About RussBuilds

RussBuilds is an independent escape game designer. Here, he is writing on video games and escape rooms in the middle of the UK.

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 5

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Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.

Previously…

In part 4, we have our basic countdown timer product. Part 5 will look at potential bonus features you can add to your product to make it even better!

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE
A power adapter for the Arduino Uno (see part 1 for guidance)
4x male to female dupont cables (1x red, 1x black, 1x yellow, 1x blue)
2x male to male dupont cables (1x black, 1x brown)

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)
1x Emergency stop button with locking mechanism when pressed – (Look here for examples)

Extra Feature #1 – Stop & Reset Button

Picture this. You’ve got 5 seconds left on the clock in an escape room, and you’re about to stop the clock just in time by hitting a big red switch. Sounds amazing right? Let’s make it.

Red – 5V -> VCC
Black – GND -> GND (Timer)
Yellow – Pin 2 -> CLK
Blue – Pin 3 -> DIO
Black – GND -> Button Pin
Brown – RESET -> Button Pin

If this diagram looks unfamiliar to you, please revert to the original one in part 4. This is merely an addition to that. Depending on which type of emergency stop button you have purchased, it might have either 2 or 4 pins to connect. This will be a case of trial and error; swapping the dupont cables to different pins to achieve the desired result.

The desired result will be the timer freezing once the button is pressed and subsequently, locked in (again I stress, buy a locking mechanism button!), and when the button is twisted to unlock, the timer should reset back to 60:00.

Extra Feature #2 – LOSE At The End Of The Countdown

Picture this. (This one isn’t so fun). You’ve got 5 seconds left on the clock in an escape room and you’re about to stop the clock just in time by hitting a big red switch… but you don’t make it quick enough and in place of the timer, you see LOSE. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Sounds um, less amazing…right? Let’s still make it.

Included in the <TM1637Display.h> library which we are already using for our timer, you can add up to 4 characters on the display before or after the countdown.

Here, I will show you how to show LOSE, once the countdown has reached 00:00.

Above, is a diagram of the 7 segments a single display character can hold, alongside a letter (A-G).
First off, we need to work out what segments we need to display the word LOSE. Feel free to work it out yourself, or look below for the solution.

L = Segments D, E & F
O = Segments A, B, C, D, E & F
S = Segments A, C, D, F & G
E = Segments A, D, E, F & G

Now that we have our segments worked out per character, we need to:

  • Declare these in the code we already have
  • Create a function called void lose()
  • Add a condition for it to show once the display shows 00:00

Declaring The Segments

Add this code in your // Display function:

const byte LOSE[] = {

SEG_D | SEG_E | SEG_F,
SEG_A | SEG_B | SEG_C | SEG_D | SEG_E | SEG_F,
SEG_A | SEG_C | SEG_D | SEG_F | SEG_G,
SEG_A | SEG_D | SEG_E | SEG_F | SEG_G

};

void lose()

In between the void setup() and void loop() functions, add the following:

void lose() {
display.setSegments(LOSE);
delay(1000000000);
}

delay(1000000000) – holds the LOSE message on display for approximately 277 hours, when activated – ie: long enough!

Adding The LOSE Condition

In your void loop() function, add the following after the first of 3 right curly braces (}):

else
lose();

Test Your Code

Now is time to check your code is error free. Click on the tick in the IDE. If that is error free, now click the right facing arrow button (with your Arduino Uno connected to your computer) to load your updated code in. You may want to temporarily change your timeLimit to 10 seconds for swifter testing.

If you receive an error at any point, please use my troubleshooting tips in part 4 as a starting place to fix your bug.

If you are feeling brave, you could even try to change LOSE to show a different set of characters – eg: STOP.

If you are feeling even more brave, try putting a 4 character message before the countdown begins.

End Of Part 5

That’s all for now, for the time being. I hope this has been fun for you to build! I’ll return later this year with a new project, but for now, take care!

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 4

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Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.

Previously…

In part 3, we created real code out of our pseudocode and placed it into our IDE. Part 4 will involve testing both the code and the connections between the Arduino Uno and the TM1637 timer component.

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE
A power adapter for the Arduino Uno (see part 1 for guidance)
4x male to female dupont cables (1x red, 1x black, 1x yellow, 1x blue)

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)

So Far…

  • We have planned our objective:

We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

  • We have designed our coding workspace (IDE) to have 4 functions or ‘containers’.

Library, Display, void setup() and void loop().

  • We have written our code in the workspace.

Next, we will connect our hardware components, power up and test the artefact!

Setting Up The Hardware

Go ahead and use your dupont cables to connect the Arduino Uno and the TM1637 display timer like so.

Red – 5V -> VCC
Black – GND -> GND
Yellow – Pin 2 -> CLK
Blue – Pin 3 -> DIO

Make sure the dupont cables are snug when connecting. Next, take your USB connector and connect the one end to the Arduino Uno and the other into your computer. The power on should light up on the Arduino Uno; the computer may take a few minutes to download any required drivers, and should let you know when it is done.

Testing The Code

Open up your IDE with your code from part 3, and go to
Tools > Board > Arduino/Genuino Uno
then
Tools > Port > COMx (Arduino/Genuino Uno) – The x will be a number of the Arduino’s choice.

