Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Xcape Sydney - Review of Artificial Intelligence

Hi there

Artificial Intelligence was the second room we tried at Xcape during a single day when we tried 5 of their rooms back to back in December 2017.

The room summary for Artificial Intelligence is as follows, taken from Xcape's website:

In a world where computers and artificial intelligence have become inseparable parts of our lives, where do we draw the line?  You operate a company specialising in computerised technology, making humanoid robots and programs to replace humanity.  A miscalculation in your company's programming system has allowed the computerised humanoid robots to self develop and defy orders, which leads to chaos beginning with the lockdown of your company building.  Can you and the remaining survivors of your company escape the building and outsmart the program which you built?

My initial thoughts on reading this room summary was that this sounded a lot like the movie I, Robot (and I was right).  

We were a 3 person team.  Artificial Intelligence requires 4 players, so Max from Xcape came along with us for the ride (a silent fourth player).  Artificial Intelligence was our 67th room in Australia (and our 54th room in Sydney). 

So, here's what I thought of Artificial Intelligence at Xcape:
  • the production quality of the room is very strong.  The room theme is futuristic and high tech and the props and theming does that theme justice.  Xcape have clearly spent a lot of money on the production value of each room;  
  • every puzzle in this room is high tech - there are no padlocks or keyed locks of any kind to be seen.  I often say that many designers use high tech for the sake of high tech (even when it does not suit a theme at all) - however, the tech in this room is well concealed and in any event, perfectly suits the room theme;
  • some of the tech in this room is new to Australia (at least as far as I am aware).  It's hard to go into too much detail on the particular puzzles without giving spoilers, but one of the puzzles in particular was really high tech, really fun and I thought perfectly suited this theme - and it just happened to be something I had never before seen in an escape room (note though that my team did not enjoy this puzzle as much as I did - see my comments below in that regard).
There were a few things in Xcape's Artificial Intelligence room that I think need to be improved though:
  • there are a couple of puzzles that I think are just too difficult for most players to solve.  One puzzle that comes to mind is set in an elevator at the very start of the escape - the clue was so subtle that we missed it several times and needed help to start.  When we were given the solution, we weren't "wow"ed;
  • one puzzle in particular requires, in my view, external knowledge (or at least a very good understanding of binary).  Luckily, one of my team members had that knowledge but I can imagine that teams without that skill would never solve this puzzle.  Another aspect that is a problem with this puzzle is that there is far too much for players to remember (clues are given for a fleeting moment, requiring players to remember a long string of information).  We suggested to the owner that they might like to include a whiteboard and marker for teams, which hopefully they will implement;
  • there is another puzzle that requires teams to rely heavily on their memory skills.  I think this puzzle is easier to solve (eventually) than the binary puzzle, but I can see teams having difficulty with this puzzle (and it could easily become a chore).  I personally really quite enjoyed this puzzle, but my team mates did not.  We also had a lot of technical problems with this puzzle, requiring game masters to come in several times to reset the puzzle.  The owner told me that they would fix this though before the rooms are open to the general public;
  • there is a puzzle that requires external geography knowledge.  This can be solved by a process of elimination, but external knowledge (albeit reasonably commonly-held external knowledge) is relied on; 
  • I do not think that there are enough puzzles in this room for a full 60 minute escape room.  My team of 3 succeeded in significantly less than the allowed 60 minutes, so I think Artificial Intelligence needs at least 2 or 3 more puzzles;
  • I think the room is quite expensive at $50 per person on a weekend or evening.  The average price for an escape room in Sydney is around $40 per person (assuming a team of 4 players), so I think $50 is quite steep.  

Artificial Intelligence is a room that is very high tech with a lot of money having gone into the production and set design.  Despite this, the level of immersion is not as high as it could be.  There are also some issues with puzzles that could be improved quite easily by the inclusion of a whiteboard and marker.  Hopefully the technical issues we had during beta testing are resolved now that the rooms are open to the public.

Where:                   18 Queen Street, Chippendale 

Duration:               60 minutes

6 currently

$40pp (or $50pp on weekends/evenings) (but we played at the kind invitation of Xcape)

Overall Rating:      Suited to players favouring high tech over strong, immersive puzzle design

More details:          http://www.xcapes.com.au/

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