It’s been a little while since we were enrolled in the Escape Academy, the latest game from Coin Crew Games. Imagine Harry Potter but, instead of wizardry, you’re learning to master puzzles, and you’re on your way to understanding this pocket classic. It’s been proving a twisty diversion for cooperative players and those with Game Pass, and we’re personally eager for its season pass to start delivering new maps to get stuck in.
We had a lot of affection for Escape Academy, handing it a 4/5 in review, so we jumped at the chance to get locked in a room with its creators, Coin Crew Games.
Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Escape Academy?
MIKE – I’m Mike Salyh. I’m one of the co-founders of Coin Crew Games.
WYATT – I’m Wyatt Bushnell, I’m the other co-founder of Coin Crew Games.
Could you give us a quick rundown of the game?
WYATT – Escape Academy is an escape room adventure game, where players play a student at the titular Escape Academy, an academic institution where the curriculum is composed entirely of escape rooms.
Everywhere you look on our high streets there are escape rooms. What do you think it is about them that makes them so popular right now?
MIKE – Escape Rooms are a great way to spend quality time with friends, family, and coworkers. It’s a very active, hands-on kind of entertainment too. Plus, you get to feel smart at the end! That’s a very appealing combination of factors.
We’re loving the idea of bringing escape rooms to an academy, making it a curriculum to complete. Where did the idea come from?
WYATT – We were trying to figure out a way to have a ton of different environments while having a consistent throughline for the story. A wider variety of environments, makes for a wider variety of puzzles when it comes to escape rooms. Escape Room puzzle design is a lot of leveraging the environment and the theme of the environment within the puzzles. So, our computer lab level has you navigating computers and reading binary to solve its puzzles.
A lot of the joy of a physical escape room is rummaging through stuff to find important clues. In a video game, we have a habit of highlighting important things for a player. How have you found the sweet spot in helping the player, but not giving too much away?
MIKE – It’s a delicate balance: if you don’t have enough props to interact with, the puzzle solutions will be obvious. But if you add too many, you run the risk of burying the player with red herrings. We used lots of trial-and-error to find the sweet spot. This “goldilocks” method was a big part of our development process, since you can’t play your own puzzles – we relied on feedback from our playtesters.
How much of one escape room gets carried over to the next? Things like items and clues. Or is it important that a player comes into each one fresh?
MIKE – The story continues from room-to-room, but the puzzles in each Escape Room are completely self contained. We didn’t want players to ever need to Google some information they’d forgotten earlier. Everything you need to solve the puzzles is locked in there right with you!
One of the most important elements of an escape room is the time limit – the possibility that you can fail. But that could get frustrating in a video game where you have to keep progressing. How have you handled failure?
WYATT – We felt time pressure was a core part of the escape room experience, but if you run out of time, you can just continue and it’ll affect your score (and your pride).
Did you play a lot of escape rooms to get inspiration? Have any puzzles been pilfered from them?
MIKE – We started building Escape Academy during the height of the pandemic in 2020. At that time, all of the real-world escape rooms in Los Angeles were shut down. In a way, our inability to play IRL escapes was a big motivator to create this title. We did play a lot of digital puzzle games though: three of my biggest inspirations were 999, The Room, and Phoenix Wright.
Online and local co-op is a great inclusion. Escape rooms are definitely meant to be played together. What have been the hurdles in adding this feature?
MIKE – We knew from the beginning that Escape Academy was going to support co-op because real-world Escape Rooms are such social experiences. Building for local multiplayer also came naturally to us – our background is in building arcade machines.
Getting online multiplayer working was definitely a big challenge though. That’s something our studio had never done before, and it kicked our ass. But we got it up and we’re really proud of the result!
How are players working together in online coo-p? How much can a player see of their partner’s puzzle?
WYATT – There is no hidden information between co-op players in Escape Academy. Co-op for this game is purely about two heads being better than one, and working through the puzzles together.
What has it been like to work with doseone on the soundtrack?
WYATT – He’s the fucking best. Adam is amazing to work with, and is one of the most genuine and cool dudes I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. It’s really nice having a sound track that you genuinely just put in the background while you’re working on the game because of how hard it SLAPS.
What’s the key to constructing a great escape room? Where do you even start?
MIKE – A great Escape Room starts from the scenario. You need a compelling and clear goal for the players to achieve (say, “Disarm the bomb”). Then, you can get to work making puzzles that prevent the player from achieving that mission (“The bomb is locked up, you don’t know which wire to clip, etc.”). It’s so important for the player to understand what they’re trying to do, or else the puzzles will feel arbitrary. And there’s nothing worse than arbitrary puzzles!
And finally, what grade would you get at Escape Academy?
MIKE – I’d be a solid B student. I’m not sure I’d want to go on the extra deadly coursework the A+ students seem to have to face!
Many thanks to Mike and Wyatt of Coin Crew Games for taking a break from creating season pass levels for Escape Academy to chat to us. Escape Academy is out now on Xbox (the Xbox Store link is here to save you the bother) and other consoles, and is available on Game Pass.