Stay inside: Trap Door Escape streams escape room thrills to your home
The Covid-19 Pandemic has slowed the pace of life in Red Bank, emptying normally crowded streets and sidewalks, closing parks Asbury Park Press
There's a sensation we're all increasingly familiar with in these pandemic-fueled days of social distancing: For the greater good, we're stuck at home, and some days it's hard to not feel trapped.
The folks at Trap Door Escape are providing a bit of virtual liberation, offering online puzzle-filled games for players of all ages craving the thrill of escape.
Online offerings via Trap Door Escape Stream include interactive puzzle-solving, choose-your-own-adventure style walkthroughs of the company's games in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and episodic, narrative adventures where players solve puzzles in order to advance the story.
The latter in particular hearkens back to the company's earliest days a decade or so ago, as it transitioned from feature filmmaking aspirations to interactive events.
"We’d grown up on the ‘Resident Evil’ video games, they were very puzzle heavy and stuff like that," said Trap Door Escape creator and co-owner Anthony Purzycki of Effort, Pennsylvania. "We were trying to get into feature film. It wasn’t working out, and I kind of got hit with the question from someone in our marketing department: ‘What could be your 'Paranormal Activity'? What could be your 'Blair Witch Project'?
"And I didn’t want to just do like a found footage-style cheap movie so I said, ‘What if we did something where somebody was on Skype’ — because live-streaming was not really a thing yet — ‘and presented it as if it was happening for real and told a story over a live stream?’ ”
By 2011, Purycki and company, known as Mikrotone Entertainment at the time, had launched the online happening "Find Me Event." That was followed in 2013 by the Windward Hotel experience at the Publick House hotel in Chester, the company's first in-person experience.
For Windward Hotel, Purzycki said “we created basically like an immersive theater show, but the participation from the audience came from them helping solve puzzles, and that was really our first iteration of it."
That experience's high overhead — even with a sold-out run of $120 tickets it only broke even — caused Purzycki and his team to modify their concept. Rather than having actors on site every night, they would pre-film their cast and integrate that footage into the set design, along with puzzles and atmospheric scene-setting.
This shift coincided with the global rise in popularity of escape rooms, attractions where players are locked in a a space and tasked with solving a series of puzzles and riddles in a set amount of time.
“We basically figured out how to make money off of it at the same time that (the) escape room (boom) hit because that allowed us to jump on a buzzing marketing trend," Purzycki said. "And we were at that point where we had figured out (that) the large environment works. People like going through it, but what we can’t do is we can’t have an entire cast of people here every night of the week — then the overhead’s just too high or we have to charge too much for tickets.”
Trap Door Escape Room opened its doors in Red Bank in 2015, followed by locations in Morristown in 2017 and in Bartonsville, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos region in 2019.
Last year also saw the launch of Trap Door Escape Stream, with memberships available for $14.99 per month.
The online experience offers puzzle box challenges, as well as escape room streams taking players inside the company's current games. Red Bank's "BogeyMan" and Morristown's "Witch Hunt" and "The Greatest Freakshow" utilize pre-recorded footage presented live by a game master, while "Cure Z" from the Poconos is presented live.
Trap Door Escape Stream is also offering episodic original content. "Buried Alive," launching 9:30 p.m. Thursday, May 7, finds players trying to save a woman trapped underground in a coffin while interacting with police, family members, even the killer themselves.
“There’s a lot of really interactive nature stuff there," Purzycki said, "but the story moves forward as a result of solving the puzzles in the show.”
The thriller "Fool's Gold" kicked off its three-month run May 1, and the 12-episode horror series "I'm Being Haunted" is expected to launch in June. Players will be able to join in on the action following the launch date if necessary. "Buried Alive" is expected to run again after it completes its six-week run, Purzycki said.
For younger gamers, the company is also offering "Puzzles and Kids." Created in collaboration with one of Purzycki's daughter's teachers, the edutainment series asks kids ages 3 to 6 to help an educator in various predicaments. The first episode, for example, is set to premiere May 11 and finds her aboard a space station with the players helping her to repair her craft and return to Earth.
“Every episode is teaching them something else, and it’s also working into the curriculum of what they have to learn for kindergarten, kind of like prep course type stuff but masked in puzzles. So we’re using the puzzles to get them engaged and create that sense of urgency.”
Remember one of Trap Door Escape Room's neighbors on White Street in Red Bank, longtime local fixture Hobbymasters, with this gallery:
For more information on Trap Door Escape Stream, visit www.trapdoorescapestream.com.
Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.