Designing an Escape Room

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From what started as a group of friends seeking an engaging pastime in solving escape rooms together, Lockout Austin emerged on the scene as one of Austin’s most exciting escape room experiences. With an appetite for new ventures, the team at Lockout subsequently partnered with W2NR for its inaugural Austin race on October 20, 2018.

Ingenuity is not in short supply at Lockout, as its team of puzzle experts crafted an entire pirate-themed escape room challenge for the W2NR racers in just a few short weeks. Racers – both experienced and inexperienced with escape rooms – remarked that the room was fun, creative, and added to the challenge of the race. After the race, the W2NR team sat down with Nathan Clemenson, Assistant Manager at Lockout Austin, to get an insider look into the escape room design process.

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W2NR: What does the creative process entail from start to finish?

Nathan: Because Lockout is such a small business, and we know the owners, as a staff we get a couple teams together, we choose from the different creative sides we have, and then we brainstorm unique themes that would work for an escape room and base it off of that.

W2NR: Can you give us an example?

Nathan: We are currently designing an alien-themed room, actually. We started out with the theme in mind. Now we are building in different puzzles that would work with the theme. We establish a flow and ensure that the story itself is getting across to the customer. Usually, the storyline comes from the different types of puzzles we’re using and, of course, the theme itself.

W2NR: And how long does it take to create an escape room?

Nathan: Sometimes it can take up to a year to come up with a new theme and story for a room, and sometimes it only takes a few short months. One of the cool rooms that we put together is our Wizard Room. The Bee Cave Public Library asked us to make a room for them, and we thought yeah, let’s make a room that we can physically bring to people. The wizard theme was inspired by books like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and others that children enjoy reading. We were able to create something with them and for them in about a month and a half.

We were extremely pleased with our results, with the story and puzzles we created, that we duplicated the Wizard Room at our storefront. It is now one of our permanent and most popular escape rooms for families and kids.

W2NR: So, are all of the puzzles original?

Nathan: Our puzzles come from our own minds and our own creative ideas, but there is a lot of inspiration from the industries that we all come from.  I guess in some way, everyone takes from everyone without even knowing it, because that’s just how art works. Nobody is original anymore. [laughs] Our work is our own creation, however!

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A lot of the people I work with are puzzlers and gamers, many play MYST and other heavy thinking games, so I’m sure a lot of initial ideas come from those. Then, of course, inspiration comes through personal experiences. With my background in musical theater, I’m someone who enjoys riddles and writing things that people have to think about, and I’m sure a lot of the puzzles I create come from the theater I’ve both done and read.

W2NR: Is a new room tested before it goes live to the public?

Nathan: Yes, we have different phases of testing. And sometimes we decide to revamp rooms. We’re revamping the current Wizard Room.

Because it is one of Lockout’s most popular rooms, many people have already experienced the current Wizard Room. We’ve already created the blueprints for the new puzzles. We then usually make prototypes of the puzzles, and we have multiple people test them.

Sometimes, we have customers test them as they’re coming through to get a sense of whether how easy or difficult a puzzle is, and from there we’re able to modify it.

Then, once we have all of the puzzles tested, and the room is ready to go to a certain degree, then we’re able to bring in certain groups – usually friends of the owners and staff – to test the room and give us feedback. Testers are able to take as long as they need in the room, so our team can figure out how long it actually takes to solve the room.

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After that, we go through each puzzle, ask them what they liked and didn’t like, what they loved, and we’re able to modify further based on that feedback. We’re very open to criticism because we want to know if people didn’t have a good time.

W2NR: What is your all-time favorite escape room that you designed/helped design?

Nathan: My personal favorite is the Wizard Room. It was kind of my baby, and it was our first fully formed room from just our staff without the help of the owners. I have a love for magic and fantasy, and I think that it’s really awesome that we can bring kids in and see them light up. Especially for kids who are much more interested in the thoughtfulness and intelligence rather than the other areas, as it gives them an outlet as well.

Lockout Austin’s new space, fully equipped with five Escape Rooms, is located at 1700 South Lamar Blvd, Suite 327. If you’re in the 512, we at W2NR highly recommend that you visit with your friends and family. We’re confident you’ll have a unique and engaging experience.

Josh SarverComment