'We want people to feel like someone has really loved this world, someone has given you everything you could possibly want.'
Most of us can’t afford a holiday home, but with Nick Moran’s help we might soon have a getaway abode within our regular four walls. Already fully funded on Kickstarter, Spectre & Vox aims to deliver an entire 3D haunted house to explore, complete with spooky lighting, secrets to uncover, and a fully narrated story.
A seasoned hand in the escape room business, Moran is the former co-director of the London-based Time Run. His work in the industry has seen him design a huge range of puzzles, including working as game director on Sherlock: The Official Live Game, which he co-wrote alongside Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss. In short, Moran is used to doing puzzles on a grand scale. For this project, however, he aims to shrink the entire experience down to fit on your living room table.
“We wanted the experience of a live experience at home,” said Moran. “We wanted to make sure people could turn off their house lights and escape the house they’re trapped in right now and just exist in this world for them. They could lose themselves in a world created somewhere else but is tangible and physical.”
Escape room board games are nothing new, of course. The Exit and Unlock series have been delivering small-scale enigmas since 2016. With more than 15 games in each line, it’s safe to say that the packaged puzzle formula is a popular one, too. But to Moran, the quintessential essence of an escape room is missing.
“What they lack, for me, is the adventure element,” said Moran. “It’s the greatest thing about an escape room. I’ve played an embarrassing number...about 250 escape rooms -- I don’t want to think about how much money that is -- and I can name, of those 250 games, five puzzles? Because the puzzles don’t really matter. The puzzles are gateways for the experience; they’re building blocks that hold you up along the emotional journey.
“That’s not to say that the Exit board games are bad! Clearly they’re very good and very popular. It’s more that we wanted to create the style of escape room that we wanted to make in real life, which is quite difficult to do. So we came up with a very interesting solution.”
That solution stemmed from Moran and co-founder Glen Hues’ extensive experience crafting escape rooms together in the past.
“I’m used to building big sets and environments,” Moran said. “Lots of tech, smoke, things like that -- complex things. I was thinking, what would I do? What would an escape room experience at home be that excites me, personally? So the idea came of how could we build an escape room set?”
The result is a house intended to be played with and explored extensively. Rooms are just the beginning, as players will be able to investigate cupboard and pry open drawers as they hunt for clues. Handcrafted in the UK, the 80cm x 80cm (31.5" x 31.5") puzzle box is no small feat to produce, but Moran is confident it will deliver that missing element he feels most board games lack.
“At the moment there’s this thing called the ‘Top Escape Rooms Project’ which is run by enthusiasts,” Moran explained. “They have an international survey of tens of thousands of enthusiasts who rate what they most value. Every year it’s discovery. And you can’t have discovery in an Exit or Unlock game, you just can’t. That’s what we’re trying to create.”
Much of that magic will be handled by the accompanying app. Working in conjunction with the players’ actions and choices around the house, it’ll relay the story and finer details of puzzles through six chapters of intrigue.
“So much of it is about what the software is doing,” said Moran. “That’s where the narrative comes through. It’s effectively your interface. So if you see a drawer and open it, what you discover inside of it is revealed by audio. Ultimately, although people are using [the model] as a world map to discover elements, puzzles, and solutions; their journey is dictated by the software. The little horror moments come through that. The house in itself is a cross between a game board, a world map, and an escape room.”
Working at such a small scale might seem a world away from traditional escape rooms, but in many ways, Moran found it familiar. The process even helped to uncover some notable benefits to the tabletop space.
“The reason why escape rooms have time limits is not because it makes for a better experience,” Moran admitted. “It’s not because it makes it more fun. People will sell that to you on a Facebook ad, but it’s bullshit. It’s nonsense. The truth is that it’s for footfall -- you have to get so many people through in a day. I would love to have no one ever fail an escape room and to give people infinite time to explore at their own leisure.
“What I love about [Spectre & Vox] is that there is no time limit. We say one hour of gameplay per chapter, but it’s absolutely going to be much more than that. We’re just being conservative. We want to give people the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny, to see every detail, to find lots of fun little hidden Easter eggs. We want people to feel like someone has really loved this world; someone has given you everything you could possibly want.
“All those same details are in escape rooms. But here everyone has the opportunity to explore everything they want rather than it happens to be what they see along the way. That’s something I’d love to take into my escape room design.”
Delivering on an ambitious project like Spectre & Vox seems like a risky endeavor, and Moran is well aware of the challenge his team faces. Thankfully, if the recent years of “legacy” gaming have proven anything, it’s that the tabletop market for mysterious packages and unknown delights is certainly not in short supply. The team’s efforts have already resulted in the project soaring past its £34,800 funding goal to reach over £250k (about $336K) in support by the time it closed.
Spectre & Vox’s first haunted house is an extremely limited-run, meaning it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy if not already a backer. But Moran and his team have big plans for the future, and we’re thoroughly excited to see how this first stage plays out when copies start shipping early next year.
You can find out more about Spectre & Vox on the game's official website.
When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deckbuilders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.