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Errol Elumir, the popular blogger and youtube star built one of the most unusual escape games in the world. We interviewed him to talk about his exciting projects and the current state of the escape room industry.
A lot of people are great at their professions, but only a few of us are multi-talented. Errol Elumir is one of those enthusiastic people who manage to be active in many areas. Even though he is one of the most experienced players out there, he hasn't lost one bit of his excitement over the years. While we were talking about his several projects, Errol shared his extensive knowledge about the history of Canadian escape games.
Wonder what kind of alternative channels exist for the marketing of your escape room? Read about a creative blogger, his ideas and one of the most unorthodox escape room projects that he's created.
Escape-rooms.com: Errol, you are a well-known figure of the Canadian escape game scene. I have read you were part of a band, and you are working for a tech company. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Errol Elumir: I used to be in a geeky music duo called Debs & Errol and we performed nerdy songs we wrote. Too bad I wasn’t into escape rooms then, because we travelled a bit and I could have done so many rooms! Currently, I have a daily webcomic which is mostly about my family dealing with their geeky father.
I love creating puzzle hunts and have helped create two large scale theatrical live escape events with Canadian Caper. I’m also part of a podcast with fellow escape enthusiasts called Room Escape Divas. In any of my endeavours, I enjoy being part of the community, so I actively try and get involved in the local and international scene. There’s even a secret slack chat hangout only for enthusiasts. Shhhh.
Escape-rooms.com: Wow, you seem to be multi-talented, quite a bit of variety! No wonder you are so passionate about escape games: creativity is a key component when it comes to building them and playing them as well. Where did you start playing escape games?
Errol Elumir: A friend of mine mentioned escape rooms, and I thought, “Sounds cool.” However, it was an activity I wasn’t planning on pursuing until another friend booked me in. It was a first generation escape facility: one room, little decor, and a weak flashlight. And although we failed, we kept going back because it was an insane amount of fun! The thing was, we all thought alike. Normally, experience begets a better win ratio, but we continued to buck that trend. And then I tried a room with people quite different from me, and we won. That’s when I was hooked, but not because we were successful.
I realized this was one activity where being on a team of diverse people truly made a difference. I’ve played a number of games with my wife and kids and everyone contributes and enjoys themselves. Now, I have a few teams I play with and it is still a lot of fun, even though our expectations are far different from when we started.
Escape-rooms.com: Canada is super popular when it comes to escape games right now, but what was the situation a couple of years ago?
Errol Elumir: The first Escape Facility was in British Columbia. Near the end of 2013, Ontario got its first escape facility in Kitchener, Adventure Rooms. This was followed a month later by ESC-IT in Toronto. When 2014 hit, the escape room phenomenon hit hard and around fourty more companies opened up in Ontario alone.
Now, across Canada, there are around 150 escape facilities, and about half of those are in Ontario.
Escape-rooms.com: Toronto: countless themes, many bloggers, reviewers. What makes the city such a hotspot for escape rooms?
Errol Elumir: That’s a great question, and there are probably a number of factors which lend to the plethora of rooms I am fortunate enough to enjoy. Although I do not have enough insight into the ease of starting an escape room here as opposed to other cities, I think it has bit to do with the first escape room in Toronto: ESC-IT.
Being the first, it got a lot of business and, of course, spawned copycats. The first escape facility in a city sets the baseline of what to replicate, and ESC-IT had a simple operation.
As mentioned above, it was one room with a few props and three digit locks on small boxes. From an entrepreneurial perspective, one would see the popularity and the low startup effort and assume it’d be a great business to get involved in.
That’s not the case now, of course. There are rooms here with impressive budgets and tech and to compete with that, you’d need to invest quite a bit. But back then, anyone could do it, and a lot of people did.
Escape-rooms.com: You seem to be as involved in the industry as one can be. How many escape games have you played? What were your favorites?
Errol Elumir: Oh, there are super escape enthusiasts who have done over 200 of them. I’m at a meager 111 as of this writing. I do have another four planned this weekend though.
And I don’t know if I want to alienate any company by stating a favourite! It’s like asking someone their favourite child. Even If I had a favourite child, I wouldn’t say, (just don’t tell them).
