© Copyright Julia Bourdin 2023
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For a month, I did an internship with the escape game operators La Prophétie des Horloges. As operators, they own rooms, but they do not design them themselves.
Managing and improving the rooms:
My main task was to observe the rooms and give ideas for improvement. Indeed, it often happened that most groups of players got stuck on the same puzzle.
In this case, I was asking myself UX questions. If everyone gets stuck, it's because the explanation is not clear. For example, in one of the rooms, the group is split in two, in two different rooms. The first one has to press pairs of symbols on the wall at one point. This was understood by everyone. But for it to work, they had to press them while holding hands. And nobody understood that because it's not very intuitive. In fact, a pictogram explaining it was in the other room, but the other group didn't see the pairs of symbols and didn't make the connection. Most of the time, the game masters gave the solution after many minutes.
For me the best solution was to change the pictogram. There were two main solutions: enrich it so that the players would understand that it was a clue to the other room or make it more enigmatic but put it in the room where the buttons are. My tutor preferred the first solution because cooperation was to remain the main difficulty of the room in his eyes.
The escape game was meant to be hard (10% success rate or even less on the hardest ones), this was a desire of my supervisor to invite people to try the experience again. And many of the clients are indeed regulars of the genre who come to do all the rooms. They like the difficulty and receiving few clues.
However, I felt that this was not necessarily a good intention in one of the rooms which is rather popular with families and children. And when the group is inexperienced. So, I worked instead on modifying the clues given by the game masters and especially on creating more levels of clues that could be adapted to the type of group and the experience they were looking for.
Finally, I also took part in the tidying up sessions once a group had passed. We often had to move quickly because another group had booked right after. I knew the rooms by heart, so I knew exactly where to put the items. In addition, it was during the Covid period, so the contact points and objects had to be disinfected with special products.
The design of a tabletop escape:
My second task was to design a prototype of a tabletop escape. In fact, when the room is booked by a very large group (e.g. for bachelor/girl parties or company seminars) we divide it into smaller groups and those waiting play tabletop escapes like Unlock. But my tutor eventually wanted to make his own.
The game had to be fairly easy to get to grips with because they had about an hour and 15 minutes to understand the rules and play it. So, I came up with a system of puzzle cards. As you solve the cards, sometimes with accompanying documents, you unlock other enigma cards, sometimes several at the same time, until the last card.
It was also necessary to create several levels of difficulty according to the size of the group. Depending on the difficulty, some riddles are added, and some are modified.
The most time-consuming part was to design and implement all the riddles on the maps. Designing a riddle is easy, 19 is a lot. Everything was done: rebus, anagram, labyrinth, etc...
Besides, I only had two weeks. It was intensive! Fortunately, during the playtest phase. The employees and the tutor tested it and liked it a lot!
My encounter with Eludice:
During my internship, a fourth room was added. A room on the theme of magic, inspired by Harry Potter. It was designed and built on site by the specialist company Eludice.
I was able to meet the lead game designer for the project and ask her all my questions about their production methods and pace.
They have a design book on site that looks like a GDD with details of absolutely everything. I was allowed to flip through it at my leisure. First there is a section with the scenario of the room, the "flow chart" which is a complete gameplay loop with the location of each element as well as all the moodboards and concept art. The second section simply describes each puzzle separately with its flow. The third section details the technical elements. They call them modules, which include anything that requires mechanics or programming. There is a plan of each object as well as the materials to be used and the problems related to the manufacturing. Engineers are in charge of writing this part.
It's impressive the cooperation between the different trades, especially as the game designers were originally architects who acquired these skills later.
I really enjoyed this meeting and their work. I find it interesting that they do everything from scratch, including the DIY.