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Lewis Burtt-Smith, Founder of RoomEscapeVR — Interview Series

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Lewis Burtt-Smith, Founder of EscapeRoomVR

Good news, escape room enthusiasts: there’s a new virtualized product on the horizon, and it’s due to bring all of the hallmark qualities of a traditional experience to a virtual reality headspace. That’s right, RoomEscapeVR is on the cusp of bringing its web-based platform to the market—a suite in which fledgling creators will not only be able to indulge in their own share of escape rooms in a virtual reality environment, but create their own unique experiences for an entire community. To learn a bit more about this promising venture, we caught up with Lewis Burtt-Smith, who spearheaded the project.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Before compiling the source material for RoomEscapeVR, what did you do? Has a passion for creating video games always been in your blood?

Lewis: I'm a 27-year-old web developer originally from England, who moved to Copenhagen at 19 for my studies and have been here ever since. I’ve always been a fan of video games starting with Rayman and Tomb Raider for the playstation in the early 2000s. My all time favourite games are The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Mount and Blade: Warband, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.

But immediately before RoomEscapeVR, I worked as CTO at MeetinVR. Building virtual reality business meetings. Where I learned virtual realities strengths and weaknesses. Specifically how it is such a powerful medium to connect people to each other and by extension the experience they are having. 

Speaking of RoomEscapeVR, could you tell us a bit more about it? What exactly is it, and what are you aiming to achieve?

Lewis: RoomEscapeVR, at launch, is a multiplayer escape room accessible through your web browser on mobile, desktop or VR device. Simply select the level and instantly you are hosting a shareable server that your friends (or strangers) can join via a link. You will see their avatar and be able to chat over the microphone as you work together to escape.

However, I am just one developer, so if you (the reader) have experience with 3D modeling or blender, it is also possible for you to create your own escape room using the intuitive editor and interaction manager. The editor will look familiar to anyone who has used a game engine or 3D modeling program. The interaction manager works like this:

So you have selected an object, what happens when a user interacts with your object? Should an animation play? Should a door open? Should a keypad appear for them to input their answer? Or should some combination of the above happen? Simply drag a connector between each aptly named box and your interaction is made.

So, let's say you wanted to program a key and door interaction: select your key object, make it so that when it collides with the lock, the door should disappear and the floor in the next room should become walkable. Escape rooms are really a series of simple interactions that anyone can program with RoomEscapeVR, without any coding experience.

Editing process in RoomEscapeVR

Credit: RoomEscapeVR

Having also worked in an escape room myself, I’m definitely intrigued to see how a virtual escape room will compare with a real one. Would you say that RoomEscapeVR’s sole focus is to capture the essence of a lifelike experience?

Lewis: That's a great question. In our increasingly digitalized world, people are starting to reject the “hyper optimization” of gaming and life in general. As human beings, we crave connection and meaningful experiences. Gamers long for the days when it wasn't possible to just “look up a guide” online and instantly have the winning strategy. RoomEscapeVR’s main focus is to bring people together for rich memorable experiences, much like real-life escape rooms do, but with even greater accessibility and potential.

Real escape rooms typically require booking, physical presence, and a chunk of your time. They are brilliant, and I'm not trying to replace that experience. But imagine having a catalog of escape rooms available on demand, much like a movie streaming platform. You could drop a link in your chatroom and dive into an escape room while waiting for your League of Legends queue to pop.

For example, I live in Copenhagen, and my friends are scattered across the UK. We usually hang out in a Discord chat room, sometimes waiting for a friend to show up so we can play a specific game. We often watch YouTube videos together or play games like Gartic Phone. After visiting Bodaborg, an arcade-style escape room in Sweden, I was inspired to bring that experience to the web, making it easier for people like us to connect and enjoy escape rooms together.

You’ve mentioned before that users will also be able to create their own virtual escape rooms via the platform. Tell us, what sorts of things should potential creators know before they start their own projects?

Lewis: At release, if you would like to create your own escape room you simply need the 3D models on your computer ready for upload and a bit of creativity. Nothing more. In the future I plan to make an experience similar to ‘The Sims’ where you can drag and drop pre-prepared assets.

We all know about padlocks and decoders, but will we also be seeing some unconventional contraptions pop up in the creative suite? Will users be able to get a little, shall we say, OTT with their designs?

Lewis: The way I like to think about it is that it is effectively Minecraft’s redstone — simple to understand and most can pull off a simple button door. But then you have some brilliant individuals who have created full working computers that can run doom with it.

Creating a narrative in RoomEscapeVR

Credit: RoomEscapeVR

Are we also right in thinking that you’re on the cusp of releasing your own virtual escape room, too? Could you tell us a bit more about that, as well as some of the themes that will be featured in the experience?

Lewis: Yes! The first room is a classic in the escape room genre. “Prophecy of the Ancients” (working title) has you and your accomplices explore an ancient tomb, unraveling secrets and mysteries to get coveted Egyptian gems. However, the ancients themselves have something in store for you too…

This will be the first escape room of a series to play and will also be available for users to “remix” in the editor.

What’s next for RoomEscapeVR? Do you have any major plans that are due to be executed on the platform over the coming months? If so, would you be able to share some details?

Lewis: The immediate plan is to get as much feedback for the first room as possible, that's why the first escape room is 100% free with a registered account. Learning what works and what doesn't work is the utmost priority so I can rapidly get new escape rooms out for players to try.

What’s the best way to support RoomEscapeVR? Are there any social channels or newsletters we should know about?

Lewis: The best way to support RoomEscapeVR is to spread the word, share the website at roomescapevr.com and join the newsletter here to be the first to know about the new rooms and other offers. Follow my journey developing the platform at @roomescapevr on YouTube and Instagram where you'll expect devlogs and escape room design tips.

Any final words for our readers?

Lewis: Happy puzzling! There's a real opportunity to shape RoomEscapeVR so feel free to get in touch with any ideas, bugs and content you'd like to see more of! Thank you for this opportunity to share my game, Gaming.net! 

Thanks for your time, Lewis!

 

For more information on RoomEscapeVR, be sure to check in with the official website here.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.