Going Out

Trapped underground, you only have 60 minutes to escape the ‘World’s Largest Escape Room’…

Concealed under a hill, four subterranean floors down, among archaic computer stacks, winding windowless hallways, labyrinthian corridors, and darkened stairwells there is a plot underway by an evil syndicate for an attack against Canada.  A group of people must act fast to stop the syndicate’s diabolical scheme. Only quick wits, clever thinking, and teamwork can prevent the attack, but can it be done? They only have an hour to accomplish this herculean task.

On March 9, Escape Manor launches what it is calling “the World’s Largest Escape Room” — an escape adventure inside The Diefenbunker, an underground facility built in the 1950s to safeguard various arms of the government from nuclear attack.

Escape room enthusiasts will relish the chance to set foot inside an elaborate adventure taking place inside the massive Cold War complex, which is located on the outskirts of Carp. Ottawa Magazine spoke with Steve Wilson, one of the co-founders of Escape Manor, to discuss the storyline, the challenges of working inside such a historical space, and what it’s like watching players on hidden cameras.

Each escape room has a particular theme and scenario. What’s the storyline for the Diefenbunker escape room?

The scene at Escape the Diefenbunker will actually be that of a modern day attack on Canadian soil. While on the final tour of the day at Canada’s Cold War Museum, your tour group receives a secret distress transmission alerting you that all is not as it seems. The Diefenbunker is actually a front for an evil syndicate launching an attack on our fair nation within the hour! Being that the Diefenbunker is 100,000 square feet in size, your group must divide and conquer several tasks in an effort to thwart this imminent assault and ultimately save the day!

How much is based on real history?

Knowing the history of the Canada’s role in the Cold War can never hurt, yet it is not mission-critical here. The narrative is fun, spy-themed and anyone can be immersed within it quickly, with minimal knowledge of the real history. The vision of our business partnership is to introduce this great facility to a new audience, in hopes that they will be intrigued and compelled to return and learn more about the museum at another time.

Escape rooms are known for their immersive, real-life environments. Given the location, did it make easier to create an escape room or did it present more challenges?

Definitely the latter. Being an actual museum, we are quite restricted on the manipulation of artifacts, and limited with regards to what we can bring in and what we can add to the environment. To overcome this hurdle we have created an exciting mash-up that interweaves our storyline through their space and ‘props’. We do have some top-secret pieces that we could tell you about, but you know what would have to happen next… [maniacal laughter follows]

What has the response been like for this new escape room?

The response has been tremendous, to say the least; selling-out six months of availability in under a week! We are in talks with the Diefenbunker now, in hopes of opening more availability, as well as discussing future rooms and possibilities. As of today, the wait list is a couple hundred deep. Those on our ‘Keys to the Manor’ VIP email list (sign-up @ escapemanor.com) are always first to know when new space is available.

Since you get to watch players through hidden cameras as they try to solve puzzles, do you have any funny stories to share?

Oh my goodness, do we ever! From the tiny girl who slipped through prison bars like Houdini, to a bachelor party guest who thought our death-row toilet was plumbed, to a gentleman who took off a prosthetic arm to extend his reach for keys… the stories are endless! Oh yes, we’ve also had six wedding proposals to date! Indeed, too many stories to tell!

Who do you have more fun catering to: the more experienced or newbies?

Both bring equal joy! The newbies are still completely bewildered, not knowing what to expect, thus we see an emotional roller-coaster of awe and delight. The veterans, however, understand it is more cerebral than Fear Factor and tend to want to strategize and best the room’s time with minimal usage of clues. It is great to see how everyone thinks so differently!

The escape room business model requires building more rooms and always changing, innovating, and revamping as people solve the puzzles. Any challenges in having to always be reinventing?

Absolutely! Having used up most of our partnership’s brain capacity with our 10 built rooms to date, we actually decided to hold an escape room design competition last Fall. Calling on all would-be escape-room designers across Ottawa, we expected to receive a dozen or so entries, yet ended up with 206! We narrowed them down to the top 10 submissions and then had them present Dragon’s Den style at Les Suites Hotel. The winners walked away with over $6K in prize money and we will be building the top three rooms this year: The Outlaw Saloon, Enigma’s Tomb, and Lemmy’s Music Studio!

What does the future of escape rooms look like? Any new technology or trends coming in? Can the business model of escape rooms sustain itself?

The future is bright and technology is definitely a key component. There are new innovations and apps created for our sector daily, but having the latest and greatest is only part of the puzzle. Despite currently employing many tech elements such as pressure plates, electromagnets, servo motors, lasers, and sensors (plus a few tricks up our sleeves for the new rooms), there is more to it than that. In order to sustain this business model, a balance must be struck between cool gadgetry, an immersive environment, an engaging storyline, cohesive puzzles and a cordial staff. This creates the gamification that our enlightened audience so greatly desires. Today’s fun & games seekers crave both cerebral and physical aspects to their outing, as well as a challenge that is social and fun (otherwise, they’d stay home and play video games). We help our guests step outside the doldrums of daily life and into an adventure they have control of. Add in the necessity of teamwork and collaboration and you’ve got yourself a game that will definitely pass the test of time.

For more information on the new escape room, visit here.