Clue System Development

Clue systems are very important in Escape Rooms. Extra clues should not be essential for the game to be completed but there needs to be a way to communicate with players. Cryptology opened its doors in Nottingham in July of 2015. At this point there were less than 70 Escape Rooms in the UK. There was not much in the way of off-the-shelf solutions to clue systems. I had a played a few where the clue system was a computer screen, this was easy to read and understand. A Walkie Talkie can be hard to hear what is being said, and can be left elsewhere in the game. A light-up clue system is difficult to give custom clues.

Computer Screen

I have always dabbled with bits of programming and had recently taught myself PHP, Javascript (with lots of help from jQuery), HTML, and MySQL. After a bit of googling it appears using Reverse AJAX (or Comet) was how to send a message to another computer.

After a few frustrating evenings I finally managed to send a message from one webpage to another. It even worked sending the message from my iPhone to the PC. Bingo! The next challenge was to create a countdown timer that displayed on both the receiving (players’) PC and the sending (gamesmaster’s) PC.

Cryptology's First Clue System
Cryptology’s First Clue System

The first issue I had was the delay between sending the clue and the other PC receiving it. I therefore decided for the countdown to only start when the receiving PC got that instruction, and for it to relay it back to the sending PC. This required both sender and receiver to send messages. The Clue System now starts when the receiving PC gets the instruction, sends it back to the GM’s PC, and receives clues. I downloaded some royalty-free music and sound effects to draw attention to incoming clues.

I had to design a page which had pre-written clues and with the option to send custom hints. Using Twitter’s Get Bootstrap, this helped no-end with the formatting of the page. I also decided that it should not be hard-coded. The clues should be pulled from a database so they can always be added or amended.

Clue System GM Screen
The Clue System’s buttons for the GM to interact

Remove Internet Dependence

The clue system was ready to use! Over the opening month of Cypherdyne, clues were added easily based on common customer actions. One day, the internet went down in the building: no clue system :/. After tethering my phone, I managed to install XAMPP which is where a PC can act as a web server. However, after many hours of trying to get this to work, an even bigger clue delay occurred. This was not the solution!

I concluded that the solution was to have my own server rather than the giant one called the Internet. There was a cashback offer of an HP Micro Server, I purchased an SSD hard drive and installed CentOS to create our own system. There was virtually no delay to the clues, and all devices when taught the IP address to be the DNS could access the clue system. This meant that mobiles, tablets, and PCs could all clue the escape rooms!

Styled Pages

Cryptology Nottingham’s second game based on Ancient Egypt, The Crypt was ready to open. Whilst there were no computers in the times of King Tut, a computer screen really was the best way to send clues into the game. The solution was to style it a little more with Ancient Egyptian images and colours.

The Crypt's Clue System Customer Screen
Cryptology’s second clue system was Ancient Egyptian themed, we could not just have a plain black screen.

Second Location Development

The Crypt’s clue system was a little but more themed than Cypherdyne’s. When Cryptology Nottingham was going to relocate we all wanted to take the clue system to the next level.

The Cypherdyne Escape Room is an interview set in an office. The idea was to disguise the clue system as an email system, and include Microsoft’s Clippy from Microsoft Word. He will be there to taunt groups when simple things are overlooked.

Cypherdyne v1.5's Clue System
Cypherdyne v1.5’s Clue System with an animated Clippy!

For the reincarnation of The Crypt, Rameseize, we wanted an Ancient Egyptian God Of Mildly Useful Hints, Acluebis. He would be full HD video and have subtitled clues, and is much more than just a clue system.

Rameseize's Clue System: Acluebis
Rameseize’s Clue System: Acluebis

Sheffield‘s Clue System

Acluebis is very well received in Nottingham so we wanted to take this a stage further in Sheffield. The first game First Contact is set in the future. We therefore wanted a fully interactive system where the touchscreens interact with the clue system. The clue system will interact with players. Both of these in a totally in-theme way.

It amazes us that simple “yes”, “no”, “well done team” messages were so well received by the general public. We realised we created not a clue system, but a fully interactive guide. We are struggling what to call this as clue system is not correct. What would you call it?

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