Everyone has adapted to the pandemic in different ways. For developers Coin Crew Games, that meant shifting their focus from physical arcade games and in-person escape rooms to a project that would allow them to leverage their strengths, but not require players to be physically in the room. The result is escape academywhich will be launched on Thursday.
Coin Crew was founded in 2018 with the stated goal of “bringing people together to play”. escape academy meets this goal by providing a virtual escape room experience. The game sends players to its titular school for aspiring puzzle masters, where teachers devise unique challenges that may or may not involve the danger of painful death. In one level, a tower is flooded with water as players climb from puzzle to puzzle, solving themed challenges. The ladder from each level to the next floor is blocked by a password revealed by puzzles in the escape rooms. Learn, solve and escape is the name of the game.
“A game should be something you can do with a friend or with a spouse or with family, an activity you can do to spend time together,” Mike Salyh, co-founder of Coin Crew, told me in an interview. “The game should be fun, but it should really facilitate good interaction between people. Whenever I see people solving a puzzle and clapping is, for me, the pinnacle. And every time I see people failing to solve a puzzle, that’s when I pull out my notebook and start trying furiously to fix it.
High-five is tough when you’re sequestered in your house, but Escape Academy is nonetheless perfectly suited for social play, whether you’re on the couch next to your partner or thousands of miles away. The game’s local and online co-op experiences are identical; either way, you see your teammate’s screen at all times. The vertical split screen limits your peripheral vision, which takes some getting used to. But the benefits of being able to see everything your partner sees, like clues from across the room or notes they’ve pinned to their side of the screen, outweigh any momentary confusion players might feel.
The idea of a school for escape room enthusiasts was born out of the need for distinct environments in which to place their puzzles, escape academysay the creators.
“The more distinct environments we could create, the more we would be able to fit interesting puzzles into them, because the environments really inform the puzzles,” Salyh said. “You can do different puzzles in a greenhouse than you can do in a water-filled tower only in a computer lab. And so we knew we wanted to hit a really wide range of environments. In our brainstorming, we We were finding settings that would allow us to take the player, in a story, through many different settings.
“We came up with the idea of a school where the different teachers create challenges to solve, which also solves another big problem in puzzle games,” he continued. “It’s like, why are there all these puzzles here?” Each puzzle has a creator. You don’t like tripping and creating a combination lock. There must be a mastermind behind it all [in the lore].”
“And we may or may not have watched a certain superhero anime at the time,” he added, which caused him and his Coin Crew co-founder Wyatt Bushnell to burst into laughter. (And yes, this Bushnell is related to Atari and Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell.)
During my conversation with Salyh and Bushnell, we discussed a multitude of other puzzle games and games containing puzzles, The witnesswho barely holds his hand, Tunicwhich includes an instruction manual written in a different language, for Unexploredwhose puzzles are extremely simple because they are not the main focus of the game. Salyh and Bushnell have great admiration for these games, but the duo said to balance the puzzles in escape academy provided several challenges.
“It’s kind of a weird balancing game, because no puzzles repeat themselves,” Bushnell said. “Each puzzle is totally unique in experience. Each person will find different difficult puzzles and different really easy puzzles, depending on your personal life experience.
“I think all of our puzzles are quite difficult in a vacuum,” he continued. “A fun puzzle is a very difficult puzzle that you have the tools to solve.”
Clues at the Flood Tower level range from coded messages with hidden translation keys to physical objects you can place around the room to form letters and numbers. Every puzzle is indeed different, and every piece seemed like it could be solved once we explored that floor of the tower, picked up tools and items, and figured out which objects in the environment could interact with. Each room also had a few red herrings, like shelves full of useless junk that had nothing to do with the puzzle. (Clicking it usually results in flavor text like “Look at all that useless junk!” that lets you know it’s not part of the puzzle.)
“We put a lot of bands through this and we kind of saw, is it hard fun or is it not hard fun?” Salyh said. “In general, we want players to win, but we want them to run out of time maybe a few times.”
The game also features a built-in hint system, as the developers didn’t want you to have to pause the game and Google anything. Just as you could raise your hand and get a hint from the real game master in a physical escape room, you can press a button to get a hint in-game at any time. And the clues are matched to each puzzle, the result of Coin Crew’s exhaustive game-testing practices. Salyh said they had four different groups of testers playing puzzles every week for a year. When a group got stuck and asked for a hint, the designers wrote down everything they said and used those notes as the basis for the game’s hints. This way you never have to leave the game world and you won’t feel like cheating while looking for something.
“I think that’s what’s really wonderful about puzzle games,” Salyh said. “When you play it, you get this, at first, kind of intimidating, like, ‘Oh my god, can I ever break this?’ And then when you solve it, you feel like a genius. escape academy players to get those wins and feel that feeling.
“My favorite part of location-based entertainment was being able to love – it sounds very cheesy and a bit goofy – but I absolutely loved being able to see a group of people playing an arcade game or an escape room , and it’s like, you know you’re going to be what they’re talking about at dinner that night,” he said. “You kind of get to see a memory made. And I I was a little worried that we wouldn’t get that with digital, but then we launched the Cerebral Puzzle Showcase demo. [on Steam]and being able to see people screening the demo or playing the demo, and seeing people interacting with puzzles without us and having fun, it definitely scratched that itch.
escape academy is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X.