A Short History of Escape Games – Part 2
Last time in part 1 of this series we looked at the origins of escape games as they started appearing around the world. But to truly explore the origins of these games, we should look at the influence other forms of media, such as movies, video games and TV shows, have had on the escape game genre.
The first thing that people often say to me when I describe escape games to them is, “Oh, you mean like Saw? Or Cube?” If you haven’t seen either, you can find good summaries of them online, or better yet, hunt down a copy to watch. Both are horror movies involving people being trapped in situations where they have to try and escape fatal obstacles or contraptions. Besides the obvious difference between our escape games and these movies (violence bad!), the other is that the traps in these movies were often more arbitrary in the way that they were ‘solved’. In many situations there wasn’t anything the unlucky participants could have even done to avoid their fate.
A slightly better movie comparison would be Die Hard: with a Vengeance (i.e. Die Hard 3), where the antagonist sets Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson a series of puzzles and riddles to distract them from his gold heist. However, the best example is the foreign film Fermat’s Room. Here a group of mathematicians are suddenly brought together and are stuck in a room. Given a series of mathematics based puzzles, the group needs to solve each problem to find a way out of the room which shrinks upon every incorrect answer. The pic above is taken from the movie.
Here’s a puzzle from the movie, and the answer is at the bottom of this blog post:
You find three switches outside a room. One switch controls a lamp bulb inside the room while the other two switches are fakes. You can turn on or off the switches outside the room and then enter the room to see if the bulb is on. You are not able to see the light of the bulb from outside, and at the start all the switches are off. What is the minimum number of times you’ll need to enter the room to decide which switch controls the bulb, and why?
Do a search for ‘escape games’, and chances are you’ll get hundreds of results for various flash escape games. The last few years have seen an explosion in the popularity of these simple hidden object games, and most of them involve clicking randomly around the room to see what you can interact with. It can be hard to sort the bad and the ugly from the good, but one of my personal favourites of recent times is called The Room. With a moody atmosphere and some tricky puzzles, it’s a great timewaster when you’re commuting or just wanting a good puzzler to get immersed in.
Before the latest slew of flash games and apps, there were loads of point and click adventure games like Myst, the Zork series, and other comedy adventure games like Monkey Island. Although not confined to a specific location, these games still had plenty of puzzles which required you to interact with objects and the environment in innovative ways.
The game that I think most closely resembles the escape game experience is a Japanese number called Virtue’s Last Reward. This has characters all stuck in a large complex where they have to solve puzzles to escape each section of rooms, whilst also vying off against each other Hunger Games style. There’s a lot of dialogue in the game but the puzzles themselves are pretty good. Another similar game that I’ve been told about but haven’t personally played is 999 or 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors.
In Australia we’ve had our share of TV game shows requiring players to run around and solve puzzles. I have fond memories of watching A*mazing after school, and in more recent times other shows like Lab Rats Challenge have come out too.
But we have absolutely nothing on the shows produced in the UK. The one that stands head and shoulders above all others is a show called The Crystal Maze. This show had a massive budget and an overly eccentric host, and players were led around a sprawling complex the size of two football fields to take on a variety of challenges for a chance at the prize. Each puzzle was in a self contained room, with players given 3 minutes to solve and retrieve a crystal ball, and the variety of puzzles over each series were astounding.
Some of the challenges (called ‘mystery games’ on the show) were extremely similar to the layout of escape games. The player was given a sequence of clues to follow to retrieve the crystal ball and escape the room. All of the puzzles were pretty ingenious, and even now the show is great fun to watch, bad fashion and all. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
One other show worth mentioning called Knightmare had kids working as a team to be the eyes and ears of a blindfolded teammate to solve puzzles and avoid traps in a semi-virtual world. The concepts on the show were absolutely fantastic, and the game itself was often very challenging for the players involved (even though they were kids most adults would find it challenging too!).
Thanks for reading, and if you need it, here’s the answer to the puzzle from Fermat’s Room. To keep it spoiler free, I’ve put the answer in Rot13, so just copy and paste this text into http://www.rot13.com and click the button to convert it.
NAFJRE: Lbh bayl arrq gb ragre gur ebbz bapr. Gur xrl gb guvf fbyhgvba vf abg fb zhpu onfrq ba gur yvtug cebqhprq ol gur ohyo, ohg gur grzcrengher lbh pna srry nsgre n ohyo unf orra ghearq ba. Gur dhvpxrfg jnl gb fbyir gur chmmyr vf gb ghea gur svefg fjvgpu ba naq jnvg sbe n qrprag crevbq bs gvzr. Gura ghea vg bss naq ghea ba gur frpbaq fjvgpu, naq ragre gur ebbz vzzrqvngryl. Lbh’yy gura unir bar bs guerr fpranevbf: vs gur ohyo vf ba (gurer'f yvtug tvivat bhg sebz vg), vg’f pbagebyyrq ol gur frpbaq fjvgpu lbh yrsg ba; vs gur ohyo (yvtug) vf bhg, ohg ubg gb gur gbhpu, gura vg zhfg or gur svefg fjvgpu gung pbagebyf gur ohyo orpnhfr vg jbhyq unir orra trarengvat urng jura lbh yrsg vg ba cerivbhfyl; vs gur ohyo vf bhg naq srryf pbyq, gura lbh arire ghearq vg ba jvgu gur svefg naq frpbaq fjvgpurf, guhf vg zhfg or pbagebyyrq ol gur guveq fjvgpu.