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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

Escape rooms on the rise in Windsor

By Justin Prince

From the outside looking in, most people who walk by the Windermere building on Tecumseh Rd. would see just a normal structure.

But for those who enter the basement of one of the stores located inside it their experiences are anything but ordinary.

The basement is home to Hidden Trail Escape Rooms, a new attraction which opened Oct. 13. An escape room is a room designed with a series of clues, puzzles or storylines patrons must decrypt to exit the room. They can be designed to follow a story or simply be a difficult room according to Brent Riberdy, the owner of the newest escape room in Windsor.

The facility has seen about 15 to 20 groups enter the rooms at Hidden Trail since its opening. It is the second business of its kind to open in Windsor after seeing popularity in other cities such as London, Ont. and Toronto.

He has seen rooms vary in size, from solo rooms to ones that can hold 50 people at once.

“One of the major differences I noticed is that in Toronto, nobody complains about having nothing to do and you could always find something to do,” said Riberdy, a Windsor native who moved back to the city a month ago after living in Toronto for two years. “In Windsor, I got that from my buddies and a lot of family and they just didn’t know what to do to have fun and to enjoy themselves. I think bringing something new to Windsor is important to me.”

The Windsor facilities are part of a growing trend across the world.

The real-life adventure game first started in the virtual world as part of a genre called room escape. In 1988, U.K. publisher Zenobi Software released the first example of the genre with a PC game titled Behind Closed Doors, a game where players were trapped in a restroom. The idea soon made it to the real world in 2007, when SCRAP Entertainment Inc. held the first escape room event in Japan called Real Escape Game. In 2011, escape rooms started opening in Singapore and in other Asian countries. By 2014, there were about 500 escape room games worldwide according to the Escape Room Directory. As of Nov. 6, that total has grown to more than 1,100 facilities and more than 2,500 rooms registered. There are more than 90 facilities in Canada listed on the website.

Riberdy, who also works on concepts with other escape rooms in California and Texas, had spent about a month building his room in the basement of a local gaming lounge with a majority of the time going towards building the walls for the escape room and designing the puzzles. Overall, Riberdy spent between $4,000 and $5,000 on the project. Riberdy said Hidden Trail’s room is designed to be “a little more towards the difficult end” and has a 15 to 20 per cent success rate. He said he recommends participants have six to 10 people in a group for his room. Riberdy also said he prefers not to give many details about the room to participants beforehand to keep its clues a surprise.

“I think most people once they’ve kind of gotten the feel for an escape room, they can be pretty simple, but a lot of rooms are developing such that they’re a little more difficult … But, a lot of rooms are easy too,” said Riberdy. “Usually you want to have a good range (of difficulty). Windsor has some pretty difficult rooms (right now).”

Meanwhile, near the intersection of Dougall Ave. and Tecumseh Rd. W. is Windsor’s first facility, Enigma Escape Rooms. The difference between the two facilities can be seen quickly. While Hidden Trail focuses on a horror-themed design, Enigma focuses on a calmer environment. The facility, owned by A.J. Miller, started with a professor’s office-themed room a few months ago as a way to test out the difficulty and challenges of them. Today, he’s in the process of building two additional rooms to create a trilogy for people to go through. Overall, more than 100 groups have the challenge of trying to escape the office.

Miller said he doesn’t see other escape rooms as competition but rather as being something where people can go from one room to the next. He feels it is important that other places have the same standard of quality for their rooms.

“They’re not really competition,” said Miller. “It’s an interesting market where people come and complete the professor’s office and the immediate thing what most of them say is ‘I want to do another one. Where can I do it?’”

Drake Baird was part of one of the first 20 groups to enter Enigma’s escape room. He had found out about the room from his girlfriend and decided to go in with seven other people. He said he learned how to change how he thinks in certain situations.

“It made me look at everything a little bit differently because anything can be a clue. Anything can be used to find the next riddle or find the next piece of the puzzle,” said Baird. “It was fun to go about it in a systematic way of looking at everything just a little bit differently.”

Both Miller and Riberdy said their rooms have seen a small profit so far. Riberdy said his current basement facility is only a temporary location and hopes to open a larger facility with four to seven rooms in the near future. Miller said Windsor should be able to support two to three escape rooms and said it’s highly likely he’ll expand his to six rooms.

“So far, I have not seen a group not just constantly talking about how awesome that experience was,” said Riberdy when asked why people should enter an escape room. “I think it’s just mostly something new and it’s creative and if you haven’t tried it, trying something new is great, but it’s mentally challenging, it’s a lot of fun and it builds teamwork.”

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