Escape room

Escape Room Music: Adding Another Dimension to the Experience

In spite of, or maybe even because of the Covid-19 pandemic, escape room games are booming as never before...

In spite of, or maybe even because of the Covid-19 pandemic, escape room games are booming as never before. The live games have had to take a reluctant back seat to virtual games, being played over the internet via conference apps. A real person, the game master is in a real escape room, and the players can direct him around looking for clues and solving puzzles as he's wearing a camera and a microphone. It does all sound kinda clunky but works like a dream in reality.

As the genre has grown more and more popular, then new games and concepts are coming to market almost daily. Escape room game businesses are in constant competition to stay just ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing cutting-edge games. A great deal of emphasis is put on room design, with newer ways of hiding clues and inventing puzzles an essential part of staying ahead. With higher quality room sets, along with better props and even special effects, there's one major feature that appears to be missing from virtually all escape room games. And that's music.

Music for Real Life Escape Games

Most escape room businesses focus on puzzle development and designing stimulating themes. Yet for some reason, they completely pass by the possibility of incorporating music into their game structure. If you think of a movie, any movie, then you'll see just how important sound design really is. Yet making your game sound good should be of almost equal importance as the look of the game.

Do I Need In-game Sound and Music in my Exit Room?

It could well be that you choosing to have music or not, has absolutely no bearing on the actual game or the game-play. The puzzles will still work and the clues still are waiting to be discovered. In other words, music is not a "must-have" for the game to function well. But, having said that, there is another argument that says having the right music can transform the game into something more emotionally lifting and create an even more vivid experience. Many consider sounds like an important constituent of your overall emotional being. 

Sound certainly does play a large part in coloring our emotions. For example, take a look at any Hollywood block-buster, first with sound, and then playing the same scene with all sound removed. If you close your eyes and play the scene through for a third time, you'll still have the emotional response even without seeing anything. To that end, we all have to agree that sound does help create an emotional impact. So this begs the question as to why there's no sound in the escape room game space. 

The Art of Not Distracting Players with Music

There's a general consensus that having music in an escape room game is going to be annoying for the players. But when actually put to the test, the results show the opposite. The first point is that many players couldn't even remember that there was music playing throughout their game. This means that the music never intruded into the gaming experience. This is a huge positive because it means that the game's soundtrack was subtle enough, yet not so overpowering as to take the player's focus from the game at hand. The only factors with regards to music that would be distracting would be the wrong choice of music or the volume being too loud.

What Makes a Good Escape Game Soundtrack?

On the whole, there are two types of sounds you're going to be using in an escape room scenario.

In-Game Sounds

These are the sounds used to signify various events happening within the game itself. So, a clock ticking loudly could signify the closing minutes of the game. Or a hint could be marked with a bell sound. Because you want these sounds to catch the player's attention, it's fine if they are loud or even obnoxious. In other words, they are part of the game-play and need to be heard. Every escape room owner can go online and simply download any sounds for a library of copyright-free sounds. Find the ones that you think will fit the ambiance or theme of your rooms, and it'll only add to the overall playing experience.

The Music Soundtrack

It's important to approach the idea of using music in an escape room game with an open mind. Don't just assume it's going to sound rubbish. If we go back to the example of film, then music is essential in supporting the story, of driving the viewer's emotions, and all without being intrusive. And that's the key here, how to provide music but without it being so over-powering as to detract the player from the game. A good soundtrack should add to the overall experience. In the same way that music is used to convey the climax of the film, within the escape game it can also have a place to add pressure as the game comes to its final moments.

Music can also be used to mark different points within the game itself, for example, when the players are moving to a new phase or another quest appears. In the same way that music can be used to denote a particular character.

What Is a Suitable Music Genre for Escape Games?

Probably the biggest mistake escape room owners make is choosing badly or being lazy with their musical choices. They will naturally gravitate towards the corny or the cliched. This means borrowing movie music, whether mafia, horror, or big-budget well-known sound-tracks. The problem with this approach is that the players will already know these well-known tunes, and the playing of them will cause the player to step out of the immersive zone that's so important in making the game believable. These types of soundtracks are nothing more than gimmicks and should never find their way into any escape room game. 

The problem with using well-known musical tracks is that the music is a bad fit for the game. A common one is the use of Christopher Nolan's theme from his 2010 feature, Inception. The problem here is that the piece is so well-known and so over-used, that it'll snap any player out of the game. This means that the players will lose focus, and the gaming experience will not be as enjoyable as it could have been. Never use recognizable music for your games. Apart from copyright issues, you can't make a musical score fit the timeline of your escape room game. The music has been designed to fit a particular piece of film, the action that was being portrayed, for the length of that particular take, no longer and no shorter.

Anatomy of Live Escape Room Music

When you're next to watch a movie, then pay attention to the soundtrack. You'll notice how the soundtrack adopts the setting or epoche of the film. Yet somehow it still remains cinematic. It's the same with video games. There's a soundtrack that goes perfectly with the "feel" of the film, the location, time period, and action. 

The Structural Design of Exit Game Music

Most movies follow the tried and tested three-part storyboard. Or the "hero's journey" as it's called within the industry. essentially we set the scene. The protagonist has to overcome some task or problem. He goes to do this, and after some setbacks, completes the task and immerges as a better person. Obviously, this can't be translated into escape room scenarios. Consider that a live game progresses at different rates of play considering the experience and fortitude of the players. Some players can complete a game in the half the ties others take to fail.

To that end, music for escape rooms needs to be more constant in tone, as too many variations will cause the music to jump from the background, where it belongs. We definitely think that there's room for music during an escape room game. But to be successful it will take a considerable amount of time and effort to get it right. We're going to take a guess that many escape room business owners can't see the justification in spending money for original scores. And though we agree that a business has to always have one eye on the bottom line we do think that the addition of music will add something memorable and give the customers an extra factor to make things even more exciting and fun.

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