Next, click the tick button, right below the file option. This will check the code for any errors.
If you have any errors, you will need to troubleshoot them. Two good starts to this would be:

  • Checking that your code is identical to that presented in part 3.
  • Pasting the error description into google and see if any of the forums have already answered/resolved the issue you have.

Should the code be error free, it should show a message starting

Sketch uses x bytes (x%) of program storage…

Once you see that message, go ahead and click the right-pointing arrow button, next to the tick button. This will transfer the code to the Arduino Uno and subsequently, the TM1637 display timer.

Should this be successful, the TM1637 timer should light up and start counting down!

Testing The Countdown

One other thing I suggest testing, is if the countdown stays at 00:00, when counted down entirely; ie: no further counting, or no counting up for that matter!

There are two ways you can do this. The easiest but far longest way is to wait until the timer has counted down from 60:00 then check its status. The better way is to temporarily change the timeLimit to 10 seconds, then check. How to do that however, I’ll leave for you to figure out.

Remember, if anything isn’t doing what it should be doing, try my two suggestions for troubleshooting above.

Testing The Power Adapter

Whilst the USB connection powers the Arduino Uno perfectly well, it is highly unpractical to have the artefact permanently connected to a potentially large and bulky computer. Here would be a good time to plug your power adapter (remember to take out the USB connection!) into the Arduino Uno and see if the desired results are the same.

End Of Part 4

At its most basic (but certainly useable), you have your escape game countdown timer artefact programmed and working! Nicely done! Part 5 will look at bonus features you can add to the countdown timer for further usability.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 3

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Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.

Previously…

In part 2, I spoke about the Arduino Uno microcontroller and getting to grips with the IDE. Part 3 focusses upon evolving our psuedocode into real code.

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE

Specific Equipment

1x TM1637 4-digit, 7-segment display timer – (Look here for examples)

So Far…

  • We have planned our objective:

We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

  • We have designed our coding workspace (IDE) to have 4 functions or ‘containers’.

Library, Display, void setup() and void loop().

Next we will look at what each of these functions will contribute to the objective, alongside adding some real C++ code to it!

Library

Libraries are files embedded to the IDE that add more functionality and ease of use. For our objective, we will be using just one library file; the TM1637Display.h by Avishay Orpaz. This file includes a series of commands that we will use in our code, to allow the Arduino Uno tell the TM1637 display timer what to display in real time.

First off, we need to pull the file into our workspace. We can do this by selecting

Tools > Manage Libraries…

Next, we need to install the latest version (v1.20), make sure you choose the correct file, I’ve highlighted below to help you navigate.

Because I’ve already installed it, there is no install button for me. One for you, should appear in the right hand corner once you hover your mouse over. Once this has installed, we need to return to our workspace and under the // Library comment, type in:

#include <TM1637Display.h>

This now sets us up ready, to tell the Arduino Uno (and subsequently the display timer), what to do.

Display

There are 2 things we need to set up in this Display function.

  • Declaring the clock and data in-out (DIO) pins.
  • Declaring the length of the timer (60:00 minutes).

If you look on the back of your TM1637 display timer, you will notice that you will have 4 pins to connect via dupont cables, to the Arduino Uno; CLK, DIO, VCC and GND.

CLK = Clock, DIO = Data in-out, VCC = Power, GND = Ground

Power and ground pins don’t need to be declared, just the clock and DIO pins. In other words, we need to tell the Arduino Uno what number pins on the digital side (see The Arduino Uno from part 2) of the microcontroller will be connected, to the CLK and the DIO. As a rule of thumb, we don’t use pins 0 and 1; they are for transmitting and receiving signals, and is best not to interfere with them.

For this exercise, we are going to declare pin 2 as the CLK and pin 3 as the DIO. Return to your workspace and under the // Display comment, type in:

const int clkPin = 2;
const int dioPin = 3;

TM1637Display display(clkPin, dioPin);

const = Constant, ie: non-changing
int = integer, the number of the pin (eg: 2)

Now that you have successfully declared your CLK and DIO pins, next; we will declare the length of the timer. It is to be pointed out that whilst the timer will display in minutes and seconds, the length of time in the IDE must be declared in milliseconds.

Return to your workspace, and underneath your CLK and DIO declarations, type in;

unsigned long timeLimit = 3601000;

unsigned = positive value numbers only, prevents the timer from going past 00:00
long = a number with a large value

3601000 milliseconds = 60 minutes and 1 second. The reason for the additional second is that it takes 1 second for the TM1637 display to power up after the Arduino Uno does.

void setup()

There is only one thing to set up in the void setup() function; brightness of the TM1637 display.

Within the void setup() curly brackets, type in:

display.setBrightness(4);

void loop()

Finally, we will add the code to operate the meat of the artefact; the countdown mechanism.
This will be fairly larger in volume, compared to our current codebase.

