BEHIND THE SCENES
STATION X – 1942
You’ve experienced Station X, now take a look at why we chose this time period, how the design process works, and the build out.
If you haven’t yet experienced Station X, don’t read on – you may encounter a few spoilers!
Why did we choose to send you back to 1942?
Old trains and stations are another personal interest of ours, and we couldn’t get away from the idea of how cool it would be to create a train carriage as part of the game, so we decided to set the mission inside Bletchley Station, while the storyline itself remained as revolving heavily around Bletchley Park. Because players enter 1942 as soon as they arrive, Professor Potch has arranged for his acquaintances at Bletchley Park to cover the briefing. After all this mission is organised in collaboration with the staff at Bletchley Park, because they can’t blow their cover by involving investigators from their own time. Our other two missions differ from this, as they are just Professor Potch organising missions solo and sending time travelling back in secret!
The layout of the top floor also gave us another bonus – as well as a control room for us, a toilet and coat cupboard and an area that could be turned into an outside platform, we had two identically sized main rooms. At first we thought about a large mega-experience, with lots of different spaces, but we soon realised that the value was in having two identical rooms in which teams could truly compete against each other, and so, Station X became our first versus game. To continue making use of all the spaces, an original part of the design was that the teams would take it in turns to go out onto the platform and investigate the carriage of a waiting train, but after initial testing of the first part of the game, we realised that there was plenty to keep teams busy for an hour, and so the train carriage instead became the one of the most immersive briefing areas we’ve ever seen.
The Design Process of Station X
In terms of the end goal of the mission, we decided we’d like a contrast to our other experiences – which are about recovering an object, or restoring a memory – and so we started working on a more investigative based mission, where the game would conclude with players making a decision. From our research it seemed very sensible to go down the spy route; its a well-discussed topic from the period which meant players could identify with other stories they may have heard about spies operating at Bletchley Park. We were reluctant to follow any true story of espionage, partly because there is a level of uncertainty to all the rumours and partly because anyone with a good knowledge on the topic would know immediately what the solution to the game would be! So despite the fact that with all of our experiences we try to lean heavily on historical fact, we needed to invent the spy from scratch.
What we did do, however, was include real historical figures or people from the era as the other six suspects in the game. One of these is Bernard Lyford-Smith, the grandfather of a regular visitor to TimeTrap who entered a competition we ran to name a character in our next game. David Lyford-Smith won us over with a lovely, in-depth story about Bernard, including his wartime antics and his personality as an accordion player. And so Bernard entered the game as the seventh suspect, with his handwriting on an accordion box he’d left under the waiting room seat.
Handwriting was the thing we chose as the identifying factor of the suspects. In an era where almost everything was handwritten we felt it fitted the theme well and provided a challenge at the end of the game that was tricky enough to feel like a real piece of investigative work. The handwriting for each suspect is written by one of the team at TimeTrap so they really are naturally different pieces of handwriting!In the same way that we design all of our experiences, we work backwards from the end goal of the game, to fit in what is needed – in this case the different samples of handwriting – and form puzzles that flow together. In this case all of the pieces of handwriting needed to be found within the station in a way that made sense, and that required a little imagination. Henryk’s writing is found on a cheque used to pay his train fare, while Katharine’s is found on a birthday card to the ticket clerk that she happens to be friends with. The signalman is having an affair with Elizabeth, and so has a letter from her in his cupboard, and he’s also friends with the author George, and so has a signed book from him. Bernard’s is on an accordion case as we mentioned, while Percy and Henry, who both work at Bletchley Park, have their samples inside Percy’s briefcase, which has been left behind and put into lost property. Percy is a despatch driver and Henry a security officer that has issued Percy with a permit for entry to Bletchley Park. These extra details allowed us to position the samples of handwriting at different points throughout the game in places where they made sense.To create the puzzles we researched by visiting museums and real working steam railways, chatting to the volunteers there about the processes that go on in the station. We decided to split each room we had into a main waiting room area with doors into a ticket office and signal box, so that we could create a range of puzzles using the items found in these different areas. The ticket office contains more admin or organisational puzzles based around ticket racks, staff rotas and timetabling, while the signal box houses more mechanical or tactile puzzles revolving around signal levers, refilling steam trains or communicating with bell token machines and the waiting room is all about spotting or noticing out of place things.
