Monday, 23 July 2018

Virtual Room - Review of Chapter II

Hi everyone

My team had previously been to Virtual Room to try their first Adventure room (called Chapter I).  You can check out my review of that room here.

Virtual Room has recently released a second VR room, called Chapter II.  This was the third VR room that my team had tried.  Virtual Room is one of 3 VR companies (that I am aware of) that have opened in Sydney recently.  I have been intrigued ever since I heard about VR rooms hitting Sydney – how would they compare to a real world experience?

Virtual Room is located on George Street in the city (in the same building as Escape Hunt Sydney).  We were again unable to get a babysitter for this escape, so my wife sat this one out and it was the 3 remaining members of my usual escape room team that tried out their room.

This was our 68th room in Sydney and our 98th room in Australia. 

Here’s what I enjoyed most about Virtual Room's Chapter II:
  • Virtual Room use HTC Vives for the experience.  I’m not really up to speed on the various virtual reality tech that currently exists, but I can say that the headsets were very comfortable.  When we each spoke I could easily hear my teammates.  And lastly, the quality of the graphics was excellent.  I wear glasses and I am happy to report that I wore my glasses during the experience without any issues;
  • Virtual Room have a dedicated room for each player.  I think our rooms were about 3m x 3m, with the headset being connected to the ceiling in the centre of the room;
  • the game masters at Virtual Room explained that their games are designed with a real focus on ensuring that players don’t feel nauseous or get headaches.  This is achieved through the design of the game and the fact that when you physically walk within the room, you also move in the VR space.  As Virtual Room explain on their website “Games are also played standing up so your brain and your body are always working together just as they would in the real world”;
  •  as a result, I’m pleased to report that nobody in our team felt nauseous at all, either during the experience of afterwards.  Since trying their Chapter I room, my team had been to another VR room in Sydney where players are strapped into chairs (rather than walk around freely within a space).  In that other VR experience, we all felt nauseous (and I remember feeling off for a number of hours afterwards).  I'm really pleased to report that both times I have been to Virtual Room, none of my team members suffered from any nausea;
  • Chapter II is very similar in style and graphics to Chapter I.  The main difference is that the puzzles are harder and a little more complex;
  • that being said, the game design was very clever.  Much like Chapter 1, the design in Chapter II allows Virtual Room to display the various kinds of worlds that could be applied to an escape room in a VR experience;
  • there were also a number of puzzles that could not be solved without working together as a team.  Each player is in their separate physical room, but can see and interact with each other in the VR world.  The puzzles were designed to require interaction (and they were also a lot of fun);
  •  the controls were all very intuitive (and they felt very natural).

Much like Chapter I, I would describe Chapter II as being more of a multiplayer gaming experience than a true escape room experience.  That being said, there is no doubt that many people who enjoy escape rooms would also enjoy this kind of VR experience.

Virtual Room now have 2 VR rooms open, but have plans to design and open many more rooms in the future. The biggest shame of course with a great (physical) escape room outfit is that they are limited in the amount of space that they have, so once you have tried all of their rooms, that’s it.  Given the cost of setting up a room, they generally don’t take them down and replace them with new ones (or at least very few have done that so far in the Sydney market over the past 4 years).  The allure of a VR experience is that they could have a large library of themes to pick from – there really is no limit given it’s as simple as running a different program on the computer system.

For the escape room enthusiasts out there, I would certainly recommend Virtual Room's rooms as a nice twist on the more traditional escape room experience.  It was a lot of fun (all 3 of us really enjoyed ourselves) and we were challenged.  We had a slight technical glitch towards the end of the experience, but this was quickly resolved by our game master.

Based on both experiences we have had at Virtual Room, I'm really excited to see what the future has in store for VR escape rooms.

Where:                   Level 5, 393 George Street, Sydney

Duration:               45 minutes

Themes:                 2

Cost:                       We played at the kind invitation of Virtual Room

Overall Rating:       Another really fun, challenging interactive VR take on escape rooms 

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Room Eight Escape Rooms - Indisposed Review (this time as a game master)

Hey all

When my team went to Manly in March 2018 to check out the 2 rooms at Room Eight, we got lucky and managed to get the best times for the month of March for both rooms.  You can check out my reviews of their Indisposed and Entombed rooms here and here.

The reward for getting the best times in a month is a free pass to come back.  Given my team had already completed both of their rooms, we decided to gift our free passes to newbies who had not played an escape room before.  My wife's aunty and uncle had expressed interest in trying an escape room, so they went along at the end of May with their 12 year old daughter and my then 5 year old daughter to check out Indisposed. 

We timed our return to Manly poorly, as the escape room coincided with Taste of Manly (which sees scores of people hit Manly for a food and wine event for one weekend a year).  We planned ahead and ended up taking the ferry to Manly (rather than driving there and fighting for a car park).  It was the first time our girls had been on a ferry, so that was cool.