Within the void loop() curly brackets, type in:

unsigned long timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();

while(timeRemaining > 0) {
int seconds = (timeRemaining / 1000) % 60;
int minutes = timeRemaining / 60000;
display.showNumberDecEx(seconds, 0, true, 2, 2);
display.showNumberDecEx(minutes, 0b01000000, true, 2, 0);

if(millis() < timeLimit) {
timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
}
}

I appreciate that this may look confusing and alienating, so I’m going to do my best here to relay that code into pseudocode.

unsigned long timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
This is declaring a large, non-negative, real-time number called timeRemaining which is equal to the timeLimit (which we’ve already declared) minus the time passed. Ie: The value of timeRemaining will reduce by one second, every second and will show on the display.

while(timeRemaining > 0) {
Whilst the timeRemaining figure is larger than 0

int seconds = (timeRemaining / 1000) % 60;
This is declaring the seconds part of the timer as an integer and is equal to timeRemaining divided by 1000 milliseconds (1 second). The % 60 prevents the timer from using a number in the seconds part of the display that is equal to or larger than 60.

int minutes = timeRemaining / 60000;
This is declaring the minutes part of the timer as an integer and is equal to timeRemaining divided by 60000 milliseconds (1 minute).

display.showNumberDecEx(seconds, 0, true, 2, 2);
display.showNumberDecEx(minutes, 0b01000000, true, 2, 0);
These are commands to tell the TM1637 display how to show the timer to us humans in a way that is readable.

if(millis() < timeLimit) {
timeRemaining = timeLimit – millis();
If there is more than 00:00 on the display, remove 1 second off the timer, per second.

End Of Part 3

Next time, we will be connecting the Arduino Uno to our TM1637 display timer and testing out our code!

See you next time and thanks for reading!

 

READ PART 4 HERE

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 2

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Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.

 

Previously…

In part 1, I spoke about the fundamental equipment required to create your own escape game artefacts. Part 2 focusses upon the Arduino Uno microcontroller and getting to grips with the IDE; ready for creating an automated countdown timer.

 

You Will Need

Fundamental Equipment

1x Arduino Uno (or open-source copy)
1x Arduino Uno USB connector
A laptop or desktop computer
A download of the Arduino IDE 

 

The Arduino Uno

Above is a diagram of the Arduino Uno with three rails and a button in the top left-hand corner. The rails consist of a set of pins that can have dupont cables inserted into them.

Red – Power – This rail powers any components that are connected to the microcontroller, such as a LCD display or an electronic lock. Power can be distributed either via 5V or a lesser 3.3V depending on the component you are using. GND or ground is also important. In its simplest term, the 5V/3.3V pins are positive and the GND pins are negative, you need both for a component to power up.

Yellow – Digital – These are signal ports and via user code in the IDE, determines what they do for a component. For example, an LCD display would usually need two digital pins; one to display the clock numbers and one to process data in and out (DIO) via the microcontroller. This will be covered further in part 3. There is also a spare GND port on this rail should you need it; serving the exact same function as the GNDs on the power rail.

Blue – Analog – These can be substituted as spare digital pins and will work just as well. Their main use however, are for components that have more complex actions than just on and off. For example, a radio dial which could have multiple potential outputs, compared to an on/off switch, would be more appropriate for it to be patched into the analog rail. For the time being however, we will not be using this rail for our countdown timer.

Green – Reset – Probably the most important feature on the microcontroller. Pressing it resets the board and starts the code from its beginning. The equivalent of turning it on and off again without killing the power source. 

 

The IDE

 

As mentioned in part 1, the IDE is your workspace to tell the microcontroller exactly what you want it (and any connected components) to do. A new file will always show two functions: 

void setup() – a place to put any code, to run once at the beginning of power up.

void loop() – a place to put the main code, ie: what the microcontroller (plus components) will do.

These two functions will be the crux for our countdown timer artefact. Furthermore however, there are two more functions that we will be adding to complete the codebase; a library function and a display function.

 

Pseudocode First, Real Code Second

Before we start coding anything, we need to create a plan of what we want to code, then we can decide how we are going to do it. The what is best done as pseudocode first, in other words; plain English. We need to write down in clear sentences/bullet points, what our objective is and then, how we plan to do it. This step is extremely important, as it prevents misleading into unknown or unrequired territory, alongside saving time in the long run. 

First question is: what is our objective? Easy, I’ll provide this.

Objective: We want to code a timer that counts down from 60:00 minutes to 00:00 minutes.

Next, we need to consider what functions we are going to use in our code.
If you look in The IDE section of this part, you should find them.

Functions to use: library
                            display
                            void setup()
                            void loop() 

Think of these four functions as containers. We need to fill these four containers with code correctly to achieve our objective. 

Now, we can provide space for those four functions in our IDE workspace. 

 

Commenting Code

In your IDE workspace above void setup(), type // Library – you will notice that the text Library has gone grey. The // has “commented” any words after it. This means that the Arduino IDE compiler will ignore this code when loading it into the Arduino Uno. Commenting code is a super useful way to leave notes for yourself or other developers when planning and explaining parts of your code. 

Next, add a few lines using enter, and then type // Display – it should look like this:

 

 

This is a great start, you now have a clear template thanks to planning via pseudocode. 

 

End Of Part 2

In part 3, we will expand upon our template with real code, to automate the countdown of the timer.

