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The Immersive Nature of Escape Rooms

Our Experience Manager, Tegan, studied Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Reading. In this blog she looks at the immersive nature of escape rooms and how it draws comparisons to immersive theatre.

Immersive theatre is a style of performance where the audience is invited to interact with the space and/or actors. Audience members are positioned as either voyeurs or they play an active role in propelling the narrative – sound familiar?

In 2013 a theatre company called Punchdrunk created a production called The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. This production took place in a warehouse and spanned five floors. The audience wore masks and although they had no direct say in the narrative it was up to them to discover it. Many different scenes were being performed simultaneously and by exploring the five floors you were able to see as many as you could. It was then up to the audience to piece together the narrative for themselves by identifying characters and connecting various interactions. At the end of each scene actors would disperse and the character you chose to follow would dictate the perspective from which you saw the narrative unravel.

In 2014 Secret Theatre Company debuted their production Code: 2021. This production invited audiences in to witness a trial from the point of view of the jury. After hearing the opening statements and evidence from the defence and prosecution, the audience were taken to a different room in the court to view a reenactment of both sides of the story. When the reenactments were finished audience members were asked to enter the house and look for their own evidence which they were later asked to present to the rest of the jury. In this performance, the actors left the audience alone to argue their cases and by doing this the audience were not guided to one specific outcome but rather asked to find/solve it on their own. In order to end the performance the audience had to reach a verdict which dictated how the performance would end.

Here at TimeTrap we send volunteers back in time to help right wrongs from throughout history.

Our escape rooms aim to immerse our audience in the chosen time period through the use of set, lighting, and soundscape. Without the volunteers the rooms would sit unused. Similarly to an audience, the volunteers bear witness to a constructed narrative which it then takes their actions to propel. Volunteers have to explore the space to uncover puzzles. The order in which the puzzles are discovered and solved will dictate which parts of the narrative are uncovered at various points in the game. Much like Code 2021 our volunteers are asked to explore the space and use what they find to reach an ultimate goal. It is a necessary part of both the performance and the game for the audience to gather as much information as possible in the allotted time in order to solve the case.

As time warp engineers, our role requires us to brief the volunteers and so their immersion begins before the game starts. In this sense we behave as actors bringing our audience into our world of time travel. Here at TimeTrap our games also often involve an historical person as a large part of the context to the game. In doing this the story becomes relatable and allows the volunteers to centre their investigation. As we have chosen various time periods for our games we have created puzzles that follow a narrative consistent with the time. 

As mentioned earlier, Punchdrunk’s performance spanned five floors. Escape rooms are similar though on a smaller scale. Part of what adds to the pressure of escaping is that you cannot be sure where the end point of the game actually is. Escape room games are not always just one room but two or more and it is up to the team to work their way through, often discovering more or secret rooms as they go. In Punchdrunk’s performance audience members were able to discover new rooms within other rooms as they followed characters, this would give a deeper insight into the narrative of the production.

Although our games have a set narrative and outcome, each team will interact differently with the space. The various ways in which people think will change the way each person views a puzzle. As different connections are made and conclusions are drawn this means that, despite the rooms remaining the same, each game is quite different. This is precisely what makes monitoring teams such fun – no one person is the same, no team dynamic is the same, which makes every group interesting and means coming into work is never boring.

Does what Tegan described excite you? Fancy joining helping to create immersive experiences and helping to guide people through them? Head to our ‘Join our Team’ page to find out more and apply.

My First Six Months at TimeTrap

Following on from our announcement yesterday that Tegan will be taking on a new full-time role as Experience Manager, Tegan reflects on her first six months with us.

July marks six months of me working here at TimeTrap Escape Rooms. Not long after the New Year I stepped into the role of time travel engineer to run missions along our time line and stabilise time warps. Over my time here I have learnt so much about not only escape rooms in general but also how they are put together. This job has reignited my love for history and has allowed me to learn so much more about the specific time periods in which our games are set. 

