On Starting a Company

I had just picked up two of my teammates from SFO for Shinteki Decathlon 9 in late May of last year. Our fourth and final teammate was flying in a few hours later, so we all headed to a coffee shop to hang out, solve some puzzles, and catch up.

At one point, the conversation turned to ideas for haunted houses and other immersive experiences. We talked about making a game where motion-activated sound domes concealed in the ceiling would let players encounter ghostly whispers as they explored a series of rooms. We talked about a game where players would have a limited amount of time and resources to barricade themselves inside of an old abandoned house before a horde of zombies arrived, some kind of live-action, non-violent Left 4 Dead survival mode. We started talking about The Mole, which is basically like an adrenaline shot for me. There were lots of “We should totally make a [haunted house/room escape game/company]” comments thrown around.

These conversations carried on through the weekend as we picked up our fourth teammate and went on to play Escape from the Moon Base. I had played my first room escape game, SCRAP’s Escape from the Mysterious Room, one year prior when I was in town for my first Decathlon. That weekend in 2014 planted a lot of seeds in my mind. Room escape games were brand new in the US, and I’d had a blast playing for the first time. Later on, I couldn’t help admiring and envying the Shinteki crew after their successful event, wanting to capture a bit of that teamwork and creativity for myself. I called my mom from the airport on the way home and talked to her for two hours about the way it had all made me feel.

Creating something of my own, something bigger than myself that utilizes my interests and skills and transforms me into a more interesting person, had been an ever-present, never-attainable goal of mine. I could barely motivate myself to do my part-time, work-from-home job, much less start my own Mystery House puzzle room facility. I had a lot of big ideas, but absolutely no concept of how to actualize them. The phrase “Immersive Experience Designer” had been tacked up on my cork board for a few months.

By the end of Decathlon 9 weekend, after so much discussion about all of my favorite things with some cool and interesting people, that nagging “you should make something” feeling was bubbling back up. One of my Decathlon teammates, Summer, and I had an e-mail thread going a few weeks later about room escape games. In one e-mail, she made a comment about how we could probably make something pretty cool and successful with our combined skill sets, and that she was essentially in a position to help make that happen if I was game. Already feeling the way I did about wanting to make something, it seemed like the kind of call to action that I simply couldn’t ignore or put off. We quickly organized an “immersive experience design interest meeting” with our other teammate, Phil, and started discussing what some sort of collaboration between the three of us could look like.

Before long, the three of us decided to go for it and form a company that would design and run immersive games, events, and other experiences, starting with a room escape game in Seattle. That company eventually became Locurio, and that room escape game has now become a puzzle room in Fremont called The Vanishing Act, which opens this Friday.

I talked about wanting to create something bigger than myself. It certainly feels like I’ve done that, even though the business isn’t officially operating yet. The business is like a little task machine, generating endless amounts of things for me to get done. It makes the work easier, knowing that the machine has its own momentum that I don’t have to provide. I just have to keep up.

I have a lot of other things that I want the business to be and do. I want Locurio to be a way for me to prototype and develop new and interesting game and experience concepts. I want space and capital to build and experiment. I want a place where I can invite others to mingle and enjoy the social element of games that I enjoy. I want the business to be lucrative enough that I can seek out and gather talented people together and pay them to use their unique skills to create cool things. (I’ve gotten a small taste of that already, and I’m hungry for more.) I want to see if I’ve got what it takes to grow myself into an entrepreneur and raise a successful and sustainable business.

We’re reaching the end of a long and exhausting journey from vague concept to actual game for sale. We’re also embarking on the beginning of a longer and much more exciting journey, from company launch to who knows where. It feels good to finally be on the right path, and I’m thankful to the people who brought the path into existence — Nick, Summer, Phil, Chris, and Ben. Let’s find out where this thing leads!

Jeff Hull TED Talk – Variability & Play in the Civic Realm

I like hearing about The Jejune Institute, and enjoyed this older TED Talk by its creator, Jeff Hull, about “the third place” and making public spaces more player-friendly. I think about this sometimes when I read about pervasive games that involve running through the streets at night or wearing masks in public, or when I’m planning a puzzle hunt for 300 people and I can’t get a park permit for the kickoff. I have a deeply-ingrained fear of breaking the rules or getting in trouble, so these sorts of things make me nervous.

The video also got me thinking about games and immersive experiences as art pieces rather than commercial works, and the various freedoms and restrictions of either approach. Is there such a thing as corporate financial independence?

MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 5

Alright, let’s wrap this up. Here are my Thoughts and Feelings about MIT Mystery Hunt 2015.