See you next time and thanks for reading!

 

READ PART 3 HERE

Build Your Own Escape Game Artefacts! Part 1

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Have you ever wanted to build your own escape game artefacts using low voltage electronics? Look no further! In the upcoming months, look out for a short series of articles on how you can approach creating small, but effective artefacts for your own game designs.

Introduction

Why am I known as RussBuilds? Because I like to build things; particularly electronics, that lead to creating an escape game artefact; an object that can be held or handled, to solve and is usually hiding something like a key or a secret message to progress further.

I made 4 games over the course of the lockdown period, each involving multiple escape game artefacts, and Mairi right here at The Escape Roomer, reviewed 3 of them. (ENDGAME, AIRLOCK and CITIZEN if you are interested).

I discontinued these games in June 2021, however I would love to pass on some skills and insight into anyone who is considering making their own physical escape games, but doesn’t know where to start.

 

 

Part 1: Fundamental Equipment

What do I mean by fundamental equipment?

Later on in the series, I’ll be showing you how to build an escape game artefact. Fundamental equipment is the absolute basics you need for all artefact building; without these components you won’t get very far!

So without further a-do, let’s begin.

 

Microcontroller

A microcontroller is the brain of any artefact. It receives power and transmits signals to components, telling them to perform an action eg: unlock an electronic lock, show a message to the player etc. There are many microcontrollers out there, but the one I shall reference in this series, is the Arduino Uno.

 

 

Why this one? It’s the most popular one in the world, has tons of technical support for it and most importantly, is an open-source design. This means that the design of the Arduino Uno can be replicated by anyone. The Arduino Uno retails at around £20 per unit and this can get pricey, if you want to build multiple artefacts.

However! There are plenty of open-source copies out there that are up to a fifth of the price, making a project like this, much more accessible.

 

 

Also don’t forget to buy an Arduino USB connector, sometimes they are included but always check; you need one to connect it to a computer!

 

Power Adapter

You need a power adapter to power the microcontroller. The Arduino Uno outputs a maximum of 5 volts (V) to anything connected to it that requires power eg: an electronic lock or an LCD display. I personally use, power adapters that are rated between 5V and 9V and have an ampere (A) rating between 500mA and 1A. Combining these two figures (V x A) creates power, also known as Watts (W). If the power is too low, the microcontroller won’t be able power output components. If the power is too high however, you risk overheating/hot-to-touch components and very possibly; even frying the electronics inside…or worse causing an injury to yourself or others.

I do stress, that my usage of power adapters is merely what I personally use. I strongly suggest that you do your own research on what power adapter(s) you should use. Checking the Arduino Forums, may be a good start of information.

 

Laptop & IDE

For Arduino microcontrollers, you will need a laptop (or desktop computer) to connect and tell what you want it to do. The one I use for these projects, is a 10 year-old Samsung with 4GB RAM and an Intel dual core i5 processor. In other words, not fancy, in the slightest. If you have an old laptop lying around and you can power it up, give it a go, you may have given it a lease of new life!

Secondly, you will need to download the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment) – this will be your workspace where you will tell the microcontroller what you want it to do, using C++ coding language. (Before you start panicking, yes there will be an entry in this series on introductory coding).

 

 

The Arduino IDE has regular updates and is supported on PC, iOS and Linux systems.

 

Dupont Connectors

Dupont connectors, connect the microcontroller to any outputs. The great thing about dupont connectors? They are cheap and easy to use. There are 3 types of dupont connectors that you will need;

  • Male to Male
  • Female to Female
  • Male to Female

 

Depending on what is connected to the microcontroller, it is best to have all 3 types handy, for all eventualities. Get assorted colours too eg: some red, some black etc; it’ll be easier to troubleshoot hardware errors later.

 

Connector Blocks

Connector blocks are plastic or rubber covered and are ideal for either extending or joining several dupont connectors together. If you are using radio frequency tags for example, connector blocks are vital, as radio frequency modules have multiple inputs that do different things. Connector blocks are usually bought in rows of 12 and can be easily cut down if you only need a few at a time.

You’ll also need a small philips or flat blade screwdriver to adjust the tightness of the blocks when the connectors are placed in.

 

 

End Of Part 1

Those are your fundamentals that you need before you can start creating your escape game artefacts. In part 2 we will look at the Arduino Uno in detail, alongside the IDE and some common coding syntax, you will use for a countdown timer artefact.

Read Part 2 Here

Thanks for reading!

 

Escape Advent Calendars: The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots | Review

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The Mystery Of The Half Eaten Carrots Review | Solve the mystery of the half-eaten carrots. The store has been raided. Question the reindeer; one of them must be the greedy culprit!

Date Played: 26th February 2022
Number Of Players: 2 (+1 cat)
Difficulty: Easy
Time Taken: 1 Hour

But It’s Not Christmas….

Yes alright, I know. But when Mairi offers up an escape game to review with the promise of free chocolate, I’m not going to pass this up, Christmas themed or otherwise.

Plus who loves chocolate more than I do? My wife; and who am I to deprive her of delicious chocolate treats for solving puzzles? Not me I assure you.

