Author: Konstantin Mitgutsch (Playful Solutions) and Mi’pu’mi Games
You might have heard of the rapidly growing trend of ‘Escape Room’ games. In Escape Rooms, groups of 3-8 players voluntarily get locked into a physical room. By exploring the space, discovering hints, following traces, and solving puzzles they try to escape within a restricted amount of time. The idea is routed in different game genres like point-and-click adventures, puzzle hunts, theme parks, and live-action role playing games. As the games scholar Scott Nicholson highlights in his first exploration of the phenomena (2015) these live-action team-based games offer a variety of fascinating insights into game and level design, player cultures, business models, and technologies. We would like to enrich the discussion by asking how these games could be played in a competitive tournament style – as a (e)sport.
It started with a Jam…
It all started at a unorthodox game jam at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology organized by the MIT Game Lab. We invited over 40 students from different backgrounds and disciplines to tackle a tricky challenge: How to design a global, competitive, collaborative, intercultural and cheat-proof, yet feasible Escape Game. And – to make this design challenge even harder – we asked them to base their game design ideas on a novel sci-fi movie called “MindGamers” by Terra Mater Film Studios that focuses on quantum computing. In addition we invited experts like Scott Nicholson, Andrew Grant, Clara Fernández-Vara, Matthew Weise, Joanne Reay and Ariel Segall to express their thoughts and ideas about Escape Room design. This is where Red Bull Mind Gamers Mission: Unlock Enoch took a start.
The results from the game jam were overwhelming. Over 120 puzzles were designed and many different and unique concepts and narratives got created. In a next step I, Konstantin Mitgutsch from Playful Solutions, Scott Nicholson and Patrick Rodriguez, an MIT Game Lab alumni, reviewed the results and added a further component. Based on their previous work at MIT a multiplayer tablet game, they came up with a novel multilevel approach.
The game should involve a puzzle that first can be played online in single-player mode and involves in future iterations to a offline 4-player version. The design was based on “pipe-dream” puzzles and each puzzle represents a different mind-skill needed to solve the challenge.
The narrative was based on the theme of the movie "MindGames" where a quantum computer is used by students to explore collective intelligence. As a result we created Mission: Unlock Enoch, where we are looking for the world's best mind gamers to tackle the ultimate challenge: to unlock a quantum escape room. The game should be playable in a casual and competitive mode and - in comparison to the global trend - the game should only be accessible for a very limited amount of players that have pre-qualified to play. After testing the feasibility and developing the event outline for team challenges in 22 countries, we searched for the best possible developer to realize the game for our first Red Bull Mind Gamers tournament: Mi'pu'mi Games.
At the Escape Room Game Jam at the MIT Game Lab
Design Concept: Mission: Unlock Enoch
The Viennese game developers ‘Mi'pu'mi Games’ started working on the concept of the first part of Mission: Unlock Enoch - the single and multi-player puzzle game, first of all by fleshing out the different puzzle types that we wanted players to tackle. The first puzzle type, Strategy, is pretty straight forward – players have to interact with tiles in a playing field to build a path from start to exit. It is intuitive and its difficulty increases with the playing field size. The development of the second puzzle type, Logic, involved multiple iterations on the concept until we succeeded in creating a brain twister that is both easy to learn and difficult to master. The path from start to exit is already laid out but blocked, and players have to move these obstacles away to clear the path;easy on smaller playing fields, but increasingly difficult on larger ones.
Another additional puzzle type was exclusively designed for the 4-player game – we can’t say much about it as to not ruin the surprise, but it has been described by playtesters as the most intuitive and fun of all the puzzle types.
Design for the prototype The final online single-player game
We chose a simplistic, geometric approach to the game’s visual design, incorporating elements from sacred geometry and abstract geometry, with a hint of Tron-esque sci-fi. The art style is heavily based upon the “MindGamers” movie which uses similar imagery.
A strong focus on geometric shapes, colours and visual effects such as the intense glow of the energy flow as well as the particles erupting from it, attract attention.
Another important factor of the development was the level design – while the single-player version uses randomly generated puzzles based on certain parameters to ensure a specific difficulty, the 4-player version has a unique set of pre-defined puzzles. Since every team only gets to play the 4-player version once and never again, we had to find new playtesters for each test to ensure preciseness in our test results.
But the task that influenced the development of Mission: Unlock Enoch above all others was certainly the development of the proprietary hardware needed for the 4-player version. Plenty of things had to be considered: a framework had to be designed to contain the mysterious “cube” that had to support the simultaneous interaction of four players with it and there also needed to be a suitable environment around the cube to immerse players.
All of these aspects make Mission: Unlock Enoch truly unique and innovative and a real delight to develop and experience.
Mi’pu’mi Games - Mind Gaming Development Team
There are different routes to qualify for the Red Bull Mind Gamers World Finals in Budapest:
- Online Single Player Stage: In the first stage players choose an event and play a single player qualification game for specific venues and cities. Players try to qualify for the next team-based real-world stage. If a player reaches the top positions in the leaderboard he or she has qualified for the local team event.
- Real-Life Team Qualifier Stage: Players that have qualified online and reserved a spot can recruit 3 further team members, or alternatively participants can show up at the event, at over 70 different locations worldwide. They enter an empty, dark room where they find a mysterious digital cube with 4 screens.
- Wild Card: For players that are not close to a local team qualifier, or who just prefer to play online there is a wildcard option. The top 4 players world wide will form a Wildcard team and enter the Mission Unlock Enoch World Finals: an ultimate Escape Room built in Budapest 2017.
- World Finals: At the final stage the best teams from each participating country qualify for a mind-blowing Red Bull Mind Gamers World Final in March 2017 in Budapest bringing together the best mind gamers to master the ultimate Escape Room World Finals in Budapest. The Escape Room is designed by escape room guru Prof. Scott Nicholson and his students from Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario.
Let the mind games begin!
Start the Mission and qualify now: redbullmindgamers.com/mission
Nicholson, S. (2015). Peeking behind the locked door: A survey of escape room facilities. White Paper available at http://scottnicholson.com/pubs/erfacwhite.pdf