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The History of Escape Rooms in Calgary

Hello fellow adventurers, welcome back to the Arcadian: the premier blog for all things escape rooms! Today, we explore how locking groups of people into tiny rooms became so popular. Nowadays, real-life escape rooms are embedded in popular culture, even spawning a movie in the process. But where did it all start? Why do people love escape rooms so much and how did it take root in Calgary? Let’s take a trip through history and find out how we got here.

Precursors to Escape Rooms

In the early days of computer gaming, the preeminent genre was the point-and-click adventure. These games featured players progressing though a game via finding items, solving puzzles and discovering new locations. The most famous example of this type of game is Myst (1993), which featured a protagonist exploring a strange island with mysterious teleporting books and abstract puzzles. The game is unique in that it features no enemies, no combat and the only goal is to solve the mystery; a trait that would become a hallmark of the genre.

History of Escape Room in Calgary - Screenshot from Myst (1993)
Screenshot from Myst (1993)

Myst is considered the forefather of the modern day escape rooms. While it does not strictly take place in a single room, many of the concepts, gameplay and ideas found later can be traced back to this game. Myst cannot claim to be the earliest iteration of the puzzle computer game, but it is certainly the most successful and is still considered one of the best selling games of all time.

The Flash Games Revolution

The advent of Adobe Flash allowed indie developers to produce their own games without requiring the resources of an entire studio. With websites such as aggregating and distributing this content, anyone who had Flash on their computer could simply navigate to the desired page and play for free; without the need of additional installation or effort. This ease of accessibility opened the floodgates for animators, music videos, and game developers to flex their creative muscles and led to the first iteration of the escape rooms games we see today.

The term ‘escape the room’ came into prevalence with the Flash game ‘Mystery of Time and Space’ by Jan Albartus. Similar to Myst, MOTAS (2001) featured a protagonist exploring a strange otherworldly place and progressing by finding items and solving the logical puzzles that lead to the next location. Unlike Myst, which had an entire island open for exploration at the start, MOTAS had levels, each featuring a room/discrete location that had to be solved in its entirety before moving on to the next. While this allowed the developer to update the game by adding levels without the need to touch existing ones, the need to solve each level/room independently would coin the idea of ‘escaping the room’ and would become the central feature of the games that would follow.

Screenshot from 'Mystery of Time and Space' (2001)
Screenshot from ‘Mystery of Time and Space’ (2001)

Other Notable Puzzle Room Games

This concept was most distinctively showcased in ‘The Crimson Room’ (2004) by Toshimitsu Takagi. ‘The Crimson Room’ took the concept to it’s furthest extreme, with the entire game taking place in a single blood red room with sparse furniture and an ominous door that needed to be unlocked. Unlike the static environments of MOTAS, the game is unique in that the player character stands in the middle of the room and the first person viewpoint is changed, similar to how a person would actually turn their head in an escape room. Combined with it’s unsettling atmosphere and intuitive controls, ‘The Crimson Room’ is the closest Flash game of this period that parallels the experience of modern day real-life escape rooms.

Screenshot from 'The Crimson Room' (2004)
Screenshot from ‘The Crimson Room’ (2004)

Another example from this time is Mateusz Skutnik’s ‘Submachine’ (2005). This game had the player explore an expansive ‘Submachine’, a strange otherworldly structure with retrofuturistic technology. ‘Submachine’ is unique in the flash ‘escape the room’ era in that the game also told a story; with characters and lore that would develop throughout the ten entries of the series. In that respect, Submachine is similar to the storytelling of Myst and it’s sequels. Of the examples listed here, Submachine is still being worked on today by its creator and a remastered version is planned soon for release on Steam.

Screenshot from 'Submachine 5: The Root' (2008)
Screenshot from ‘Submachine 5: The Root’ (2008)

From Digital to Reality

With the popularity of its online brethren, it was only a matter of time before the jump was made to reality. One where a player could immerse themselves physically and solve puzzles with friends in a multitude of themHed rooms.

The first real-life escape room in the world is a debated topic. ‘Real Escape Game’ claims to be the first iteration of the industry, hosting escape rooms that took place in locations across Japan. Hungary’s Parapark claims to be the first escape room worldwide and still operates in their original location today. ‘Real Escape Game’ would come to America in 2011. ‘Puzzle Break’, the first American owned escape room, would open in Seattle a year later. From there, the industry exploded to the phenomenon it is today, with an estimated 50,000 escape rooms operating worldwide.

Escape Rooms in Calgary

If you play an escape room in Calgary you have probably heard them referred to by another name: “Locked Rooms”. This is because the first escape room that opened in Calgary was called “The Locked Room” and their brand has become synonymous with escape rooms in Calgary

From 2014-2015, six companies would be a part of the first wave of escape rooms that opened in Calgary:

After this group, a second wave of escape rooms would open in Calgary. Including ourselves, five businesses would open in 2016 alone:

Not long after, a third wave would occur with the following businesses opening from 2017-2018:

The Future of Escape Rooms

Since then, there has been a hiatus of new rooms opening in the city. You may also notice that while many of the businesses on this list are no longer operating. Sadly the Covid-19 pandemic would see many of these locations close as lockdowns would keep escape room businesses closed for total of nine months in the span of two years. As the industry returns to its feet, it is hopeful that the escape room scene continues to grow in Calgary, with businesses continuing to the push the limit of experience, puzzles and design just as their counterparts did in the past.

Arcadia Adventures Escape Room is Calgary’s premier escape room experience. Our real-life Calgary escape rooms are an excellent way to have fun, solve puzzles, and improve your team-building skills. Our rooms can host parties, small groups, families, couples, and is great as a team-building activity for Calgary businesses. Book your spot at our escape room in Calgary online or by contacting us on 587-356-0440.

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