Developing quests in Russia and our participation in this process
Quest, quest room, quest live, escape room – is a new kind of leisure activity, emerged in 2013.
The first quest in Moscow took place in December 2013 – it was two rooms from Claustrophobia. The pilot project received a warm welcome, at some point, the waiting time for participating was as long as 1 month. Technical, electronic and visual content of the rooms was rather simple:
- search tasks
- several code locks
- simple quiz with electronics: pressing two buttons simultaneously, leading to the opening of the lock
- visual solution of the rooms was simple: a flat, a hospital, etc.
As a result of a successful start of claustrophobic, a great number of rooms were opened in 2014 in Moscow. According to our estimates, by the end of 2014 only in Moscow there were around 50 rooms, dealing with quests, each company had 3-4 rooms on average.
Claustrophobic rooms were followed by the rooms with the level of technical equipment close to the one set by the pioneers, lets call this the first wave of quests. This period was characterized by simple ways of quest completion:
- big number of code locks and padlocks in the rooms,
- different types of safes,
- objects, included in scenario were mostly hidden on location.
Being a producer of quizzes/puzzles for quests, at this stage we were dealing with:
- simple mazes, where players had to withdraw the key using the magnet,
- enlarged copies of the games: tag, cryptex
- different boxes for the padlocks installation,
- interior objects: picture frames with side opening,
- simple electronics, operating without microcontrollers. Opening electromagnetic/electromechanical locks after entering the correct code or after bringing the magnet closer to the lock. Lock opening upon simultaneous pressing of correct combination of 2-3-4 switches/toggle switches.
For the first visit, let's call it an introduction to the new entertainment type, such simple execution was sufficient. Most of the visitors enjoyed this kind of entertainment and logically wanted to complete a new room. No one is interested in completing the quests with the same quizzes.
As a result, the second wave emerged, when the room owners started to change equipment in the existing rooms or open new rooms, because the visitors wanted to see new features.
Some visitors paid attention to the interior, some focused on technical equipment, some enjoyed both components. Second period was characterized by the active implementation of electronics into the rooms, such as: microelectronics, controllers, joining up the quizzes into correct logical chain, more complicated mechanical tasks, active work with sound effects, a fusion of mechanical and electronic puzzles and software.
We began active implementation and production of more complicated objects:
- a quiz, analyzing correct pressing of 10-20-30 buttons, the only correct combination, working cyclically,
- initiated active use of various sensors: capacity sensor, light sensor, volume sensor, passenger presence sensor, open/closed doors sensor
- technology of RFID and NFC tags,
- servos, step motors, gear motors and solenoids,
- working with microcontrollers.
Devices became more «flexible»: if 2 people are playing, the quest operator sets the service switch to the correct position in advance, so that the players would have to press 4 correct buttons out of 10, otherwise they would not be able to press more buttons. For 3 players there would be 6 buttons and so on.
- logical task chain, when one chain activates another one.
- working with the sound. When the task is completed successfully, a microcontroller sends a signal to the lock and the sound receiver, then the sound in the room changes,
- merging of the mechanical and electronic puzzles. For example, the players have to withdraw a metal object from the labyrinth using a magnet, without stops. Seal switches are implemented into the labyrinth walls and connected to the controller analyzing time, time delays and the correct sequence.
- Complicated mechanical tasks and copies of the real objects: CIA server, nuclear reactor, a remote control of the power plant with detail and interactive games
- Integration of simple software, when a player performs a certain action on a PC/tablet (entering password, selecting of the correct item, the correct keyboard combination, etc.), the controller connected to software analyzes and transmits calls to action: locks opening, turning on lights, sound, etc.
At this stage the quests became more dynamic, unpredictable, interactive and difficult in some way.
At the time of publication of this article, we believe that the most of the quest-rooms are on the second wave stage.
The third wave of quest evolution is typical for 2015. The visitors are fed up with the same type of puzzles. The owners faced the problem of break-downs and complicated process of puzzle diagnostics on the microcontrollers. From the point of view of the quizzes management logics, things are not perfect either: the sound system and the controllers are working separately and if there is any other software on portable devices used in the room it would also be a separate system.
The third stage is characterized by the implementation of the centralised room management system.
The system is responsible for the sound, all the puzzles and any other third-party electronic devices.
There are «smart home» systems, and this one can be called a «smart quest». All the quizzes are to some degree managed by the controllers united in a single network. Networking is implemented with a standard ethernet cable.
There is one general controller- server, standard PC or a microcontroller/microcomputer, depending of the number of tasks and final requirements to software.
All software managing the controllers is located on a general controller-server, lets call it software of the first level (software-1). It is a great advantage since there is no need to connect to each controller separately and the code is in one place.
There is also the software of the second level (software -2). Software -2 –is the outer shell that is visible to the end users. Using Software -2, separate tasks/controllers may be turned off managed and have their logic changed.
Software -2 also allows to track statuses of all devises, complete tasks instead of the players, should they experience difficulties or upon failure of the external peripherals (buttons, switches, sensors). Naturally, Software -2 accumulates and displays statistics.
The main point is no special knowledge of programming is needed to work with the Software –knowledge of PC (Microsoft Office) would be sufficient.
All the above mentioned software allows any applications: connecting and managing of the audio, connecting third party devices (tablets, smartphones), working with the light in the room, connecting external systems, responsible for ventilation, heating, air conditioning.
Fast diagnosis is also a huge advantage.
In the end, there is a single PC with user-friendly interface that allows you to manage the entire room.
We implemented the mentioned system in two rooms, working in Moscow. We believe that the future of the quest-rooms lies in greater interactivity, the aggravation of the feelings of the players – this means that the rise in complexity is inevitable. The most logical step is a centralized management.