Two puzzles which involve some ideas that are a little different in escape rooms are the puzzles that change depending on whether versus or single mode is being played. Time travellers are instructed that they need to use the phone to open the home guard provisions box, in single mode this is a simple information-finding puzzle, but in versus mode, each team has the code for the other teams’ box. They must convince each other to give them their code by somehow bartering or just trusting that they will get theirs in return. This is not an essential part of the game, as the box just contains decrypts, but its an interesting mechanic which sees bargaining or persuasion used as an escape room puzzle. The second puzzle involves the collection of the parcel for Margaret by unveiling the concertina books. Again this is a non-essential part of the game and some teams never see the puzzle, but if the parcel is collected successfully, the team gains two more decrypts. The twist in a versus game is that there is only one parcel, and whichever team gets there first gets it, but only if they have disguised themselves well enough! This puzzle employs the unusual technique of requiring players to actually leave their ‘game room’ to complete a task, something which challenges the usual idea of being ‘locked in a room’.
Creating an authentic 1940s train station
As we mentioned, our top floor already resembled times gone by – all we had to do was build the walls sectioning off the ticket office and signal box, and change the wall colour! This involved sectioning off a metre high line around every wall and painting the top half cream and the bottom half green. The exact shade of green was very carefully selected to match the iconic train station green of the period, and also that found at Bletchley Park on our research visits. The ticket office window wall was created in a brown panelling and most other items in the experience were kept in browns, creams and sepia colours to match the time period. All fonts were also matched carefully to the originals.
Many items are also authentically old, for example, the tills in the ticket office and the station phones and accordions in the waiting room. The books were all published before 1942, the pennies in the till are also from before that year and the posters are reprinted originals. There are a number of other old items kept safe from being touched inside the signalman’s cupboard, including an old fire extinguisher and a gas mask. The train network map on the wall is an authentic map showing stations that were in use in 1942, its a lot more than are in operation now and many have had their names changed. Even the newspaper covering the windows for the blackout is a reprint of newspapers from 1941 and 1942. If you have a keen eye you can also see a sign on the corridor wall informing inhabitants of the building that it has Edison Electric Light which may be turned on using a switch on the wall, rather than having to light with a match. One of the rooms also has an original fireplace – its the only difference between the layout of the two rooms.
The train carriage was the trickiest creation, challenging our carpenters with something a little different to what they were used to! The design is based on the sizing of an original steam train carriage and features the seats from a 1930s train (reupholstered with material from the same suppliers due to damage) and the door and window panels and luggage racks of another 1930s train. The only thing the carriage is missing, is the side corridor that runs down the train to other carriages – if you slide open the door of our carriage, you’ll only find a fire exit! The platform is raised to give the illusion that the train extends downwards, and is plastered to create an old-style concrete or tarmac feel, complete with yellow lines to mark the edges.
Percy Pawson, the suspicious despatch driver, is a character based on the co-founder of TimeTrap, Andrew’s, great-grandad. Percy worked for British Railways in the 1950s and was on board one of the three trains that collided in what is known as the Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash. 112 people were killed in what is still the worst peacetime rail crash in the UK. Luckily, Percy survived.
The train number you see on the side of our train carriage is not a mis-match of numbers but also has a link to a member of the TimeTrap team. Tegan, our experience manager’s, grandad was a train driver during the Second World War and lived near Bletchley during this time (though he didn’t have a clue about the operations that were going on there!) This was the number of the train he drove during that time.
The toilet that is located in our Station X experience is completely genuine and using toilets basins and fittings from the 1930s. We ripped out the modern toilet fixtures that were once there and replaced them with ones that we sourced on the internet. We even use bars of soap rather than squirty soap. We didn’t want the immersion ruined by your visit to the bathroom!