How to Build an Escape Room
Escape rooms are a fun way to challenge yourself to solve a mystery. If you're here, you probably already love to bring your team of detectives to a special location and spend an hour searching for clues and solving puzzles. But wouldn’t it be fun to make your own game at home? Or maybe you're thinking about getting into the escape room business for profit.
Either way, you're in the right place! This post will outline the structure and secrets of game room design, based on the four mystery rooms that I’ve designed at the Storyteller’s Cottage in Simsbury, Connecticut.
After you've reviewed this outline, you may want to dive deeper into the specific details. When you're ready to move to the next step, download this fun and practical video course that explains the exact steps you'll need to follow to build your first escape room. In just 45 minutes, learn to write a storyline, create immersive decor, design codes and puzzles, build props with items easily purchased online, and playtest your game.
Escape Room Basics
There are four levels of technology that you’ll find in an escape room. These are known as Generations. A Gen 1 room uses mostly printed or paper clues and boxes with locks to hide puzzles, and this is the kind of room that you’ll be able to create at home. A Gen 2 room adds magnetic locks and a gadget called an Escape Keeper to electronically control the locks and add light and sound effects. I’ll explain how those work in case you’re up for an electronic challenge - it is possible to use them at home if you have a handy adult who’d like to help you. Gen 3 & 4 rooms use automated or “smart” technology that is only available in commercial escape rooms, as it’s very expensive and requires a professional computer programmer and a dedicated space to install it.
You’ve probably played a number of escape rooms yourself, and have determined which ones are your favorites. But have you ever stopped to think about what makes a good escape room? The best rooms combine:
An immersive theme
An exciting goal
Carefully curated decor
A good balance between easy and hard puzzles
Clear hints and a good pace
Regular opportunities for surprises
The Steps to Create an Escape Game
Playing an escape room is simple - just walk in and start looking for clues. But creating your own escape room is more complicated. Where should you start? What puzzles should you use? How will you connect all your puzzles together? How will you know if your game is too hard or too easy? There are a lot of elements that need to be carefully organized to make your game work properly, but escape rooms are nothing if not logical, so as creators we just need to follow down a very logical checklist, and if we haven’t missed anything, we’ll have a fantastic escape room when we’re done. It’s not “easy” but it’s very straightforward.
1. Brainstorm your storyline
Choose a theme that lends itself to immersive decor
Choose a mystery that ends in an impressive reveal
2. Make good use of game theory to incorporate
a. An immersive experience
b. A multilinear storyline
c. Good puzzle design
d. A good hint system
e. Balanced puzzle types
f. A careful pace
3. Create a flowchart to make sure the game works properly
4. Outline the types of codes you'll use, balanced among:
5. Design your props and effects
a. Balance obvious vs. hidden items
b. Work backwards from final effect
c. Use your resources carefully to keep the room affordable
6. Test your game
a. For clear clues
b. For durability
c. For entertainment value
And that's all there is to it! Brainstorming and laying out the game plan can take a few days to complete, then depending on how much time you have available to spend on writing your codes and building your props, the rest of the work can take several weeks to finish.
The results are worth the work, though! It's so satisfying to watch a team of players get excited when they solve your puzzles, and even more fun to watch them celebrate when they win the game :)
For more detailed information about exactly how to complete each of these steps, download my short video course, Build Your Own Escape Room, for just $35. Whether you're a fan who'd like to create a game at home for friends, a teacher who'd like to build a room for your students, or a prospective escape room owner who'd like to build a small game at home to test the process before jumping into the industry, this course will give you the specific tools you need to complete a real escape game using any theme you like.