In a dank corner of a sooty industrial-era maternity ward comes a mysterious mewling: we’ve birthed a new baby, and now Untold Entertainment has a sister company called LockQuest.
LockQuest is my take on the real-life escape the room craze that has swept the globe. Inspired by online escape games and more recent fare like The Room on iOS, real escape games see you and your friends trapped in a room (in real life), where you have to collect clues and solve puzzles to find the front door key and get out.
Indoor Recess for Hogtown Residents
Ever since i played my first room escape game this past March, i knew i had to start my own company. Since then, Toronto has become a hotbed for escape games. By my account, Toronto is the most active escape game hub on the planet. You read that correctly: Toronto is now the world capital of escape games.
We have our 15-month-long winter to thank for that. A little-known piece of Toronto trivia is that Walt Disney actually scouted Vaughan, a suburb North of Toronto, as the site of a new theme park, but he ultimately decided that Toronto was too cold, and that the park could only operate seasonally. (Instead of Disney World North, we got Canada’s Wonderland. Small comfort.)
The great thing about live escape the room games is that they are played almost exclusively indoors. The only challenge for fun-seeking Torontonians is getting there!
Thankfully, LockQuest is directly across the street from the Summerhill subway station. In fact, we’re currently the only escape game in downtown Toronto that’s subway accessible. Every other game requires you to transfer to a bus or a streetcar or some sort of rickety Toronto Transit Commission ox-pulled wooden cart, which will no doubt be out of service whenever you try to take it, due to “signal problems.”
What else sets us apart? Currently, there are two expressions of escape the room games: karaoke, and engagement. Karaoke-style places split their space up into a bunch of tiny little rooms, a la private room karaoke companies. You walk in off the street and select a themed room from a menu. Because they’re smaller, most rooms fit between 2-6 players (often snugly).
In an “engagement-style” escape the room experience, players order tickets online for a much larger, 12-player game. They arrive at the room at their appointment game time, and a dedicated staff greets them, and tailors the experience to those players. It feels much more like a theatre performance where you book in advance and mark the calendar with a big red circle, like they do in the movies. Then, you ride your bike through the hilly streets of a small seaside Oregon town to meet up with the rest of The Goonies while Cyndi Lauper sings the soundtrack, like they do in the movies.
What’s the Story, Morning Glory?
The first game by LockQuest, Escape the Book Club Killer, aims to improve on the experiences i’ve had travelling around North America playing escape games. For one, we pay a lot of attention to story and character. Too many escape games dump you into a bizarrely decorated room (why’s that bicycle in here?) with no compelling reason to escape other than “the door’s locked.” Cool. How did i get here? Who locked me in? Why are the means of my escape scattered around the room in a tightly-knit logic puzzle format?
The first digit of that combo lock code is the number of submarines in the living room. But uh … why?
In Escape the Book Club Killer, all these questions and more are answered in the course of the game. You’ve responded to an invite by a friend-of-a-friend to attend this book club. You don’t know the guy who’s running it, but you’re adventurous, so why not? When you show up, your host seems a little unhinged, and the book he wants you to read – a sleazy pulp novel – is entirely inappropriate for polite company. In short order, he tells you he’ll be back in an hour, and the door locks behind him …. from the outside.
The House Always Wins
The more escape games my friends and i play, the more frustrated we become by the outcome. Too many companies brag about their low escape rates, and will do anything – to the point of being unhelpful and lying to players about the rules – to protect that precious win/lose ratio. After one escape game staffer told us not to touch the lights (when turning off the lights was crucial to solving a puzzle), we lost the game in frustration. The boss apologized mildly, and told us his host-in-training didn’t correct himself because that would have revealed the solution to a puzzle. “Besides,” the host chimed in, “It’s my job to make sure you guys don’t win!”
Listen: i don’t pay 30 bucks for an escape game experience that stacks Vegas odds against me so that i feel angry and cheated by the end of the evening. Carefully hosted escape games should be a dialogue between players with differing abilities, and hosts who care only that guests have a great time. The best outcome in any game is that the players have a blast; we’re not so protective of our game design or our egos that we’ll let it stand in the way of our players’ enjoyment!
Are You Still Reading This?
Come play Escape the Book Club Killer at LockQuest. We’ll go to Hell and back to make sure you have a great time. And if you’re observant, communicative, and logical, you just might escape Hell yourself.