Let’s Get Started

We have a copy of the advent calendar. The product is of good quality, is attractive inside and out. It’s nicely compact and everything that is required to complete the entire contents, is either on or in the product itself. The back of the calendar gives simple instructions to get you started; alongside pigpen, braille and tap-code ciphers.

Finally, there is a clue to direct you to which reindeer should be interrogated first. Should you be correct, a chocolate with the number 1 (in flashy art deco font) will appear and another clue will point in the direction of the next reindeer to interrogate. Rinse and repeat this process to interrogate all reindeers in the right order, thus receiving the chocolates numerically and most importantly, success in playing.

Do I Feel Christmassy?

It’s a good question to ask, especially during the end of February. Theming wise, this advent calendar ticks all the boxes. Fun holiday theme ✅, chocolate in Santa-red-and-gold wrapping ✅, more reindeers than you can shake a stick at ✅. Not much else to say, top marks for this section!

Let’s Interrogate Some Reindeers!

In terms of puzzles, the functionality and logic of them are all sound. The hints system is nicely considered on the Escape Advent Calendars website; each of the 25 puzzles has a good number of progressive hints before the solution is revealed. My only qualm however is that to access the hints, you have to sign up for an account on the website. I’m not sure about the prospect of giving my personal data to access some hints for an escape game that accumulatively lasts around an hour. Maybe a purchase code to unlock the hints (and thus, proving purchase) might be more suitable?

Regarding innovation, the concept behind the game is certainly original. It’s really great to see companies like Escape Advent Calendars, breathing new life into the standard advent calendar. The puzzles I feel, are not that innovative however. Almost all of the puzzles I have seen countless times, in some variation or another in conventional escape games. Puzzle types include but are not limited to; code decipher, directional, colour-coding and observation.

Nelson Strikes Again…

You know who had fun? Nelson my cat. As you can see below, she was very happy rolling around with the puzzle components whilst we did the hard work! In all seriousness, this was a light-hearted and fun way to spend a Saturday evening. Yes, we completed the product unconventionally; I.E.: not doing one puzzle a day, for 25 days, but it didn’t dampen the fun at all.

How Many Carrots To Buy?

The recommended retail price is at £19.99. Considering the overall accumulative time spent playing and the puzzles presented, I feel that this price point is a little too high. I’d recommend looking out for a sale price on The Panic Room Online (where we purchased this copy) or another retail supplier to capitalise on the value.

For The Advent Apprentice Or Expert?

I’d recommend this to families with children and adults who aren’t necessarily into puzzles. The very small learning curve and overall accessibility would be perfect for these player demographics. Based on the price however, I’m not sure if escape room enthusiasts will get enough out of this in terms of challenge.

Rating

Overall this is a suitable and accessible escape-room-advent-calendar which can be enjoyed, especially by families with children. What it lacks in puzzle innovation and the steeper end of sale prices, makes up in overall holiday theming, fun and good quality. If you can find it on sale, out of season, I’d snap it right up ready for the upcoming holiday period… or right now if you prefer!

The Mystery of the Half Eaten Carrots can be purchased for £20 from The Panic Room’s website here.

Wordle & The Paradox Of Language In Escape Games

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Disclaimer! This is from Wordle 235, dated 09/02/22 and is not a spoiler.

I’m sure the majority of readers have come across Wordle, a 5 letter puzzle game where a word is presented daily to guess in 6 attempts. Then, once you find the word (or not), you can show your achievement of how few attempts it took on all social medias; with a pretty, spoiler-free “footprint” image of your playing history to boot.

A Quick History

Wordle was created by Josh Wardle, an American citizen, and subsequently has been bought by the New York Times as part of their games suite. Despite this, it is currently a huge hit in the UK. I am one of many who enjoys the daily challenge it presents. If you look at my Twitter page, the only things I presently post, are TER news and reviews (usually mine!) and Wordle results. Even my family, have a Whatsapp group called ‘Wordle Nerds’ where we post our results religiously and compare accordingly.

Wordle 235

On Wednesday, this week just passed, we British Wordle users were stopped in our tracks. As the answer to Wordle 235 was a 5 letter word in US English, but a 6 letter word in UK English. Cue twitter enragements. Including myself and my fellow writer Nick.

It was so poorly received, that a “British” version of the game; called Wourdle, was born; with its first word being, you guessed it, the 6 letter word in question. Even the British embassy in the US had their say!

There Is A Point To This I Swear

Ok… rant over. Some readers are probably thinking; “its an American-born game, just suck it up and move on”. But I disagree. If a game is so popular in the UK, surely the chooser of the daily word should be more mindful of our language differences? Also, according to his wikipedia page, Josh Wardle is UK born and spent time studying at university here.

Back in February, a similar issue occured with Wordle 207, however between then and Wordle 235, UK engagement has rapidly increased, hence the larger volume in outcry compared to previous.

My point is, that as game designers, we need to be considerate and respectful of the complexity of the English language when designing word-based puzzles and conundrums. I myself will hold my hands up in failing to acknowledge this, in my previous escape game AIRLOCK.

One of the puzzles designed, included a horoscope page from a newspaper that had letters circled, spelling out the phrase:

“Ten and three, focus on the tears and the spaces you see”.

