I’m frequently asked for escape room design decisions that I think are bad. I almost always dodge the question for two very important reasons:
As a known entity in the industry, I’ve more than once made the mistake of voicing my own opinion without properly caveating it. This has had outsized consequences, and it’s generally better to keep my mouth shut. Life pro tip for everyone.
Critically, liking something doesn’t make it good. Not liking it doesn’t make it bad. In all creative mediums, it is extraordinarily tricky to properly label criticisms (positive and negative) of designs made by creators. Two examples from recent films: I loved Bad Times at the El Royale, but recognize it had several elements that wouldn’t land with many audiences. I absolutely hated The Post. I normally love political thrillers, it was nominated for 6 Golden Globes, made several best-of-the-year critics lists. Good? Bad? These are subjective terms.
Now, that said, there’s plenty of escape room design decisions that I don’t like. Or even hate. As a player. It’s important to distinguish that these are simply not-my-thing. There’s surprisingly few designs that can be objectively labeled.
Nate’s Personal List of Escape Room Oh No No’s, Part 1
Permanent low lighting. Not to be confused with complete darkness, ambient lighting, or temporary-we-get-the-lights-up-later scenarios. My vision isn’t perfect, and I do not respond well to artificially inflating the challenge of a game by making things harder to see. It’s (often, but not always) lazy design, and frequently used to mask less-than-perfect production design.
Getting blindfolded/hooded before entering a room. I don’t have too strong a beef with this, but I also think it adds little to the immersion of an experience. Importantly, the teammates I most frequently play with have severe issues with improperly disinfected items coming into contact with their mouth and face. How often do they wash these things, we’re left to wonder.
Inattentive Game Masters. Not strictly a design decision, but an exacerbating factor. If an escape room design requires precise hinting (not necessarily a bad thing at all), an inattentive/inexperienced GM can immediately sink the experience.
Multiple color puzzles. I’m color blind. I cannot do most color puzzles. This is fine, my teammates can see color just fine and I can often find other things to work on during a color puzzle solve. However, if puzzle after puzzle after puzzle contains color elements, the experience is dead to me.
Red herrings. Ugh.
Stay tuned for parts 2 – N!