Posted by squinky on Feb 02, 2023

Back in October, Jess posted about our newest Soft Chaos Original, which is an as-of-yet still untitled digital escape room project. It is now February (what? how did that happen???) and we've been continuing to have design brainstorm meetings for this project about every two weeks, which is a pace that feels comfortable enough that we can fit in more pressing client work and other obligations.

Indeed, a lot has happened since Day One of the project! For starters, we've scrapped the original "In My Room" concept entirely (and those sweet, sweet moodboards... maybe those cool art styles will return in a future project, though!) and decided to go in a completely different thematic direction. We've found ourselves captivated by the idea of the escape room taking place on a road trip, specifically set in the Canadian prairies (where both Allison and I spent significant portions of our childhoods), and themed around coming home to a place that, as time passes, feels less and less like home, both because it has changed and you have also changed. We are very much still at the initial brainstorm phase of things, and there's still a lot that's subject to change and needs time to solidify, but so far, we're enjoying how everything is taking shape.

During one of our most recent meetings, we decided to do some freewriting exercises on the following prompts: When was the first time you saw a building demolished? What's the oldest building you remember that's still around? When was the first time you lost a sense of mystery/wonder? Here are some particularly good bits of writing to have come out of that:

"When I was younger my mother would drive by these blocks and blocks of strip malls by the library, and say 'These used to be fields – full of plants and trees. We used to play here.' I grew up on the opposite side of the same city surrounded by green space. When I went back to visit recently, all of those fields had also been replaced with malls and movie theaters – the exact same experience 30 years later." – Allison

"My sense of the past is filtered through the stories that my parents have told me and the visible artefacts that used to exist in the neighbourhoods that they inhabited (which were just next door to ours). They've lived within 5 or so kilometers their whole lives.

The fact that those neighbourhoods were next door but not in the exact same neighbourhood as me meant that they felt sort of timeless. I could imagine the past co-existing with the present. Old factories stood empty for forty, fifty years, sometimes more. Old breweries. Old silos. I remember stopping to photograph a tree growing on the second floor of a derelict brewery, its smoke stack still standing proudly.

It's condos now. It's all condos, all the way down. The hat and mitten factory, the brewery, the silos..." – Jess

I myself remembered an old blog I was fascinated with years ago chronicling buildings that used to be Pizza Huts. I had to stop myself from wasting too much time scrolling through and re-reading it just now, but it's still quite fascinating, at least to me.

On a tangential note, a theme that kept coming up in many of our conversations about escape room design was how real life bureaucracy feels like badly-designed puzzles: think of every time you have to use 2-factor authentication, or find the door code to get into a building, or read a car manual, or do your taxes. One time, after helping Allison move into her current apartment, we had so much trouble figuring out how to return the U-Haul afterwards that we kept making jokes about being in an escape room. Now, it's become somewhat of a running gag every time we have to do anything requiring a series of overly convoluted steps... which, I must say, is annoyingly often, especially when you're attempting to run a sustainable business under late-stage capitalism.

Finally, I thought I'd mention the song "Plastic Jesus", because when we first decided to make this a road trip game, we thought it would be fun to include a literal plastic Jesus on the dashboard of the player's car and also record our own cover of the song. We'll see if this idea actually makes it into the final game or not, but here it is for posterity.

And that's all I shall tease for now – until next time!

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