Things I particularly liked about this year’s Mystery Hunt:

  • Smoothness – From a player’s perspective, everything in this year’s hunt was executed flawlessly.
  • Puzzle Presentation – I really liked the format of the World Map, which was a single webpage that got longer and longer as we discovered more puzzles. It was a perfect visual representation of our progress throughout the hunt, and it was fun to wonder what was coming up next or to see the beginning of a new round of puzzles appear.
  • Visual Design – Hot dang! Random Fish knocked it out of the park with the graphic design for the World Map. Everything looked really nice! I was super impressed.
  • Treasure Chest – This was such a fun surprise and the puzzles inside were delightful.
  • Runaround – I had a lot of fun during the Runaround and appreciated that most of the activities could include our whole team.

Some things that were kind of a miss for me:

  • Story/Characters – This wasn’t a negative, I just didn’t find it particularly compelling. But I did like that our objective was fairly straightforward through the entire hunt and didn’t require a lot of reading (the Story So Far page was also very helpful here).
  • Character Interactions – These still don’t feel worth their while.
  • Pacing and Difficulty – This hunt felt a little off the whole time. It felt like there were only a small number of puzzles available at any given time, which gave sort of a constant feeling of being bottlenecked. I also felt like I saw a lot fewer really tough, Mystery Hunt-esque puzzles. Everything felt a little bit on the easy side.

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up going to any events this year, but I hear they were great. Write-It, Build-It and Steamteam sounded particularly fun.

I also want to talk some more about the Runaround. This was only my second time on a Runaround, so it was interesting to see something so different from my experience last year. The Alice in Wonderland Runaround was made up entirely of fairly challenging puzzles. Had we been in the lead during last year’s Runaround, we definitely would have lost it during our long fight with the bed puzzle. This year, the Runaround was made up of activities that were fun, but not necessarily challenging. The word search was the only challenge that required any real solving, while the rest just took time and energy. It didn’t feel like there was much possibility of changing rank once a team had entered the Runaround.

This brought up some discussion on our team of whether the nature of the Runaround should be that of a final challenge or a victory lap. This definitely seems like a matter of personal opinion, and there were people on our team who felt strongly in either direction. While I did enjoy the activities from Runaround 2015, I think I swing a bit more towards the challenge camp, if only because it can be tough to sustain enough energy for a 4 or 5-hour victory lap. The exhaustion of the Hunt can really take its toll during those early Runaround hours, and that makes it easy to feel apathetic or even irritated about activities that are more like party games than puzzles. In a more challenging Runaround, the adrenaline of trying to keep your place and the mental stimulation of the puzzles can provide a much-needed energy boost.

Overall, another solid and impressive (and fun!) hunt thanks to team Random Fish. I was especially impressed that it seemed like most of their team was made up of students (or “babies” as I’ve taken to calling them). Then again, I get the impression that Left Out has one of the older average team member ages among Hunt teams, so it may not be so uncommon to have a team of students running the event.

I feel like, more than in previous years, I anticipated Hunt for a lot longer in the months leading up to the event this time around. Somehow, I think that made it fly by even faster than usual. Or maybe it was the easier difficulty level of this year’s hunt that made it seem shorter. I hear that team Luck has been known to put on very complex and intricate (and difficult) hunts. I’m looking forward to their event, and hope it makes Hunt weekend drag on forever! (I may come to regret having said that!)

MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 4

IMAG0679

Our runaround began with a guide from Atlantis taking us across campus to meet the Kraken. We explained to the Kraken that we wanted some nautilodestones, and she went on to tell us all the reasons we weren’t worthy of taking anything from the sea, which was full of creatures way more awesome than us. In particular, the Kraken felt we were lacking in communication, perception, knowledge, friendship, and teamwork. If we could prove ourselves in each of these areas, we might be allowed to have a nautilodestone.

Read more »

MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 3

IMAG0650

Treasure Chest! This box was so exciting, the GC that delivered it to us stuck around because they wanted to see what was inside. The box was secured with some chain and a bunch of different locks, but GC said we could open it however we wanted. Someone quickly produced a screwdriver and removed the hinges for the lid, then slid the lid right out from under the chain! I was impressed.

Read more »

MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 2

Boston in the morning

Friday

On Friday morning, I got up early to continue what is now my tradition of helping prep our team headquarters for the hunt. I met Dan at the Kendall and we talked escape games for a bit before we drove over to MIT with a carload of snacks and supplies that Dan had bought the day before. (I also got a sneak peek at a fun surprise — Dan had made awesome custom buttons for everyone on the team to use as name tags!)

Mike, Ben, and Will were the other early birds in the room, and I sent Ben and Will on car unloading duty while I got started cleaning the room. This year I decided to try a simple broom and dustpan instead of a Swiffer, but Dan went ahead and got me a micro-fiber kind of mop as well! Luckily, none of the tables and chairs had been brought into the room yet, so I could sweep the whole place without having to drag the tables around. Sweeping first was definitely the way to go! Ben helped me mop, and then I decided to go ahead and do the same treatment on our breakout room as well since it sounded like we were going to try to use it more this year.

