It’s been a while since we signed up for Escape Academy, the latest game from Coin Crew Games. Imagine Harry Potter but instead of magic, you’re learning to master puzzles and well on your way to understanding this pocket classic. It’s proven to be twisted fun for co-op players and those with Game Pass, and we’re personally looking forward to its season pass starting to offer new maps to get stuck into.
We were very fond of Escape Academy, giving it a 4/5 in reviewso we jumped at the chance to get locked in a room with its creators, Coin Crew Games.
Hello, could you introduce yourself and your role in Escape Academy?
MICHAEL – I’m Mike Salyh. I am one of the co-founders of Coin Crew Games.
WYATT- I’m Wyatt Bushnell, I’m the other co-founder of Coin Crew Games.
Could you give us a quick summary of the game?
WYATT- Escape Academy is an escape room adventure game, where players play a student at the titular Escape Academy, an academic institution where the curriculum is made up entirely of escape rooms.
Everywhere you look on our main streets there are escape rooms. What do you think makes them so popular right now?
MICHAEL – Escape rooms are a great way to spend quality time with friends, family, and co-workers. It is also a very active and practical type of entertainment. Plus, you’ll feel smart in the end! That is a very attractive combination of factors.
We love the idea of bringing escape rooms into an academy, making it a curriculum to complete. Where did the idea come from?
WYATT- We were trying to find a way to have a bunch of different environments while still having a consistent story line. A wider variety of environments makes for a wider variety of puzzles when it comes to escape rooms. Escape Room’s puzzle design is all about making a lot of the environment and environment theme within the puzzles. So our computer lab level has you navigating computers and reading binary to solve your puzzles.
Much of the joy of a physical escape room is rummaging through things to find important clues. In a video game, we have a habit of highlighting important things for a player. How have you found the sweet spot to help the player, but not give too much away?
MICHAEL – It’s a delicate balance: if you don’t have enough props to interact with, the solutions to the puzzle will be obvious. But if you add too many, you risk burying the player with red herrings. We use a lot of trial and error to find the sweet spot. This “goldilocks” approach was a big part of our development process, since you can’t play your own puzzles – we rely on feedback from our playtesters.
How much of one escape room carries over to the next? Things like items and hints. Or is it important that a fresh player enters each one?
MICHAEL – The story continues from room to room, but the puzzles in each Escape Room are completely self-contained. We didn’t want players to need to Google some information that they had forgotten earlier. Everything you need to solve the puzzles is locked up with you!
One of the most important elements of an escape room is the time limit: the chance that you might fail. But that could be frustrating in a game where you have to keep progressing. How have you handled failure?
WYATT- We felt that time pressure was a core part of the escape room experience, but if you run out of time, you can continue and it will affect your score (and your pride).
Did you play a lot of escape rooms for inspiration? Has a puzzle been stolen?
MICHAEL – We started building Escape Academy during the height of the pandemic in 2020. At the time, all real-world escape rooms in Los Angeles were closed. In a way, our inability to play escape games in real life was a huge motivator for creating this title. We do play a lot of digital puzzle games though – three of my biggest inspirations were 999, The Room and Phoenix Wright.
Online and local co-op is a great inclusion. Escape rooms are definitely meant to be played together. What have been the obstacles to adding this feature?
MICHAEL – We knew from the beginning that Escape Academy was going to support co-op because real-world escape rooms are very social experiences. Building for local multiplayer also came naturally to us – our background is in arcade building.
However, getting online multiplayer to work was definitely a big challenge. That’s something our studio had never done before, and it kicked our butt. But we succeeded and we are very proud of the result!
How do players work together in online co-op? How much can one puzzle player see of his partner?
WYATT- There is no hidden information between cooperative players in Escape Academy. The cooperative mode of this game is all about two heads being better than one, and working together on puzzles.
How has it been working with doseone on the soundtrack?
WYATT- He’s the fucking best. Adam is amazing to work with, and he’s one of the most genuine and cool guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. It’s really nice to have a soundtrack that you actually play in the background while you’re working on the game because of how hard SLAPS is.
What is the key to building a great escape room? Where do you start?
MICHAEL – A large Escape Room part of the stage. You need a compelling and clear objective for the players to achieve (eg “Disarm the bomb”). You can then get to work creating puzzles that prevent the player from achieving that mission (“The pump is blocked, you don’t know which wire to cut, etc.”). It is very important that the player understands what he is trying to do, or else the puzzles will feel arbitrary. And there is nothing worse than random puzzles!
And finally, what grade would you get in Escape Academy?
MICHAEL – I would be a solid B student. Not sure I want to go through the extra deadly coursework that A+ students seem to have to deal with!
Many thanks to Mike and Wyatt at Coin Crew Games for taking a break from creating Season Pass levels for Escape Academy to chat with us. Escape Academy is now available on Xbox (Xbox Store link is here to save you the trouble) and other consoles, and it’s available on Game Pass.