Having come into this job with a background in theatre tech it has been amazing to use my experience to help create immersive spaces that will be used time and time again. I was attracted to this job because it allowed me to continue along a theatrical path but also have creative input in the games. Combining set design with building and making puzzles has made, for me, a dream job. All my life I have loved solving puzzles so to combine that with my passion for theatre is incredible and every day I can’t believe this is my job.

As part of working here I have been able to research and learn about various points in time. It has been amazing to engage with these parts of history that I otherwise might not have. This is especially great as what we learn is able to be translated into the games that are created. The longest running game, Rebellion, has obviously been open longer than I have worked here but it has still been interesting to learn about the year 1136. This game was especially exciting to learn about as it is themed around King Stephen, and Empress Matilda who have strong connections to Reading and Reading Abbey. Part of learning about this game was embracing Reading’s history and as this is a town I have lived and worked in for 4 years I was eager to learn more about it. For me, these games have highlighted intriguing parts of history that have driven me to learn as much as I can. Spending each day surrounded by history in such a fun form has reminded me of how much I love learning and researching.

What makes each day here at TimeTrap interesting is that no day is the same. Having a job that involves time travel means that on any given day I could be hopping between multiple places on the time line. Before lunch I could have been in three different centuries. What makes each day different is the teams that come to play the games. We see and meet such a wide range of people coming for all different reasons; from family fun to workplace team building to school trips. Not only do we get to interact with so many people but we have such fun and exciting things to talk to them about as we prepare them for their missions. It is hard not to be excited by a job that excites others.

One unexpected aspect of the job, and also one of my favourite aspects, is that we get to be a part of so many important and exciting moments in people’s lives. We have been able to help people celebrate, and surprise others. It always makes for a happy day when a team has a surprise planned with us. By hiding people, birthday cakes, and even one engagement ring in our games we get to help with and witness the happiest part of someone’s day or even year. 

To end on a rather cliche note, it doesn’t really feel like work when you love what you do. I look forward to coming here everyday, to running games, creating rooms, and seeing all the wonderful people I get to work with. It is a real pinch me moment to think I am lucky enough to spend my days in the medieval period, the victorian era, and soon the 1940s. I wasn’t too familiar with escape rooms before I found this job but I am so grateful that I did. I now have a fantastic job, amazing colleagues/friends and a new found addiction to escape rooms.

Does what Tegan described excite you? Fancy joining this good/slightly average looking bunch? Head to our ‘Join our Team’ page to find out more and apply.

WHY DID WE CHOOSE TO CREATE ‘THE DIVIDE’?

Why did we choose to create ‘The Divide’?

Creating a game based around the social divide isn’t exactly a ‘go-to’ theme and perhaps not the most appealing. So why did we choose this for our three month pop-up experience?

1) Homelessness is a real problem

Having both been students at the University of Reading, myself and Katie were fully aware that Reading has a real problem with homelessness. However, it wasn’t until we started working in the town centre every day that we saw the depth of the issue. No one should be without a warm place to sleep at night, and those most vulnerable and in need of aid should have access to it. Its hard to know how to help, and the advice of Launchpad (the charity helping to prevent homelessness in Reading) is to refrain from giving those begging on the street money. This may seem a harsh line, but giving it direct to charities that know how to help best means that the money is converted to the best kind of aid and given out to those most in need.

2) We want to help

One of the main messages we are trying to get across with The Divide is that anyone can help, no matter how big or small the contribution is, whether it is through your time or by giving monetarily. Once we had been shown the space at our pop-up venue for the game, we decided that we wanted to raise money for Launchpad as part of this experience; but thinking about it further, we concluded that we also wanted to raise awareness. Monetary contributions are great but something equally as valuable is awareness. So, along with 10% of all money taken from bookings for The Divide going straight to Launchpad, we also hope to leave players thinking about the issue and what they can do to help balance the social divide.

