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Coin Crew Games on Escape Academy: From Escape Rooms to Video Games

Escape Academy creators Coin Crew Games share their experiences, from building escape rooms to puzzle video games.



Escape Academy

The release of Escape Academy from Coin Crew Games, in the summer of 2022, coincided with the tipping point of a tiny resurgence of escape room video games. As the pandemic hit the growing industry, a few developers of real-life escape rooms decided to take on video games and reignite the genre.

Once popular on Flash games sites and mobile consoles, the “escape the room” genre didn’t survive the fall of Flash. Though they were short‑lived, these games had a hand in the invention of real‑life escape rooms: one of the first examples of the new medium was based on the Flash game The Crimson Room. And while new games like Escape Academy and Escape Simulator might only seem like adaptations of physical escape rooms, that escape the room DNA flows through them too.

Once asked about the video games that inspired his work on escape rooms, virtual or not, Coin Crew Games co-founder Mike Mohammed Salyh pointed to the 2009 adventure game/visual novel/virtual escape room Zero Escape: 9 Rooms, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. His personal introduction to escape rooms, he calls Zero Escape “A masterclass in weaving story and stakes into the puzzles.” Weaving story and stakes, marrying the puzzles to the plot, is a challenge almost unique to puzzle video games, and virtual escape rooms are no exception.

Puzzles and Plots

A character from escape academy speaking to the player through a visual novel style textbox.
Image: Coin Crew Games

While real‑life escape rooms don’t always worry about the interplay of puzzles and plot, finding not just a balance but a good union of the two is a vital part of any puzzle video game. Owing much of their design to the hour‑long puzzles that are escape rooms and to the free Flash games from the early 2000s, escape room video games rarely manage to find that balance. That’s how Zero Escape earned its place next to genre giants like the Portal and Monkey Island series, by similarly weaving story and plot together.

Even Escape Academy, which boasts a colorful cast of recurring characters, isn’t immune to this issue. Salyh singles out their inexperience with non‑puzzle games as the root cause of the problem: “Escape Academy was Coin Crew’s first stab at visual novel gameplay. In hindsight, I think we could have gone further integrating the narrative and puzzles, [which is] something we’re doing in our upcoming DLCs.”

While the plot of Escape Academy can sometimes feel disjointed from the moment-to-moment gameplay, the escape room inspired puzzles might just have something to teach to other adventure games. “The key to designing good puzzles is making sure the internal logic is sound,” as Salyh explains. He has a trick to make sure that puzzles aren’t based on inscrutable moon logic, and that is to imagine the challenge as a physical place. “When I worked on a puzzle, I asked myself, ‘How would this work if it was real? Would players actually do what I’m asking of them?’ If not, the puzzle needed more work!”

From Escape Rooms to Escape Academy

The central area of the garden level from Escape Academy, with a large statue of a keyhole in the center.
Image: Coin Crew Games

Though this little trick might help Mike and his team, Coin Crew Games are also veteran puzzle makers in and of itself, with plenty of experience designing acclaimed real‑life escape rooms like Doctor Botcher’s Minute Med School. Puzzles in Escape Academy are so well-tuned that the game can confidently put a timer on every challenge without running the risk of frustrating the player, just like any old escape room. But those rooms aren’t like anything out of a physical venue.

In Escape Academy, environments transform under the players’ eyes, props are destroyed, burned or eaten, platforms fall from the air, and water slowly fills the building as the timer runs its course. Needless to say, none of this would be reasonably doable, or even physically possible, in a physical escape room. But the benefits of the virtual space don’t end there.

While Coin Crew Games decided to keep the typical escape room timer going, they were happy to do away with other limitations. Not only is there no need for attendants to reset the room between each game, but the play area can also be completely trashed as part of the intended experience. “Designing Escape Academy without that constraint was cathartic: we could make puzzles that involve shredding, blowing up, and even eating puzzle props.”

Coin Crew Games seems to want to dig even deeper into the resilience of virtual escape rooms in the Escape Academy DLC Escape From Anti-Escape Island. “We have a level that takes place inside of a crashing cargo airplane. Not only is it spectacular: it’s incredibly specific!” On top of introducing more extreme and unique levels, this escape room DLC seems to stretch the meaning of ‘room’ quite far, even further than the base game already did.

What is Next for Coin Crew Games

As Mike Salyh has it, the new levels of the DLC won’t just up the spectacle, as the studio is working on building a story that better fits its puzzles. For a studio’s first time working on a game with a story, the final product was only a little rough. If with this second chance they do find a way to marry the rooms to an engaging story, Escape From Anti-Escape Island might just become a modern Zero Escape.

Mike Mohammed Salyh is the co-founder of Coin Crew Games and lead puzzle designer for Escape Academy. The first DLC of Escape Academy, Escape From Anti-Escape Island, releases on November 10, 2022, on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.

Well-rounded nerd and self identified loveable weirdo, Diana loves stories in all their forms, even though she’s too lazy for most things that aren’t games. She’d drop anything for a night of TTRPGs, and often does. You can find her rummaging trough the tiniest of indie games releases, or trying to wrap up a 50 hours long Visual Novel she regrets ever starting.

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