Building Immersive escape rooms 3
Updated: Feb 19
In parts 1 and 2 I described how a strong story and an authentic design work together to immerse the players in their escape game. In this article I will share some of the ways we engage some of the players' other senses.
Just as video games and movies have a soundtrack or score, music can enhance the experience in an escape room.
It's pretty obvious that the music being played needs to be appropriate to the theme and era of the game Hip Hop beats are unlikely to immerse players in an Egyptian tomb just as medieval chants would be out of place in a bank heist. There are lots of royalty free sound tracks which can be purchased at various websites such as Catooh or Pond5
But its not just about what music to play - perhaps more importantly is when the music is played, for how long and at what point it changes. This will often be determined by the gameplay - perhaps a secret room is discovered or a puzzle is solved or even when the game is completed. The right soundtrack can help change the players' emotional state from say curiosity at the start, to panic as time runs out and finally elation if the players complete their mission in time.
Listen to some of the soundtrack changes in our Plague escape room which aim to build the tension as the game progresses.
In Witch a soundscape contributes to the feeling that the players are outside on a moor by the gallows.
Some escape rooms use software such as Escape Room Command Centre or Houdini which automate the triggering of music and sound effects after a set number of minutes or when a certain puzzle has been solved. The Escape Key always has one games master per game and part of their training is to control the soundtrack manually based on what they observe when monitoring the players. Hardware is also important. Good quality speakers are important to help produce a rich room-filling sound but it is important that where possible they are not obvious particularly in historical themed escape rooms. You also don't want customers to be able to pull out wires or damage the speaker cones. The Escape key uses in-wall speakers that are flush with the wall surface giving us the opportunity to disguise them as ventilation panels or hide them in a stone wall. Our speakers are powered by an amplifier connected to a small sound mixer allowing the games masters to control the output from a range of devices.
Many escape rooms are deliberately dimly lit - this helps with the discovery of new items or areas. It is important to provide a means of providing additional light such as torches, lamps or LED candles as players do become frustrated trying to read or line up locks in poorly lit rooms.
These days Smart lighting systems such as Hue from Philips provide a cost effective way of controlling all or individual lights. Controlled through an app a variety of preset or customised lighting effects can be delivered at just the right moment to heighten or change the atmosphere in the game.
An underused element in escape rooms but by tapping into the sense of smell the players can add another layer of realism and further immerse the players in the story.
Smells can be used overtly or covertly.
In our Plague room the players are aware (through the introduction video) that people burnt incense in their homes to ward off the disease so a visible incense burner makes sense in the game.
Other smells can be used more discreetly either in scent machines or by adding to smoke fluid - aromprime sell a range of scents. We use a graveyard scent in the fog machine that is used to create low lying fog by the gallows and in Armageddon a 'diesel fuel' scent is used to make the rocket launch that bit more immersive as the launch room fills 'exhaust fumes'
A general rule is that the reception area and the escape rooms should be a comfortable temperature for the paying customers and particularly in an old warehouse such as ours without air conditioning, heaters and air coolers need to be used.
Two of our rooms feature outside sections. Electric City begins on a cobbled Victorian street while part of Witch sees the players entering a moonlit mist moor. In both these settings we don't heat the rooms and in winter in particular adds a new sensation to the experience.
IDEAS WE THOUGHT ABOUT .... and then thought again!
Finally a mention of things we've considered installing but then reconsidered.
The snow looked pretty good in this video but the noise from the machine itself was way too loud and would work against all the other elements designed provide immersion. There's also the issue of refilling as they go through a lot of fluid. Silent snow machines cost over a £1000 so this seasonal idea was abandoned.
In our latest room, Electric City we considered giving mild electric shocks to the players using electric dog training mats but we discovered during testing that while a 7.5 volt 'shock' wouldn't harm you, the sensation was definitely not pleasant! Similarly a 'boom box' equipped sparking fusebox was simply too loud to be used in the relatively confined space of an escape room.