Ok, so it took me longer than expected by… hmmm… nearly a month. Sometimes it goes that way. But Asylum is now completed and ready for bookings!
In the days leading up to having beta testers come through, I was filled with a gnawing medley of anticipation, nervousness, and dread. It honestly felt like I’d been working on a play and opening night was coming. How would the critics (beta testers) respond? Thankfully, beta testing went very, very well. There were a couple small details that got cleaned up – and that’s awesome… that’s why we test – and the response was very positive. I’m finally able to breath again in the comfort that I have in Asylum another good, challenging, and enjoyable room.
The first question people have asked in anticipation of Asylum is “Is it really scary?”. That’s really, really hard to answer. On one hand, keep in mind that if it was a constant bone-chilling horror show, it wouldn’t work well as an escape room. You still need to be able to solve puzzles. Beyond that, everybody’s tolerance for “scary” is different. I’ve sat in horror movies and chuckled at the jump scares while the person behind me was tossing their popcorn and curling into a little ball. If you asked each of us if it was “scary” you’d get a very different answer.
That said, Asylum does contain some elements specifically designed to keep you on edge. There are some jump scares, there is some graphic imagery, and in a nutshell, it’s safe to say “Viewer discretion is advised”. For this reason, I had made the decision some time ago to restrict the room to people ages 18+. It might be unnecessary in many cases, but it’s also probably better to play it safe than be sorry.
Beyond the fright factor, Asylum offers a very different escape room experience. It’s a complete departure from the style of games currently offered in Escape Wonderland and Infiltrate 51. I like those games, and based on our player surveys so too have the overwhelming majority of our players. I think they’re smart, playable games. But I wanted to do something very different with Asylum. Specifically, I gave myself three challenges for Asylum:
- How can I make it MORE immersive?
- How can I make it MORE non-linear?
- How can I build an escape room and not have it so focused on opening locks?
Let’s start with immersiveness. The goal of any good escape game is to have you completely immersed in the experience. Ideally, you’d forget that we’re even there. We use props, lighting, soundscape, and various theatrical elements in all of our rooms to try to create that sense of immersion. However, one of the things that often breaks the immersion is when groups need hints. With Escape Wonderland and Infiltrate 51, we chose to have the game master come in when you call for a hint so they can work with you, give you nudges, and help you through a puzzle you’re stumped on. Other escape rooms might have a screen on the wall that they type on, or slide notes under the door to give hints. In my opinion, all of these approaches break the immersion experience to some extent. I wasn’t fully satisfied with any of them. Sure, the games are still fun. But I couldn’t help but think they could be better if that weren’t the case. I think I’ve got that problem licked with Asylum by incorporating the clues into the characters and storyline of the theme. You’ll understand that more if you come play the game. 😉
Next up we have the challenge of making it more non-linear (or perhaps ‘less linear’ is a more proper way to phase that). This is a challenge in many escape rooms as well – my own included. In actual fact, the map of the games look something more like an inverted tree than a direct line. But at some point the branches must converge to an ending point. Elements like secondary spaces and puzzles locked behind barriers like boxes or cabinets have the tendency to create funnel points where the game branches necessarily converge and suddenly everybody must be working on the same thing. My goal was to create a game that was almost entirely non-linear. In other words, there are a bunch of puzzles to solve and it doesn’t matter which you solve in which order. They ultimately all get you to the same place. I can’t imagine a more non-linear game design than what I’ve managed with Asylum and of that fact, I’m particularly proud.
And finally… How can I build an escape room that doesn’t rely so heavily on locks? Locks are the often the meat and potatoes of an escape room. To some extent, it almost seems unavoidable. You need to both keep people from getting to the next phase of the game too early, and also give them some reward or outcome for solving a puzzle. A lock does both of those things quite nicely. And to be fair, I think there are are a lot of great escape games that rely heavily on locks. There isn’t inherently anything wrong with that. But I wanted to see if I could design a game that was truly different. I’m pleased to say that Asylum features only TWO padlocks, and one additional “lock of sorts”. No spoilers here, but it’s not exactly a lock in the conventional sense. It merely serves a similar purpose. But even if you count that lock-of-sorts, it’s only THREE locks. That pleases me greatly.
That’s about all I can say without giving away the fun. If you want to see how it all came together, I guess you’re just going to have to come play the game! 😉
Bookings are now available beginning this Friday, August 28th.