We were so excited when we visited Escape Academy in the spring, and since then we’ve been looking forward to its official opening on July 14th. With that in mind, we interviewed principals and co-founders Wyatt Bushnell and Mike Salyh in the interview below as part of SGF Developer Day.
“Well, yeah,” Wyatt said of the idea of coming up with a video game based on their IRL escape room expertise, one of the benefits of the pandemic and lockdown. “Mike and actually have been reminiscing about this lately because if we weren’t hit by the pandemic…before the pandemic, we were only building arcade games and escape rooms for the real world. Like Dave & Buster’s arcade stuff like that. So if the pandemic never hit, we probably would never have released digital titles that way, we really fell in love with the industry, so…”
But when it comes to building such different escape experiences, what could make it easier or harder to recreate the two worlds?
“In a real-world escape room, there are some game mechanics that we choose not to use to do that on purpose, and that’s something we want to make sure,” Wyatt explained. “As a studio, we’re not red herrings.” Big fan, but this is a mainstay of physical escape rooms. Our explanation is that people will invent their own red herring, so we don’t need to help them. And then, I also think what’s the benefit of the digital format, it allows us to build all sorts of threats to the player, making the threats a bit lifeless in the room. One of our rooms you’re putting together a tower filled with water, which I’m sure you’ve seen from the summer game festival, but being able to take advantage of these different types of threats makes sure players are like, “Oh, I want to get out of this room “It’s a very powerful design.
Here’s what Mike said about the key difference in terms of that deadly touch:
“In a physical escape room, you use your imagination. Your body is there, but you pretend to see the thread. In a video game, you pretend to be there, but you actually see the thread.”
When testing the game, both make sure players share notes and come up with solutions, as this is a good sign of a room or puzzle design success, considering “it won’t be done unless we have enough dialogue”.
“The sum of a good escape room is greater than its parts,” Wyatt cites as an example. “One of our levels is an art classroom. Your goal is to mark a specific piece of art in a room. But all the puzzles are solved by looking at the artwork throughout the room. For me, this is my personal best Favorite room because you are in the art classroom solving puzzles by looking at the portraits in the room.
Take the full interview to learn more about the game design, the co-op experience, or how they worked around the fact that there are no game masters in the game. Escape Academy is releasing on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Game Pass. As for the VR adaptation that seems so appropriate, “We can neither confirm nor deny (laughs). Nothing has been announced yet, but it’s something we’ve considered.