Building an Escape Room Universe with Audiovisual Technology
Escape room concepts have become a wildly popular form of entertainment for people seeking a fun outing beyond the traditional dinner and a movie. Fast-paced, intense, and involving critical thinking, escape rooms make an excellent adventure for anyone who loves a challenge and are quickly becoming the next big thing for parties or events.
The escape room environment is unlike anything else on the market, offering an enthralling experience that is action-packed and totally immersive. Creative background stories and intricately detailed sets make it easy to suspend your belief for an hour, as you enter an entirely new world, from alien planets to spy headquarters or ancient ruins.
Making the magic happen is far from a simple process. Allowing users to fully immerse themselves in a make-believe universe without being taken out of the illusion requires complex behind the scenes planning and cutting-edge audiovisual technology.
We’re excited to share an inside look into what it takes to build a brand-new world from scratch. One of our team members, Jody Watkins, Associate FAE at McCann Systems, has a personal passion for escape room design and planning. He was kind enough to sit down and talk us through the process.
What is the first step in creating an escape room with a themed installation experience?
We begin by writing the story. The story is what draws each of the users in with their imagination, opening the door for making the experience feel more real with the audiovisual cues.
Once the narrative is complete, we develop puzzles that fit the story and map out the flow of those puzzles across the escape room experience. Escape rooms require props, scene-setting, a delivery structure, and locations within the physical space where we’re doing the build. From here, we can compose audio sounds and design touch panel layouts.
Planning is paramount to a successful end product. All of this is done before installation begins. Lay out the story and user journey first, then start programming, wiring, building, and installing.
What role does audiovisual system design play in creating an entirely new world to host your participants?
Engaging all the senses is vital to the experience. Audio helps create an exciting, magical world in a few ways:
- Background tracks in rooms to immediately set the mood
- Sounds in the puzzles themselves, connected to sensors that are triggered by touch or motion
- Sounds can be programmed to indicate correct/incorrect solutions to puzzles
- A celebratory track plays at the end of the game to heighten feelings of accomplishment
The audio system provides a fun and easy way to talk back-and-forth with participants. Users can ask for help verbally and receive a response directly through the system.
Touch panels allow for beautiful visual elements and the opportunity for sensory interaction. Screens aren’t just a fantastic tool for sharing room stories and rules in an engaging and entertaining way. As users enter codes or other information onto the touch panel, the visual environment changes, adding to the immersive properties of the experience. In addition to the primary touch panels, four monitors can be used for digital signage to plunge participants deeper into the story.
Not all effects take place on the digital panels, of course. Lighting color and style are programmed to change at key points in the game. Rooms can be coded to illuminate black lights when specific puzzles are solved to reveal hidden black light responsive ink messages. Lasers turn on to activate sensors so that something happens in the room. We even have a video effect that combines audio, visual, and pneumatic elements. It’s exciting!
What audiovisual elements are the most important for holding up this realism?
To maintain realism and encourage the suspension of disbelief, it’s important to immerse the whole person. It’s not that one element is more important than another. It’s that all aspects of the audiovisual systems we build work together to aid in immersion.
Immerse their ears in the sounds that fit the story. Immerse their eyes in the kinds of things they’d expect to see in the world you’re asking them to visit.
How do creative thinking and technical development complement one another in escape room design?
Creativity meets technology in everything we do here at The Valcarol Missions. We create puzzles, stories and scenes that fit within a given theme. Then, we use technology to make that world come alive!
Technology has the power to add magic, immersion, emotion, reward, information, and guidance. It’s the tool we use to transport participants to another world, by enhancing their experience visually and auditorily. It is also the way we handle otherwise mundane tasks, like communicating with participants, by making it all seem futuristic and exciting.
What is breaking immersion and how do many escape rooms fail to account for it?
Breaking immersion is any element of the escape room experience that pauses participants’ imagination and pulls them out of the fantasy world. Breaking immersion happens both due to poor design choices and because of a lack of technology. A lot of escape rooms just don’t have the audiovisual tools we do to maintain the level of realism required for consistent immersion.
But it’s not just about tech. Flashlights break immersion. Cheap scenery. Poorly executed puzzles. Employees entering the room. Walkie-talkies are a very common failure in escape room planning. We set up microphones in each room so that users can communicate directly with the game master in a way that fits with the story.
Breaking immersion is not a worry in the rooms we design because we value realism. We build state-of-the-art scenery, and everything is connected to the storyline. Plus, our tech is so reliable, with built-in overrides, that there’s never a need for anyone but the participants to enter the room.
What control system do you run for room tech?
We use the Crestron control system to host games. It’s very powerful. Able to run more than 67 sensors, 16 relays, DMX lighting, pneumatic cylinders, an air compressor, DSP with 16 built-in audio players, and 6 touch panels in just one of our rooms.
Our system allows easy monitoring of all activated sensors along with audio and video feeds of the participants as they play, for clear communication and smooth gameplay. The system runs timers for the room, letting users know how much time they have, and adds to the magical quality participants experience.
The escape room design and build process is one of the most creative and exciting applications for audiovisual technology and I love being a part of it.