Pages ten and three in the clue document; given to the team at the start in the game, had rips in them, highlighting the tears in the sentence above. The problem is, tears can be pronounced as tairs, as intended… or tee-ars; as in the tears of someone crying.

Guess what around 90% of teams initially prounounced it as…

Then, guess how long on average it took players to realise to pronounce it differently… about 7 minutes per team on average of a 60 minute timed game, lost on a pronounciation trap.

Whilst designing the game, I never considered the double pronounciation of the word. Now looking retrospecively, I feel it should have been signposted better, to evade the inevitable trap. Or alternatively, scrap the puzzle entirely.

In Conclusion

I feel as game designers, we need to cater to our audience fairly and not provide them with pitfalls to fall in, that can make them feel silly; intentional or otherwise. Hopefully the Wordle team have taken this on board; due to the reaction from Wordle 235, and as a result; create an experience that is universally fair, for all users of the confusing and goal-post-shifting English language.

Overboard! | Review

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Overboard! Review | Overboard! is a whodunnit where you’re the one whodunnit. You have just eight hours to cover the evidence, mislead the witnesses, frame another suspect and escape … if you can!

Developer: inkle
Console Played On: Switch
Number Of Players: 1
Touchscreen Compatible: Yes

Do you like murder mysteries? Check ✅

Do you find pre-war dramatic irony; amusing? Check ✅

Do the tactics of dirt-flinging journalists excite you? Check ✅

Well if so, this whodunnit game might be for you.

(Overboard! is not to be confused with the 1997 PS1 Adventure game of the same name :D)

The Clock Is Ticking

July, 1935. Wealthy Malcolm Villensey’s fortune has been wiped out overnight. He and his starlet wife, Veronica, have escaped aboard the SS Hook for a new life in America—but Mrs. Villensey has other plans. And one little push is all it takes.

As Veronica, the game begins swiftly, by throwing you straight into the action. You push your husband off the SS Hook at night. You return to your cabin and wake up at 8am the next morning realising it wasn’t a dream. You have 8 hours before you arrive at New York to cover your tracks and convince the rest of the personnel on the ship that you are innocent.

No Crime Is Perfect

Finally! A game has come along where you play not as the detective of the whodunnit, but instead as the perpetrator. The core game loop involves either making decisions on either actions to take or choosing what is the best thing to say to whichever person you encounter depending on the time and where you are on the ship. There is a plethora of variables because of this, which creates a game that can be enjoyed in short-sharp bursts. You can complete the core game loop for the first time, in as quickly as 5 minutes; however the beauty lies in trying and trying again, looking for patterns to obtain a better or different ending that provides even more information for even further gameplay.

No One Is Innocent

Speaking of which, there are multiple scenarios that fall into 5 different ending types; 2 unsuccessful and 3 successful. But even if you find the most successful ending (which on its own, involves a large amount of research and playing finesse), that doesn’t necessarily mean your Overboard! journey ends there. The other characters on boat might have sordid secrets of their own that they are trying to hide(!), providing even more incentive to continue playing.

It all adds up in creating a robust package that has much, much more life to it; than initially meets the eye. The stellar script writing and character design creates a strong element of immersion and further invests the player into playing the core game loop multiple times. Many a time I was open-mouthed when I found a secret of an NPC that was juicy and scandalous.

The controls are at the base, a single action button and directional to choose where you go or what you say. It’s all it needs and it’s superb. There is touchscreen compatibility too for the Switch version, for further accessibility.

Jumping Overboard Isn’t Enough

Overboard! is priced at £11.39 on both Switch and Steam. For this I’d estimate somewhere around 20-50 plays, each clocking in between 5 and 30 minutes. Therefore, this could keep you occupied for anywhere between 2 and 10+ hours. It’s a large variance I appreciate, especially when you also consider the completionism factor, should you wish to see every scenario…or not. The game is easy to play, easy to put down, then pick back up. It also sucks you in super quickly, therefore I could very easily see many people ending up on the further end of my estimate spectrum. With all of this in mind, I’d argue that this price point is very good value for money.

For The Seasoned Starlet Or The Up-And-Coming Artist?

I can easily recommend this game to almost anyone of all playing experiences. It’s simple enough to get started with for beginner and even non-puzzler/escape room enthusiast types (the green text signposting after a first playthrough attempt, is a welcome feature), and enough underneath the surface to keep the seasoned escaper coming back for more.

Two warnings; firstly, this does have adult themes therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 18. Secondly, whilst the learning curve is balanced and accessible from the off, to be wholly successful in Overboard!; requires a lot of attention, multiple trials and most importantly time management. Thankfully, the ability to rewind a scene or start again from the beginning if a mistake is made during a run, proves all the more how accessible Overboard! is.

Rating

In the present day, where there’s an abundance of choice, when it comes to what to play; alongside a finite amount of time and money to take a risk on a purchase, Overboard! provides a low risk option that pulls you straight in and pays dividends, the more and more it’s played. I highly recommend it for its fantastic script writing, accessibility, striking, era-appropriate visuals and innovative mechanics on an old, tired theme that is in timely need of a change. Because of all of its merits, I am hereby awarding this whodunnit the Best In Genre badge.

