Preface

For those who are not familiar, At Odds With The Gods is The Escape Effect’s first escape room that opened late 2017.  It is a particularly special escape room because it was the first escape room in Orlando to break the 60-minute mold by offering 90-minutes of pure gameplay.  The game has been received very well from players and even was nominated for “Escape Room of the Year” upon it’s opening.

When not developing new fun, sometimes I’ll drop by the games to greet players.  When a team from At Odds With The Gods completes the game, I may get questions about how the game was developed and how it all started.  At Odds With The Gods is a story of grand proportions.  Here is the story.

The box cover art for the NES game "The Battle Of Olympus".

Why Greek?

As a child, Greek Mythology always fascinated me.  The Greek gods were depicted around my grammar-school classroom as superheroes, of sorts.

One of the most fantastic, unsung games of the NES era is The Battle of Olympus – a game similar in nature to the popular Zelda II: Adventures of Link or Metroid, but themed on Greek Mythology.  If anything, The Battle of Olympus was arguably a better game and I think it was due to the theme.

From an escape room point-of-view, a Greek-themed room was not something anyone in the Orlando area had done.  It wasn’t scientist, spy, or pirate-themed like so many other places – it wasn’t cliche or boring.  It was unique and exciting.  It was something nobody else had done – exactly what The Escape Effect would become.

Planning It Out

It’s back in 2015 and I’m developing a game design for this new Greek-themed game to present to the initial team (a team of about three) for feedback.  Everyone was in agreement that making a correlation between the Greek gods and the puzzles that they present was a good way to think about the player moments.  And it especially helped when conjuring up thematic thoughts for each individual challenge/puzzle.  For example, Aphrodite, goddess of love, uses roses for her challenge.  Then there’s Poseidon, the god of the sea, who makes use of a trident.

As players, we were quite familiar with the landscape of escape rooms.  Near everything, if not everything, utilized a “linear” gameflow (note: the term “linear” refers to the intended path of a game being completed in sequential order instead of a simultaneous progression).  As we played in larger teams, it became clear that a linear game did not feel ideal.  Specifically, a linear game meant players were sitting on the sidelines watching instead of participating.  Thus, we set out to fix that with a particularly creative gameflow and a large physical space.

With respect to the physical space, we iterated on placement of set pieces, props, and puzzles all before any of the core building construction.  To do this, we started by laying all components out on a 2D top-down, to-scale system because it makes iteration on placement incredibly quick and easy.  Once happy with the setup, we moved to some 3D models, which gave us a better look at what could happen.

Ultimately, there’s a ton of writing to plan things out.  And the above is only a taste.

 

The ruined Parthenon.

The Buildout

If you were building a Greek temple, which material would you use for the walls?  Would you go with foam, stone, or maybe a manufactured solution?

We went with a concrete mixture applied to the walls manually.  It was during this time that the graphic designers became pseudo set designers by putting this lovely mixture up on the walls.

The concrete mixture did not continue to the floor – instead, we wanted to paint the floor.  This is where an engineer became an artist.

Specialized installation pieces, like large columns and puzzle units needed to go in.  This is where our General Contractor became an interior installer.

Revolving around much of this, our Art Director ensured that visual targets were being hit properly.

If there’s one big takeaway from the buildout, it’s that to succeed as a small business, everyone must be willing to take on varied responsibilities and rely on those with the trained eye for quality control.

Testing

In an ideal world, every game (whether video, board, or escape) should be thoroughly tested before being made public.  It was a perceived ideal in my younger years.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world and we know that patches exist for video games (often with content completely missing on day one) and we know that escape venues are all over the map in quality.  Some even treat the first day of public consumption as their first day of testing.

Coming from video game development backgrounds, several on this team understand the importance of testing.  And if your target is to build a high-quality product, there’s no skipping steps.  We didn’t have any customers at this point – nobody knew who we were.  So, we gathered our friends, families, and new neighbors to give us their feedback.  A lot was gleaned.

After approximately three weeks, more than a dozen teams, plenty of small tweaks, and four big puzzle replacements, we had a game that ran pretty darn smooth and achieved great player reactions.