Improbable Escapes Game Development
Game Development is a huge part of Improbable Escapes. Without game development, we would just be locking people in rooms with nothing to do, which is illegal, so… that’s why we have game development.
They take us from just being a company locking people in rooms, to an escape room game company. Game development is a necessary part of running an escape room business, whether you decide to come up with your own ideas for a game or outsource to another company selling game plans, someone has to develop all of those ideas.
So what exactly do our game developers do?
For me, this was a bit of a tough question to answer, because I can only say what they do from my perspective, which likely wouldn’t do justice to what they actually do.
So, I went right to the source and asked each of them what they do for Game Development. There are 5 key people on our Game development team: Emma, who is the co-founder of Improbable Escapes is our Head of Game Development, Iain, better known as the Wizard, is a game and puzzle developer, Meagan, is game host turned game developer, Adam, is our tech guy and also helps speed up reset times and maintenance of the games, and lastly, Devon, fairly new to our Game Development Team, she helps with our set design and special effects!
As you can see, there are many people involved in getting our games from being just ideas, to being the complete immersive experiences that we like to offer our customers. Each person on our game development team is an integral part of getting each game off the ground! Now, to get into the actual steps it takes to make one of our games a reality!
Step One: Brainstorm
This is an important first step because whatever gets brought to the table could end up coming to life as an actual game, no idea is a bad idea(well, some might be), but the more the merrier! Escape rooms can be tricky because a lot of ideas and themes have already been done, in which case if we are going to do a theme someone has already done, how can we make it different and better than theirs was! And then there’s the other side, coming up with a brand new idea, and how do we execute it and make it a reality! This is somewhere where Iain shines, “I always try to create different puzzles that we haven’t done before as well as create puzzles from materials and props that people wouldn’t expect a puzzle to be made from, overall to add a sense of wizardry”, hence why we call him, The Wizard.
Step Two: Choosing a Theme
Now we have all of these amazing game ideas, how do we decide which ones to develop?!
We’re in a bit of a unique position in that we aren’t stuck only building games at one location, or even just indoors. We have a permanent location where we run games out of all year long, but we also have partnerships with some of the historic buildings that surround our amazing city of Kingston. Some game themes will be for our permanent location because they are long standing games, usually these games will be operation for a year or more. But, we also have the ability to develop games that will be put up inside historic locations, there is less building that goes into these games due to their sets, but the development of the game is still very important! These games end up being more “out-of-a-box” games because we also have to tear down at the end of each night.
Alright, we’ve chosen a theme for the game now on to who is going to do what parts, delegation.
Step Three: Delegation
Our Game Development Team is made up of 5 people, as we mentioned earlier: Emma, Iain, Adam, Meagan, and Devon. Of course, not all of our developers work together on the same project, or we could end up with a “too many cooks in the kitchen” type scenario, but they all do have a hand in getting the games finished. It typically ends up being whoever’s idea the game theme was, who will lead the game through to its completion, creating puzzles, finding set pieces, and then with the help of Adam and Devon create and build the puzzles and make the set amazing!
Step Four: Planning & Building
Once the theme of the game has been narrowed down, it’s time to plan it all out!
Game flow is important because if there are too many things going on at once, people will get lost and frustrated. Of course, the games are not always linear, meaning that one puzzle leads to the next, leads to the next, but there still has to be a flow. After the flow is decided, it’s time to decide on the puzzles. Our games at Improbable Escapes are 1 hour escape games and we need to ensure the game can actually be completed in 1 hour(or less). If there are too many puzzles, the game will take too long and no one will get out, if there are too few puzzles, everyone will escape(which we also don’t want!).
After the puzzles have been decided, it’s time to plan out the build! Building, as I’m sure you can imagine can take some time. Mapping out the space is an important step to the build so that we know where everything will go, and whether there is a need to build any walls within the game space. We also need to consider if we have access to power if there will be tech elements going into the game, and what other things are needed, for example props, furniture, decorations, etc. With so many moving parts, when it comes to actually building the game, planning is one of the most important stages in game development. Check out our haul of props for Coroner's Report before we opened it. Imagine trying to get across the border with all that in your trunk. (Obviously we made it!)
Step Five: Beta Testing
So, the game is built and ready to go, time to get some customers in to play the game as soon as possible, right?
Does a mattress company release a new mattress before testing it, or a car company a new car?
Same goes for escape room games! Beta testing is an important step to game development, I think you’re seeing a trend here(everything is important to game development).
There is a little bit of testing that happens along the way of a new game being built. Often times the game development team will plop a puzzle down in front of you and say “solve this!” with no context or anything, just to see if it’s possible. So we all play an integral part in testing games and puzzles, but we also rely on our loyal customers and people who have never played before to really show us. Our loyal customers are able to give us a perspective from someone who has played a lot of our games, or just escape room games in general. Whereas someone who has never played before will show us the challenges that many first time escapees may encounter in the game.
Beta testing usually happens about a week before the game is set to open to the public, this gives us time to make any changes and improvements that are necessary before paying customers play the game. We want to ensure the game is fun and that people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth when they come to play.
Step Six: Repairs & Improvements
Now, we certainly try our best to make our games indestructible, but it’s just not possible.
And, what people do in escape rooms is something you can never fully understand until you work for one. It seems as though all rational thought and common sense goes right out the door with the game host when they leave.
So, after a few rounds of beta testing, it’s inevitable that things will need to be fixed and improved upon to ensure they will last as long as the game does. Of course, this is easier said than done. Once a game is built, the repair, upkeep, and maintenance never seems to be over. But, it’s not constant. It seems to go in cycles. You’ll have many teams in a row who don’t break or dismember anything, and then out of nowhere, BAM! everything that can be taken apart, is taken apart.
Games also go through cycles of difficulty. It will sometimes seem like no one is escaping from the game, so we change a puzzle, and then it seems like everyone is getting out, so again, a change happens. This keeps the game fresh, and also keeps our game hosts from running on autopilot. When a puzzle changes, so does the hint that goes with the puzzle and also the reset, so it’s good for us to experience some changes too!
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into getting one of our games from just being an idea, to reality! For the most part it can take up to 6 months for a game to become playable, and those plans change pretty frequently!
Thanks for reading up on our Game Development team! If you're looking to follow along with them even more, head over and give them a follow on their Instagram account. They will be sharing lots of behind the scenes, cool puzzles and just daily shenanigans!