Buy it and enjoy the ride.

Retrospective Holiday Special: Portal | Review

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Portal Review | Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, the game is designed to change the way players approach, manipulate, and surmise the possibilities in a given environment. Players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to manoeuvring objects, and themselves, through space.

Developer: Valve
Console Played On: Steam
Number Of Players: 1

Disclaimer! This is a retrospective review. This means it is reviewed based on the gaming expectations of the present day and the relevancy for escape room enthusiasts.

Do you enjoy silent protagonists? Check ✅

Are you enticed by mind-bending physics? Check ✅

Do you prefer your comedy to skirt the line between hilariousness and existential dread? Check ✅

Well if so, this puzzle game might be for you.

Well, You Found Me. Congratulations. Was It Worth It?

If you saw my introductory interview with Mairi, I mentioned Portal 2 as being one of my favourite puzzle games. After playing it, I spoke to friends about how much I enjoyed it. My “PC gaming” friends often responded something along the lines of…

“It’s good…but not as good as the original”.

After many, many of these encounters; I vowed to find a copy of The Orange Box (a Valve compilation of games including Portal), on the PS3 (I didn’t own a decent PC at the time); however it was sold out everywhere. When I eventually found a copy, it was at an extortionate price. That was in 2011.

10 years later I still find myself, never having played the original title. Well dear TER friends, that ends today – it can be bought on steam; on it’s own.

So welcome, to my retrospective holiday special.

A Complimentary Escape Hatch Will Open In 3… 2… 1…

You play as Chell, a silent protagonist who is a test subject for Aperture Laboratories. You wake up from your isolation pod and are instructed by GLaDOS, a dry, shade-throwing AI system, to undergo various physics based puzzles using the portal gun, an experimental tool used to create two portals through which objects can pass. As a concept, the theming is simple but still to this day, highly effective. Furthermore, it can’t be ignored that it has inspired the theming and narrative of many other games; puzzle and non-puzzle alike. We owe a lot to this.

The visuals are simple but polished, and successfully project the image of a cleansed, futuristic dystopian world. There are no other human characters to interact with, just a series of mechanisms and a sassy AI with a frenemy attitude. There were many times where I found myself chuckling away at GLaDOS’s insults via deadpan delivery as I progressed further and further.

Let’s Be Honest. Neither One Of Us Knows What That Thing Does.

Is Portal an immersive experience? I’d be inclined to say yes. Its not hugely story-rich, there isn’t any narrative to initially invest you and the character dialogue is one-sided. But the theming and puzzle-depth allow the player on many occasions to forget themselves and subconciously dive into the minimalistic elements presented.

Do Not Submerge The Device In Liquid, Even Partially

You’ve really got to hand it to Portal for their puzzles and overall innovative contributions via Valve’s physics mechanics; through the use of the famous portal gun. It blew player’s minds back then, and even now it’s still very strong in both areas. The learning curve is brilliant and wholly organic, each puzzle set piece has thematic, visual signposting (see below) to help you progress and the puzzles themselves are still impressively innovative and satisfying to complete. During the back half of the game, there are puzzles that involve the player to be dexterous with their control input. This can be frustrating for some, but because there is no penalty for trying and trying again, once you do accomplish a tricky set piece, you are rewarded not only by the accomplishment, but the visual stimuli of gracefully flying through the air in the first-person.

Quit Now And Cake Will Be Served Immediately

I’ve noticed that if a game from the 2000s is remastered/re-released for present day, it’s highly likely that the controls require some from of standardisation. This can be the ultimate difference between a playable, nostalgic dream vs an unplayable mess and waste of money. Thankfully, Portal utilises a keyboard and mouse set up that is futureproof and still allows great playability in 2021. I am disappointed however, that considering how popular and iconic this game is; gamepad compatibility has not been patched in. Especially, when I can believe that many players including myself, was introduced to the series via the sequel on a console that would use a gamepad, subsequently love the experience, and then be forced to use a different control method when playing the original.

When The Testing Is Over, You Will Be Missed

Originally, Portal was only available as part of Valve’s The Orange Box; available on PC and 7th generation consoles such as Xbox 360. Now it can be bought on steam by itself for £7.19. For that, you will get around 2 to 5 hours of game time plus bonus maps outside of the main campaign. Valve are one of the biggest game development companies out there, therefore I’d argue that this is at just about the right price.

Rating

Initially, Valve considered Portal to be merely filler for The Orange Box; unexpectedly gaining wide spread popularity and acclaim when released in 2007. Fast forward to 2021 and its still a highly playable, engrossing puzzle challenge that is poignant and comedic. It’s a shame there isn’t gamepad compatibility, but there is more than enough here for escape room enthusiasts to get stuck into, during this holiday (or any) period.

Portal can be purchased on steam here.

Inspector Waffles | Review

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Inspector Waffles Review | A detective story reminiscent of the old school classics, Inspector Waffles provides plenty of peculiar mystery, a story full of intrigue, and a slew of characters to interrogate, all wrapped into beautifully simple pixel-art. Will you be able to sniff out every clue and nab the murderer?

