Turning an in-real-life game into an online escape room

online escape room

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Changing a game from in-real-life play to online play is a lot of work. It takes us over a month with an entire team to effectively change the game! If we kept the game as is and put it online, it wouldn’t be very fun for players; certain puzzles wouldn’t translate well online, and some puzzles would be immensely difficult to solve.

We currently have 3 escape rooms we’ve turned into online games (Neverland, Seven Dwarfs, Cure for the Common Zombie), plus an additional game, The Hot Chocolate Incident, that we created from scratch for only online play. Now, we’re turning one of our most popular games, The TriWizard Trials, into an online game. For this Harry-Potter inspired game, we needed to ensure that we could create a lot of magical moments that would translate well online. 

Emma, co-founder and head of Game Development for Improbable Escapes, has a strategic plan when it comes to any of our builds. When it comes to changing to online play, the steps are a bit different than normal… and the steps may be a bit quirky, just like her!

“I like creating online escape rooms because I like how personal they are; I like having that much interaction with the customer. I like being able to make the game more theatric, add an actor in there, and really enhance the experience. How often do you get to interact one-on-one with an actor? Normally you’re sitting in an audience, see them on stage… and it’s really beautiful and cool, but it’s also really detached. With an online escape room, you’re right there with them. They’re helping you be a part of the adventure. It’s a very cool experience.”

Emma Rochon, Head of Game Development & Co-Founder of Improbable Escapes

Our steps to convert an in-real-life escape room to an online escape room

  1. Do a walkthrough of the space to form a list of what needs to change. In this step, the head game designer, would do an initial walkthrough of the space to take into consideration all of the changes that would need to take place. This includes set design, puzzle design, UX flow, lighting, sound, and so much more.

  2. Ask someone else to do a walkthrough of the space and compare notes. The head game designer will then ask one of our technical directors to go through the space and gameplay, and make notes based on the same topics in step 1. Then, they would compare notes! We strongly believe in having diverse opinions and thoughts when working on our games; it only helps us improve as a company. And of course, there’s a chance that one person would miss something that another person would catch!

  3. Think about it… a lot! Before any changes begin, our team spends a lot of time just thinking. We also think about how we can improve the game overall, and try to be efficient with our time. So for example, The TriWizard Trials has also gotten a pretty significant face lift for in-real-life players because of this process! As we constantly innovate and grow, it’s important for us to make sure that all of our games look and feel up to par.

  4. Isolate problem areas,  breaking it down into:
    1. What doesn’t look good through Zoom: For example, what props need to be changed to look good on a video feed, perhaps due to colour, imagery, or lighting?
    2. What puzzles don’t play well online: This normally involves sound puzzles or physical puzzles
    3. What generally needs to be updated because the game is 2-years old: As mentioned in Step 3, we try to work as efficiently as possible, which includes both general game updates as well as the flip from in-real-life play to online play.

  5. Make plans! Because there were so many issues to address, we’re tackling it one room at a time. This is where project management comes into play; the head game designer steps heavily into a project management role to give multiple people tasks. For this project, she is project managing two technical directors, three game developers, and a marketer. 

  6. Start obsessively thinking about it more and more, realizing ways that it could be even better! With every project, our team continues to innovate and improve. This also includes projects within games. As we realize we’re capable of doing something to improve a prop, this technique would then be applied to different aspects of the game.

  7. Prototypes time! Draw puzzles and get beta testers to try and solve them. In this step, there’s a lot of meaningful conversations with different members of our team, to refine ideas, and keep improving the product until we’re 100% satisfied. We don’t begin building out any props or puzzles until we’re 100% sure it will succeed.

  8. Start waking up at 3 am covered in sweat because you thought of an idea in your sleep, and need to write it down. This may be a step that applies only to our game designer…

  9. Start going through the list. Remove sounds, replace with lights. Remove physicality. Upgrade! Light up! Revise! Build!

  10. Start sweating profusely during the day, because you can’t stop thinking about it. Again… this may be specific to just our designer…

  11. Test test test test. This is one of the most crucial parts of our creative process: beta testing! We test different demographics with different backgrounds to have a very diverse testing pool. We need to ensure everything makes logical sense, and is thoroughly up to our company standards. 

  12. Launch! Watch our beautiful game come to life, and watch escapees enjoy it!

Creating props for our standard of production design is no easy feat. Revamping props is a long and lengthy process, which often includes a lot of different tools, people, skillsets, and more. Check out some behind the scene sneak peeks of our process:

“Elementary Magic”, was based on a puzzle design by Emma and built by Kevin. Kevin created this entire prop in-house, including (but not limited to):

  • Printing the potion bottle on a resin printer
  • Creating the decoration and filigree on a laser cutter
  • Animating the sequence
  • Building the entire casing
  • Installing different magnets and magnet sensors to create various magical moments

As you can tell, it’s no small feat for us to flip and change a game. It takes a team, with a wicked awesome skillset, to do this quickly and efficiently. Doing this entire game flip within a month and a half, is very quick. This has taken us years and years of experience and project management, resulting in beautiful props with lower development times.

If you’re interested in Improbable Escapes creating some props for you, whether it’s for escape rooms, film, television, theatre, and more, you can shoot us an email and we’d be happy to help! Looking to book this beautiful and magical game? Check out our game listing for The TriWizard Trials. Bookings are now open!

Short behind the scenes video about creating "Elemental Magic"