Weekly Geeky Question #25: A Superhero-themed Escape Room

Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #25, and for the sixth week in a row, we’re talking about superheroes, though with a different slant this time.

How would you do an Escape Room with a superhero theme?

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So…Escape Rooms.  I don’t know when this trend got started, but I discovered these things just recently, in 2015 or 2016.  The idea is to have a themed room (or connected series of rooms) which have a series of puzzles that need to be solved in order to leave the room, or to complete the story.  The types of puzzles can vary greatly, with hidden keys, random objects that you have to see the connection between, and coded combinations for locks all being common.  A lot of them also use magnets and circuits to operate cool camouflaged pieces of technology, like secret doors or that sort of thing.

My friend Rod and I went to one for his birthday, along with a couple of other friends.  It had a “virus in a laboratory” theme, but without the zombies that that might imply.  We enjoyed it a lot, while at the same time being annoyed with room’s lack of narrative consistency.  The first room had some cool effects, neat puzzles, and a sense of a mystery that we needed to unravel.  The second room had a whole bunch of combination locks and random number puzzles on the walls, with no attempt to make it all fit thematically.

That said, if we’d known what we were doing better, we might have gotten to that second room sooner, and possibly enjoyed it more.  This is the only room that I’ve done that we flat-out failed to complete.

Since then I’ve done a bunch of other rooms, some with Rod, some with my family.  I’ve done a bunch in Perth, one in Adelaide, and three in Bali (all at the same facility).  Later this year we’re heading to the United States and I’m hoping to maybe do a room there. And I’ve even been involved with helping to write a room or two, both professionally and just for the fun of it, setting things up in my house or elsewhere for friends and family.

Anyway, this weeks’ question is how would I create a room which has a superhero theme, and in which ideally the players actually play superheros.  This obviously has a bunch of challenges…how do you simulate a player suddenly shooting lightning out of his hands or running at super speed?  But I’ve given it a go, and here are my thoughts.

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Hero Headquarters

The game is set up for four players, which is sort of a classic amount of players for an Escape Room.  The four players take on the roles of the four members of the Coalition of Heroes:

Titan – A hero with super Strength
MindReader – A, you guessed it, mind reader
Dr. Infinitesimal – With the ability to shrink
Magno – A hero with magnetic abilities

(OK, all these names are terrible, but that’s all I’ve thought of so far)

Anyway, the setting of the game is the headquarters of the Coalition of Heroes.  The main room that you start in has a meeting table with chairs, a number of trophies of previous missions, a notice board with lots of information about the team’s enemies and former members, a “Trouble Monitor” with maps of the city and the world, and some files on former cases.

Each “hero” starts the game seated around the meeting table, moments after a trap has been activated.  The trap has been set by an unknown enemy of the team, and has both locked all the heroes inside their own headquarters, and removed all their powers.  A powerful techno-bomb is hidden in the headquarters which will go off in an hour, killing everyone!

Fortunately, each hero has a device hidden inside the headquarters which will restore their abilities.

So, the players have a series of goals they have to achieve within their time limit:

• Find and use the devices they’ve invented which will restore their powers (each has their own individual one)
• Discover which enemy is behind this scheme (this would involve communicating with a disguised figure on a screen, eg. via video, or even better, via a live-actor
• Find & access this “techno-bomb”
• Deactivate this same weapon
• Find and unlock a hidden exit from the headquarters, and ultimately leave

Each of these things would have clues, locks and puzzles that would need to be solved or cracked in order to accomplish.

Obviously, all of this is set up strategically, so that each item is found at the right place in the story, and that the right things open up the opportunity to get the next thing, which is basic Escape Room design.  I’m not going to bother with mapping all that out or figuring out the actual puzzles.  But I will comment on how I would simulate each of the character’s superpowers.

For MindReader, I’d have him or her acquire an earpiece which only they are allowed to use.  At a couple of specific points in the game, as I’ve mentioned, the characters would interact with their enemy via live or pre-recorded video).  During these times, as long as MindReader is wearing his or her earpiece, they will hear special audio messages played which will contain important clues to be deciphered.

For Magno, the player finds a special glove which only they can wear.  The glove contains built in magnets, and there are a couple of points in the game where they have to use these magnetic gloves to manipulate another object to move forward in the game.  I think in one point there could be a flat key lying in such a position that it can’t easily be picked up normally, but Magno could use their magnet-hand to retrieve it easily.  In another case, there is an important metal object which is stuck in some sort of small maze, which can be seen but not reached.  The magnetic ability allows it to be moved so that it can be reached properly, and thus used.

For Titan, he or she finds and wears two special bracelets which allow certain key things to be moved, which would otherwise be “too heavy”.  In one case, I imagine a huge, oversized lever which nobody else can shift except Titan.  And in the other case, I imagine a door or hatch which must be lifted up by Titan, to allow everyone else to go through.  The objects would not be genuinely super heavy, but set up only to move when someone tries to use them while wearing the special bracelet.

And finally, for Dr. Infinitesimal, we get the most exciting one, though also the most complicated.  The player would receive a special shrinking device which they would use twice in the game to “shrink down” into different parts of the game.  In one case, they could enter inside the “techno bomb” that the villain is using to defeat the heroes.  In the other, they could maybe enter a keyhole in order solve a puzzle that will open a door.  How will they actually accomplish this?  By having them enter another room with a full-sized version of the “miniature” set.  These would have to be rooms that are only accessible thanks to something on the shrinking device.  And at least in one case (in the techno bomb), the other players would be able to see what they are doing thanks to an adjustable camera, and to communicate via radio, so they could work on a puzzle together.

That’s the basic overview of how it could be done. Like I said, I’m not going to go into detailed puzzles, but I definitely would want to include a clue to the identity of the villain in one of those “conspiracy boards”–extra points if I can have the villain turn out to be a former member of the super-team gone bad (explaining how he is able to access their headquarters so easily).

Another thing I’d like to do is the address the fact that most of the Escape Rooms I’ve done reflect “two dimensional” thinking.  In other words, you move from room to room, but rarely do you go up or down.  The reasons for this are obvious and practical, but I’d love if it part of escaping from the trap that your headquarters has turned into involves pulling an emergency ladder / staircase from the ceiling, and having to deal with another room that is above the one you are mainly in.  Then the actual final escape from the room could involve going down a big slide after you open the final door.

For extra fun, you could include a few other costume props for the players to use–a mask, a cape, that sort of thing.

Now, Rod told me, when he asked this question, that he has his own ideas of how he would do a super-hero themed escape room.  Now that mine are up, I’ll see if I can get him to write down his, and maybe I’ll add that to this post as an addendum.

Next week, we will move away from superheroes again, though we will stay with comics.  I’ve been asked to write about my proposal for a Christopher Nolan-esque reboot or adaptation of Peanuts, the long-running comic strip by Charles Schultz.  I have no idea how I’m going to tackle this yet, but this question has been in my inbox for months now so I figure it’s time face it head on.   See you then?

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