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PvP in Escape Academy? It's a better fit than you think

The Coin Crew Games crew tells us why Escape Academy is getting a PvP mode.

George Yang, Contributor

June 15, 2023

5 Min Read
A screenshot from Escape Academy.

Coin Crew Games released its first game back in July 2022: Escape Academy. It’s a puzzle game where players must solve escape room activities within a certain time limit. The story follows a young student and their journey through a school where the best escape artists hone their craft.

Escape Academy received positive reviews and released its first DLC in November 2022 titled, Escape from Anti-Escape Island, where the player’s relaxing summer vacation turns into a frantic game of escape. The game’s upcoming DLC, Escape from the Past, launches on June 19, and it takes place several decades before the events of Escape Academy.

The game has one more expansion called Tournament of Puzzles which is set to release this Fall. It’s a player vs. player (PvP) game mode where players must compete to see who can solve a succession of randomly generated escape rooms the fastest.

Coin Crew Games co-founders Wyatt Bushnell and Mike Mohammed Salyh sat down with Game Developer to discuss the development of Tournament of Puzzles.

Players made it clear: they wanted more Escape Academy

Since Escape Academy’s launch, the biggest piece of feedback from fans is that they simply wanted more content. With the game’s Season Pass, players get both paid expansions, which are essentially double the content of the base game. However, the Tournament of Puzzles DLC will be entirely free.

Salyh said that making replayable content was something that the studio wanted to do, but it was also a response to fan feedback. Fixed escape rooms can only be played once, and once players know the solution, the rooms aren’t really playable anymore.

The development team started prototyping different ideas, starting with more traditional single-player or co-op experiences. However, they made a "versus mode" and that’s what playtesters started gravitating to the most.

A screenshot from Escape Academy's Tournament of Puzzles mode.

"It was way more interesting because you could replay a puzzle that you knew the answer to. But this time it's how fast can I do it, "Salyh explained. "Now, I've seen this puzzle before, but this is a different board state of it. It's Sudoku, but it's a new Sudoku. And‌ that got a lot of positive responses."

Coin Crew Games was developing both Escape from the Past and Tournament of Puzzles concurrently, but put them through different playtesting gauntlets. The team uses the same process, but not the same rubric. What makes a challenging puzzle in a PvP context isn’t the same as in a narrative-driven room like in the previous expansions and base game.

Salyh said, "In a versus match, you want faster solutions. You want more opportunities for the lead to shift." Bushnell adds that player experiences will change because of the procedurally generated nature of the puzzles. As a result, the team is confident that the expansion will keep players engaged long-term.

Mario Kart and Sudoku inspired a PvP mode

Bushnell adds that one of the major learnings behind creating "Tournament of Puzzles" is that procedurally generated puzzles aren’t super interesting by themselves. After playing the same kind of puzzles numerous times, they start to lose their flavor. That’s where the competitive PvP aspect came into play. Bushnell cited Angel Matrix’s platformer game, Neon White, as an example of a simple concept with an enticing twist.

"How do you turn something like platforming puzzle solving [into] a relatively simple concept? Putting it through a speed-running filter really drove up the replayability," he explained. "We're really excited about where we landed."

Bushnell also mentioned that Mario Kart was a big inspiration behind Tournament of Puzzles. In particular, the game mode will have power-ups that players can use to either boost their own progress or hinder their opponents. Depending on how far players are from each other regarding progress, there are mechanics where, if one is behind, they might get a better power-up.

One example of a power-up that the team is working on right now is a mask that players can put on their opponents to obstruct their view for 30 seconds. In the base game, players in co-op can pass along helpful items to their partners, but in Tournament of Puzzles, players could pass along less helpful ones to their opponents.

Coin Crew Games is still in the play-testing phase where the team is still trying out a variety of power-ups and seeing how players react. So Bushnell and Salyh can’t say all of which will make the final cut.

"We really want things that will get players talking to each other. If trash talk is happening in playtests, that means we're doing a good job," said Salyh.

Coin Crew Games is figuring out what comes next

Escape Academy has been out on all modern platforms except for Nintendo Switch. However, that changes later this year when Escape Academy: The Complete Edition launches for the handheld. Coin Crew Games developed the PC version, while Plastic Fern Studios handled the PlayStation and Xbox ports, as well as the upcoming Switch port.

As Coin Crew Games’ first console and PC game, the porting process was a bit of a baptism by fire,‌ like a final boss. "Thankfully, Escape Academy is a very design-heavy game, but not a very technically involved game. We’re not talking about Skyrim-level graphics here," Bushnell explained.

Salyh noted that the studio doesn’t have anything else planned for Escape Academy after Tournament of Puzzles, including DLC or a sequel. However, the team definitely intends to stay in the video game industry.

Before Escape Academy, Coin Crew Games came from making arcade machines and real-world escape rooms. "We haven't really gotten to the point of deciding what's next for Escape Academy or announced anything next for the studio," Bushnell said. "But we are definitely sticking around in this space."

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