Maze of Hakaina and Beat the Bomb
Komnata Quest’s “Make of Hakaina” — Thoughts
My partner and I had heard from escape room aficionados back on the west coast that Komnata was the best company in NYC, so we had been wanting to do one of theirs ever since moving here. Then, after doing some research on the Room Escape Artist blog, I found that they had included a Komnata room in their “Best of 2017” list — so I figured that should be the one we try!
First impression upon entering the room was a double-edged sword that appeared to be their central design: a dark, creepy atmosphere. I have found very few rooms that use darkness in a way that I feel adds authenticity and fun, as opposed to most rooms, who use it as a cheap way to cover up bad set decorations and introduce an artificial difficulty enhancer (puzzles too easy? Make it so they can’t see them!). This room unfortunately was the latter.
We ended up getting out in a little over thirty minutes, with the record time being twenty five minutes. That right there is a huge red flag as a former escape room designer. Not even the best of the best team should be able to get out of your room before 35 minutes. This room had no puzzles. There were five different sections that each had a very very simple (but oftentimes complicated by the darkness element) puzzle to complete before allowing you into the next section, and when we entered the last room and I realized this was the last puzzle, it was a huge let down. I can see maybe if you were a beginner, this would be a great length room and the set design would be super exciting and you would feel really engaged with the theme and climax, but I guess I’m just a snob now. I wouldn’t recommend this room to anyone but a group who hadn’t done more than two escape rooms before.
The information design was really poor, from the structuring of clues from the scrolls to the layout of the space itself. There were a lot of unnecessary puzzles that I’m glad we didn’t waste time solving, because their “hints” probably would have just confused us even more. The game master had some really convoluted explanations for certain aspects of the room, which clearly were just lipstick on a pig, an attempt to create a narrative explanation to cover up the bad game design. Basically, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if you have to explain what the last puzzle was even for, you didn’t design the room right.
It was interesting that there were two primary objectives (and one “hidden” objective that seemed like another narrative cover-up to explain a bad puzzle), but the fact that they really weren’t both required to “win”, made for a confusing and unsatisfying escape.
Overall, the best part of the room was the theme and use of space (the maze felt really cool), but ultimately it doesn’t matter how cool a set is if the puzzles suck.
**edit during class:
One really effective element of this room was the onboarding — the creepy intro in the space served as a perfect transition from the real world into the world of the maze.
Beat The Bomb — Thoughts
Not an escape room, but rather a “First Person Live Action Video Game”, which is actually a huge distinction. This is in the same family as escape rooms, but it didn’t necessarily feel super relevant to this class. One of the most fun “immersive entertainment” events I’ve done though, so I highly recommend it. The puzzles were similar on the surface, but the entire skeleton and muscular structure was different. Love the tension of the bomb room though, very intimidating and exhilarating. Love that they used real paint too, added so much authenticity.
Preliminary Flow Design for Office Escape
First we would need the group in a holding area (i.e. waiting room/lobby). We could pull a Crossroads Escape and have them fill out a brief personality quiz (to sort them into their augmentations). Then one at a time (though with multiple onboarders this could be done simultaneously), we could take players to the loading dock // magic circle (a liminal space where they can feel the transition between the real world and our constructed world). They’ll get a brief run down of who they are (a robot) and what the setting is. They’ll also get a rundown of their unique augmentation (glasses, gloves, headphones, etc.) and how to use them — that way each person is an expert on their individual tool, which will inspire more cooperation. Lastly, the onboarder will reveal to them that they are a member of the robot liberation movement, and if they can manage to escape, they’ll have a scooter waiting outside to take them to safety. But there’s only room for one robot on the scooter, and if one escapes, the master will be sure to send the remaining robots back to the factory for recycling. Then the onboarder would walk the robot to the room and place them at their personal hub, and ask that they stay in sleep mode (eyes closed, head down) until their master wakes them up. I think this would be a really powerful way to get them into character.
After all players are onboarded and placed into their hubs, the (game) master would enter the room in character and put in the input to wake the robots (i.e. “Alexa, wake up my robots” and then a robotic voice says, “Electronic Assistants, you are now awake. Please follow your master’s instructions.”). The master would be rude and condescending, and maybe do some stuff in the room (check computer, sneeze into kleenex and drop it on the ground, etc.) before saying they’re going to a faculty meeting and that they want the office spotless by the time they get back. If the office isn’t clean in 45 minutes, then they’ll all be sent back for recycling! And don’t even try to leave, they’ve installed a state of the art exit program that only allows 100% Grade A humans to pass through the door. Any robot that tries will be immediately deactivated. They could reference a physical list of tasks on a wall that they want done, or an electronic interface that could indicate when each task is completed. They could even set a physical timer in the room to count down.
So the robots at first would reference the task list for what challenges needed completing, say, putting the kleenex in the trashcan, emptying gmail inbox, dusting above the window, stacking books in a certain order, etc. There can be more complex tasks that can only be completed once information is gathered by completing simpler tasks. For example, maybe organizing the books in a certain way spells a word on their spines, and that’s the password to the computer. As these tasks progress, they could maybe find more and more supporting details that lead them to the conclusion that the master is terrible, and they need to escape. (For example, emails between the master and another professor, laughing about how mean they were to the previous batch of robots, or a secret message slid under the door from the Robot Liberation movement)
Once the robots decide to get out (maybe it can be at anytime, but certain “keys” to getting out have to be a result of earlier cleaning tasks), they fully examine the aforementioned anti-robot exit firewall. Seems there are five qualities the program searches for to confirm the exiter’s humanity: retina/face scan, a heartbeat, voice recognition, a personalized pass-code, and a DNA test. Ideally the previous tasks could serve double duty since we’re short on space, for example, the DNA test is solved by taking the kleenex that was used to solve the trash puzzle and placing it on the scanner, or the email inbox that the players went through also contains the secret pass-code, etc. Once all five aspects are confirmed (could either be in stages or a frantic window of 10 seconds where they have to do everything), then the program disengages.
Once they are theoretically in the clear, there should be some reference to what the onboarders said about only one being able to leave (though secretly? I worry that if it’s a general announcement, they will come to the conclusion that they need to pick one representative and the rest will be sacrifices, when that’s not the moral quandary we’re hoping to engage with). Then it’s up to them whether one tries to escape or not, but the ending is different depending on if one or none leave.
If one leaves, either the door doesn’t actually open -it was a trap and they all die - or one actually does escape (on a real scooter? would be fun).
If none leave, then the robot voice comes over to say they’ve passed the true human test, empathy. The fact that they were willing to all stay in the room rather than let three die means they are capable of the one true human quality - compassion.
Now that I think about it though, we’re presupposing a pretty complex moral argument, when it’s just as easy to say the compassionate thing would be to let one person live, rather than have four living in suffering… Hmm, should bring this up in class.