Escape Room Businesses... x3?

We apologize for what seems like a lengthy online absence in the blogging world. It took a very long time, but we are happy to announce that we are now accepting bookings and to date, there has been nothing but positive feedback about our first room, The Parent Trap.

When we first decided to open, we did so with the intention of setting the tone for the city of Hamilton and embracing the other escape room businesses that opened up after us. Unfortunately, due to many issues with permits, we were not the first, but in the long run it doesn't make too much of a difference, because we ultimately ended up in the same place we wanted to be.

Our room may seem slightly different from the other businesses in the city, but it's because we followed our own trend from the beginning. As enthusiasts, we wanted to make sure teams were getting a full hour experience, even if that meant we couldn't cram as many groups into a day. We also wanted the narrative of your situation to dictate the kinds of puzzles and the feel of the room. As I've heard one popular escape room voice say, "It makes no sense to put a laser maze in ancient Egypt" (that was mostly a paraphrase). So as you explore, each puzzle should feel like it belongs in the space. In fact, when we first designed our room 'The Parent Trap' we created a puzzle that we thought would be the first thing everyone solved when they walked into the room. It's obvious and simple, right? As it turns out, it blends so well into the room that most teams overlook it and a few will even require a hint before they look at it (which in turn results in placing their palm firmly to their forehead). It's the beauty of well design puzzle flow and integration.

We love the fact that other escape rooms are opening in the area. What we love more is that they all seem to want to work together to create a positive escape room atmosphere. It's even better for you as enthusiasts because it means that the 3 existing businesses are working together to bring every form of escape room to the city. The Crux has a room that is creepy and dimly lit for the enthusiasts that loves to keep their nerves on edge. Alcatraz has a heist room, for the enthusiast that need to release their inner bad guy. We have a room that allows you to get lost in the story, and is sure to make you laugh at least once or twice (for the enthusiast that just wants to have a good laugh).

When you walk into our lobby, you'll find business cards of other local businesses. We want you to visit them! They have something we don't, and we hope they're offering the same. In the future, I'm hoping to create an Escape Room Crawl across Hamilton, a Puzzle Hunt, or something that brings together businesses across the region. We're all excited to see what happens with escape rooms and room escape adventures over the coming years, and I can almost guarantee you that it will look completely different (in a good way) from what it looks like now.

Cheers, and happy escaping!
-Mike and the team

Why We're Not Open Yet...

Over the past few weeks, our inbox and phone has been flooded with messages wondering when we are opening.  I’m sure many of you are wondering the same thing. Why aren’t they open yet??  So I thought I would take some time to update everyone on the status of The [?] Adventure and when you can finally book a time slot.

Starting a business is a time-consuming process, and right from the start we decided as a business we wanted to do things the right way.  We have visited escape rooms that skimp on safety, fire regulations, and proper permits, and while they are often still fun experiences, as business owners we want to make sure each guest knows that they are walking into a building that has been checked over and approved by all the appropriate people.  What we didn’t realize, however, was how lengthy a process going about things the proper way would be.  We have consulted with architects, engineers, and city officials to make sure that our escape game meets any and all expectations.  We are just waiting now for the city to stamp our plans and then we’re off!

What about the games?  One of the hardest things to try and decide is whether an escape room business is going to have good puzzles before anyone has even tried it!  Our games have been designed ourselves and have been ready to set up for several months now, but we can’t build them without the proper permits.   Many places will go the route of purchasing pre-made games, or they will cut corners and create their own without doing the research.  While we can’t tell you that everyone loves our games (no one has played them fully yet!), we can tell you that the games at The [?] Adventure have been designed with the population of Hamilton in mind, and the puzzles come out of dozens of conversations of what could have been and what we would have liked to see in the escape rooms we have personally done.

So please bear with us as we work out the final stages of this journey!  If you’ve stuck with us through this whole post, we can tell you that we will be open in March!  We’re hoping to start off the New Year with a bang, but for now, you’ll just have to hold tight.  In the meantime, you can pre-order a gift voucher for your favourite enthusiast! Just click on the “Rooms” tab and scroll down.

 

All the best for the holidays!

-Mike and the team

 

Chasing Immersion in Escape Rooms

First of all, I apologize for not posting last week.  As you can imagine, life at The [?] Adventure has been very busy. I want to start a discussion about immersion in escape rooms. It's been a topic of discussion within the escape room community for a while, and everything points towards immersion being key, but I want to take a more practical approach to the discussion: what does this kind of room look like and what do we give up in the process?

We decided that creating an immersive experience is something we wanted to focus on when creating our adventures.  As we started brainstorming what that would look like, we realized that it might be a little harder than expected.  It is clear that set design is a large part of actually feeling like you are in the scenario that your adventure says you’re supposed to be in, however what is often overlooked is the placement of the puzzles.

In a typical escape room, you may find lockboxes, puzzles painted on walls, and other scenarios where the logical flow and what you must do is very clearly laid out.  However, there is considerable suspension of disbelief when you walk into a jail cell and see a puzzle on the wall.  To reach the next level of immersion, we considered how puzzles are presented. We need to offer puzzles that make sense to the gameplay, without making it completely ambiguous where to start or where to go. In other words, blend the puzzles without hiding them.

There are two ways to deal with this.  Either the puzzles are placed within the room in such a way that guests can organically and logically find them, or something must be written into the narrative to allow ‘nudges’ towards the puzzles and how to solve them.

