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Escape Room Part 5: Final Reflections

by Jack Frey May 11, 2017

Escape Room Part 5: Final Reflections

This post is part of a series I am writing about my senior thesis project. Please check out the other parts of the series to learn even more about my project: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Looking back at the past two semesters, I can't believe that my senior thesis project is over. It seems like just yesterday when I was consistently emailing sponsors trying to get donations for an idea that did not seem as large-scale as it turned out to be. The entire concept of my project started in a class I was taking called Technology and the Experience of Place. In that class we discussed how technology can be used to create/manipulate environments and experiences. We were talking specifically about how to potentially recreate the experience of the Nine Circles of Hell from Dante's Inferno, and one group suggested an escape room. The idea intrigued me but then slipped to the back of my mind.

I knew I wanted to do something either physical computing or web related (or maybe a combination of the two) since those were my two main focuses in my major. I tossed around several ideas, and even brought some of them really close to the proposal stage, but I was not really passionate about any of them. I then thought back to the escape room idea from the class I mentioned earlier. At first I was unsure if this would be a good thesis project, but I spoke to my friends and professor and everyone seemed to think it'd be the perfect project for me. I then went to my first escape room at Amazing Escape Room's Princeton Location and I was hooked. It actually worked out really well because the project allowed me to combine my physical computing and web skills and also stood out in our spring showcase among the mostly digital projects.

The two weeks leading up to the showcase were extremely stressful. I was confident in what I was doing, but setbacks such as lost packages and plot holes kept on making me worry that it would not come together. I had to cut things from my project constantly, such as the pulse sensors/EKGs and pressure sensing floor pad, and add things, such as more clues, just as often. One setback that occurred extremely last minute involved me not being able to figure out how to use the color sensors for the chemistry puzzle I had designed. I am pretty good when it comes to learning how to use new sensors, so I saved figuring out the color sensors for later in the process than I probably should have. The color sensors communicate over I2C using the SDA (D0) and SCL (D1) pins on the Photon. I got the sensor to work briefly, but for some reason it stopped working and would only read white no matter what I put in front of it. I had three of the sensors and the same thing happened for all of them. I am sure given more time I could have figured it out, but it was just not happening in the time frame I had. I even let my professor look at the sensors and he had trouble figuring them out too. Fortunately, I was able to come up with an alternate solution that worked really well. Even through all of these stressful moments, everything came together and I was extremely pleased with the final result.

Watching people participate in my escape room and partake in a project that I had worked so hard on was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Because of the time crunch, I did not really have time to playtest my project, so I was nervous that people would not be able to solve it or would not like it. But all the players had a great time and every group was able to solve it even if they needed to request a couple hints. The puzzles, vests, and web app all came together seamlessly (for the most part) and everyone was intrigued by and had a lot of questions about how all of the components in my escape room worked.

After I finished my unscripted player orientation and led people into the escape room, they were completely invested from the moment they found the circuit breaker and turned on the lights to the moment when they unlocked the refrigerator and found the fake bloods samples. They had to progress through five puzzles (finding the circuit breaker and turning on the lights, the chemistry puzzle, they keypad puzzle, interpreting clues using the UV flashlight, and unlocking the refrigerator) and they seemed to enjoy all of them. It was a really interesting experience to be able to watch everyone participate in the escape room via the live feed I set up and to have to come up with hints on the spot. I am sort of sad that the experience is over because I enjoyed it a lot. I also wish that I could have had my escape room open for more than one night, because at the showcase there was a three hour wait so not everyone got to participate who wanted to. Nonetheless, I think that my project was a success and a great learning experience. You can see more photos and videos of my project, as well as all the code and other assets, here. You can also find out more information about my project and other work on my website at http://jackfrey.net/.

There are many people that I owe a debt of gratitude to for helping this project come together. First, I am grateful for my sponsors Chicago Electronic Distributors and Elmwood Electronics for letting me get exposure for my project by blogging about it on their websites and for their product donations. I want to thank the rest of my sponsors SparkFun, Particle, Hi-Vis Supply, CanaKit, Home Science Tools, Hack TCNJ, and Nova-Tech International, for their product donations as well. Reaching out to companies for donations is something that I had little experience with and that was a little nerve wrecking at first. I was really hopeful going into it but was unsure why a company would want to give free things to some random student at some random school. Fortunately, thanks to my very detailed proposal and the fact that I knew exactly what I needed, I was able to find more companies than I could have ever imagined that were willing to work with me. I started off this project with an initial estimated cost of over $1000 and most of that was completely funded through product donations. In addition to the companies that helped support me, I also want to thank all of my friends, professors, and everyone else at TCNJ who helped me with my project and put up with me when I was extremely stressed out.




Jack Frey
Jack Frey

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