Cryptology Barcelona Escape Room Tour

The second leg of our European tour, we chose Barcelona. The post of the first leg in Budapest can be found here. This blog post is to talk about the trip, logistics, Mark’s opinion of the games – hopefully spoiler-free, but some nuances of the game which may be better left as a surprise if you are going may play the game. The ratings for the game are in their subtitle, and are out of 7.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

We saw some escape room enthusiasts and some friends recently recommend a trip there. There was also the TERPECA (Top Escape Rooms Project) which had quite a few games in the top 100, and the fact the flight cost £20, it was a no-brainer.

We were led to believe that the Escape Rooms in Barcelona are more about the experience than the time, and now in hindsight I do not recall a single clock in the games we played.

The Escape Room Planning

Unlike Budapest, the escape rooms in Barcelona were quite spread out. I used the TERPECA list to get destinations in the city we could do in the 24 hours we were there. With travel time it made this quite a tricky logistics exercise! I calculated that if we did 5 games in the day, they averaged 13km or 37 minutes apart, with transport! I added extra time for faff and food, and a held my fingers crossed my logistics worked!

InMortal Room: El Diamante De Almas: 10am – 6/7

When I booked this, I didn’t think or clock on to that fact that it was a “scary game”. The game seems to be quite out from “the thick of it” and is a 15 minute walk from the Metro.

We were greeted in the most unique way we have experienced an Escape Room so far! It really sets the scene amazing well for the game.

The game transitions between quite a few rooms/locations, and the puzzles throughout are varied and well-executed. For those a little nervous about a scary game, there’s just the perfect amount of humour in the game to make this an amazing experience.

Looking back on all the games we played in Barcelona, this one carries the most memorable moments, and this is very much down to the GM we had. In character throughout, and a very good debrief at the end where he was just himself. His English was amazing and he is a credit to the industry.

This game set the bar very high for the day, Mark rates this as 6 out of 7.

Inmortal Room

Enigmik: La Cerveceria – 1pm 6/7

We were a team of three, and this game said for a minimum of four. We asked if we could do it via email, and yes we could (although we had to pay for the four). What was pleasing though is that there were parts of the game where you really should have needed 4 players, it’s not just done for profiteering sake.

We opted for a cab because of the 15 min walk to the Metro, this location was 11km / 24min from the previous. This game felt in quite an urban area, and we had time to go to a local café and have a nibble and a drink. The game was around the corner, and our mission was to brew beer!

This game had some great physical moments, and a great technological interface for the brewing part of the game. This was a solid escape room, no ambiguity and with varied tasks. We also had a clue system which was a tablet/phone hung around our next. We were also given an RFID wristband which gave us a specific role in the brewing process, a great touch!

The conclusion of the game had an ice-cold beer rise up as we talked through the game. Another great game which is well-deserved of the 6 out of 7.

Enigmik - La Cerveceria

Escape Barcelona: Tomb Hunter : Akasha’s Legend – 5pm 7/7

The Metro was our choice of transport to get to this game, there was another 15 minute-or-so walk from the stop, to a more residential area over the Besós River. We had some time to kill, so we sat in the February sun by the river.

The mission briefing email stated we needed to have a particular mark (tattoo) on us to be able to enter this game, a great touch. The game started as soon as the door opened, and were led blindfolded to the game. Another GM who was integral to our experience, and her English was good.

This game was something else. The set production, the things that happened, the size of the game… all things which surpassed anything I had ever seen before. I would have loved to have seen the floorplan to this game, because it’s genuinely huge! The finale of this game I thought was superbly done, and made the most memorable experience of the trip for me.

When I booked this game I asked if their Alien game was free for when we could play it, it was unfortunately booked (the Alien was the second rated on the top 100 list from this company). I can see why this got the top Spanish game, and the 6th in the World. The good side of this though, I want to go back and see more from this company. This game easily achieved the 7 out of 7.

Maximum Escape: Ulysses Spaceship game by Maximum Escape – 7:30pm 6/7

Compared to the other games we played, this game felt like a commercialised chain. Not saying this as a positive nor a negative comment, the other 3 games we had played seemed to be from a small and passionate team. These had Whatsapp notifications, flyers everywhere, and a reception that showcased all their games. The location of this game really seemed to be in the thick of it.

The GM greeted us as herself, excellent English, and then went off to get changed to get into character for our mission briefing. She escorted us down into our game and left us to our own devices.

The game had some good video (I can’t recall if we watched a screen or had VR helmets for the intro), tactile puzzles, and parts where the group needs to split to communicate with each other. The clue system you carried around with you, and I found it marvellous! A space game should have some good tech in it, and I think what was used was very well implemented. The game set in some of the latter parts of the game was amazingly well done. Another game very well deserving the 6 out of 7, I would be keen to see more of the games they offer.

