Escape Room Control Overrides (and Monitoring)
“We got a one star review because a puzzle didn’t work properly. We were watching the players play the right sequence, but the door wouldn't open. I spent 4 hours on the phone with them trying to convince them to change their review.” - Escape Room Operator (paraphrased from a real conversation)
For the record, this was not our tech which failed in the above situation. The fact of the matter is that players can break things, props wear out, puzzles are not reset properly by game masters, and electronics fail (usually due to misuse). Stuff happens even in the best of situations. Rides even fail at Disney and they send out staff to share humorous stories to pass the time - you don’t get that opportunity. We must do our best to prevent game failures.
When these failures do happen, we must be prepared. The simple answer is puzzle overrides. There are several ways to implement such features, some overrides are easier than others.
Wire a switch panel in the control room
Cutting power to maglocks or props will open doors, and wiring actuators in parallel with other switches can make them move. This is very doable and accessible, but really only a partial solution. It means running more wires back and forth from your props or control panel to your control room, and it is a mess of wiring. Furthermore, it is not flexible and it is a mess.
PLC Control Panel
If you’ve opted for the PLC route, the good thing is that you’ve already run a ton of wires back to a central control panel. All that is left to do is to create an interface to allow you to override some outputs to keep the game going when things go wrong. Many ER operators who use PLCs already have this feature. However, it is really up to the PLC programmer to implement this and changes are not necessarily easy. Furthermore, it can be hard to justify the cost to pay the programmer for a one off, custom room controller interface when there are so many good ones out there already.
Room Control Software
Many ER operators are already running some form of room control software. There are many to choose from. Mythric Mystery Master (M3), Escape Room Master, Houdini, Clue Control, etc. If you are using one of these already, adding room control is a very easy addition. There are several generic solutions for the true DIYer and other specific solutions targeted for escape rooms. A big advantage to these solutions is reduced wiring, better game/prop management, and flexibility.
We recommend option #3 above. It is the most flexible and capable method of prop overrides and is very accessible too. Using a PLC is great for those who know how to use them, but that is by far the exception. Most escape room owners with any technical ability are either using nothing, option #1 above, or some home grown/hobby Arduino/PI solution. We understand that many like to develop their own solutions, but there is a better way for those who don’t.
Escape Room Techs Controller
We have developed a user friendly, specialized system for escape room puzzle and prop monitoring. Depending on its use, it can control 6 props in a room or control and operate a single puzzle/game. It is web browser configurable with many options.
One advantage of this is that each prop input/output has some ability for logic like latching, inversion, or other custom detection. For example, it will solve once you count 3 pulses.
Generic Ethernet I/O Module
There are many generic Ethernet based solutions available with a wide variety of cost. There are cheap $50 solutions on eBay and there are industrial grade solutions for $100s and more. Buy the board, figure it out, and you are set.
Keep in mind that this board has zero idea you are running an escape room. Any logic or control you need beyond reading an input or moving a relay will need to be programmed.
Here are two examples:
You will never see us recommend a WiFi or ESP based solution for this. Two reasons:
1. Wired will always be more reliable than wireless. It may take bit more effort to run the wires, but it always lends itself towards reliability and that is the whole point of implementing a system like this.
2. Most Wireless systems used in the hobby space are not up to the quality standards required. If an ER operator is willing to pay $40+ for a wireless module from Digi, then we’ll acquiesce, but the “I can make a wireless prop for $10” solution is not suitable for a high quality escape room experience.
Take care of your customers and make sure they have a good time. Implementing solutions like this will make sure that if something goes wrong, they won’t know about it and they won’t give you a bad review based on your props not working.