I had picked Indisposed for this group because I think it is a really great room for beginners (and kids in particular).The theme of Indisposed (from their website) is as follows:

Trapped in the outhouse of famous, if somewhat deranged Aussie celebrity Huge Axeman, can you free yourself before the Axeman returns. In an Escape Room like no other, you'll need to think and act quickly as a team to solve puzzles and challenges as the clock ticks down. Even if you can escape the Dunny, you'll still need to survive the Australian wild, and contend with an array of deadly Australian fauna.

It was quite interesting returning to Room Eight.  I have played the role of a game master a few times before at various escape rooms in Sydney - it's always interesting seeing how a different team approaches a room (particularly a team of first-timers).  Some of my other thoughts:  

a)     Indisposed is a really fun, largely linear room with a unique theme;

b)     the clue system also worked really well for this team of first-timers (as players get a free hint for each puzzle);

c)     the theming and props are nicely done – all of the props work well in the space and there is a nice mix of hunt and seek fun;

d)     this team of first-timers all had fun and enjoyed the puzzles and props.  I think they took a little longer than the full 60 minutes to escape, but they had fun and now have a much better understanding of what an escape room is; and

e)     my daughter was chuffed that she managed to find some of the hunt and seek elements (and could therefore add value to the team).  

The set up as a game master at Room Eight is very similar to many escape room outfits, in that a voice of God system is used for hints (in addition to the automated hint system).  I co-game mastered their game with a Room Eight employee who was there.  He had a detailed notes sheet that he used in deciding when to give hints (and what types of hints to give).  There were some glitches on my iPad every now and then (due to the wi-fi signal) but the PC seemed to have no issues.  

As always the test should always be whether teams have fun - this team of first-timers really enjoyed themselves at Indisposed!  

Room Eight have recently launched their third room, Targeted, which sounds like another fun room.  

Where:                         2B, The Corso, Manly
Duration:                     60 minutes
Themes:                      3 themes
Cost:                            $40 per person (although we had won our tickets)
Overall Summary:       A fun, well executed, family-friendly escape room on the easier side
More details:      

Thursday, 12 July 2018

ELUDE Escape Rooms - Beat the Box Review

Hi all

My team returned to Elude in June 2018, having previously escaped from their Perpetual Motion room in December 2017.  You can read my review of Perpetual Motion here.

Julia and Darren had invited my team back to try their new room, Framed.  Separately, Elude had recently run an event at Relay for Life, to raise money for The Cancer Council.  The event was a Beat the Box challenge, where Elude had set up a number of large chests which were full of puzzles, with the aim being for players to break into and retrieve an item from the box.

I thought it might be a nice idea for our team to try to Beat the Box as a warm up before trying our hand at Framed.  Julia and Darren were kind enough to let our team try to Beat The Box.  They suggested that we try 2 teams of 2 people (one box per team), but I thought it would be fun for us all to split up and try separate boxes each. 

Beat the Box was our 96th escape room experience in Australia and our 66th escape room experience in Sydney.  As always, I'll start off with what I liked most about Beat the Box:

·         the box is very cleverly designed.  It contains a number of separate sections.  I was genuinely surprised at how many puzzles were crammed into the box;

·         the craftsmanship of the elements of the box is really impressive;

·         as you would expect, the Beat the Box is a linear experience.  I was genuinely impressed with the quality of puzzles, most of which were really unique;

·         I was really impressed with the adaptability of the Beat the Box.  Julia and Darren explained that they had recently run the Beat the Box challenge for a corporate team and they had tailored aspects of the box to suit the particular corporate team;

·         I think the Beat the Box is the future of escape room corporate team building events.  Elude has a heap of Beat the Box boxes, which would allow them to come to a corporate team building day and host groups of 50 or more employees.  I am often asked for recommendations for corporate team building events.  Currently, there are VERY few rooms that I can recommend for corporate team building in Sydney.  Most corporates seem to go to Escape Hunt Sydney, which in my view is a below average outfit and should be avoided.  I really like the idea of the escape room coming to you – it makes logistics so much easier for corporates; 

·         although I was off to a strong start, I ultimately got caught on one puzzle (being a puzzle type that was not my wheelhouse (and which ordinarily I would pass to one of my other team members)).  So I ultimately came in fourth place (of 4).  Impressive I know.  Whose idea was it to play individually rather than in teams of 2 anyway…. ;-)

Beat the Box was was a really enjoyable escape room experience.  We used it as a warm up before we tried our hands at Framed – it was a great way of getting our brains into gear.

I highly recommend Beat the Box to any corporate teams who would like to try an escape room experience, but who would like the escape room to come to them. 

Where:                   11e Mid Dural Road, Galston, NSW

Duration:               15-30 minutes

Themes:                 2 traditional rooms so far (as well as this Beat the Box experience)

TBA (but we provided a donation to the Cancer Council)

Overall Rating:       A great escape room in a box – perfect for corporate events!

More details:

Monday, 2 July 2018

Social Escape Rooms - Bank Heist Review

Hi all

My team returned to Social Escape Rooms in May 2018, having last been there in January 2017 when we did both their Paris Escape and Baker Street rooms back to back.  You can check out my reviews of Paris and Baker Street here and here.  

