INTERVIEW – Jason Richard of Steal and Escape – ESCAPE ROOM

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Jason Richard and own Steal and Escape with my wife Marketa in San Diego, California. We have been open for about four months and current have one room “Mysterious Stranger” with a second room on the way.

Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?

Marketa and I were in Budapest on vacation and saw a small flyer that described an escape game and as we toured the city we found rooms everywhere. We decided to give one a try and 20 minutes into our first game I knew I was going to open one (The first room we did is still the best game we played, unfortunately we can’t remember its name).

What makes Steal and Escape different from other escape games?

We have two areas that make us different from other rooms. To start, I grew up opening anything I could get my hands on, from old stereos to locks to vehicles. I needed to understand the mechanics and electronics of everything, our games are designed with this mindset. Our puzzles are less about math and riddles and more about using objects and tools to find answers. Second, while most rooms ask the players to escape, our players start by figuring out how to get into the room and then escaping after the objective is met.

What’s it like for you watching players play your game?

Having taught teamwork, leadership and communication for three years, I appreciate a group that works together. When a person finds a clue or solves a puzzle and tells everyone what they accomplished, I get excited. I also love ingenuity. I rarely stop a group from solving a puzzle in a way that was not intended. Although there should only be one way to solve it, it’s awesome to see people think in a way that is so much different than my own thought process.

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design?

Puzzles that are designed for different mindsets. When I do a room, I bring a crew that thinks different from one another. I like puzzles that make me ask another person to “take a look” because I have no idea where to begin. It gives everyone a chance to shine and shows that everyone playing has helped in completing the objective.

What advice do you have for players?

Listen to the ideas from all members of your team. We frequently see someone with the solution ignored because their idea seems far-fetched. Your group has 60 minutes to solve the puzzle, it doesn’t hurt try everyone’s ideas.

INTERVIEW – Natalie Lapidus of Maze Rooms – ESCAPE ROOM

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Natalie Lapidus and my husband Ruslan Balashov and I are the owners/managers of Maze Rooms.

Q: Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?

A: At first we were enthusiasts. I personally have played over 60 escape room games. We moved here from Russia (where the escape room market is more developed than here) to make our dream come true and open our own escape room company. When we opened, we were one of the first companies in the LA market. I love the concept of escape rooms, it is a great way to spend quality time with your family, friends or co-workers, especially in today’s  world where everyone is so into their smartphones chatting!
I also love to see how people change during one hour in the room. Usually the most skeptical person will have more fun than anyone else in a room.

Q: What makes your rooms unique?

A: We decided to choose the European model of escape room: private rooms, limited number of players (up to 6). Also we put a lot of effort into implementing different technologies in each room. We are trying our best not to do the same puzzles in our rooms, so each room is really unique and different from one another.

Q: What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design? 

A: I think everything all components are important from the story to the game master who runs the experience is important , but mostly I love cool gadgets and creative ways of implementing them, of course they should match the story line. 

Q: Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.

A: We have a lot of funny stories! My favorite story is how within an hour you can turn from friends to “enemies”. We once had two couples playing in our Castle room and in the middle of the game they started to fight, so they ended up shouting at each other and didn’t complete the game. So next game just one couple played and we asked them where their friends are. They were jokingly saying that they are not friends anymore.
Although, they did play mostly all our rooms and never came back to us with the couple they argued with. I hope they can work it out!

Q: What advice do you have for players?

A: Don’t forget it is just a game, so just enjoyed your time in the room and have fun with your teammates. Remember it’s not always about winning either! If you forget about the game and just focus on the clues around you, it will be easier to escape.about win! 
LiveEscapeRoomReviews.com reviews: Lunar Station * Pirate Bay * Secret Mission

 

INTERVIEW – Misha Suvorov of ER Games – ESCAPE ROOM

Please introduce yourself.
I’m Misha Suvorov, actor and owner of ER Games, the company that produced Haunted Recording Studio.
 
Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?
 
One of my friends came up with idea of opening an escape room a year ago. At that time I had no idea the entire industry even existed. I did my research and liked the concept. As funny as it is, I never realized we were in the entertainment business, at least not until we opened and start getting customers.
 
What makes your rooms unique?
 
No one had done a Recording Studio before. Likewise, no one has done the room we’re opening right now. We always look for unique themes. Also, I believe we were the first to implement sound and visual effects to the extent we are doing, including the unique voice of a ghost itself. Not to mention the use of a live performance by a professional actor as we do for the story line.
 
What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design?
 
