Pine Studio are the creators of the recent smash hit “Escape Simulator” that launched a couple of months ago. We sat down with one of the studio’s four co-founders, Tomislav Podhraški, to talk all things escape rooms.
Mairi: Hey Tom, please introduce yourself!
Tom: Hey, my name is Tom, I’m based in Croatia and I founded Pine Studio back in April 2012!
It’s a funny story, I’ve been making games since middle school but we finally founded the studio from our garage when we were still in college.
Even in the early days when we were making Flash games we loved escape room games and made around 20 of those at the start –although that was such a long time ago it’s unlikely people will remember them haha!
We took a rest from the puzzles to create SEUM: Speedrunners from Hell, but after that we did the puzzle-based Birdcage and Faraway series on mobile which were super popular and spawned a bunch of fun sequels.
Mairi: So where did Escape Simulator come into this?
Tom: Well last year we decided to start doing something completely new and created Escape Simulator which came full circle back to the escape rooms we did in the past and now this.
Mairi: I’m guessing you love playing escape rooms? What are they like in Croatia?
Tom: For sure! But uh, I haven’t done that many. I’m all into designing a lot of them, and I really liked the ones I’ve played in person so far but there are still a lot I need to play.
Before my last birthday I visited a magic library room, I can’t remember the company name, but it was amazing. You enter a dark room and then turn on the lights and you see your Games Master sitting there in the middle of the room wearing a big hood and cloak haha – I’m smiling thinking about it now! Afterwards when we spoke to the Games Master she said that most teams start screaming or throwing things. It’s really funny actually.
Mairi: Has a lot changed in the video game world since you were making the early flash games to Escape Simulator now?
Tom: Well, for starters all the other escape games we made were 2D. Sure, there were some other puzzle games in 3D but they weren’t ‘escape room’ games. What we really wanted to do was focus on the ‘simulator’ part of Escape Simulator. Everything is interactable. At least for me, I don’t really like it when limitations of the game point you towards a specific solution, or you can only interact with a few objects.
So we said, “What if everything can be picked up?”, and that’s how Escape Simulator began.
Mairi: Let’s talk about the game itself! What was the inspiration behind Escape Simulator’s themed worlds?
Tom: Originally, we wanted each room to be based on different books. So each theme would be a book, but then over time we moved away from this idea but the roots stayed with us. So we created a kind of Victorian theme which could be like Sherlock Holmes, and the Ancient Egypt level is not specifically Indiana Jones or anything, but it evokes a similar feeling of adventure. Then of course the space level is like early sci-fi.
Mairi: Do you have a favourite theme?
Tom: I think I like the Egypt one the best, but we’re still working on more. We can’t share anything yet but there’s more content coming. In what form and how – that’s to be decided!
Mairi: Fair enough! I think my favourite themes are some of the amazing community escape rooms people have created!
Tom: Yeah! It’s absolutely crazy! We play the community games together as a team and I love what people come up with. I think there are around 700 community created escape rooms now.
There was one recently that was full of security cameras and there were amazing details like when you press on the door and it shakes and then it has a padlock on it. The padlock shakes through the door. And I know we didn’t do that! Someone in the community came up with that mechanic independently.
Mairi: That’s amazing! So has Escape Simulator’s launch been a big success in your eyes?
Tom: Yeah. A lot more people are playing the game than we expected.
I think a lot of it is down to the Escape Room Builder. We initially hadn’t planned to put it in the game at all – it was an experiment. We were reading news site and comment boards and people were like, “oh it would be great to have a level builder” so we thought “OK let’s do that”
But that’s just one part of the success. Another part is that its a fun escape game which you can play with your friends and we’ve got a great community now too.
Mairi: Speaking of – are you planning on growing the community even further by bringing Escape Simulator to other platforms?
Tom: We are planning a port eventually. So first we hope to do consoles, then mobile. As a studio, we’ve done some console ports before, so I think that it can be done. First step will be adding Steam controller support, then we’ll see.
We’ve also got an early prototype in AR (augmented reality) running which is huge – imagine creating an escape room within your real life room. But these are early days!
Mairi: Exciting! Any other plans for Escape Simulator in the future?
Tom: Well one of the things we really want to do is for our community. We want to add more assets for the editor, and we’re working on improvements to the menu screens such as how to feature community rooms better. Maybe some of community suggestions where like at the end of the room, like, it shows you, “oh, you should maybe play this room next”. You know, it’s like YouTube, I can go into the next without like searching again. These are our plan anyway.
Escape Simulator is now out on Steam! Purchase today and get escaping.
We thank Tom, Pine Studio, and Nerd Pirates for agreeing and setting up this interview!