The recently released debut of Coin Crew Games, escape academy, is now available on all major platforms, promising an enjoyable adventure for puzzle-loving gamers. Co-founders and lead developers Wyatt Bushnell and Mike Salyh met while running the Space squad escape room at Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles, and after spending nine months together in a dark, cramped room, they decided to apply those puzzle design skills to indie video game development. Their expertise also appears to be paying off, as the title has been met with positive reception at the time of writing.
Bushnell and Salyh recently spoke to Game Rant about their experiences creating the title and were quick to highlight some of the most crucial elements of building an enjoyable escape room: good level design and attention to detail. . Specifically, they explained that the main challenge in designing an enjoyable escape room is balancing a variety of settings that allow for many distinct puzzles against the creep of detail that could derail an otherwise cohesive experience.
A promising variety
Most modern escape rooms feature a lighthearted narrative, or at the very least, a general theme to flavor the proceedings. But few physical rooms can consolidate multiple separate locations into one cohesive experience. Just as some mechanics can rival a game’s narrative, Bushnell expressed his frustrations with physical escape rooms that lead to narrative dissonance when trying to jump between settings:
I remember playing one where you time traveled to different places, setting the deadlines, and it felt really contrived. We knew we would need a wide variety of environments to support many different types of puzzles, so we landed a school to train escape artists because we could put players in unique courses and environments while keeping the common thread of the story intact.
While an academy for the art of escape may seem far-fetched, escapology is a real discipline, practiced by stage magicians and other artists, including the famous Harry Houdini. In real life, this often involves undoing ties such as ropes or shackles, seemingly impossible contortion, and in some circumstances regurgitating keys or lock picks. escape academy takes a much more accessible, comfortable, and whimsical approach to breaking free, and unlike most real-life escape acts, its puzzles can be played collaboratively with a friend like location-based escape rooms.
A game’s visual aesthetic often develops alongside the core game mechanics, and escape academy is no exception. Salyh reaffirmed the importance of environmental variety in designing creative puzzles and how the game’s accessible art style emerged from that mission.
The key to designing a wide variety of puzzles is to provide a wide variety of environments! So from the start, we knew this game was going to rely heavily on environmental art – specifically how many distinct environments we would be able to create. In addition to this, it is necessary to focus on the puzzles and not bog down the player with excessive detail. At the center of this Venn diagram, we found our low-poly, colorful aesthetic.
A common pitfall in physical escape rooms is occlusive detail. While verisimilitude can make a room more immersive, every added detail can be mistaken for a clue. Some degree of detail is needed for flavor, but players can only eat so many red herrings before the experience becomes impossible to parse. Whenever relatively simple tasks become indecipherable, players become frustrated, whether the confusion stems from excessive detail, unclear instructions, or poor user interface.
At this point, Bushnell said Coin Crew Games avoids certain puzzles that work well in real life but translate poorly to digital experiences. In many video games, players examine and manipulate 3D objects, as in many puzzles in the resident Evil franchise. While dexterity trials can be exhilarating in real life, especially when a time limit makes every second count, they’re often superficial or clunky in a digital space.
A numerical advantage
One of the biggest draws of location-based entertainment, like real-world escape rooms, is their physics. Playing with interesting and unusual objects – or using familiar objects in unconventional ways – has intrinsic appeal, especially when contrasted with the more fleeting and abstract appeal of video games. Similarly, physical escape rooms are subject to achievable production costs and, more importantly, the laws of physics. Digital escape rooms can create truly magical experiences that cannot be replicated in a meat space.
escape academy launches with thirteen rooms, which is a wider offering than any of the biggest physical escape room companies. And Coin Crew Games is just getting started. Bushnell joked that “these are rookie numbers” and said they plan to add additional levels with content updates after launch.
escape academy is now available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It is currently included in the Xbox Game Pass.
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