My family went to The Alchemist escape room and loved it

Escape rooms are popular. I'm not surprised. I've been to three of them with my wife and kids, and have enjoyed them all. The latest one we participated in was called The Alchemist, at Escape Room L.A..

On Sunday afternoon the four of us went to a nondescript building on 8th Street in downtown Los Angeles and pressed the button on the intercom next to the locked door. We got buzzed in and rode up to the third floor, where we met the six other players we were going to be locked in a room with. After a staff member explained the rules (no phones, no bathroom breaks, no brute force attacks on combination locks) we were led into a small room with a long table and a wall of old books. The door was locked behind us. We had one hour to figure out how to unlock the door and get out.

This is the smallest escape room yet, I thought. Were we going to spend an hour cramped together in here? I put the thought out of my head as I joined the others in going over the clues that would lead to the solving of the various puzzles. It didn't take long for us to crack the first puzzle. As soon as we did, one of the walls slid away to reveal a much larger room: the mysterious laboratory of of the Alchemist, an unseen evil being who was in the final stages of concocting a Philosopher's Stone to take over the world. Read the rest

Want to design a room escape game?

The increasing popularity of room escape games brings with it some interesting design considerations. How do you lock all your friends in a room and force them to solve cryptoquotes and make sure everyone still has a good time?

You'll want to poke this doomsday device

You're left alone at a battered, mysterious console, a flickering urban display on the greenscale monitor before you. There is just one big, red button within your reach. After briefly wrestling with yourself, you press it. Pressing it causes a switch to emerge from the console. Flip the switch and a tiny light comes on. Now what?

I've been really charmed by Please Don't Touch Anything, a sort of puzzle box game that tasks you with figuring out the workings of some bleak old doomsday device based on trial and error, some clues scrawled in the environment, and general willingness to prod. There are multiple ways it can all end, and the art is wonderful. So is the soundtrack, which morphs elegantly as your relationship to the device, and therefore your tension, mounts.

It's a pleasure to play with, and the dystopic, pixelly aesthetic has drawn comparisons to Papers, Please. To me, something about Please Don't Touch Anything's stoic refusal to invite me in reminds me lots of the old room escape games I used to play in web browsers last decade -- they were numerous and varied wildly in quality, which almost made the experience of poking around with them feel more mysterious, demanding of me some quality that was part persistence and skill, but part simply a willingness to believe luck.

I remember in particular the works of Toshimitsu Takagi, whose Crimson Room, Viridian Room and my personal favorite, White Room, were indelible on my memory. Read the rest