Maximum Escape: Ulysses Spaceship

Unreal Escape: La Mina – 10pm 5/7

Not that I knew this when I booked it, but this game was a 10 minute walk from our AirBnB. Another quite residential area of Barcelona, this was the last game of our whole trip.

This game starts of in a small room, and we had trouble (this is not a criticism, the puzzles were well-designed and they do not jump in to help you when they understand their game and know you will get there in the end) getting out of this first bit. It broke out to another medium sized space. After solving a few things here, boom, the game opened up to a truly massive game. It had some good puzzles in here, a nice touch of tech!

I am only giving this 5 out 7, and I still feel 8 months on this is correct. I think the other games were of outstanding quality, and this is not saying this is not. Do not confuse the 5 out of 7 with this not being great, I would recommend this game for anybody and everybody. It feels (only in comparison to what we played) a little dated.

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?

A Brief History Of Escape Rooms

Build your team

Being in the industry of Escape Rooms for over four years now. I have heard many theories as to where it all began. Exit Games, or Escape Rooms were words I first heard in 2014 whilst looking for “Things To Do In Bristol”. This lead me to find my first escape room! From this moment, it has been my life for the nearly half a decade.

Locks, an Escape Room staple.

Where Did It All Begin?

For a European-centric answer to this question, it is Hungary. In 2012 Attila Gyurkovics wanted to bring the exciting parts of computer games into a live experience. Their answer was to create a game where they must escape from a physical room. The first escape rooms that opened in the UK tended to be operated and built by Hungarians.

There were escape games available to play in Hong Kong as early as 2006! The Japan Times reported that Takao Kato of Scrap Publishing used his passion of Manga comics to think up ideas for escape games. By 2008 there were a plethora of escape rooms all over Asia .

Takao Kato - One of the first people in the Escape Room Industry
Takao Kato

When Did The UK Get Escape Rooms?

Back to Europe and in 2012 they were beginning to pop up everywhere, the UK’s first appearing in London. Cryptology opened its doors on the 3rd of July 2015, the third in Nottingham in less than 9 months.

At the time of writing this article (05/07/2019) there are 1444 bookable games (1329/1078 if you don’t count duplicate games at one/multiple sites). They are spread across 340 companies with 497 venues.
This stat is taken from the very well-ran UK Escape Room directory Exit Games.

What Is Next For Escape Rooms?

This is a highly subjective question, but I can answer it in terms of Cryptology.
With 6 companies in Nottingham alone offering Escape Rooms, Nottingham‘s focus is to give all players of all abilities as close to a full hour as possible.
Cryptology Sheffield is mixing up the clue system . In fact, the term clue system is not really correct, it is more of a Narrator. More details of this will be in a blog post soon!

Dreamscape: A Different Type of Escape Game

Dreamscape Concept Artwork

Dreamscape was an idea that was born before Cryptology Nottingham’s relocation back in February 2018. It was a critical factor in deciding what the next venue should look like to be able to house the new escape games.

A Developing Market

Even in 2019 the vast majority of customers that come through our doors are first-time escapers. When Cryptology Nottingham opened in 2015 a good 98% had never done an escape room before, and were just looking for something new and exciting to do. Today, the majority of people have heard about them or know somebody who has done an escape room.

Continue reading “Dreamscape: A Different Type of Escape Game”

Sheffield Eateries As An Outsider

The Lucky Fox Sheffield

I have visited Sheffield a handful of times in my adult life, and having worked in Barnsley for 7 years knew that it was the most likely place that I would live, if I moved to South Yorkshire.

Now, with opening my third branch of Cryptology Escape Rooms, I have seen much more of the Steel City and in this blog, I will discuss the places around Cryptology Sheffield where I have eaten and enjoyed!

The Devonshire

Pie & Pint @ The Devonshire
Pie & Pint @ The Devonshire

One of the first places I ate in Sheffield, on passing they were doing BOGOF breakfasts. We visitied, both had Croque Monsieur AND creamed mushrooms. It was excellent value for money, but we didn’t need both… EACH.

“Birdcage” (Frog & Parrot)

Frog & Parrot Sheffield
“Birdcage” Eatery & Drinkery

I am not sure why I went in here for the first time, but being a music fan, I loved the records on the ceilings and walls. There’s also odd birdcages that you sit in, not massively convenient for eating and drinking, but novel all-the-same. However, the food, particularly for a standard chain from Greene King is excellent! 