The most important part is the soul, heart and sweat invested by the owner. The escape room industry is a relatively young creative business. I think there’s still some space for unique creative work by the owners. It’s like the DNA of your brand. Who, if not you, will set it? The hired designer, engineer, constructor? I don’t think so.
Besides that, finding the place is essential. Rather than create the atmosphere from scratch, I’d rather utilize something that’s already there. It becomes so authentic and real then. From that perspective, taking over a space when a previous tenant steps out of the business is a huge plus. We’ve been lucky to take over Track Design recording studio after Richard K. Allen who ran it since mid seventies. The entire atmosphere was right there. It was harder to kill it than to keep it there.
Story line is of huge importance, of course. Be creative. Write stories you believe in, stories you’re involved in. Write the stories that relate to you.
Puzzles should be unique, no doubt.
 
Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.
 
Uhmm, I really don’t know where to start. It’s been endless fun since we came across the idea of setting up an escape room. What I like about the escape room business, as well as the entertainment industry in general, is that it’s tons of fun! Hosting people who want to be entertained and scaring them when they want to be creeped out, all while watching on surveillance cameras – what can’t be funnier?!
The most fun customer call so far was when I spent a good 15 minutes, explaining how booking works and what Haunted Recording Studio is all about, before figuring out he was looking for an actual recording studio to record his music. I was so eager to explain that he’d better gather as many friends as he can while he was trying to make it clear that it’s not his way of doing ‘this’.
 
What advice do you have for players?
 
Even if you’re real pros – don’t forget to sink in and enjoy the atmosphere. Yeah, hitting the top score is a goal indeed, but what’s the use of it if you lose the sense of immersion in the experience down the road?!
 
Anything else you’d like to share?
 
Sure! Be good, stay positive, enjoy your life! There’s so much more!
Thank you Misha!

INTERVIEW – Jason Garvett of Mobile Room Escape – ESCAPE ROOM

Please introduce yourself 

Hi escapers! My name is Jason Garvett and I am the owner, writer, designer, builder, and puzzle creator at Mobile Room Escape in Chicago.

Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry? 

I have been involved in theatre all of my life including a degree in acting and directing from Emerson College in Boston, MA. For the past 10 years I have worked for a tour boat company in Chicago as a Captain, group sales manager, marketing and advertising associate, and a private party coordinator. I have loved being in the tourism and hospitality industry but had been longing to get back to my theatre roots. For my birthday my wife took me to an escape room. I was not looking forward to it at all. When we arrived we were paired with a group of 15 year old kids (“this is going to be the worst birthday ever!”). In 59 minutes and 50 seconds (we escaped!) I had more fun than I had in years. The theatricality, working together, truly being immersed in the task at hand, and the suspension of all other problems in my daily life reminded me of my years on stage. Escape Rooms were it. This was my way back into the creative realm of theatre.

What makes your room unique?

We basically took a 32′ x 8.5′ rectangular room and put 3 axles on it, 6 wheels, and hitched it up to a Ram 2500 pickup truck. Hence our name Mobile Room Escape. I wanted the escape room experience to not be limited to one store front location. We had our trailer custom built for us so we could take it to offices for corporate team building events, houses for birthday parties, fairs, festivals, fundraisers you name it and we are there. We also keep the trailer at Gurnee Mills shopping mall just north of Chicago for weekly performances to the public. 

What unique benefits and challenges do you face as a mobile game?

We have had many benefits to being a mobile escape room. With the ability to travel we are not defined by just one location. We are accessible to clients in Chicago who do not have vehicles to make it out to the suburbs, and we can be in the suburbs for our customer who have no interest in navigating the hustle and bustle of downtown life. As long as our customers have roads we can go to them. We have even gone to other states to do our premier escape room “The Laboratory”.

Being mobile also allows us to be just one aspect of an event as opposed to the main feature. This allows us to be a part of many fundraisers, fairs, and festivals, where large groups of people gather and we can gain more exposure along with introducing more people to the concept of “Escape Games”.

Of course the challenge of parking a 32′ trailer can at times be daunting. Also the initial investment to build a trailer and purchase a truck is higher than what most escape rooms have at startup. There is also the added fun of working with local, state, and federal transportation regulations.

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design? 

In college I had a musical theatre teacher who hated the musical “Les Miserable”. This was one of my favorite musicals so I was very curious why he hated it so much. He explained to me that the music was structured as a modern day pop musical. He said “A musical set in Revolutionary France should have music indicative of that time period.” The music drew him out of the story. I still love Les Miserables but I do understand where professor Leo Nickole was coming from. If sets, costume, props, and story is of a certain time period and one aspect is not, it can draw the audience away from the story. I believe the same is true when entering an escape room. The escape rooms I love make me feel like I am on stage in a play. The combination of sets, story, actors, sound, lighting, and props working together is what draws me into the scenario and makes me escape reality for an hours time.

Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.

One evening we had a group of 8 come to experience our escape room. A very normal fun family that loved having a great time. It turns out one of our audience members that night was the son of a camp director in Wisconsin. The director had been talking about doing an escape room with their staff for years but there were none near by. This June, Mobile Room Escape will be travelling to their summer camp in Wisconsin to put 200 of their staff members through a very unique team building. Our staff has been invited to stay overnight in their cabins, eat in their dining hall, and participate in camp activities for the week we are there. Nothing beats getting to relive your youth, while doing your job!