The last time we were there, I tried Paris as a solo player and then the "lite" version of my usual team tried Baker Street (in that we were a team of 3 rather than the usual 4).  This time, all 4 of us were on hand to try the formidable Bank Heist room that we had heard so much about (and for so long).

I had booked the room about a week or so out.  Then, on the day of our escape, I saw on Social Escape Rooms' Facebook feed that Mark (the owner) had also invited Ana and her team from Lock Me If You Can to try out Bank Heist on the same day as my team (in fact, Ana's team was trying Bank Heist and then immediately after, it was my team's turn).  Little did either Ana I know that Mark had decided to run a poll on his Facebook feed to see who everyone thought would win between Ana's team and my team.  He had pitted us against each other as long-term rivals (even though, for the record, Ana and I weren't and aren't).  I am a regular reader of Ana's blog and always enjoy reading her thoughts on rooms I have tried (and looking for recommendations from her in relation to rooms that I haven't yet tried). 

When we arrived to do our room, Ana and her team were literally walking out of the Bank Heist room and into reception.  It was great to finally meet her and her team.  I tried to find out whether they had escaped the room or whether they asked for any clues, but they wouldn't say.  The pressure began to build...

So without much waiting around, we said goodbye to the Lock Me If You Can team and we headed into our briefing for Bank Heist.  Little did we know that Ana was going to stick around and watch our team try to escape from Bank Heist via the game master's desk...  

Bank Heist was our 95th room in Australia and our 65th room in Sydney.  As always, I'll start off with what I liked most about Bank Heist:

·        the room is very well designed.  The room flow is excellent - it is a really nice non-linear room with logical points of convergence.  My team members and I were VERY busy during the entire escape - the fact that the room is largely non-linear meant that we could split up and attack different puzzles solo or in teams of 2, rather than all 4 of us working on the same puzzles together;

·        the theme is great.  Who doesn’t enjoy a mission impossible style bank heist?  The quality of the props and theming was great.  The craftsmanship that went into various elements of the room was also really impressive; 
·        on reflection, there was not a huge amount of hunt and seek in this room.  My team’s weakness has always been the hunt and seek element – many times we have been slowed down by not finding a hidden key, puzzle piece etc that is more often than not hiding in plain sight.  So the relatively small amount of hunt and seek in this room suited my team pretty well; 
·        those who love tech will love this room.  Whilst there are some older style locks, there is a lot of tech in this room too (some of which is on display and some of which is well concealed); 
·        this room is on the difficult end of the spectrum.  There are three main reasons why this room is so difficult:
o   simply put, there are a lot of puzzles to get through in the 60 minute time limit;
o   the secondary challenge; and
o   the hints rule (with respect to the secondary challenge);

·        on the first point, as I mentioned earlier my team was VERY busy during our escape.  There is no time to sit down and relax in this room – it is pretty full on;
·        on the second point above, for those who aren’t already aware, there is an “opt in” additional challenge in Bank Heist.  The primary mission is to retrieve a diamond.  The secondary mission is to retrieve both the diamond and a wad of cash in the bank vault.  The first team to escape within 60 minutes with the cash and diamond will get to keep the wad of cash, which totals $500 [Note – in the month or so it has taken me to write up this review, the cash has now been won (by a very clever 4 person team).  I think though that Mark is considering putting up another $500 for the next winning team]; 
·        the third and potentially hardest aspect is that players who would like to go for the cash prize are not allowed to ask for a single hint.  The very second that players ask for a hint, they are not able to attempt to go for the cash prize (very cleverly, the game actually changes and the cash prize is literally (and figuratively) out of reach);
·        my team was able to get to the diamond at about the 45 minute mark, which left us 15 minutes to try for the cash.  I had been warned by some other escape room owners who had tried this room that it is best to focus on the primary objective before attacking the secondary objective of going after the cash prize and I think in hindsight that was good advice; and
·        despite our best efforts, we were unable to get the cash in time.  We were down to the final puzzle but it wasn’t to be.  [Our hats are off to the team that subsequently escaped with the cash – it was not easy at all so congratulations to them!].

On the negative side, I really have nothing to report.  There was one puzzle that we managed to solve without a vital puzzle element (much to Mark’s surprise!).  I will suggest a tweak to Mark on this puzzle, as well as a couple of other minor prop/theme tweaks – all minor stuff.

This was a fantastic room.  Our team really enjoyed ourselves, even despite the added competitive pressure imposed on Lock Me If You Can and our team by Mark (thanks Mark!). 

I’d recommend this room to all group types (although more experienced players will no doubt find that they have a much greater chance at going for the cash prize).  It’s also one of the few rooms in Sydney that is not scary at all and is therefore suitable to families too.

Where:                   Level 1, 62 Wyndham Street, Alexandria

Duration:               60 minutes

3 different themes (but 8 rooms planned in total)

$33-$38 ea (4 players), but we played at the kind invitation of the owner

Overall Rating:      A fun but challenging room full of great puzzles and theming

More details: