Escape rooms have become a hugely popular social activity in cities all over the world. Players love the thrill of being locked in a room with a group of friends or co-workers and having to solve puzzles and mysteries to escape within a set time limit. While participating in an escape room adventure is exciting, designing your own escape experience can be even more rewarding.
Creating an escape room from scratch may seem like a daunting task. However, with some guidance from industry experts, you can develop your own escape room, ready to challenge teams of players. The keys to creating an unforgettable escape room are having a compelling theme, logical puzzle flow, and attention to detail in the experience and set design.
Develop a memorable theme and story
The theme and story tie your whole escape room experience together. Take inspiration from movies, games, history, adventures, thrillers or any other genre you find compelling. Build a simple backstory to draw players into the world of your escape and motivate them to work together escaping.
Some theme possibilities include:
- A historical era like Ancient Egypt, the Prohibition 1920s or Victorian Gothic
- A sci-fi future with spaceships, time travel or interplanetary travel
- A mystery or adventure, like searching for a long lost pirate’s hidden treasure
- A thriller/horror theme set in an abandoned prison, haunted house or zombie apocalypse
- Based on a popular book, movie or video game world like Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Maze Runner, etc.
The story you create should flow naturally into each puzzle, giving clues and locks a meaningful place in the overall experience. Keep the theme consistent in every detail for authenticity. The options are limitless choose a theme that excites you! Players will sense your passion for the world they’re stepping into.
Create a flow between puzzles:
Puzzles should lead players logically from one to the next. Think about the path players will travel in the room and set a clear series of steps they must complete to escape. Require certain objects or clues found at each stage to unlock the next set of puzzles. Have multiple puzzles running simultaneously, allowing teams to split up and work independently.
Ensure the series of events flows naturally and avoids confusion or stalling points. Playtest your escape room to determine how long each section takes and if any parts prove too difficult. Tweak as needed to keep players challenged but progressing. With a logical, well-flowing set of puzzles guiding them room to room, players will stay engaged until the very end.
Include a variety of puzzles that challenge players:
Use a mix of puzzles – don’t rely on just locks, keys, or word puzzles. Incorporate mazes, visual or pattern recognition, math problems, tool use, and more. Start with simpler puzzles before building up to more advanced ones. This keeps players motivated to continue advancing without becoming frustrated too early on.
Provide moments of revelation and reward when a puzzle is solved. Keep players’ interest high with cliffhangers or surprising twists in the experience. Some puzzles may require thinking outside the box by combining multiple clues or tools in innovative ways.
Offer puzzles at varying difficulty levels. Have some that are more accessible so beginners still feel a sense of progression. Include optional bonus puzzles for those wanting an extra challenge. Most importantly, test and modify all puzzles to ensure they can be solved within the time limit based on your expected player skill range.
With a variety of well-tested and calibrated puzzles, your escape room will provide an exciting challenge for all player abilities. Keep them guessing about what could come next! Puzzle variation and moments of surprise or reward will make for an unforgettable experience.
Ensure the escape is possible (but not too easy!):
Thoroughly test your escape room in its entirety to determine how long completion actually takes.Estimate a time range for players to aim for and ensure it’s achievable based on your observations. You want players to escape with a sense of accomplishment, not frustration.
Check that all elements are functioning as intended, clues are clearly solvable and logical, directions/instructions are comprehendible, and escape can ultimately be achieved. Note results of your playtesting to modify or improve any parts that prove confusing, too simple or excessively difficult.
Continually re-test after any changes. Double check that all locks, keys, technology, set pieces and props operate safely, sturdily and reliably before launching your escape room for public booking. Safety and quality should be top priorities. With focused testing and tweaking, you’ll provide an enjoyable challenge and victory for players.
Pay attention to details and theming
- Elaborate sets, props, music, sound effects, costumes, etc. help bring the theme to life
- Small details like background music, scents and lighting also enhance the experience
Keep safety, maintenance and legal requirements in mind
- Ensure all elements of your escape room are sturdy, battery-powered only and non-dangerous.
- Check for sharp edges, properly secured set pieces, clearly legible text, adequate lighting, easily operated locks/doors.
- Consider accessibility for those with physical disabilities.
- Require players to sign a liability waiver to avoid any potential injury claims.
- Replace or repair any malfunctioning components immediately.
- Conduct routine checks of all equipment and room elements between games to identify issues early.
- Players’ safety should be the top priority.
Room Design and Components:
- Choose furnishings, props and decor specifically suited for public escape room use.
Legal and Operational Obligations:
- Obtain proper business licensing and insurance specifically for an entertainment venue open to the public.
- Check with your local government on requirements to run an escape room company.
- Remain up to date on all regulations regarding building codes, food & alcohol handling, employment practices and safety standards.
- Meet all licensing and insurance obligations to avoid costly legal issues.
Policies and Special Considerations:
- Have a fair cancellation and rescheduling policy in place.
- Enforce a minimum age requirement for any horror/thriller themed rooms.
- Cater to corporate events considering their needs regarding scheduling, group sizes and room options.
Designing your own escape room may seem an intimidating endeavor, but with passion for the craft and by following tips from industry experts, you can create an unforgettable experience for others. The keys to an exceptional escape room are:
- Choosing a compelling theme and building an immersive story
- Creating a logical flow between puzzles that challenge yet motivate players
- Including a variety of puzzles suited for all skill levels
- Thoroughly playtesting and ensuring your escape is achievable (but not too easy!) within the time limit
- Paying close attention to theming, set design and detail for authenticity
- Keeping safety, maintenance, and legal requirements in mind at every stage