What’s a Screen Test?
In Hollywood, there is nothing more important to a casting team than a good old-fashioned screen test. It’s often the single, defining moment when a director can visually determine whether an actor is the right choice for the film. During the casting process, it’s the one chance anyone has to tangibly experience what your final product will look like, should you pull the trigger and move forward.
It can mean the difference between hiring the legendary Kurt Russell:
Or random set carpenter who happened to be there that day, Harrison Ford:
Thank god for screen tests.
In the case of escape rooms, it’s alarmingly common for businesses to develop their own room, buy all the required materials, build their game to completion, and then, after all is said and done, finally start to run beta tests. To keep the above example going, that would be like shooting “Star Wars” with Kurt Russell, only to realize during the test screenings that you need to go back and recast Harrison Ford. (Similar things have happened, to be fair.)
What’s the Point?
At Escape Room Elements, we really don’t like to waste time or money, and that’s why we rely on constant and regular screen tests for our original games. That means running tests early on in the process, even as we write the script, and well before we’ve purchased any construction materials or electronics. From the very initial stages of development, these screen tests help us identify what is and isn’t working in a game. Before we start a second, third, or even fourth draft of a puzzle flow, we’ll often run another screen test.
Why? Because it helps us keep a clear, distinct vision of our game as we create it, so that by the time we’ve reached the construction stage, we can feel confident in every penny we spend. Plus, it helps insure our original room scripts are going to be 100% successful for our customers. You might be thinking this whole process sounds like a pain, but it’s worthwhile. It saves us loads of revisions on the back end, and it’s neither expensive nor difficult.
How Do We Do It?
We simply gather up participants with differing levels of experience, from our “pro teams” (who could probably give Houdini a run for his money), to our less experienced teams (the types of people that have trouble opening an unlocked door). We don’t discriminate, and ironically refer to all of them as Screen Test Dummies.
Depending on our mood, we may or may not give them a general synopsis of the story, and then we send them into a plain industrial room, with fake stand-in props, locks, and puzzles scattered around. They’re nothing fancy, because the needn’t be; they only need to represent the concept of the puzzle, so that we can witness the thought process of the average player and how they connect dots, make conclusions, and ultimately reach a solution. The point is not whether the story or immersion will work–we know it will, because that’s what we do best. Our only goal with a screen test is to determine how the concept, order, and general flow of the puzzles works critically and intellectually, amongst a wide range of players.
If the less experienced players escape quickly, the game is simply too easy, or there aren’t enough steps involved. On the other hand, if after 60 minutes even the pros haven’t escaped, we’ll let let the game run long to get a better sense of what is happening, and what needs to be adjusted. If they, for example, take 90 minutes to get out, something’s probably not working.
Afterwards, we’ll feed ’em, give ’em some beer/wine if applicable, then send them on their way. Everyone has fun, and no one leaves hungry. That’s it.
It’s a simple, affordable, and easy way to stay on top of our concepts from the get-go. Because what’s the point in wasting all kinds of time and money if a game’s not even going to work properly? And that’s especially true and frustrating if there’s an issue that could’ve been fixed at script-level.