UAL staff in a race against time to escape…                                                                                   (c) Robin Sampson

For the past few months I have been developing an “Escape Room” game in collaboration with Andy Li, a student on London College of Communication’s MA Games Design programme, as a way of showcasing the holdings of the Archives and Special Collections Centre in a fun and innovative way.

An Escape Room is a co-operative puzzle-solving game, based in a “locked” room, where participants work together to solve puzzles and riddles to complete tasks and ultimately “escape” from the game’s location – think a more complex version of “The Crystal Maze” TV show. These have become a very popular form of entertainment over the last few years, and are particularly good exercises in team bonding. Escape Rooms take place in a variety of fictional settings including medieval dungeons, Cold War bunkers and space stations. The latter, incidentally, became the starting point for our game.

Inspired by the recent student projects developed for LCC’s “Beyond 2001: New Horizons” exhibition, Andy and I worked together to draw up a theme and plot for the game that related (quite loosely) to the plot of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. We then had to work out how we could utilise various archive pieces from the Stanley Kubrick Archive and turn them into puzzles to solve.

Andy, naturally, did the vast majority of the creative games design work, whilst I suggested material to use and assisted with the theme and game scenario. What was especially exciting to us was the mix of computer game elements, facsimiles of archive material and even some examples of original archives. Combined with the rather sci-fi design of the ASCC’s search room, it makes for a very atmospheric game.

I wanted to promote a pilot version of this session, “Escape From the Archive!” as part of UAL’s Research Fortnight, because I feel that it is a novel and entertaining way of interacting with archive material, and at the same time it requires participants to work as a team and use their research and analytical skills.

We have had very good feedback about the game, both from the test session I sprung on my Archive colleagues and also from the Research Fortnight participants. Both teams found it a fun and challenging and experience, and both managed to escape – the latter group with less than ninety seconds to spare! This is hopefully going to be a more regular session offered by the archive, so if any staff or students are keen to try it out, please get in touch with us at archive-enquiries@arts.ac.uk

I asked Andy some questions about his experiences of designing the game:

What was it about the Kubrick Archive that attracted you to use it in the game?

“One, because the ASCC search room is designed to look like the Hilton Space Station from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Two, because Kubrick is one of the most popular archive collections. Three, because the variety and depth of the collection means it is the most fun to build a theme around.”

What was the biggest challenge with designing this game?

“It was to design games out of archive material. Most escape rooms can design games without any constraints as long as it fits their theme. In this escape room, I had to use as much of the material as possible and edit them so these images and documents would work well as puzzles.”

Do you think it would attract people who are new to archives?

“I think people would be intrigued to try an easily-accessible escape room game that is available within the College. This way people would be more to likely spread the word about the archive and thus promote it to other students.

It also helps that the game is fun enough that participants would want to recommend it, and the archives that inspired it, to other people.”