Surprise! One of the most delightful video games of this year is the interactive quest room.

Coin Crew Games was created with love for games in physical, real spaces. From the start, the local firm had a mission: to prove that these boxy arcade games never went out of style.

Video games for the Coin Crew meant virtual worlds that were silly, bordering on the absurd, highly social, and hopefully highly addictive. It was all designed to pay homage to the age of gaming where everything goes when the medium was new and wackiness was a top priority. Coin Crew games don’t have to make sense. How about competitive bowling among spaceships and cowboys? Of course. And their desired audience? “Little kids” and “drunk adults,” according to the bowling alley pitch.

As if it wasn’t clear, there wasn’t a big topic of “universal morality,” says Coin Crew co-lead Wyatt Bushnell. Partner Mike Mohammed Salih adds: “I think a light-hearted tone can break down barriers.”

And, so behind the childishness of Coin Crew lies the thesis: games, according to Bushnell and Salykh, are for everyone.

But if Bowling and previous arcade game Hot Wheels: King of the Road were wildly fast-paced and dedicated to a festive, party-oriented game with instantly accessible controls, Coin Crew has matured a bit during the pandemic. The team’s first full home video game, “Escape Academy”, captures Coin Crew’s love for party games and adds a bit of mystery storytelling with some really nasty puzzles. By hosting the game in a university dedicated to quests, the team opted for a colorful setting in which to set their shared goals – think spacious computer labs, ornate Hogwarts-style libraries, and cafeterias with antidotes for poisonous potions on the menu.

A video game still showing a room lit by a fireplace.

Take a look at one of the puzzle-filled rooms in the mysterious Escape Academy.

(Games Coin Crew / iam8bit / Skybound)

Escape Academy is best for others and it is recommended to have paper and pencil handy. Escape Academy isn’t just a quest translated to home computers, Xbox and PlayStation, but a light-hearted storytelling that’s reminiscent of point-and-click adventure games of yesteryear – think LucasArts games like Secret of Monkey Island. — because it places its mysteries in a lively, slightly comical setting with an exaggerated set of characters. And it’s designed to minimize frustration, complete with a built-in hint system and a forgiving countdown timer that allows puzzles to expand rather than forcing players into time-consuming retry modes.

If Coin Crew once boasted that its arcade games were potentially enhanced by drinking alcohol, consider Escape Academy to be welcoming and tolerant of newcomers to games and puzzles, as well as being the sort of title to play with friends, romantic partners and families, no additional substances are required. None of this means its puzzles are easy, but it’s a blissfully accessible game designed to sit on the couch and hand over the controller. In other words, this is a rare 2022 console video game designed to be shared by both gamers and non-gamers, which is a reflection of Coin Crew’s ideology for everyone, based on working in the slot machine sector.

“Whenever we [do] During playtesting, we thought, “What’s wrong here?” says Bushnell, son of Atari co-creator Nolan Bushnell. “Let’s do less bummers. That was our development philosophy.”

Such a doctrine came from iam8bit, a local marketing firm, gallery, and seller of video game collectibles. With the creation of Escape Academy, iam8bit, best known for its work in video game soundtracks, is entering the game publishing business for the first time. That’s not all, say co-owners John Gibson and Amanda White, but for now, think of Escape Academy as the company’s own thesis of what it hopes to bring to the video game space.

Video game frame with text from "director"

Escape Academy is more than a set of quests as we discover an entire universe dedicated to the mastery of the puzzle.

(Games Coin Crew / iam8bit / Skybound)

Over the years, iam8bit has partnered with numerous video game publishers, but typically for promotional activities such as creating Fortnite branded carnival outside the pre-pandemic event at the Forum. The firm even dabbled in escape rooms, creating one of the themes from the Resident Evil franchise, as well as a more immersive theater-inspired real-life game tie-in to the movie Alita: Battle Angel, an installation that took place in Los Angeles. Angeles, New York and Austin. With Escape Academy, iam8bit saw a game that could capture the emotional experience of their real projects, a game that felt open to everyone, regardless of their level of management experience.

When it comes to creating in-game events with personal involvement, Gibson loves to keep track of who enters such an adventure as a quest and expresses skepticism. “You hear this comment all the time: ‘I’m not good at these things.’ Well, just wait, because you will,” Gibson says. “It provides an opportunity to develop something that encourages and uses everyone’s special abilities. That’s what “Escape Academy” is. Even if you’re not acting, the magic is that maybe it’s you and your spouse, with your grandmother behind you yelling at the TV. She doesn’t want to touch the controller, but she wants to participate.”

