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Before removing the blindfold. Escape room intro - Part 1

Before removing the blindfold. Escape room intro - Part 1

Hanna Kwaśniewska |

This is the first part of the article about escape room introductions. In this part, we will focus primarily on their most common types, advantages and disadvantages.

The first impression is the most important - although psychologists argue about how long it lasts, they agree on the fact that within the first moments of contact with something, as an audience, we form an opinion about it. This is no different in the case of escape rooms, where the introduction is the beginning of the entire experience.

An introduction to an escape room involves preparing the group to play the scenario. A proper introduction should combine two functions - familiarizing the group with the technical aspects and introducing them to the atmosphere. Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile these two things in such a limited time - after all, the introduction itself lasts from a few to dozen minutes, and the game in the room usually lasts an hour or more.

Returning for a moment to the psychological approach - the first impression is formed in the first moments of contact with a new person, but it can also apply to an experience. Research on "how long does a first impression last" did not yield conclusive results - depending on the source, there were answers between 0.1 seconds and 30 seconds, which is quite a wide range. Nevertheless, the conclusion comes to mind - the first impression is an important, if not the most important element because within the first few seconds we form an opinion about a topic. Importantly, such an impression is very hard to change later if something goes wrong.

That is why the first impression is also so important in the context of escape rooms, that is, related to the introduction to the room. Therefore, it is worthwhile to refine to make the best impression on the group - this will make the appetite for puzzles much greater. The role of the introduction is important, and at the same time gives space for creativity - a creatively used theme is able to significantly affect the reception of the whole experience, that is, the game in the room with all the surroundings.

Types of room introductions - specifics from the technical side, advantages and disadvantages

One of the most important rules of a good introduction is to match it to the room itself. The purpose of the introduction is to familiarize the group with the storyline, often combined with technical instruction on safety rules or how to use the padlocks. Getting the group in the right set of mind is key to their engagement during the game and the overall post-game satisfaction that comes from consistency. There's no denying that preparing a good introduction can be a hassle, but the creators' imagination has its chance to flourish. It's a good idea to plan them while still in the concept-building stage of the escape room itself before construction begins.

One of the most popular forms of introductions is to introduce the storyline through the storytelling of the game master. Most often, a staff member separates the instruction on the technicalities with a thick line and introduces the group to the story. He familiarizes them with the plot background, defines their goal and mentally prepares them for the game. He then leads the team into the room, and that's where the introduction ends and the default game begins. Such an introduction is a universal solution that can be applied to most puzzle rooms.

It is worth mentioning that this form is often combined with the introduction of a group into a room blindfolded. Although the coronavirus pandemic has made this solution somewhat a thing of the past for hygienic reasons, it can still be encountered in some places. Familiarizing the story and introducing the group in the dark has primarily the function of keeping the room interior as a surprise, that is, making a better first impression on the players. Simply put, it prevents peeking while placing players inside the starting room. It's a classic of sorts, which - probably - we'll soon remember fondly, as more creative forms are replicated as the industry evolves.

The so-called reading of the plot from the paper sheet - whether by the game master or players - is also slowly passing into history. No wonder - current technologies offer a much wider range of possibilities. After all, creators' creativity is not limited to the room itself - creating a responsive product requires more commitment than simply reading the text. Yes, it is worthwhile to read the description of the storyline before visiting, if it is available for review. However, it cannot serve as the entire introduction - at the current stage of development of escape rooms, it will be negatively perceived by players who have already been exposed to escape rooms. Also, newcomers may not feel satisfied. After such an introduction, players are often simply ushered into the room, and the start of the game is signaled by a set sound, such as knocking three times. - Already rare, fortunately, the introduction limited to reading the rules alone from a laminated sheet of paper and following it up with two-three sentences of the storyline dispassionately recited by the game master is probably the weakest example of an introduction we've encountered - says Adam Miller, an enthusiast from Poland who has visited about 500 escape rooms so far.