Developer: Goloso Games
Console Played On: Steam
Number of Players: 1

Do you like cats and dogs? Check ✅

Do you like associated puns and dad jokes of said cats and dogs? Check ✅

Do you yearn for the return of teletext and ceefax? Check ✅

Well if so, this point-and-click game might be for you.

Before Any Gameplay Has Begun…

I’d like to commend Goloso Games for providing a significant element of differentiation. Right after you click on new game, you have the choice to play with or without yellow, highlighted dialogue text to signify clues. If you’re feeling smart, maybe go without the highlights? Can’t decide? Don’t worry; you can toggle your decision in the options menu as and when you please. It’s little features like this, that can really encourage players to continue their journey, should the learning curve be too steep at any given point.

On The Scene And Looking Like A Stray Cat As Usual…

In Inspector Waffles you play said title character, who has just arrived on the scene of a murder. Specifically, Fluffy the cat; CEO of Box Furniture (their main seller being cardboard boxes; which every cat in the game professes to loving them). Task one is to find out what happened at the crime scene and the story unfolds from there…

Goloso games is made up of one developer, Yann Margan (alongside a few friends in the credits for testing, amongst other roles). How this game has been made by such a small team is incredibly impressive. The visuals for example, are a feast for my 30-something eyes (age, not amount!); an attractive, colourful, pixel-fest harking back to my days of playing Bamboozle!

The music is a treat too. It flows seamlessly when moving from one scene to another. Each scene or place has it’s own theme that augments the gameplay. There were times when pondering upon a conundrum, I was thankful for the background audio keeping me immersed.

Most notably, Inspector Waffles is a genuinely funny game. The script is full of great jokes and observations of cats and dogs in real life. There’s even a cat that looks suspiciously like Donald Trump called Maple; an obvious commentary on the former president’s skin tone!

All of these elements combined, really drive the theming towards premium territory.

Chilling On A Beach, Sipping On A Pina Colada…

As you’re reading this from a site called The Escape Roomer, all reviews have to be considered from the point of view of escape room enthusiasts. First off let me be clear. The puzzles are good, in some cases very good and very satisfying to solve; particularly the interrogation\clue presentation set pieces. The core game loop however is quite repetitive. This might put escape room fans out, who are looking for their usual fix of puzzle variance.

Another factor to consider is the amount of searching done by the player throughout the game. There is a lot of it and search fatigue may kick in. In a few cases, particularly during the final third of the game, some items blend into the background a little too well, feeling a little unfair for the player. That being said, the puzzles on the whole whilst sticking to the core game loop, are still exciting and fun to do.

I’m Not Asking My Mother For Help, Patches

Let’s talk about the hints system; it’s not often I’m this excited about one! The system manages to successfully put further positive aspects on the immersion and the overall fun of the gameplay. If you get stuck you can call Waffles’s Mum. Mum is a former inspector who was this ace solver. Waffles is initially not keen to call her. This is probably because she likes to playfully embarrass him (in the most Mum way) before she actually helps him. The help is presented with a direct clue towards what you need to do next. A useful and highly charming hint mechanic overall.

WE ARE THE LIONS!

Have I mentioned that Inspector Waffles is a genuinely funny game? Warning, it is rife with dad jokes. As a dad myself, I found these to be hilarious and excellent comic relief from some of the more difficult puzzle set pieces. The references to cat (and dog) lifestyles throughout the game (eg: the main victim’s job role and a dog named Pavlov) are also rewarding to experience.

Gimmie… That… Coin…

Inspector Waffles is priced at around the £12 mark for all consoles. For that, you get a main campaign that will last around 4-8 hours. There is also an optional side mission that changes the ending of the game, depending on whether you complete it in it’s entirety. If you’re like me however and did not finish it, you’ll be disappointed to know that there is no way to complete the optional side mission without starting the game right from the beginning. I know completionists won’t care and do it anyways, but it didn’t motivate me enough to play through the entire game again; knowing what is going to happen for the sake of an optional side mission.

Aside from that, and considering Inspector Waffles was made (mostly) by a lone developer, what you receive for your money is well worth it.

For The Focussed Feline Or The Crazed Canine?

Because of the differentiation mentioned at the beginning of this review, alongside a well-crafted learning curve; I’d recommend this game to inexperienced and experienced puzzlers. There is enough for the inexperienced, to be motivated all the way with the form of motherly hints and yellow highlighted text. Whereas for the experienced/hardened, they can refuse to utilise them for street cred points and local bragging rights…
(wow, I’m such a dad….).

One thing to mention control-wise, is that there is no gamepad compatibility on steam. This is a minor criticism however, as the mouse controls work perfectly fine. But it is something the developer may consider adding, in any future updates; increasing their already robust, differentiation factor.

Ratings

This is certainly one of the strongest games I have reviewed this year. Outstanding theming, visuals and a heavy emphasis on fun and player inclusiveness, have created an engrossing and entertaining game in Inspector Waffles. Black Friday isn’t far away either, and if it does appear in the sale (or even if it doesn’t), there are all kinds of reasons to play this gem.

Inspector Waffles can be played on Steam, support the developer here.