Blog Entry #101

Welcome to the Cognito Escape Games blog! 

In this edition, we’ll kick things off with an attempt to answer our most frequently asked question: what’s the difference between an escape room and escape game?

Escape Games versus Escape Rooms

At Cognito, we strive to design our escape games to be original, fun, and different from most other escape rooms you might visit.  But when it comes to the specific difference between an escape game and an escape room, the answer requires a little bit of a conversation.  To really understand the difference is a study of details and subtlety, and gets into our overall design philosophy of what makes for a great escape room experience.

Designing an Escape Room: The Basics

At its most basic level, the objective of an escape room is simple: get out before time runs out.  The classic escape room scenario starts with players in a jail cell.  As the story goes, the warden gets distracted for the next hour, and the clock starts ticking for players to break out before his return!  This premise is a lot of fun, and it provides a great backdrop for the kinds of puzzles and story elements that can be incorporated.  It also answers some key questions from the get-go, such as “why are we locked in a room” and “what do we need to do.”

What we’ve done at Cognito is expand upon this basic concept.  What if your goal wasn’t as simple as “get out of this locked room,” and became something more like, “we need to <do something cool> before time runs out.”  Continuing this line of thinking is where the differences between an escape room and escape game can start to be seen!  Choosing an original objective for players allows for near-limitless game design possibilities, with each premise opening up a world of unique complementary puzzles, thematic options, and storyline possibilities.

surprised pikachu

What else is different at Cognito Escape Games?

Our aim is to create escape rooms that are both challenging and fun.  We approach this goal from several directions, but one of the major routes is through the incorporation of non-linear game designs.

Some people are unsure of what we mean by a non-linear game design.  Take a look at the following diagrams:

linear design
non-linear design

Figure 1 shows the gameflow of a linear escape room.  Players have no freedom in how to proceed through the game.  They must solve Puzzle 1, then proceed to Puzzle 2, etc.

In contrast, Figure 2 shows the gameflow of a completely non-linear escape room.  Players have total freedom as to the order to solve puzzles.  There is no pre-defined path through the game.

Each escape room designs provide certain advantages and disadvantages. 

Linear escape rooms can provide a better sense of cohesion and logic to the game, as there is a sequential order for completing each task.  They also allow for better storyline portrayal.  On the other hand, linear escape rooms don’t fly well with larger parties.  That is, usually only 1 or 2 people can physically stand in front of the puzzle, leaving everyone else to wander uselessly around the room, and *gasp* possibly become bored.  Also, if you have a very difficult puzzle that players can’t figure out, it becomes an impassable obstacle, where all action grinds to a halt and the whole party may become frustrated.

Totally non-linear escape rooms provide multiple points of attack for groups, allowing many people to be active and engaged at the same time.  This is vital for entertaining large parties.  But like their linear cousins, there are drawbacks as well.  Players in totally non-linear escape rooms may feel that they’re missing out on things being solved on the other side of the room.  This effect also makes it difficult to inject a deep storyline into the game, as the story is not reliably delivered to all players.  Non-linear escape room designs can also be a bit overwhelming, especially for new players, as there’s no clearly defined starting point.

At Cognito, we use a hybrid game design, incorporating a mix of both linear and non-linear elements into our escape games.  We’ve found that this approach elevates our escape room experience, and allows for plenty of player flexibility and freedom, in addition to keeping the whole group engaged!

Next time on Dragonball Z the Cognito blog:

We’ll go over a few more things we do to make our games different!  We’ll discuss what we’ve found to be the most frustrating parts of escape rooms (including escape room no-no’s), some escape room taboos, and more!

Thanks for checking out our blog!  Stay tuned for the next entry!