This January I began work on an escape room, as part of a team of second year masters students at the ETC. The goal was to design and build an escape room for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
We were building a prototype, not a permanent installation. That let us cut corners on price of materials, but it came at other barriers. The pieces of the experience had to be robust yet small enough to make the trip to and from Cleveland. We also had to design and test it in a space different from where we would be installing. We tested as much and as often as we could in Pittsburgh and then we crossed our fingers as we headed to Cleveland.
We were optimistic and adventurous at the beginning of our 15 week semester. We researched and explored the space where we intersected with our partners, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. They were looking for an experience that would entice an elusive demographic for museums – millennials. Our goal as game and experience designers was to create a museum facing experience that felt tailored to the millennials playing it. We wanted our game to help bridge relationships between natural history museums and millennials.
Now we have a full, iterable experience that has been tested by 7 groups of 4 people in Cleveland. It took a lot to get there, and we weren’t sure in a few moments if we were going to make it. But we as a team rolled with the punches, we got excellent advice and assistance from our advisors at school and our collaborators at the museum. We pushed through the doubt and were able to test our experience with our demographic in Cleveland. We are in a good place with our experience to make it a great experience, even on the low budget and limited time that we had.
But this is where we were a few days before we left for Cleveland:
We felt this way because we worked hard for two weeks straight fabricating our experience to show the faculty. But we had a terrible showing at our soft opening. We left ourselves no time to plan our presentation (how to show 45 minute experience in 20 minutes?, we still don’t have the answer), things were broken (we were crunching, we should have started building sooner!), and we were low energy because maximum exhaustion was reached. Traversing into the unknown of creating a physical puzzle based game with my team landed us here in week 13. We spent so many weeks excited, but when the execution stage approached we started to doubt the work we had done. I was exhausted and embarrassed. There was still a lot of work to be done.
The next two days we kept working to finish the experience. We caught up on sleep. Morale was low and we had no more time to work. But we had an experience to deliver. Cleveland gave us many resources, and we couldn’t let them down. People had signed up. We had a lot to prove and we hoped for the best, our reputations and grades on the line.
We had worked for 13 weeks to research, design, test, write, film, edit and build all of the elements our 45-minute escape room needed to run. We arrived in Cleveland unsure if what we had would be fun for the people playing. Would technical bugs ruin us? Would we be organized enough to deal with issues on the fly, and to provide people a good experience?
It ended up going great. Yes, there were bugs and hiccups where the back up and back up back up needed to step in. But we were always able to save the day. We got positive feedback from the groups, and are now going through all of the footage we took of the play tests. The actual analysis of play tests can be seen in our groups finals presentation next week. But for now I’ll just skip ahead to what we are working on now.
Happy to learn that our goal of giving millennials a fun and memorable experience at a natural history museum was fulfilled. We now want to prove to the faculty that we made a viable experience. We will be making minor tweaks, but mostly we feel prepared to have another go and let 4 of the faculty work together in our escape room.
The things that we learned designing and building our own escape room will be in our post-mortem and documentation to follow.