What advice do you have for players?

 Have fun, and don’t worry about “winning the game”. Play the game and have fun doing it. Talk to each other and share every piece of information you find, as silly as it may seem. It stinks when someone has a screwdriver in their hands and never announces it to the person looking for a screwdriver. Remember only a small part of communication is talking, the most important part is listening to each other.

Anything else you’d like to share?

When I started Mobile Room Escape I thought I would just be operating an escape room. Since then I have been approached for many opportunities including writing escape rooms, building escape rooms for others, being a part of Comic-Con San Diego, and even building Mobile Escape Room trailers for other escape room owners. It has been exciting to see how starting one business venture can lead to so many others.

At the end of the day my favorite part is hopping into the escape room with our customers, putting on the mad scientist costume, and watching friends, families, coworkers and complete strangers come together to laugh, struggle, and work together to complete one common goal .

INTERVIEW- Madison Rhoades of Cross Roads Escape Games – ESCAPE ROOM

Please introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Madison Rhoades. My husband, Luke, and I own Cross Roads Escape Games (Get it? Rhoades… Roads…? Well, we thought it was cool). I am the designer and scenic painter. He builds and makes my crazy ideas come to life. 

I love puns! I agree that it’s cool.


Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry? 

My husband and I love theatre. We did it in high school and college. I got my degree in set design & scenic painting at USC. His was in Scenic Carpentry at Vanguard University. We loved it, but honestly, we hated working with actors. Almost always we had some diva of the show tell us how to do our job. We decided that theatre would be perfect if it didn’t have any actors, but it also seemed kinda impossible. A few years later we played The Basement (back when it very first opened). We thought we were going to a haunted house, boy were we wrong! It was actually our first ever escape game, us 2 with 10 strangers. Needless to say, it was a hot mess, but SO MUCH FUN! We talked about it for months afterwards. Almost immediately we had our idea for The Hex Room and thats when we found out that we could actually make theatre without any actors. It was perfect. 

What makes your rooms unique?

All of our sets are completely custom built. We have played quite a few escape games and found them to usually be inside prebuilt office buildings. We made sure to find a space with a huge warehouse so we could make our games exactly the way we wanted, built from the ground up. 

Our Hex Room game is super unique. The story is a horror movie loving mad man wants to recreate a horror movie using you as his cast. What makes it super cool is that we have everyone fill out a questionnaire beforehand to find out which cliche horror movie victim they are: Virgin, Rebel, Prom Queen, Jock, Detective, or Nerd. We give you costume pieces so you truly become your character and then we put everyone in a room by themselves. This makes it so everyone has to participate and it also makes it replayable! You can come back and play The Hex Room as a different character and have a completely new experience. Even though you are apart from your group you do still have to work together as a team by relying information and sending objects from room to room to help your team get out, and hopefully they do the same for you. 

The Fun House is the exact opposite of The Hex Room. This game is more silly and whimsical. The set is seriously beautiful. Its like stepping into a circus version of Alice in Wonderland. In this game you have to ask Zoltar for hints, who is a very sassy painting on the wall. It’s probably the best part of the game. 

Hex is absolutely replayable. I’ve played it twice. It was fun and different both times. 

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design? (Story, puzzles, decor, etc.)

That’s hard to answer. I think all of them play a key point in an overall great game. For us, we definitely pay a lot of attention to detail when it comes to our set. We really believe an immersive atmosphere is very important. Everything from set, lighting, and sound can help tell a story on its own. Our puzzles are also custom built and completely from our own heads, so its something new that players have not seen before. I think what is very important that your puzzles should work with your theme and story. I personally hate it when I play a game that is suppose to take place in a dungeon but I am solving a puzzle that has to do with the periodic table on the wall… or a sudoku puzzle…? There needs to be a reason why you are solving these puzzles and why they are there in the space. I really think that gets overlooked a lot. Cohesiveness, I guess, is what I think is the most important. 

Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company. 

I have SO many great stories of people getting scared in The Hex Room, but I don’t want to give away any of the fun surprises. Lets just say some people have screamed, “I think I just peed myself!”


What advice do you have for players?

“The key to escape is to communicate.” This is a sign we have on our wall that we stress to our players before their game and its remarkable how many people come out saying, “wow, you were right, communication is everything in this game!” Use your teammates strengths and talk things out. It’s surprising how people will clearly see the answer after just saying what they are working on out loud. 


Anything else you’d like to share?

