Hello again! Brittney, from Escape the Room LI, with some more escape-musings for you.

As someone that’s relatively new to the escape game phenomenon, there are a lot of things that I’m learning very quickly. I’ve played the games at our Long Island escape room, and listened to a lot of stories from the people who come in to play. Some people are brand new to the courses, like me, while other people have played games all over the island, all over the country. One thing I’m starting to realize is that gameplay varies a lot from escape room to escape room. Different rooms have different themes, different kinds of puzzles, different kinds of operation. One of the biggest differences in the experience is whether the game is linear or non-linear.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you’re standing in a room with three boxes. You find a key hidden in the corner which opens the first box; inside are two puzzle pieces and a code. The code opens the second box, where you find two more puzzle pieces. When you put all of the puzzle pieces together, you find another code which opens the third box. The third box gives you a key to escape into the next room.

That’s pretty much the basics of a linear escape game. In order to solve all the puzzles, you have to do things in an exact order. You have to open the first box in order to open the second box, and you have to open the second box in order to open the third. It’s logical and systematic. Step one, step two, step three. Boom, boom, boom.

Now let’s try a different example.

Imagine you’re standing again—same room, same three boxes. This time, there’s also a table in the corner with a pile of puzzle pieces, a painting of a key, and a black light. The painting shows you where to find the key to the first box. The black light, when pointed at the painting, reveals the code to open the second box. And the puzzle pieces on the table come together to show the code for the third box.

This example is more of a non-linear escape room. It is entirely up to you which task you do first. Many people would see the pile of puzzle pieces, realize they have to put the puzzle together, and open the third box before anything else. They could venture into the next room, and come back to the rest later. Someone might find the key first, or the invisible code in the painting. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which task you take on first, so long as it all gets done in the end.

When escape rooms were just beginning to flourish, linear gameplay was fairly popular. For one, the logic makes it a lot easier to design a linear game. (I promise you, I spent a lot less time coming up with that example in my relatively-new-to-escape-games brain.) And for some people, completing things in logical steps is the most enjoyable way to play. You know you’re looking for the one thing that comes next, rather than trying to remember all of the half-finished puzzles you have to return to later in the game.

However, as an industry, escape rooms are taking a turn toward the non-linear side. While it’s true that a lot more things are happening at once, that’s actually a great thing for escape teams. If you and a friend are both locked in the three box room, you don’t want to sit back and watch your friend get the code, and then the puzzle pieces, and then the key. In the non-linear room, one person can work on the puzzle pieces while the other person explores the room with the black light. With any luck, both clues will be found faster, and you both got to contribute to the escape! Isn’t that a great, accomplished feeling?

In the escape business, we call that accomplished feeling a “hero moment”—when one of the team members finds or does something which gets you all a step closer to escaping. You found the code hidden in the painting, finished the puzzle, or found the key hidden in the corner. Whether or not your team escapes within the time limit, it’s usually the hero moments that count at the end of the experience.

That ultimately seems to be the biggest difference between linear and non-linear games—what part of the game is being emphasized. Linear games are good for people who are focusing on the clock, but if you’re focused on the experience of the game, non-linear might be the way to go. With more scattered puzzles and more things to do at once, more people get hero moments, and that means more people are having a good time. That’s always the goal for us at Escape the Room Long Island!