test was just to find the most abrasive elements that needed to be changed. This did not go well. We realized we needed to add more onboarding elements, like explicit signs with control information. We pondered the addition of a short tutorial area where the players were less confined than in the prison cell area. It was really interesting to see how non-minecraft players interacted and perceived our escape room. After this playtest, we added many more hints and clues for our escape room and removed a LOT of unnecessary red herrings. We streamlined the player’s attention on the puzzles and stripped a bit of unnecessary complexity.
Playtest 2: Online
In this playtest, we were looking for what about our game engaged players the most and what broke immersion. We found a minor bug, or at least a counterintuitive aspect of the game. We had configured our game world so that most blocks players are *usually* able to interact within Minecraft cannot be edited or placed, but there was a small part in which players could acquire tools that we had specially configured to be placeable or capable of breaking things. When the players took these tools out of the area that we designed for their use, they inexplicably couldn’t be used in the new environment. To prevent player confusion and frustration, we made sure to remove these items after the puzzle.
Playtest 3: Online & In Class
In Class: This playtest involved a very experienced minecraft player and a somewhat amateur player(although not as amateur as the first playtest). This playtest actually revealed a unique way to play our game. Initially, we were set on having the game limit communication by having players communicate with each other over zoom. During this in person playtest the more experienced minecraft player was peeking over at the other players’ screen. At first, this went against our idea of the playing experience, but what we realized was that this was a great opportunity for new minecraft players to enjoy our game! Experienced players could guide non-experienced players to understand the escape room better and show them mechanics they may not have been aware of. Furthermore, this didn’t ruin the game experience. In fact, it seemed that both players, regardless of experience, felt rewarded for solving the puzzles.
Online: This test was largely about QA for our game; could players break it if they tried to? This playtest exposed some opportunities for players to break out of the sandbox we’d carefully crafted for them. We had to take extra time to patch over certain boundaries to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. The playtest also revealed that it was too risky to reveal information regarding an overall objective for both players (e.g., “bake a cake for the guard”) only to one player, as if they missed it, the other player is completely stuck and cannot give the first player a hint. For some of these objectives, we put themed expository text (signs or lecterns with custom books in Minecraft) into both players’ areas to mitigate this risk. Future playtests would demonstrate that this paid off.
Playtest 4: Online
This playtest, we focused on some aesthetic feedback. In particular, we found that having multiple elements reinforcing story-related objectives (like the guard who wants cake) didn’t agitate players with tedium but did help contextualize gameplay. At this point, we added the “Harry the Guard” npc so he was actually visible to players instead of just being implied to exist. We also added a bit of dialogue for flavor in which he explains that he’s warping the players out of prison in exchange for his cake.
Playtest & Iteration Analysis
We approached difficulty balance empirically; by having playtests we could gauge whether players found some puzzles too confusing or difficult and adjust them accordingly. Several such tests resulted in scaling back puzzle difficulty, mostly by editing guidance text to be less cryptic and in some cases by removing problematic elements of puzzles entirely.
Did the players experience the type of fun you intended?:
In our final playtests, we saw players really enjoying the cooperative elements of our game. We believe we were able to induce the type of fun we intended in this case. One of our favorite outcomes was an ‘aha’ moment where both players discussed partially observable information and then they both realized a puzzle solution around the same time.
Post-mortem: What are your possible future directions and developments of your game?
There are many fun and interesting minecraft mechanics we didn’t use in our game. It could be fun to try to build puzzles around minecarts and rails, shulker boxes, elytra, or other fun mechanics of the game. We may also seek to add an action section where players need to use bows and arrows to hit moving targets. If we had a lot more time, we might seek to further refine it and host it as a public server.
There were a few bugs that were part of the game that were hard to get rid off given the extensive scale of our games. Before each game starts, it is best for the game designer to walk through the entire piece to make sure all the levers, buttons, and doors are reset and ready for the next player to play.
We believe that our target audience, who are experienced Minecraft players, understood the basic game mechanics, such as dropping items, and pulling levers, fairly quickly in order to complete the escape room. A five to ten-minute tutorial would be necessary to onboard players without previous Minecraft experience. The onboarding process could have been better if we have further explained the narrative experience before the beginning of the first stage.
In many sections, we have created puzzles and have left a tutorial book nearby with hints on the necessary steps for the player to advance to the next level. However, sometimes we find that the wordings of the hints have been too confusing, so we had to continue to iterate the wordings of the hints.
The current version of the game is just an MVP because although we have created the narrative and implemented all of the basic game mechanics, we still need to spend more time creating a bug-free version with the final “prisoner dilemma” objective built in. Furthermore, our current game only has one soundtrack for the entire game. It would be really cool if we could customize a more energetic soundtrack for the 1st stage (players running around, tossing items in the river), more peaceful music for the 2nd stage (players solving intellectual puzzles & walking through the 45-second dark tunnel), and more funky music in the 3rd stage when the players enter the underground world.
Feedback for other teams
Danny Schwartz: During the final playtest, I played a game called ‘Notes’ in which I controlled a white jumping bean trying to move between colored platforms. When I landed on a platform, it would emit a musical note, and my objective was to exploit this to play a song by ear. I noticed some tension between the jumping mechanics as implemented and the game dynamic of actually being able to play a song, so I pointed out that adding a double jump for the white bean might smooth out the gameplay experience. Otherwise, it was fairly difficult to jump to faraway platforms without polluting the song with an unintended note played by accidentally landing on an intermediate platform.
Sam Liokumovich: During the final playtest I played two games. The first game was parkour map exploring game and the second was an escape room with a zombie apocalypse theme.
Danny Du: During the final playtest, we did a doctor/medical startup themed escape room. I really appreciated the effort the team went through to create an interesting narrative/backstory for the escape room. I am a big fan of the Theranos story so it was super cool to see them pull some inspiration from there. The puzzle with the fingerprints is such a classic movie trope, yet it was still cool to experience it in person and attempt to break down what the word was from all the letters we got. Overall, I thought the project fit the idea of a vertical slice very well. Good job!
Jack Yuan: During the final playtest I played somebody else’s haunted-school miniature escape room, where we as a team of 4 was given a series of physical items to figure out the codes in order to escape the room. The team tried really hard to build in the theme for me, such as creating blood-stained papers & making a school yearbook to reinforce the ideas of a haunted school. However, they lacked interesting game mechanics, and the entirety of the puzzle required little thinking but just basically had to search for a word among a long list of words in order to solve the puzzle. I think they would’ve been much better off if they had focused less on the narrative and more on the game mechanics.