Room escape games are all the rage these days—you know, you and a small team of friends get locked in a venue full of puzzles, clues or objects to assemble, disassemble and decode so that you can get out. Apparently Sweden has had real-life secret puzzle castles going for 20 years; here in London, my friend Pip tried a room escape that involved some kind of hint master scolding her through a screen. Recently I was in Belgium and some friends and I were looking for a place to have dinner and we passed a room escape venue on the way, just like you'd pass a convenience store. These things are everywhere now, even in Budapest bars, as you can see from the video above.
As a design form, though, room escapes are having some growing pains, from what I understand. It seems it's actually very challenging to create a series of nesting, escalating physical challenges that interlink, that offer the players the chance to feel smart and successful, but never to feel hopelessly stuck. You have to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant objects—subtly, so it's not like you stick a post-it on every clue, but not so subtly that the players start ripping the actual paneling off the walls in search of secrets. Your storytelling has to be entirely self-contained, so that players never feel confused or that something is missing.
Designer Adam Clare has written a cool piece on frequently-asked questions and best practices in the design of room escape games that help illuminate some of these considerations. It's neat to think about for anyone interested in this growing trend, and at the very least it will help you with some basic tips before you try locking your friend in her closet for her birthday.