Throughout the MCO, popular escape room operator Breakout was unable to open, so the team decided they needed to momentarily pivot.
They came up with personalised gift puzzle boxes called The Enigma, and during our interview about that, they also shared something else they’d been working on which was in the final stages at the time.
It was Breakout’s live online escape room. Ka Wai, co-founder of Superdough, the company behind Breakout and Hauntu, had told us that it would differ from other online escape room experiences in one major way: it involved live actors.
On June 26, Breakout launched it, and we at Vulcan Post later got the exciting chance to review it.
A 2-Way Act
The only other online escape room experience I’d had was a card game version, digitised and put on Tabletopia.
It was called Escape Tales: The Awakening, was free and quite fun to play with friends, but it lacked immersion.
On the other hand, without giving too much away, Breakout’s online escape room experience utilises a live actor, online and offline puzzles (that you help the live actor solve), CCTVs, virtual meeting tools, and even social media.
Where you’d usually have a physical room for immersion, here it comes from the integration of social media platforms as part of gameplay, where you trawl forums and profiles for clues.
To really enjoy the experience, you have to play along and tamper any initial awkwardness you might feel about acting your role.
The first and only storyline for now is called Finding Chris, and you play as a group of hackers hacking your way through the internet to find someone named Chris, with a few initial clues to get you started.
5 people max with their own devices are allowed to play per 60-minute session. Trying to host more than 5 people could destabilise the overall connection and affect the experience, hence Breakout’s limitation.
Superdough’s Head of Operations and Experience Design, Johnny told us that the inspiration for Finding Chris came from a movie called Searching, which he highly recommends watching.
The puzzles for Finding Chris revolve around decoding and finding patterns and clues in materials, and actually weren’t too difficult.
As proof, our very capable team managed to solve them all in the nick of time and complete the game.
Halfway through it, we actually thought we were running out of time fast, but I came away surprised by how the puzzles were just the right levels of difficulty to be solved in 60 minutes, no more and no less, for us at least.
Different From What We’re Used To
Crafting the right puzzles starts with the storyline, Johnny said.
“With a good storyline, I will be able to picture the most suitable interiors for the escape game theme. Then I will use whatever props that make sense to the interiors and use it as puzzles.”
However, creating the puzzles was also one of the biggest challenges they faced. The initial puzzles were first tested by their colleagues, and the average time they took to solve it was within Johnny’s expectations.
But testing it with actual players online revealed that they took much longer, so he quickly amended the puzzles for better player experience.
They tested at least 8 groups before settling on the final version of the puzzles, and Johnny shared that the flaws they experienced in the beginning was thanks to how different the flow of the game is.
“One of the examples is players were not reading our pre-game instruction and failed to prepare the things needed before the game started, hence it delays the game starting time.”
“The solution we have for this is to shorten the instruction and only mention the important ones, then we ask them to start the session earlier in order to have some setup time if required, if everything goes well, we will just start the game earlier for them,” he added.
Just follow the instructions given, and as long as nothing unexpected happens like your virtual meeting tool not working properly or your connection dropping, the game should begin and run smoothly.
Throughout the game, you’re able to ask for clues from someone who acts as the game master, as they help you start the game and will check on your progress at intervals, which was reassuring.
To date, about 200 people have tried Finding Chris, and they hail from countries all around the world like the US, Saudi Arabia, London, Australia, Singapore, and more.
From Meeting Room To Live Set
Interestingly, the live CCTV recordings of a room you’ll see during Finding Chris is actually a meeting room at Superdough that was transformed.
One funny titbit that was also shared was that their neighbours would sometimes get scared due to the live actor shouting during their performance.
As they had limited budget due to the pandemic, they had to brainstorm on how to be resourceful in creating a quality product.
“Then one of my partners triggered me that why don’t we utilise some of the props that we have created before MCO for our new room,” Johnny added. “That is where my ideas started to be flowing in my mind.”
He couldn’t have done it alone, and took this opportunity to thank his team for pushing past their comfort zones in coming up with great ideas.
As Breakout has no live actors, the team recruited their Hauntu actors for Finding Chris instead, and those of us who had played Hauntu before definitely saw a familiar face or two.
At RM238 per session, it’s pricier than the RM190 for 5 people in a physical Breakout game, but I believe that it’s because the setup is more complex, and there are the salaries of the live actors to consider.
I can confidently say that being the first live online escape room experience that Breakout has created, it’s as flawless as can be.
“Right now, with a more stable operation and first continuing to reach a larger market worldwide, I believe this is a business model we can further explore,” Johnny shared.
This model is also a permanent feature of Breakout now, as it caters to those who are still more paranoid about physical escape rooms during the pandemic.
If Finding Chris’ story isn’t your thing, then rest assured, as Johnny said that they will definitely build more themes for their online live experience.
- You can read more on what we’ve written about Breakout here.