Escape room locks are great– the simplicity of knowing exactly how many numbers are needed for the solution, the rush you get when the lock finally clicks open, the fond memories of the good ol’ days when all escape rooms were “Gen 1”. But after solving your 1,000th four-number 653D Master Lock things begin to get a bit repetitive. So, for Curse of the Bayou I gave myself a challenge—design a game that was not only free of locks, but would require zero reset. A truly self-running room.
Now, only four years later (four!!!) Curse is ready to debut. Instead of locks, the game runs on Arduino, raspberry pi, PC, and some of the same engineering used for Universal Studios attractions. Hiding behind every spooky doll, moldering book and scary painting there’s a piece of tech; often high tech. Some of these devices look like they’re going to start issuing thinly-veiled threats and calling me “Dave.”
Of course, squeezing in all this tech presented a number of unique challenges. Different devices needed to communicate seamlessly with one another. The network had to handle dozens if not hundreds of signals a minute. And the electronics had to be hidden and invisible so as not to detract from the spooky-old-house atmosphere. But all this made it difficult to not only locate a malfunctioning piece of hardware, but also to gain access to it.
Here’s a story from one of our engineers: “A light wasn’t turning on when it was supposed to. This wasn’t just any light; it was a very, very important light. ‘What’ light, you ask? Exactly. Accessing the electronics related to this one component was not an easy task. It was buried behind screwed down panels, locked inside tamper-proof boxes, and hidden inside a hard to access area that could only be reached by contorting one’s body painfully. It all had to be taken apart in order to find the culprit. An hour later and the area looked like a war zone, with electronics strewn about hap-hazardly. Still no light. Just when I was about to give up, the answer hit me like a bolt of lightning.”
And despite all the work that went into the build, using tech for the puzzles alone wasn’t enough. I wanted everything to be tech–the introduction, the finale; even the mid-game rule reminders. And to do that we had to anticipate the various issues players might encounter during the game, and film solutions to all of them. This way the game host wouldn’t have to interrupt play and immersion by breaking in with a walkie-talkie or over a loud speaker; they could simply trigger the appropriate clip with the press of a button.
Luckily, we didn’t have to pre-record a bunch of hints as well because Curse of the Bayou would be a completely hint-less game. But more on that in the next blog.