Increasingly, it is possible to encounter a more elaborate form of introducing the player to the story, in which the game master takes the role of the actor, and his act starts the moment the group of customers crosses the doorstep. Such a procedure makes the group get into the mood much earlier than they assumed, so they experience the whole thing more viscerally. Creating such an introduction is not always possible, and certainly not easy - especially when you want to combine it with safety instructions in a way that is effective but doesn't take players out of the atmosphere. However, it is worth considering the possibility, as the results can be more than satisfactory.

What should be kept in mind when planning this type of room introduction? - First of all, the room must be properly prepared: both in terms of safety of use by the players, as well as resistance to potential damage to the room itself - says the owner of one of the Silesian (region in Poland) escape rooms, who uses this type of introduction in one of his scenarios. - The minimalist form of the introduction means that the amount of technical information that players get from the introducer must be condensed and fit the atmosphere so that the aforementioned immersion is maintained. This requires the developer to arrange the interior in such a way that there are no technical padlocks or elements that cannot be touched, and to secure the electronics in such a way that the players are not able to unintentionally damage them - he adds. It's hard to disagree with him: it's the aforementioned combination of the two parts of the introduction (technical and story) that is the most challenging part of the preparation that every developer must recalculate.

However, there is no end to the enumeration itself. - Secondly, this form of introduction is demanding for the introducer himself. It is definitely more difficult to play a role in a credible way than to simply present the rules of the game. And finally: with a larger number of rooms, custom introductions generate logistical problems. With several rooms available and a sizable occupancy of players, it is very important that groups do not interact with each other when being introduced to different rooms. Otherwise, the whole idea would simply be pointless - he adds. This is valuable advice that can certainly help more than one owner who has the conundrum of defining the form of an introduction at its planning stage.

As a rule, creating this type of introduction involves a lot of effort on the part of the creator. However, this is not a hard rule. There are situations in which the combination of a game with this type of introduction comes spontaneously and naturally. As in the case of the owner of a certain room in Wroclaw: - In our case, it came out quite accidentally. The entrance to our room is quite well hidden. We decided that instead of explaining exactly how to get in, we would go out to get each group. And if we're already doing it, why not do it already in character and start the introduction? Over time, we realized that we were having fun doing it ourselves, and the introductions evolved in different directions. We really had a lot of different versions of introductions before we got to the one we wanted to stay with finically. - The last sentence may be somewhat reassuring for developers who are concerned about this form and whether it will be well received by customers in the early days of the room. It turns out that the evolution of room intro is a natural process that can bring a lot of positives, and at the same time also profits in the form of more groups.

Do not forget that the creator often (if not always) also stands on the other side of the barricade and visits other creators' rooms as their customers. It is worth suggesting the principle of "create a room that you yourself would like to visit." After all, the owner is also a player.

The introduction can be an integral part of the whole experience that seamlessly ties all its stages together. - An introduction that fits the storyline of the room very much conquers immersion, and I guess that's what the game is mainly about. The puzzles are very important but equally important is the whole "environment" that accompanies solving them. Thanks to the introduction matching the theme of the room, the player is much more quickly "drawn" into the world created for the game - adds the owner from Silesia.

The form of an introduction by an actor right from the doorstep is most often used in rooms from the horror and thriller categories. It's not surprising - it's much easier to get a group into the mood with activities designed to create fear right at the beginning of the experience, such as aggressive narration. It's a relatively small effort that is likely to result in a group engaged in the game even before it begins. This does not mean, however, that it is an introduction reserved for this category of rooms. After all, there are many rooms on the market in the adventure category (that is, the most numerous of all), where the creator also has many options. After all, the game master can take on the role of a traveler, sage or narrator of the world presented.

Another type of introduction that a developer can use in his room is a video. Most often, it contains only a story layer, as it is played by the staff only after the participants have been introduced to the safety rules and padlock instructions, most often still in the waiting room, and not inside the room. This is not the rule, of course - as there are video introductions that already include information on the technicalities. However, they are much more difficult to produce, and in some cases would not have a plot hook either. It is worth mentioning that sometimes it is better to clearly separate the technical introduction from the storyline, instead of trying to forcefully combine them.

