These game developers built Escape Academy after the escape rooms were closed by Covid


Coin Crew Games co-founders Wyatt Bushnell and Mike Mohammed Salyh never particularly liked going to school. So naturally, they decided to put “Escape Academy”, their new game, in a secret boarding school.

“I dropped out of high school,” Bushnell said, when asked what inspired him to design games. “I’ve always hated academia.”

“That’s why we created Escape Academy,” Salyh joked.

“Escape Academy” is an adventure game about a student of the eponymous academy, which has a sprawling campus filled with environmental puzzles intended to train the next generation of escape room masters. It also draws directly on Coin Crew’s experience developing in-person escape rooms.

Bushnell and Salyh first met in 2017 at two bit circus, an amusement center in Los Angeles with arcade machines, carnival games and real escape rooms. The pair were hired to design Two Bit Circus’ escape rooms before it opened. Since then, they’ve worked together as the Coin Crew to create games for nights out with friends or family get-togethers. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Coin Crew started developing “Escape Academy”.

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The pivot made sense. Prior to Two Bit Circus, Salyh worked as a game designer specializing in mobile games at Disney, Zynga, and Age of Learning.

“I went to animation school and thought I wanted to do animation for games, but I quickly found out that I’m just a terrible animator,” Salyh said with a laugh. “I enjoyed the design aspect a lot more. I started making Flash games on sites like Newgrounds… It was the first time I was like, ‘oh, I could make a career out of game design’ .”

As for Bushnell, it was in his blood. He is the youngest son of Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari. Video games – fun, design, and enterprise – were regular topics of discussion at the Bushnell dinner table.

“I am a Bushnell. It’s like a pocket ace in games,” he said. “I just have a lot of connections in the industry. Also, besides overwhelming work, making games is the most rewarding thing you can do. That’s good.”

“Escape Academy” is still meant to be played with friends (there’s a single-player mode, but the game is better as a co-op experience) but this is the first time Coin Crew has made a video game designed to be played in your own home, which posed unique challenges.

“With a real-world escape room, we design 45 minutes to an hour of content for people,” Salyh said. “In ‘Escape Academy,’ we design six to eight hours of content. … The scale of what we do is so much greater than anything we’ve ever done as a single product.

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The team wanted to authentically evoke the feeling of real-world escape rooms, which Salyh described as a combination of time pressure and urgency. If this equation is present when an escape room participant finds the large object that leads to freedom, then the payoff is a satisfying eureka moment.

To create this kind of video game, Coin Crew has developed. Artistic director Michelle Huttunen joined early in the project.

“Moving from location-based games to console and PC games requires much higher art and craftsmanship fidelity,” Salyh said. “Being able to add someone to our leadership team who had those chops was so essential because going into that area, it was an area where we quickly found ourselves out of our depth.”

The team also felt it was important for the game to have a story with characters. But what kind of narrative framework could explain why a protagonist would constantly find himself trapped in a sequence of unique and elaborate prisons? Of the concepts that came up during brainstorming, such as time travel and parallel universes, only one seemed to fit the bill.

“Why are you escaping from a room?” Bushnell said. “Oh, it’s a classroom!” Do. We teach critical thinking. It’s done, period.

The school is also largely relatable. For Salyh and Bushnell, school was mundane and not very interesting. But the couple said the shared experience of mundanity allows gamers to fantasize about what school could be like, citing fantasy series ‘Harry Potter’ and hit anime ‘My Hero Academia’.

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Thematically, the school is also a place with a variety of levels of ability and commitment. Some students aim high, some have no interest, and some fall somewhere in between. “Escape Academy” is aimed at all audiences. It is a game for hardcore gamers and casual gamers. It’s even a game for people who don’t want to play at all and prefer to watch the action instead.

“If we’re going to talk about the guiding philosophy of Coin Crew, it’s social accessibility,” Bushnell said. “And that doesn’t mean casual play. It doesn’t mean Bejeweled or anything like that. It’s more about how we build a fun experience for the non-super player and the player.

There are not many virtual escape games on the market. Coin Crew developed “Escape Academy” as an opportunity to make a splash in an undisputed space – but also as an invitation for other companies to create more titles in a genre that has been largely ignored.

It’s also poetic. The modern escape room, which is part of a larger genre of location based gameswas actually inspired by video games such as the 1993 adventure game, “Myst. In “Myst”, players explore the eponymous island and unlock its mysteries by solving a series of elaborate mechanical puzzles spread across whole landscape. But unlike today’s escape rooms, “Myst” was strictly single-player and had no time limit on any of the puzzles, meaning individuals could enjoy the game at a comfortable pace.

“Escape Academy” is, essentially, a pizza effect play – the sociological term for when a foreign adaptation of culture returns to its nation of origin to then influence the culture of origin. By taking the increasing tension and group problem-solving mechanics developed in modern escape rooms and bringing them back to the original video game genre, Coin Crew hopes to create a virtual experience that captures the magic of a session. of the real world.

“It’s such a social experience,” Salyh said. “It makes you feel smart. It makes you talk. It kind of pushes you. You might be thinking, can I do this? And in the end, you’re like, yeah. I can do it.”

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