The most popular escape room themes and haunted attractions rely on unique approaches to immersive experiences, according to attraction owners and staff members nationwide. Take a look at what puzzling – and thrilling – experiences are upcoming for 2019.
At Epic Escape Game in Phoenix, Ariz., Assistant Manager Brian Salkoff said that whether his themes are simple or high tech depends on the room that his guests visit. “Things can be more tech in some rooms; we use a mix between the physical, analog, and electronic puzzles. It really varies by group, and experience level. Our clue masters are here to help all the players advance through the game,” adding “it’s the experience of advancing through the puzzle itself that’s most rewarding. What is behind that isn’t important, it’s the experience itself.”
New for 2019 for Salkoff is a room added when the attraction moved to their current location four months ago. “The story is called The Asylum. You’re searching for a doctor who is an important mentor of yours, and you go to the Asylum to help him, but he isn’t anywhere to be found,” he related. “You have to find out what happened to him, or you can’t get out yourself. It’s essentially escape or go insane,” he laughed.
As far as on-going updating, Salkoff explained, “We particularly enjoy getting feedback from our customers as to what they enjoy and don’t enjoy; that helps us when we move forward with any changes or additions.”
Each game lasts about an hour, plus an overview and waiver-signing period that lasts 10 minutes before the game begins, and photo selection after the game’s conclusion. “The whole experience maxes out at about 90 minutes,” he said.
Also in Phoenix, at Eludesions, Co-Owner Charlotte Conover said, “Our themes are fairly high- tech. We try to stay away from the basic lock and key structure. None of our current rooms are meant to be scary, but we’re in the process of building a scary room, even though we’ve found that in general most people don’t want to play scary rooms.”
When the frightening room is completed, it will follow a unique theme that Eludesions just decided upon. “The new room is going to be a painter who is trying to redeem his wife’s soul. She was burned at the stake as a witch, and he is trapping the villagers who burned her in a painting,” Conover states. “We’d originally chosen a theme of the seven deadly sins, but we got some backlash on that, so we literally just changed the concept.” According to Conover, “You have to be careful with scares. There is no way for us to compete with a major haunted house in the area for one thing; we also want people to proceed through the game at a steady pace and move forward, so you have to find the right balance between startling them without terrifying them.”
At Escape Room LA in Los Angeles, Calif., Creative Director John Hennessy said, “We have some of both high tech and more simple experiences. We don’t really have anything overtly scary.” He explained that “We have five different games. We started back in 2014 and were the first escape room in the LA area. Our detective game is one of the longest running escape rooms in the country after over four years.” Hennessy asserted, “That was the first one we opened, with no tech elements at all, but it is still our most popular. On the other hand, with our newest game, Atlantis, which is currently under construction, almost every part of the game involves technology or electronics.” He said, “What I have found is because a game has a lot of high tech elements, that doesn’t make it a better game than one that doesn’t. The most important thing is to focus on the story, where are you, why are you there, and what do you have to do; and create an environment.” Hennessy related that “We are well known for having really immersive scenic design in our games, so when you walk inside, you feel like you have stepped into a different world whether there is any tech in the game or not.”
Atlantis was chosen as his new theme for the downtown-LA attraction, because of a long-running fascination with the subject of a lost world. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve thought about it, and now I could just picture the multiple environments in my head. To my knowledge, there is only one other theme like this in the country, and that is on the east coast. I’m glad we thought of it before anyone else did,” he enthused. The project, which began last September, will not open until the end of April. “It’s a big process to open a new game.”
In West Los Angeles near UCLA, Escapedom Business Manager Brittnee Platte said, “Overall, our rooms are more tech than anything else. We have one room that has a real Gen-one feel to it; our room The Lair is very tech heavy, and so is our Cranial Carnival room that just opened in December of last year. We really liked the carnival theme when we created that, but to make it different than any other escape room’s carnival attraction, we mashed it together with a brain-theme. We think it’s worked out very well and is very different.”
Along with that new addition, The Lair room will be expanded to accommodate newer and younger players. “We’ll be keeping the old puzzles but also making them swappable, with easier versions. We’re in the process of figuring out the simplest way to do that.”
Also in Los Angeles, at the Magiq Room, Manager Suzy Kriss said the three-room attraction has relatively no high-tech experiences. She said that most of her escape room components were “hand-made in Hungary. They’re very unique but very traditional. We’ve been open three years and we don’t see any upcoming changes in terms of our rooms. However, we do now offer a unique experience for children ages 7 to 14, which most escape room do not. We do birthday parties for kids, and can accommodate up to ten kids per room. It’s a special thing that we offer.” Each room has three different levels of difficulty. “It’s really about advancing through the levels here.”
Looking at haunted attractions, The Malvern Manor in Malvern, Iowa, open year-round, has a thematic experience that would be hard to top: the hauntings are real. According to Co-Owner Josh Heard, “There’s definitely not tech here. It’s more of a cat and mouse kind of experience that’s psychological. There are a lot of things here that can really mess with your head,” he attested. “Essentially, we haven’t touched anything in the house; the patients’ rooms are the way we found them exactly. We conduct tours every day of the week except Mondays, and we also host over-night investigations where a group can come in and investigate and even sleep here if they want. They have the property from 4 p.m. to noon the following day. I give them a tour of the location, tell them the hot spots, and leave.”
Heard described the experience as “entirely realistic. It isn’t going to change over time, and it is very immersive.” As to updates, while the theme obviously won’t be changing, they have added two furnace-units which means a more comfortable visiting experience for guests, and have appeared on TLC’s Paranormal Lockdown which helps get the attraction’s name out.
Additionally, new events are planned. “We have one coming up this Saturday with Steve Gonzalez from Ghost Hunters. We’ll host 50 people. We try to get people in the door as much as we can with big events like that, in the hopes they’ll fall in love with this place as we have, and will return.”
The tours themselves encompass 10,000 square feet and take about 30 minutes, followed by three hours of exploration time for guests. The attraction is priced at a reasonable $10 for standard tours; it’s been open for three years this season. Keeping things exciting for guests is really about the location more than its operators, Heard asserted. “You don’t know what will happen around here. I just tell people to bring their A-game to the visit. Some people have come in skeptics and had their entire belief system flipped around.”