Escaping the Puzzle

Escape rooms have become increasingly popular in Australia in the last couple of years. Small Time Criminals hopes to build on that kind of experience and take real world simulation further than ever. Our lead game designer Ben McKenzie explains.

In an escape room (sometimes called a puzzle room), a team of players is “locked” in a room, and must solve a series of puzzles in order to escape. We love them! Solving the puzzles and getting out is super satisfying, and part of that satisfaction lies in the linear nature of most rooms: the puzzles have to be solved in a specific sequence, with earlier ones providing keys or important clues for later ones. That means you can see your progress toward the exit – you reveal a hidden compartment with a new clue, or find the code to a lock that’s been staring you in the face for the last half an hour. One downside, though, is that you can’t play the same room twice – once you know the solutions, the puzzles are no longer a challenge.

Escape rooms are all about the puzzles that stand between you and getting out.

Small Time Criminals won’t have puzzles in the traditional sense, but you will use clues in the environment of the bank to find solutions to problems, like a locked cabinet or a laser security grid. And while some of those problems will have multiple parts that need to be tackled in order, you’ll have a lot of freedom to choose what you will do, and in what order. You won’t have to solve them all to succeed – indeed, that won’t be possible, as there will be too many for a single playthrough! Part of the game is deciding what you will take, and what you’ll leave behind, using the clues in the space to work out what’s most valuable.

Another difference from escape rooms is how we measure success. Escape rooms are pass or fail: you succeed by escaping before running out of time. The only variable is how long you take to get out. In Small Time Criminals, we expect teams to make use of all the time they have – the success of their heist will be measured by the value of what they’ve stolen. Your team will have plenty of leeway to decide on strategy: will you give up a share of the loot for some extra tools that will aid you? Will you spend precious time getting into the most secure parts of the bank? Or maybe you’ll just search the place for smaller, carelessly hidden valuables, hoping they’re enough to make your haul a big one?

Whatever your strategy, you can always come back and try something different; we plan to refresh some of the details of the experience (like passwords or safe combinations) regularly, so while you might be better at finding the answers, you won’t know them in advance. And perhaps you’ll want to try something different – isn’t it possible that the box you ignored first time round hides something more valuable than the rest of the bank’s items combined?

This article was originally published at on February 25, 2016, during the Small Time Criminals crowdfunding campaign. Some elements of the game may have changed during development.