Not everyone had such an instant reaction.

To release the game, iam8bit partnered with Skybound Entertainment, whose managing partner, Yang Hou, wasn’t really looking for an adventure game. They come with some preconceived notions: a little replay value (when you run away and you’re done), a little story, an over-reliance on cipher puzzles, and the sheer attraction of creating an escape room is being in a physical space with others in time trouble. – it is not necessary to translate in digital form. “A problem,” says Howe, “that doesn’t necessarily need to be addressed.”

Escape Academy, he says, proved him wrong. The university setting of the game makes it feel expansive and creates a sense of forward movement. Players don’t just solve puzzles, they unfold the world and discover this strange school dedicated to the art of puzzle-making, complete with perplexing characters – nervous students, serious teachers, occasional slackers, service staff with strange obsessions. . They also solve a mystery with a slight hint of a conspiracy. After all, at the start of the game, players feel like they’ve essentially been kidnapped and forced into this quest school.

A still from a video game depicting a purple-lit room with a circuit breaker.

One of the puzzle rooms in Escape Academy.

(Games Coin Crew / iam8bit / Skybound)

“Tonally, it’s pretty off-the-wall,” Howe says, adding that he was glad it eschews “numbers” quest templates and is story-driven. “I love games that are a little out of the box. It challenged my preconceptions about what an adventure game should be like.”

But to fully understand what makes Escape Academy unique, one needs to get an idea of ​​the quest-like experience that Bushnell and Salyh created in real life. Not without luck. It so happens that Bushnell’s brother Brent is one of the leaders Two Bit Circus in the city center, a modern arcade game with a carnival theme and an emphasis on party games. The Two Bit quest rooms are referred to as “story rooms” as they are less about finding a way out and more about how the alternate world works. said, comes from unicorns.

Before Two Bit opened in 2018, Bushnell helped the team with one of its story rooms. Salykh found out that Two Bit was looking for a quest designer. For the past few years, he has been trying to get the concept of the quest in a box off the ground, but this has never been realized. “I had a rapport with Two Bit Circus and there was one artist who said, ‘Hey, they need a quest designer for this thing.’ I said, “I’m a quest designer.”

One catch: Salyh never designed a suitable quest room. “I didn’t talk professional,” he says.

What Bushnell and Salyh worked on became Two Bit’s “Space Squad in Space,” a story room that puts players on the bridge of a spaceship that goes haywire. There are a lot of mini-games, a lot of screaming, and a lot of running between stations to prevent disaster. Video game fans can see the resemblance to mobile hit “Space Team”, which Bushnell cites as an influence. The Space Squad partnership led to the creation of Coin Crew, but also solidified their love for a particular quest brand.

“I think the quest room is a bit like point and click adventure game, which has all these parallel lines where you decide things at once,” says Bushnell. “One of the things we got from going digital is that the escape room is all about the theme of the room. Just like at the level of our computer lab, most of the puzzles are related to and based on computer science. Our art class is dedicated to puzzles of perception. I don’t think there is any particular type of puzzle in the quest. The best quest rooms are the ones where you take that room and think, “How do I hide things in plain sight in this room?”

The creation of physical spaces has affected the game in several ways. In real quests, guests tend to try to touch everything, open everything and remove everything from the walls. Quests must be built to last. But this way of thinking can quickly lead to a person becoming overwhelmed by the digital space, frantically moving the cursor around trying to practically touch everything on the screen.

Escape Academy tries to explain this habit of players. Most objects on a table or wall are clickable, but the game is very direct when an object is just a detail of the environment and not something that can be fully interacted with.

“It’s very thoughtful,” says Bushnell. “It’s like, ‘Don’t dwell on it. Focus on it. It’s just a pun. There is no reference to the puzzle. As we sat and thought about what I didn’t like, I realized that I never had a red herring when I [was] like, “Yes, I love a good red herring!”

Given iam8bit’s experience in creating physical spaces, a natural question arises: is the company planning to create a real quest room inspired by the game? White smiles and implies that the thought has occurred to them, but so far the iam8bit team is not getting ahead of itself. First, Gibson says they’re looking to redefine what adventure games can be, and part of that will require surprising those who think they know what adventure games entail.

“Usually we get told over and over again, ‘Wow, that was a lot better than I expected,’” says Gibson. “It’s actually one of the greatest compliments you can give. Because we underestimate and overperform in every possible way. This is what you want from a theme park. This is what you want from a concert. It’s what you want from whatever it is.”

Under-promising and over-delivering isn’t the most common slogan, but it suits a game that looks like a modest set of puzzles and is ultimately full of surprises.