I will state, however, my favourite flashlights were at Escape From the 6. I loved these things! We each got one, some of us got two, and they were huge, industrial grade flashlights, that would cause black holes to weep! Super awesome! I raved about this on our podcast, and it may seem terribly silly, but having a good flashlight is a boon I cannot emphasize enough. I love you, awesome flashlight!
Escape-rooms.com: As someone who visits escape rooms often and write reviews about them, what are your preferences when it comes to playing a game? Are you detail-oriented?
Errol Elumir: I like clever puzzles. There are a lot of process puzzles in escape rooms, which I usually define as a puzzle you could program a computer or robot to solve. An example may be a cryptogram, or a sudoku, or even something physically task based.
Contrast this to an “A-ha!” puzzle, a puzzle where you need a flash of insight to solve. Sometimes, you get that magical moment where you correlate a clue you saw to the current problem and cry “Eureka!” Ok, I’ve never done that, but I should. This happens on detective shows a lot.
Of course, it’s difficult to gauge and create the latter type of puzzle so you rarely see them. And other times, they are not integrated well in the room, so that’s a huge let down. So when I see a clever puzzle integrated elegantly into a room which fully immerses me, I am impressed.
Escape-rooms.com: You are the puzzle designer of Canadian Caper, an unorthodox theater-escape room. What makes it so unique? We would definitely love to hear about the design process.
Errol Elumir: One of the things that makes it unique is I can’t come up with a concise name for it! It’s a theatrical, immersive, interactive, theatrical, large-scale, escape event. We wanted an event where you had to solve puzzles like an escape room, but you also needed to interact and question actors, while being immersed in a believable environment.
The players themselves bring it to the next level, because they really get into a role when playing. Some come dressed up and look amazing! When talking with our actors, instead of just asking a direct question, they would weave it into a conversation, fully immersing themselves in the event. We love hearing stories afterwards of what shenanigans the players got involved in. As for the design process? Long. Hah!
The most difficult part is figuring out a flow to the night where 80+ people are engaged and not waiting around for something to do. I love talking puzzle design, however, and I could go on for hours about this, which I won’t inflict on you. I did write about it though: “A Night at the Wedding - Thoughts from the Designer”.
Escape-rooms.com: Since you work for a tech company, you surely know a thing or two about the technical part of escape games. When you’re designing a game, do you incorporate a lot of tech elements?
Errol Elumir: When I design a live event, no. Unfortunately, we can’t have a lot of tech elements because we are renting the venue for one evening. So our focus tends to be on the actors, the immersion, the story, and puzzles.
However, I do have a background in programming and utilize this on my online puzzle hunts. For example, one of the puzzles had them play a small, adventure text game.
Escape-rooms.com: What are the major trends right now with the industry becoming global?
Errol Elumir: Personally, I think escape room facilities are at the second generation of escape rooms: immersion through amazing set design. Some rooms are also employing actors to help with immersion and stories.
I do see, however, rooms becoming easier in regards to puzzles to appeal to a wider audience. It’s not that enthusiasts are so smart, but we have seen a lot of the same type of puzzles. If you throw a reflection number puzzle at us, we aren’t going to spend a lot of time on it. However, someone who has never seen this may be stuck for quite some time.
So rooms focus more on tasks and simpler puzzles. As an enthusiast, it saddens me a little, but I can see the need from a designer perspective.
Escape-rooms.com: Are you planning to visit escape rooms in other countries? What will the future bring for the industry?
Errol Elumir: I definitely want to visit escape rooms in other countries! I have to, however, coincide my passion with my vacations, and my family doesn’t share the same level of obsession! Hopefully, I’ll be able to squeeze some rooms in because at the moment, there aren’t many rooms for me to do locally.
It will be interesting to see where the industry goes in the future, but I would like to have escape rooms which have actor interaction. I got involved with Canadian Caper because I wanted to create an event I would like to play and I hoped others would follow suit!
As someone who has played a number of computer adventure games, I’d love to be immersed in a room where I need to interact and chat with a cast of NPCs. That’d be awesome!