What Did The World’s First Escape Rooms Look Like?

Escape Rooms have come a long way since they first opened their doors nearly twenty years ago. With roots in video games to the real deal where you are placed into real-life situations in the most immersive experience, you will possibly encounter. There’s a reason why this phenomenon has captivated players worldwide. 

Today you’ll find authentic props, a realistic-looking casefile and occasionally a banging soundtrack casting you straight into the heart of a game. But the world’s first Escape Rooms looked quite different. 

Let’s step back through time and look at what the world’s first Escape Rooms looked like:

Before (Escape Room) time began…

Escape Rooms have never simply just been a concept. While the origin story is often disputed, most in the industry agree that the first-ever Escape Room was actually a video game. 

Developed by Toshimitsu Takagi and launched in 2004, Crimson Room was a small indy video game that silently took the world by storm. Players would find themselves – as the title suggests – in a crimson coloured room. They would have to interact with their environment, solve riddles and puzzles before reaching the next level, and ultimately make their escape. Sounds familiar, no?

To this day, these iconic video games are referred to as ‘Takagism’ within the rapidly growing Escape Room community. 

But, a video game was never enough to hold this expansive, captivating and, dare we say it, most deserving of hype game ever to grace the earth! 

SCRAP: The pioneering game that launched a worldwide phenomenon

It’s 2007, and Kyoto based developer Takao Kato has a vision. One that will shape the future of the gaming industry forever. The aim: to create a fully immersive game in which players from any walk of life have to solve a series of puzzles, codes and riddles to escape from a locked room. 

Kato’s vision quickly swept the continent. Popping up in venues across the city and supported by a free magazine of the same name. From taking over clubs and pubs to warehouses, as the popularity of the game grew, more permanent homes were needed for the games. 

Now the company produces more than 150 game titles each year. 

Across Japan, SCRAP has 16 physical stores which currently run more than 100 room-type games nationwide. And that’s before you take into account their groundbreaking city-wide puzzle hunts and other unique collab events held across each of their stores. 

Let’s not forget True Dungeon

The Live Escape Room game is widely attributed to Japan. But many do not know that, the earliest concept to resemble what we now consider the Escape Room model was True Dungeon. Created by Jeff Martin and premiering at GenCon Indy in 2003. The game incorporates many of the same elements we associate with live Escape Rooms today:

  • Players explore a physical space
  • Players co-operatively solve mental and physical puzzles
  • A goal must be accomplished within a limited timeframe to complete the game

With its engaging sets and interactive props, it’s no wonder the True Dungeon set-up has continued to play a pivotal role in how Escape Rooms are played today. 

What’s more, True Dungeon is set in just that, a walk-through dungeon environment. It cleverly combines elements of Escape Rooms, haunted houses and is inspired by the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. 

Within gameplay, players can battle monsters, solve puzzles, and individually test their gaming skills while overcoming their chosen adventure’s mental and physical tests of skill. With its striking animatronic monsters and costumed NPC’s. True Dungeon remains one of the most unique experiences in the gaming industry. 

Cracking scientific-based puzzles 

Despite what we all think we know about Escape Rooms, there is a beauty, art and science to the game we all intrinsically love. In 2012, Swiss physics professor Gabriel Palacios pioneered the globally renowned AdventureGames. 

Incorporating elements of the adventure games Palacios played during the 1990s and scientific experiments from his own Physics classes. He created a distinct and defined model of gaming unseen before. Soon, AdventureGames became the go-to team-building event. Where two teams could go head to head in the “duel” games, uncover hidden infrared puzzles and polarised codes. 

The allure of hidden keys

The Escape Room craze was sweeping through Asia and beginning to make its roots in the USA. In the same time, Hungarian innovator Attila Gyurkovics was dreaming up his own version of a live, fully immersive Escape Room game. 

Based in Budapest, Gyurkovics launched Parapark in 2011. Unaware of the growing phenomenon, Gyurkovics concept was based on Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s flow theory. You know the one, where you’re “in the zone!” 

The idea is simple. You perform a fully immersive activity where you are fully involved, have energised focus and enjoyment of the activity. All while transforming your sense of time. 

But then you strip all that back and put the theory into practice and you have a hidden key game scenario. Until you attain each one, you cannot advance to the next stage. Voila! You have yourself the basis of an Escape Room. And Europe has its own brand of gaming prowess sweeping the continent.

Don’t forget Crystal Maze

Yes, Channel 4’s The Crystal Maze was a cultural phenomenon. It left everyone aching for a turn on the nation’s favourite adventure series each week. But it was the fun, innovative puzzles, mindbending codes to crack and the pure adrenaline-pumping joy of seeing contestants fling their arms wide open as they tried to pluck as much cash out of the air as possible before time ran out that brought viewers back for more. 

When you look back at the iconic 1990s show, you can easily spot some of the same Escape Room elements that have helped shape one of the world’s most favourite games. From the high stakes of getting as many crystals as possible. If not, you either became trapped, ran out of time or were eliminated from the game. The seeds of the future Escape Room were there. 

When it comes to the world’s first Escape Rooms, there’s a lot to celebrate. Creators were fearless in their approach. They built concepts from a pure love of pushing themselves, their players and incorporating elements of the things that inspired them from gaming, science and theory. And for the love of the game, that’s why we’re all here!