3) We want to push boundaries

Escape games are usually themed frivolously, with no deeper meaning, which is absolutely fine and the way the vast majority will continue to be designed and built. The concept is often compared to film and theatre, and playing an escape game is often like being in your very own movie – most would probably be compared to an action, thriller or horror. However, some of the most powerful and moving productions are thought-provoking and emotional – films such as Fences, A Street Cat Named Bob, or I Daniel Blake – so why can’t escape rooms also enter these realms? It is not something that has been attempted before and so the only way to find out whether it can be effectively done is by doing it.

One of the biggest challenges we have faced when designing and creating The Divide was to get the right amount of entertainment, whilst also challenging the players to think about the wider issue of the social divide and homelessness.

The Divide runs for three months at our pop-up location, at 58 Kings Road. You can book online here.

Out with the ‘things’, in with unforgettable experiences

With Christmas fast approaching, you may be starting to think about gift options. If you’re struggling with ideas for that tricky someone, why not take a look at our latest blog about why getting someone an experience, rather than a physical gift may be more fulfilling.

Physical gifts are nice – there’s nothing like a fresh pair of socks (it wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one pair right?). However, we are starting to crave a bit more than that – we now want experiences; something we can do, something we can be, and something we can tell our friends about (either in person or through social media) afterwards. So why is this?

Intangible is the new tangible

TimeTrap’s experiences are fully immersive, transporting you to a different time and place entirely. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to step through a time warp and find yourself stealing a crown from the depths of a medieval castle or hanging out with Alice inside the mind of the great Lewis Carroll. Video games can make you feel as though you’re in another world, sure, but with escape rooms, you are actually in the world. And you’re controlling the environment with your own hands and mind, not through a mouse or controller. You are the character and you have the ability to shape and write your own story.

Quality time spent with real people

The best thing about escape rooms is that they’re nearly impossible to complete alone, so you’ll need to round up a team of people you love making memories with to help out. It’s an experience that will get you thinking, talking and laughing – and it’s not just for the hour inside the game. You can spend just as long in the pub afterwards, discussing the game, the parts you may have missed, or that moment when Steve squealed like a 12 year old girl. It’ll be the talk of the office, dining table or school playground for the next week!

It’s usually a good fit

Forget those gift receipts just in case it’s a size too small, 99% of people come out of escape rooms having absolutely loved every second. And its a one size fits all activity; we’ve had groups range from a 10th birthday to an annual get together for a group of friends in their 70’s. The range of suitability also means you can save yourself time on individual presents and get a multi-person gift voucher as a gift for the whole family!

It’s unique

Experience vouchers can be fun, but you usually know what to expect… except when it comes to escape rooms. Only a small proportion of the population have tried them and this has preserved their air of mystery and excitement. If you want to get your loved one an on-trend and ahead-of-the-game gift, an escape room is the way to go. Even if you’re not new to the activity, there isn’t anything else quite like it, and no two are the same, bringing a unique experience every time.

The perfect gift for someone who has everything.

We all have that one person that we never know what to get, and an experience is a great solution to the problem. As escape rooms are still such a new activity, chances are they haven’t tried one yet, and you’ll be getting them a really original present they won’t forget in a hurry. And with hundreds of games up and down the country, you may trigger an obsession that will buy you some time before you need to start thinking up new gift ideas again!

They might take you too!

Okay, this isn’t really the best reason to buy someone an experience gift but, let’s be honest, we all think it (don’t we?)

We have a range of different gift vouchers to choose from, including electronic, physical, and gift package options including a t-shirt. Take a look at our full list of choices and what comes with each here.

All throughout November and December we are running a promotion, meaning you can get £5 off our gift package option – just ring 07413 470142 and quote this offer to take advantage of this.

The Story of Imaginarium – 1863

Professor Potch has made a mistake with his calculations on a previous mission. It was only small but the shift in time has resulted in a terrible incident further in the future…

In 1863, Professor Potch’s favourite author, Lewis Carroll, has been caught up in a horse and cart accident in Bucklebury market, and is now in hospital suffering from a head injury that has caused some funny goings-on, most dreadfully, memory loss. And the worst part – Lewis Carroll had just begun writing his masterpiece, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Professor Potch now fears will never be published!