What might a sample introduction look like with the use of a film? Although the possibilities of this form are limited (from the customer's point of view, it is only to watch the video before entering the room or, less often, already inside), you can use video not only to introduce the story but also the technical principles, as one owner who runs a business in the Tri-City (region in Poland) area did. If you have a larger number of rooms, this is a very convenient form, because due to its versatility it can be used in virtually any scenario and with any group. In addition, a trailer in the form of a video can whet the appetite for the storyline, if properly balanced.

We decided to use the video introduction to test a new motive for conveying a room's story. At first, we started with the game master explaining the story, then some rooms featured audio recordings and finally, we came to video. In addition, we have already hidden one riddle in the video - explains the owner. Very often groups are so excited by the prospect of the game that they simply don't pay attention to the presentation of the storyline. Including a riddle, an element can greatly reduce the group's distraction, as well as introduce an unprecedented element that is able to stick in the viewer's mind.

Recording and editing a good introduction in video form is a long and difficult process, and often expensive as well. But on the other hand, it's a one-time expense and effort. Thanks to this, every player gets the same package of information at the start - there is no situation in which the game master forgets some aspect of the introduction or important information, which is a human factor and completely understandable. However, the form of the video must be properly prepared - so that it interests the player, which in the era of industry development (and also forms of introductions) is not an easy task at all.

By far the most common form of introduction is voice recordings, which the group listens to after being physically introduced to the room. There is not a group in the world that has not experienced such an introduction - as it is the easiest for the owner to create. It turns out that this form is sometimes a compromise worked out through experience, where none of the other methods worked or were fully satisfactory.

This is the opinion of Filip Mroczek, co-owner of the Wyjście Awaryjne brand of rooms (eng. Emergency Exit), which have been nominated several times in the TERPECA ranking. - Over the past years, we have experimented with different types of introductions in our scenarios. There was a shorter video and a longer one, there was an emphasis on acting by the game master. In the end, however, we adopted a standard whereby plot introductions, as well as further narration, are carried out by professionally produced voiceover - he says. - This gave us control over the quality of the material, since not every game master has the necessary amount of acting talent. What's more, we're able to precisely cram the introductions into a tight timeframe, so customer service runs smoothly, and we can use the time saved to talk to the player after the game.

It can therefore be considered that an introduction via voice recording is a neutral solution that can be applied to virtually any scenario. Indeed, this form of introduction circumvents such problems as the lack of predisposition of the game master to act and saves time, which can be devoted to the group or even used to be able to extend the room to the group for a few minutes, which in this industry can sometimes be very valuable, in the event of a slow passage of the room.

What should be kept in mind, including on the technical side, when deciding to use this form of introduction? - If we use technical solutions, it is worth taking care of the quality of the playback devices - says Filip Mroczek, sharing the opinion of other owners and the recipients themselves. At the same time, he leaves some advice for creators who face the choice of the form of introduction. - There is nothing worse than too quiet or unintelligible introductions or voice elements in escape rooms. We also need to remember that the player may be moving around during these events, so the introduction should be clearly audible from all the places the player may actually be. If we want to get extra focus from customers, we can try turning off the lighting in the scenario for the duration of the introduction. Of course, don't forget about the different language versions of the game you offer. The method of changing the language should be thoughtful, efficient and accessible to any game master.

The problem with this type of familiarization of players with the story can be the fact that in a significant number of cases players want to start the game as soon as possible, so they don't focus on listening - they pull the blindfolds, look around the room even before the voiceover finishes telling the story, not knowing afterwards what the purpose of their mission was. However, there is no cure for this - even the best-crafted recording will not win over the viewer's excessive curiosity. Those more experienced players understand this, and in their case, the focus is much easier to come by. Nevertheless, its accessibility and relative simplicity in execution make it the most widely used introduction in escape rooms today.