The Lucky Fox

The Lucky Fox Sheffield
Some deliciousness from The Lucky Fox

In a meeting with an HSBC Business Account Manager, he mentioned of a place which is basically “KFC on crack”. It’s a tiny place, you may be lucky to get a seat, however, the food is indeed streets ahead of Colonel Sanders’, not to be missed!

Forum Sheffield

Banging burgers 'til 9pm, and up to 50% off on Mondays
Burger @ The Forum

First of all, the in-house beers are varied and great! We came pretty much every Monday for their BOGOF burger deal, however they changed their menu and the burger were really not the same. They may have changed these again, but we cannot confirm. They also have a pizza bar where you can buy a giant slice! It’s pretty decent, but Frog & Parrot wins hands-down.

What’s Next?

There’s a few more places we have been, but these tend to be chains (Revolucion De Cuba is worthy of mention), but are keen to further explore what culinary treats Sheffield has to offer!

What’s your favourite?

Places to Eat and Drink In Barnsley

Our latest selection of food and drink establishments to visit in Barnsley once you have done Cryptology Escape Rooms Barnsley

Once you have completed your 60 minutes of high tension brain-building escapism you will probably need to look for some refreshment or food in Barnsley Town Centre! Below we look at some of the options this South Yorkshire area!

This is just a small selection of what is on offer in the town and if you have better/further suggestions then let us know and we can look to spread the word!

Continue reading “Places to Eat and Drink In Barnsley”

Laser Cutter: Better Than Seabass

Sanding Machines in the Dust Zone

A laser may make you think of Dr. Evil, but for Cryptology employees it makes us think of Hackspace!

Nottinghack

For a modest monthly fee you can have access to a wide array of tools, including a 3D printer, embroidery machine, very large table saws, and more.

Biggest. Circular. Saw. Ever
A massive circular saw based at Hackspace Nottingham

Sanding Machines in the Dust Zone
There is a whole designated section for sanding, complete with industrial extractors

A small selection of tools at Hackspace
Some of the wide array of hand tools at Hackspace Nottingham

Bits & Bobs at Hacksapce
A wide array of bits and bobs you may need for any project

Most importantly an A0 laser cutter.

Nottingham Hackspace's A0 Laser Cutter
Nottingham Hackspace’s A0 Laser Cutter

Laser: Vector, Not Raster

Continue reading “Laser Cutter: Better Than Seabass”

Crystal Stations: From Concept To Creation

The creation of the Crystal Stations for Cryptology Sheffield‘s First Contact escape room game spanned April 2018 to July 2018 and went through 3 prototypes.

This has been covered by the video blog which is on our YouTube channel (and can be seen below), some extra details are within this blog.

Define The Concept

The concept was simple, players have to find a crystal and place it in the correct station. Each crystal has different lugs which will mean it will only fit in the correct location in the correct station. The stations will be lit by LEDs and when the correct Crystal is placed the LEDs change colour. Continue reading “Crystal Stations: From Concept To Creation”

10 Stag Do Hen Do Ideas For Nottingham

Nottingham has the most eateries per square metre in the whole of Western Europe, this is not the only reason it is a great location for a stag do or hen do! Now, this is slightly skewed because Nottingham is a well-populated city in quite a contained city centre. It only takes about 20 minutes’ to walk from one end of town to the other and it’s not that fragmented. This means there’s countless places to eat and drink all within a stone’s throw of each other. In no particular order, here are our recommendations for a stag do hen do in Nottingham.

1) Bar Iberico

Bar Iberico Nottingham
Bar Iberico, tapas bar & restaurant in Nottingham

This is usually my top tip for visitors or locals to go to for casual eats. Bar Iberico has a great atmosphere, a good selection of drinks, reasonably priced, great service and most of all, a perfect and changing menu. The food is genuinely out of this world!

2) Tilt

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Music of Cryptology Builds

Music Cryptology Listened To On Builds

Music has always been a large part of my life, I’m a bit of a muso. I learned violin and trumpet in school, taught myself guitar (and then bass) and now drums. Drums are a tricky beast, so I’m now having weekly lessons. But there’s certain bands and/or albums that were synonymous with the creation of various Cryptology games.

Cryptology Nottingham Creation: Music

The building of Cryptology Nottingham started in approximately April/May of 2015. At this point, the band of the moment for me was Of Monsters And Men.

However, I cannot pin a song to Cypherdyne‘s creation. This whole creation process is quite a blur, but once opened work for The Crypt started and I have definite recollections to Crypt-building and their first album My Head Is An Animal.

Next creation at Cryptology was “The Basement Game” (this is being transferred, less about this, more to the choons!). This game started creation in February 2016, and this was deep in my Everything Everything phase, strengthened by seeing them in Nottingham in November of 2015.

Continue reading “Music of Cryptology Builds”