To make up for his mistake, Potch has been working day and night to develop a new machine, and is now looking for volunteers, not only to go back in time through his time warp, but to be shrunk down and sent deep into Lewis Carroll’s brain to rearrange his memory and put things right!

Reading Residents take on Channel 4’s The Crystal Maze

If you tune into the Crystal Maze on Channel 4 tonight you may see some familiar faces… Reading residents and double TimeTrap conquerors Andrew and Rob make up two members of this evening’s five-strong team racing around the famous labyrinth, with new Maze Master Richard Ayoade leading the way.

The duo are also big escape room enthusiasts having now completed over 40 rooms, including being early supporters of TimeTrap, coming to both our Dickensian pop-up game in Great Expectations and our most recent game, Rebellion – 1136 at our new time travelling facility.

Talking about his experience of being on the new reboot of the classic 90’s TV show Andrew said “In the original ‘The Crystal Maze’ I was very fond of the Aztec zone so seeing the zones recreated in such detail was awesome and running into each was a childhood dream come true.” He also said that new Maze Master was “Great to work with and really made the show”.

When explaining what escape games are, The Crystal Maze is always an easy comparison and we often get people in our room saying ‘Ooo that is so Crystal Maze!’ (which is a good thing, we think). The zones in the revamped show have been lovingly recreated with only minor improvements to most of the zones to make them suitable for our 21st Century viewing. The only major change has been to the Future zone, with The Telegraph describing it as being in the ’gleaming style of an Apple Store Genius Bar’. Kinda true.

With the new version proving popular so far, it is likely that increasing numbers of fans will get the bug to try their own experience and visit an escape room. In turn, seasoned escape roomers won’t miss tuning in every week to take part vicariously through each new team. It seems that the show and escape games will go hand in hand quite well.

If you haven’t been watching so far, why not tune in tonight to support, cheer on and scream at two of the town’s own. We can’t wait to see how they do!

Do something different with the kids this summer holiday

School is out across the UK and you may be wondering what to do with the kids this summer. A visit to our time travelling facility may be just the thing. Here is why an escape room experience is be the perfect family activity:

Get the whole family Involved

Whether you’re 10 or 70, escape rooms are for all ages. There’s searching to do for the keen eye, thinking to do for the keen brain and keeping the team in check to do for the keen mouth! You will need to work together, communicate well and charge up your brains to full capacity to complete your mission.

Families make the best teams

Families are consistently amongst our best performing teams. Our games are designed with everyone in mind and so the family dynamic really lends itself well to making a good escape room team. The way children think is very different to that of adults, and that’s exactly what you need in this scenario. Younger generations are often a lot better at letting go of reality and becoming immersed in the environment we will be sending you back to.

Be a part of your very own video game

If your kids always have a controller in hand, entice them away from the screen by telling them that they could be part of their very own video game. Step through our time warp into another world and take on your mission to rewrite the history books by becoming the hero in your very own story.

Keep out of the rain

With British summer-time weather not exactly known for its consistent clear blue skies, you may want to opt for an activity you know isn’t going to involve soggy sandwiches and a muddy mac. At the time of writing there are no holes in the ceiling so you can be sure to keep dry whilst trying to complete the mission set by our time warp creator, Professor Potch!

Get Money Off!

To celebrate the summer holidays we are giving teams 20{c98744ccae5668db9fdf965b5181e578d15abb3be237b2137971b47a11c08058} when you book a slot for any weekday in August. All you have to do is enter the code SUMMER06 when booking online.

Introducing: Professor Potch

Ahead of our booking system opening this Sunday, we take a look at the man that makes your time travelling experiences possible:

TimeTrap sends you back in time to the most important points in history, to complete important missions and rewrite the past. However, this wouldn’t be possible without some kind of time machine, time portal or something similar would it? And, perhaps more importantly, a creator of such an invention.

