“You don’t have to be smarter than the monster… just smarter than your friends.”
In my previous build blogs I discussed the horror and technology that went into Curse of the Bayou which, while important, were never going to be the selling points for the game. My inspiration for designing Curse in the first place was to find a way to up the stakes of traditional escape room play. Most ERs have players competing against a clock which, while exciting, is a bit impersonal. The failure for not completing a room is simply losing—no bragging rights; no holding goofy props for a post-game photo. Another issue with having a game clock as an opponent is that play is never dynamic; everyone gets the exact same experience every time.
But what if instead of competing against a clock players were competing against another team? And if that team consisted of friends (or frenemies), the stakes would automatically be higher. If you won, every time you saw your friends you could remind them of your triumph. (And if you lost, it’d make the post-game dinner-and-drinks all the more awkward.) Plus, playing against a human team would create a dynamic escape experience that would change every time based on the opponents’ skill and strategy.
All this was fine on paper, but implementation was… more challenging. First off, in order to make the game fair, the rooms the two teams competed in would have to be equally difficult. However play areas couldn’t be exactly the same because then one team could simply sit quietly and try to overhear answers screamed by the other team through the wall (which would be rather difficult considering our sound proofing and various ambient noise effects, but not impossible.) That meant creating props and puzzles with enough variation to prevent cheating, but not so much variation that it raised or lowered relative difficulty.
Another issue in creating fair play was a hint system. Would you give each team an equal number of hits? What would happen if a team didn’t use all their hits? (Bonus time? A note on their post-game photo? A cookie?) And if live game masters were the ones hinting, how could you make sure the clues each team received were equally helpful? (What if one team got a Tolkien-level riddle about friends being surprising, and the other team was simply told to look in the jack-in-the-box?)
The only solution I could think of was to have a completely hint-less escape game; players would be left to their own devices for the entire hour. And the only way to do that would be to create a solution system where players were presented with several answers, which they had to narrow down by solving puzzles and finding items. The room would operate similar to a Clue or Guess Who game (if those games were live-action and terrifying).
It was actually this hint-less system of narrowing options that inspired the room’s narrative, about a group of parapsychology students trying to learn the who/what/where/why of their murdered Miskatonic University professor. But more about that next blog.
Our suspect left behind some interesting… evidence.