I’ll try and give you an example with one of our rooms without giving away anything.  In “The Parent Trap”, the main character doesn’t want you to succeed, necessarily.  So for her to leave a clue saying, “Make sure you look in the top drawer,” wouldn’t make sense.  So instead, what we tried to do was create an adventure where you could logically think about where clues might be hidden within the room.  If you put yourself in the mind of our teenage girl, you will probably find yourself in the right place.  When you solve a puzzle, it will make sense that the character would have a lock with that particular answer in the space where you find that lock.  Obviously we are not perfect with this, and there will always be a suspension of disbelief to some extent, but we’ve tried to bring a truly unique escape room experience to Hamilton.

So as we ramp up to open in the near future, we hope you’re with us.  We hope that Hamilton is ready to experience not just an escape room, but also an escape room experience that is unique to Ontario.  We would also love to hear your feedback on the topic.  If there’s something we’re missing that you would love to see, give us a shout!

…and if you’re reading this from Toronto or elsewhere in the world, you’re welcome to make a trip and try out something that is hopefully unique.

-Mike

Escape Rooms and the Custom Experience

We’ve had a few questions recently about our question mark. “Do we pronounce it?” “Why is it there?” “oo… so mysterious!”  Okay, that last comment wasn’t a question, but question no more!  This blog post is devoted to letting you know what it is and why it exists.

When Megan and I sat down to develop our idea for a Hamilton escape room business, a few things became quite clear to us.  One of the biggest clarities was that we wanted our rooms to be immersive.  Gone are the days when you can throw a bunch of lock boxes in a room and tell people to get out (although we’re working on a theme to make that work!).  Instead, the escape room genre is becoming more and more like immersive theatre in which you influence what happens.  That’s why we decided to name our rooms “adventures” and why our name reflects that as well.  We want you to feel like you really have entered another world: realistic, intriguing, interactive.

So let’s get to that mysterious question mark.  It’s a blank. It’s a filler. We want you, as a guest and player of our adventures, to fill in the blank.  That question mark becomes an adjective to describe how your adventure is customized by your presence.  If we were to describe your adventure for you, it would be severely limited by our own descriptor.  While it may not be a choose-your-own adventure in the truest sense of the word, the way a seasoned veteran of escape room would interact with an adventure would be vastly different from someone who has never experienced an escape before.  The choice you make within the room will affect the outcome.  Your attitude and the team you choose will affect your experience.  We want you to be aware of that.

In the end, we hope to have a wall full words, defining each customized adventure.  You can come, play, and define the adventure you had for all to see.  While we may only have two themed adventures to choose from, each time someone plays, it is a different experience.  At least, that's the hope.

So whether you're a puzzle expert, or a beginner to the realm of escape rooms, we have something for you.  We hope you're as excited as we are to have you come and define your own adventure.

-Mike

The Journey from Enthusiast to Owner

Our journey started back in October of 2014.

I was scrolling through my social media sites, looking for something unique and interesting, when a glimmer of something filled with intrigue caught my attention.  It promised to lock me and my friends in a room and plague us with clues and puzzles until we escaped, or until 60 minutes have expired.  Now for most people, this may have been a huge turn-off and may have caused the vast majority to turn up their noses in disgust, but for me, I immediately clicked on the link.

I love puzzles, challenges, and all things unique.  In fact, back in high school I had this exact idea.  I played a lot of point-and-click escape the room games, and my mind often wandered to what it would be like to open a business along the same lines:  time clocks, leaderboards, enigmas, exhilaration.  I would dream about such a place.  Teenage me was hooked. It was going to happen.  Soon after I had those thoughts, however, reality hit me.  I'm crazy... who wants to be locked in a room and solve puzzles.  If this was ever a good idea it would have happened by now.  Yet there was nothing that existed that came even close to the idea, so I let my delusional mind rest and buried the thought.

That's why this ad had me intrigued.  It was a new business start-up that embodied my long forgotten idea.  Someone had done it, and I was convinced that I would be their first customer.  I logged onto their website, booked the first available slot, and gathered a team of like-minded puzzle fiends to complete my team.

Needless to say, my team and I were absolutely thrilled by our first escape room experience, and with a couple of months, we had grown the team, created a name for ourselves, and banked around 20 different rooms from Niagara Falls to Scarborough.  We were hooked, and not only were we escaping rooms ourselves, but we were recruiting friends left, right, and centre.

Nonetheless, starting my own escape room never really crossed my mind for a few months after that.  I was content escaping them.  Sure there were aspects of businesses that I wished I could change, but I didn't know the first thing about starting a business, and I knew that I could always join an existing room's staff if my urge to create got worse.

To make a long story more succinct for the common reader, I stumbled upon a team of people that were willing to put in the time and effort to make a business start-up work.  Together, we put our feelers out, testing the waters before committing to anything drastic.  We started looking at properties, applying for star-up loans and grants, speaking with other small business owners and escape room owners.  All signs pointed in one direction only: this was going to happen.  Whenever we came upon an obstacle that would otherwise prove unsurmountable, someone came along to help us through it. We didn't have quite enough funding -> we were approved for a loan through an amazing start-up program. We didn't have a space that fit zoning requirements -> the city came alongside us and helped us find the perfect property. We weren't masters of starting a business -> we were teamed up with an amazing mentor who has offered us guidance along every step of the way.  The dream of starting an escape room was becoming closer every day.

So here's where we stand now.  We're a couple of escape room enthusiasts that have stepped into unknown territory.  Hamilton hasn't been touched by the escape room trend, but we're excited to bring it in a fresh, new light to a fresh, new population.  We hope you like what we're about to launch, because it's all for you.  We've poured our hearts and minds into this, and we promise that we won't settle until we have something great. Stay tuned Hamilton, we've something stellar coming your way.

Just one piece of the puzzle,
-Mike