This is where the main man here at TimeTrap, Professor W. Potch, comes in. He is the inventor of our new time warp technology and chose to set up his time travel facility right here in Reading. He chose not to go down the time machine or time portal route (absolutely ludicrous ideas and utterly improbable in his opinion) and instead found a way to create time warps.

We won’t delve too deeply into the science of it all but Professor Potch’s breakthrough was discovering the exotic matter with negative energy density needed to create and sustain the warps. Simple right?

Not quite. Once a time warp has been created, it can only stay stable for one hour before it becomes unstable. This is why TimeTrap is looking for top-notch volunteers to complete different missions righting wrongs throughout history, in only one hour. If you complete your quest, you’ll be a hero and have quite the story to tell; if you fail, well, the less said about that the better…

You’ll be seeing a lot more of TimeTrap’s Professor over the coming weeks leading up to our time warps being open for the very first time.

The story of ‘Rebellion – 1136’

Following on from our last blog post where we revealed we will be creating escape games with a local connection, in this, we delve deeper into the plot of our newest game, ‘Rebellion – 1136’.

This newest game is a massively evolved version of our very first game that we previewed at the Reading Fringe Festival all the way back in July 2016 (damn, time flies). When we say evolved, we mean that it is basically unrecognisable from the original.

So now to set the scene; It is 1136 and a year has passed since the death of King Henry I who has been laid to rest in Reading Abbey. Before his death he named Matilda, his only living child, as his heir. However, Stephen of Blois, Matilda’s French cousin, has travelled to England and successfully overthrown her, crowning himself King.

You and your team have joined the rebel fighters supporting Matilda on a mission to recover the crown and return it to the rightful monarch. Some of your comrades have gone before you, but they have not made it out. What they have done is discover that the crown lies hidden deep within the castle throne room. You must break in, locate it and escape without being seen if you are to succeed. It may sound simple but King Stephen is a scheming man and has not made the path to the crown easy, with obstacles to overcome to get to the ultimate prize.

As always, the time warp can only remain stable for one hour meaning you must complete your task and get out within this time, or be trapped in the depths of the castle forever.

Escape Games with a Local Connection

It has been over two months since we finished our pop-up game in Great Expectations Hotel and Bar on London Street, and since then we have been running team building events for corporate clients in lots of different places around the South East, as well as working towards securing our permanent home in Central Reading. Behind the scenes we have also been tweaking our current games and puzzles, attending exhibitions and the Escape Game Owners ‘Unconference’ in London.

Packing the year 1870 into a van

One of the benefits of touring games to several different locations is the feedback we have gotten from such a range of people, both through observation and talking with customers. This has allowed us to continually refine our games as well as adapt the storylines – something that has been a lot easier with pop-up games than if we had set up permanently to start with.

The 2016 Reading Year of Culture created a sense of pride in Reading that we hadn’t seen before. Events such as the ArtAngel Reading Prison Exhibition and the massively well-received Henry I play by Reading Between the Lines Theatre Company towards the end of the year revealed a clear interest in the history of Reading from its people. With this in mind, we want to play our part in continuing to provide people with a way to immerse themselves in the history of the town. Obviously at our heart we are an escape game, but we want to add a local connection to our games, so that players will leave not only saying ‘that was amazing!’ but also ‘I didn’t know Reading had so much history!’ Basing games on real life experiences also aids in the creation of the environment and unfolding story and only adds to the immersion for the players.

The wonderful ArtAngel exhibition, ‘INSIDE Reading Prison’

Our mission has always been to take people back in time and ‘Rewrite History with you as the Hero’. Our first pop up game took players back to the 1400’s and a Medieval town ruled over by an evil sorcerer. As much as we loved this game (and clearly others did, with it getting good publicity from both GetReading and BBC Berkshire) we are sprucing it up with an injection of Reading history and it will now be set 300 years earlier around the reign of King Henry I. That’s all we can tell you for now, but check back for updates as we release the storyline to this refreshed game very soon…