Right as I was finishing up, Phil, Summer, Todd, Matt, and Chris arrived. Matt finished the mopping for me, then we all went to the student center to grab drinks and breakfast. I got a breakfast sandwich and a Naked juice, figuring that a big enough breakfast meant I could just skip lunch.

Back in the room, we got all of the tables and arm-less chairs we needed (thanks to a generous donation from Grand Unified Theory of Love down the hall) and got everything cleaned and situated. I was seated at the “Todd pod,” which included me, Summer, Phil, Matt, Chris, and Todd. We didn’t have too long to get settled before it was time to head out for the kickoff.

Read more »

MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 1

It’s been a week since the 2015 MIT Mystery Hunt ended, so now it’s recap time!

Wednesday

This year’s Hunt trip started on Wednesday for me. I had been wanting to play 5 Wits Adventures out in Foxboro since I heard about it a few years ago, but it’s far enough out from the Boston/Cambridge area that I’d have to get a rental car to make it out to play. Luckily, I’ve been working on developing a company (which doesn’t quite merit its own blog post yet) over the past year with a couple of puzzling friends and Mystery Hunt teammates, Summer and Phil, and the three of us visiting 5 Wits for research purposes seemed worthy of an early flight and a rental car this year.

Summer and I couldn’t get in from the West coast until evening, so we all planned on arriving in Boston on Wednesday and scheduled our 5 Wits trip for Thursday afternoon. We also roped Todd, Chris, and Matt into our plans and the six of us were reunited at a hotel by the airport by Wednesday evening. Originally we had also scheduled a room escape game for Wednesday night, but a heating problem at the facility meant we had to reschedule for Thursday. That left us with no plans for Wednesday, so we decided to make a night of it. Summer had found an intriguing bar and restaurant downtown near the room escape, so I drove us all over in the large minivan with only one close call with another vehicle and zero run-ins with pedestrians (despite their best efforts).

Read more »

The Genius: Black Garnet, Coming Soon!

vXNVPUJ

I’m breaking my long bout of blogging laziness to bring you important news: The Genius is coming back for Season 3 on October 1st. That’s next week!

The subtitle for this season is “Black Garnet,” which conjures up all sorts of thoughts about potential betrayal and trickery. Will there be some new type of garnet introduced that has a negative effect, so players will be trying to get rid of it? Could it be some sort of hot potato for Death Match candidates? I’m glad the mechanic of the black garnet (assuming there will be one) hasn’t been revealed yet, and I’m looking forward to finding out what it is.

Read more »

Skirmos: Open Source Laser Tag

I was Googling “laser tag” the other day, trying to find somewhere local to play, and the link for something called Skirmos: Open Source Laser Tag came up in the results.  It turned out to be a Kickstarter-funded, Arduino-based laser tag gun, and it looks pretty sweet!

12594750734_1f2ae985a7_z

The gun has lots of cool features, including:

  • Glowing LED lights inside
  • LCD screen that shows important info and stats
  • Rumble vibration
  • MP3/Wave sound card

And the open source part means that you can program the guns however you like, making your own play modes, setting certain constraints, and probably a whole bunch of other stuff. I don’t know much about Arduino, but I would assume that the options are pretty much limitless for creative gameplay incorporating other Arduino devices. This photo on the Skirmos Flickr stream of a player capturing an objective from an object in the environment seems to confirm that idea.

Read more »

MIT Mystery Hunt 2014 Recap – Part 4

At long (LONG) last, here is the final installment of my 2014 MIT Mystery Hunt Recap. Keeping in mind that I only have the 2013 hunt to compare to, let me list some of my pros/cons about 2014.

Things I particularly liked about this year’s Mystery Hunt:

  • Smoothness – Everything seemed to be run extremely smoothly. The event started promptly (almost too promptly!), and there seemed to be very few hiccups.
  • Quality of Puzzles – I’m not the best judge of puzzle quality, but they seemed pretty darned good.
  • Funny Puzzles – I was crying laughing as we worked through The Most Dangerous Night.
  • Go-sees – There were so many puzzles that sent us around campus doing things. I did as many as possible and had a great time. For events like this, I’m of the opinion that the more stuff there is that requires you to be there in person, the better.
  • Pre-Kickoff – I never experienced kickoff in Lobby 7, so I’m free from all nostalgia bias. I really liked the atmosphere in the auditorium before the kickoff started. It was nice that there seemed to be plenty of space outside the auditorium to mingle with friends from other teams, and the music playing in the auditorium made it feel exciting somehow.
  • Pretty much everything!

Read more »