I am always looking for something new and different and without giving too much away Cross Roads does have some really great innovative ideas for the future with our 3rd game hopefully opening up this October! Our games are also constantly changing. We grow bored of puzzles or maybe have a new idea. I would say both of our games go through major changes at least once a month. We also have some big plans for The Hex Room for the Halloween season to make it really really scary 😉

Sounds like I’ll have to come back in October to play Hex a third time. I love scary!!!

Read Cross Roads Escape Games HEX ROOM review at LiveEscapeRoomReviews.com 

Read Cross Roads Escape Games FUN HOUSE ROOM review at LiveEscapeRoomReviews.com 



INTERVIEW – Jim Thomsen of Escape the Place – ESCAPE ROOM

Jim tell us a little about yourself and Escape the Place

After being an executive/technical recruiter for the past 10 years, I joined my son (CJ) in the business (last June), as a principal in the business and the roles of VP, Facility Manager, and Chief Puzzle Engineer.

Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?

I’ve been an avid puzzle person my whole life. Most of the gifts I get (at gift-getting time) are puzzles of one sort or another. I probably have 50+ in my collection. However, it was really CJ that got me into it. He’s a full-time pilot and Captain in the USAF who lives in Colorado Springs and works out of Pueblo, CO. He visited an escape room in Denver at the end of 2014 on a team building outing with 11 of his squad-mates, and came back stoked about opening up a facility. (I had never heard of the industry at that point.) We started making plans to open in Orange County first, but I was still working full-time at that point and it ended up making more sense for him to open up in The Springs. (The first one in that market I might add.) He opened with BlackSite and The Hangover, then added The Chamber last September.

Eventually, I retired from the recruiting gig and, as mentioned, ended up joining him in June 2015. We opened in mid-November in Mission Viejo with BlackSite, The Hangover, and The Chamber all fully functioning from day-1.

What makes your rooms unique?

With so many rooms around, I’m almost afraid to say that ours are unique. What I can tell you is that they are all designed and built in-house with great care taken with regard to how they look, feel, and operate. We are very conscientious about escape rates, and that everyone has a great time… regardless if they escape or not. We have located Escape The Place in a very upscale location and would like to think the overall look and feel of our facility is exceptional in this industry. We also take great care in making our guests feel welcome from the minute they walk through the door, while monitoring them in the rooms, and in our debrief with them afterwards.

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design?

I believe it is important to have a good back story, but you definitely have to have good (challenging puzzles) for a room to work. A good mix of mechanical, mental, technical, and technological puzzles is important. There also has to be plenty for everyone to do… you can room a good escape room if you try and put too many people in it. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on decor, but a room definitely can’t look like it’s temporary, or that you decorated it with a couple hundred bucks. It should fit the backstory as well.

Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.

Lots of fun (funny) stories. Obviously, we hear everything that goes on in the rooms and it still surprises me when I iterate things like “red dots mean whatever they are on is irrelevant to your escape”, and customers will get into the room and immediately say something like: “did he say to ignore or pay attention to things with red dots”. Or they will get into the room and say: “Do you think he was telling us the truth in the briefing room.” 

Probably the funniest thing I’ve seen lately though is, we had a group of young teens in for a birthday party, 6 against 6 in The Chamber. We had talked about whether to put the keys in the light panel or not in the brief and everyone agreed to put them in. However, once keys were found, they were put into and taken out of the light panel (by both teams) so many times I lost count. I would guess they wasted at least 15 minutes in each room trying to fool the other on how much progress they had made in the room. Ultimately, they could have used the wasted time, since neither group escaped.

What advice do you have for players?

My primary advice for players is simply “respect the rooms”. We spend a lot of time briefing on the dos and don’ts of the room, which I believe cuts down on a lot of damage. However, I still see a small percent of players going in and brutalizing components in the room after being clearly told that the room is about using brains, not brawn. Some of the things in our rooms our hand built and can’t be easily replaced. If certain things get broken, it might mean a room could be down for days for repair, and not available for the next group that is booked. 

Other than that, I would say don’t underestimate yourself, or overestimate yourself for that matter. I’ve seen players who did not think they would contribute, be awesome. I’ve also seen some that think they’re going to do great, not do so well. I always remain players to think critically, creatively and to collaborate. To that I would add, if something isn’t working, put a fresh set of eyes, or hands on it. It could make a big difference it time spent on a certain puzzle and to your success in escaping a place.

 

LIST OF INTERVIEWS

ESCAPE ROOM INTERVIEWS

The Virus – Bob Glouberman

Countdown Live Escape Games – Brian Corbitt

PanIQ Room – Celena Gates

Puzzle Workshop – Albertina Chu

Escape the Place – Jim Thomsen

Epic Escape Game –  Ron Subaba

Cross Roads Escape Games – Madison Rhoades

Mobile Room Escape – Jason Garvett

ER Rooms – Misha Suvorov 

Maze Rooms – Natalie Lapidus

Steal and Escape – Jason Richard

Escapedom – Raja Sahi & Zoltan Honti