EGMN (this is not a typo)

There’s still some debate whether the hobby we love should be called an ‘escape room’, ‘escape game’, ‘live-action adventure’ or something else entirely. While skirting that issue (though I think I’m pretty set with ‘escape game’ for now) here’s something else to argue about!

There’s been some talk on the ‘Escape Room Enthusiasts’ facebook group recently about “mapping out” escape rooms. Not in the sense of their geographical layout, but how the different features/parts of a room combine together. For example, you might need to solve puzzle 1 to access a UV torch, solve puzzle 2 to access an item with some UV writing on it, then read the writing with the torch to find a code (that would then open a lock box, or whatever). That could be represented like this:

simpleprocess

When I’m not escaping from rooms I work as a (job with many different titles, but let’s go with) Business Process Analyst, helping organisations better understand all the different activities they perform in their daily operation so that they can better manage them or improve performance or lots of possible benefits (why yes, I am available to hire, please get in touch). A big part of that is developing diagrams similar to the one above, so it’s fair to say that this type of interpretation is right up my street. And I think the opportunity for analysis and discussion of this type of representation is fascinating.

But before we all rush away to map out our rooms, we need to consider what information we’re looking to capture and how we want to depict it. In the business process world there are lots of ‘standards’ of which Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is arguably the most well known. But that, like any other tool-kit, should be adapted/streamlined so that it balances meaningfulness and complexity, aka ‘being beautifully simple’. It boils down to identifying what it’s important to differentiate from what it’s possible to differentiate.

Common sense and attempts at this from others gives us a few ideas. In the diagram above I’ve distinguished between activities and outputs (outputs are often inputs as well, but it just gets annoying saying “input/output”, and I’ve never been a fan of the more neutral ‘deliverable’). I think it’s also useful to split between regular outputs, which are caused by doing something, and those that just magically appear, ‘starting points’. There are also different types of activities as well. The terms ‘puzzles’ and ‘tasks’ seem fairly well established to demarcate “things you have to work out” from “things you simply have to do”, but what about a scavenger hunt? It’s not as simple as entering a code or unlocking a door, but it’s not really a puzzle as there’s no ‘solving’ involved. So maybe it should be a separate thing?

In my first draft of this I thought that was probably enough to begin with. But as one of the objectives of the enthusiast community is to encourage games to be better, we should probably include more stuff that we could see, and hopefully will see in the near future. So there could be something in a game that you trigger, that provides you with one or more outputs, that doesn’t really involve you doing anything at all. I’ll call that an ‘event’. There could be something in a game that provides information that isn’t necessarily essential for your escape, perhaps unveiling more of the story for those so inclined. I’ll call that a ‘document’. One thing that documents would be perfect for is influencing your route to multiple endings/scenarios. This could cause you to make a ‘decision’.

As we’re already into the realm of the fairly fanciful I’m going to draw a line there. But that’s only the ‘what we’ll capture’. There’s also the ‘what will it look like?’ to answer. There’s a temptation to use different coloured boxes, and it makes a lot of sense, until someone wants to do it who’s colour blind (or wants to print it in black and white). There’s also a temptation to use a lot of distinctive shapes, which works great on a symbolic level but not so much if you want to add labels, especially on intricate shapes like stars and arrows. This is an area where the business process world probably has a lot to teach us.

From all this rambling (thanks for making it this far!) I’ve put together the first draft of the Escape Game Model and Notation (EGMN) standard:

EGMN_01

And a worked example:

exampleprocess

 

I’m certainly not suggesting this is ‘correct’. This is just a starting point to encourage some discussion and maybe we can agree something we can all work with, and hopefully that would be beneficial to the industry in the some way. So comments please.

6 Comments:

  1. Old-school! I love it! Definitely as logical and familiar an approach as any I can think of.

  2. Really like this (can you spot the geek in me…). I wonder if it could actually help in solving the rooms. In some sense, when I’m in a room, I’m mentally drawing out this map, and looking at where there are outputs/starting points that I’ve not yet used and activities that require specific inputs.

    Random thoughts:
    – Start point might not be available from the start of the game, but be time controlled (perhaps represented by a special activity of waiting ten minutes or maybe it’s just a start point that happens to be inaccessible till later in the game or perhaps that’s an Event)
    – There may be multiple activities that can give you outputs for another activity. How would you represent them?
    – A proprietor might be able to make good use of this to track progress of players. In particular, I could imagine it incorporating special “clue” symbols, which can be used to help solve specific activities, and the host just looks across to find the earliest output you haven’t got and gives you the relevant clues for that activity.

    • There’s no right or wrong here (yet). Just opinion:

      – A start point for me should genuinely be something that is available from the start. There certainly could/will be starts to new threads later, but I’d see them caused by an activity, such as opening a door to a new room, or maybe after triggering an event. An object becoming available based on time doesn’t fit in quite so cleanly, though you could argue that it triggered an event of ‘count down for X minutes’.
      – One activity could give you multiple outputs, and one activity could need multiple inputs to be solvable. I’d simply link each one to where it’s needed, and use additional connection points if it was becoming difficult to interpret. It should be possible unless things get very complex, but at the point you may start questioning the design of the room. I described this the other day as being like a point-and-click video game where you have lots of random items in your inventory, which was hard enough on screen never mind in real life.

  3. Awesome! This is pretty much how i think of rooms

  4. Interesting, thank you, we will give it a try. At Enigmarium, http://www.escape-room.si, we are just developing 4 new rooms and have different opinions / visions what is the best way to sketch it. From xls to diagrams and drawings, even autocad – bur have not find the perfect solution yet.

  5. Great Article! I was thinking about how to do it for my upcoming room! Just in time! Thanks!

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