These are just a few of the most popular types of introductions. Although there are many other original ideas for introducing players to the storyline, usually any of the above is its source, a certain base for processing - the vast majority of introductions are derived from a video concept, an introduction by an actor, a conversation with a game master or a voice recording. Owners really have a huge scope for creating in their works (because escape rooms are, after all, the works of some creator) introductions that go beyond the pattern, such as those without the participation of staff, used in outdoor games, on an uphill basis. There are so many ideas that it is impossible to list them in one article.

Introduction from a live cam perspective

With the pandemic in the escape room industry, a new trend has begun to take shape - live cam escape rooms - stationary rooms where only the staff (usually a game master and camera operator) are present, and players connect via Zoom or some other form of live streaming. This is a solution developed for the integration of people located in different parts of the globe who cannot meet in a physical escape room.

There's no denying that introducing a group to the storyline in the case of live cam rooms is a much more difficult art than in a traditional escape room. This is caused by technical limitations, and playing through a screen often hinders the ability to get into the atmosphere. So how do you get the right emotions out of your customers in live cam mode, and what should a full-fledged online group introduction look like? - A good introduction to a room should be divided into two stages: Before the start and after the start of the online meeting - explains the owner who runs a live cam room in Warsaw. - In the first stage, we send the group, no later than 24 hours before the start of the game, email instructions with basic information (what communication system we are using, the recommended internet connection of 5 Mbps, information about the earlier appearance in the online room and the date and time of the game with its time zone). In the second stage, it's all up to the Game Master, as it's his job to sense whether players need a more extensive technical and story introduction, or whether a quick reminder of the rules will suffice.

That's not all. The technical barrier that often requires an individual approach to a group is one thing. What remains open all the time is the question of intertwining with the story in a way that is attractive to the audience. But are they always necessary? - Technical issues spoken by a game master already at an online meeting can be intertwined with the storyline of the room as much as possible, it creates an additional atmosphere and I myself am a fan of such a solution. However, with groups that are the first time, I would recommend explaining everything slowly, without weaving the information into the storyline. I can say from experience that "first-timers" find it easier to understand the gameplay and the whole game flows much more smoothly - he adds.

Overall, it comes out that mainly the technicalities are the reason for the introduction being difficult to create. Indeed, there are far fewer groups visiting rooms in this form, and it takes a lot longer to familiarize a freshman with the subject of just navigating the scenario (inventory handling, directing the game master, language barrier). Even a player who has played a live cam room before has to be introduced "from scratch." - Each room is a completely different technical aspect that must be thoroughly discussed each time. It's a lot more rules to remember than in the case of physical rooms.

From the creator's point of view, is conducting a live cam introduction more difficult than in a physical room? The owner from Warsaw leaves no doubt on this point. - Personally, I think it is more difficult. Mainly because there is much more purely technical information that the game master has to provide to the players. Also, players often encounter technical problems, which are much harder to solve remotely. All of this makes it necessary for the game master to know not only the room "inside out," but also the communication tool and potential breakdowns that occur in a given communicator.

Introducing a live cam into a room requires a great deal of work and technical knowledge. Any software or idea must be thoroughly tested for player capabilities before implementation - it must be accessible to all potential customers. Technical exclusion is often an insurmountable barrier, with the consequence that creating an optimal introduction in an online company is a very difficult task for the developer.

This is the end of the first part of the article. In the next one, we will soon address considerations about the impact of the introduction on the overall experience. We will also learn about the most common mistakes made by developers and what customers like the most. Stay tuned!

Hanna Kwaśniewska

Hanna Kwaśniewska


Lock.me team member. Germanist and scholar of German literature - German language is also her superpower. Besides escape rooms and board games, she loves Dragon Ball, Star Wars and cynology. After work she likes learning foreign languages, writing texts and planning her next trip to escape room, probably with rap music in the background. Totally extrovert.

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