Published on April 1st, 2016 | by Dean Love0
HintHunt, London – John Monroe’s Office
They say you never forget your first time. And while that may be true, they never ask you to write 500 words on it three years after the fact. While I remember a little about the room, perhaps the most frustrating thing is that I don’t remember how I found out about it. At the time HintHunt were the only escape room in the entire country, and there was little to no press coverage, yet somehow I’d happened upon their website, and decided the idea was cool enough to be something I very much wanted to try. After convincing a couple of friends of the same, a new obsession was born.
While the game itself was entirely unremarkable compared to ones we’ve played since: a detective’s office is never going to look particularly interesting, and there were no stand-out moments in the game. But I can’t understate the sheer joy of being let loose in a room for the first time. After a quick briefing that sets up the story and rules, you’re then locked in a room, with your friends, and know that you have an hour to explore and to play in this space. The possibilities are endless, it’s down to you to narrow them down by searching, solving and doing whatever else needs to be done. That’s part of the core appeal of escape rooms for me: exploring and discovering things in a space that’s full of secrets. As a kid I dreamed of finding hidden passages or secret rooms in my house. We never did. But escape rooms help recreate that sense of wonder.
But even as a first-timer, one mechanical thing was apparent about HintHunt – I’ve seen this levelled as a criticism of this room a fair few times, and I’m not entirely sure it’s fair. See, HintHunt lives up to its name. You get hints. They’re delivered on a screen within the room itself, and provided when the staff feel you need one, rather than when you ask. And we got a lot of hints. Well of course we did, we were inexperienced newbies at the time. But sometimes, it seemed that some of the puzzles were entirely unsolvable without either a hint or sheer guesswork. As an example, at one point we had discovered a few different bits of information. Those bits of information needed to be combined to generate a code. But nowhere was there any clue on how to combine those bits of information. Nowhere but on the hint screens anyway. I’ve seen it suggested in a few places that this basically means the game is broken, from a design perspective.
But only if you see it as a game. See I have a hunch that HintHunt is designed like this on purpose. There are puzzles that you simple can’t solve without hints. Which means that the staff have a degree of control over how quickly you progress. Obviously, they can always feed you more hints if you fall behind, but if you’re powering ahead, they can also withhold crucial hints to effectively leave you stuck for a little bit. That may sound unsatisfactory, but again, only if you see it as a game, or a challenge. If instead, you view it as an experience, it allows them to carefully control the pacing, to ensure no-one escapes with more than ten minutes to spare. And to ensure everyone has a tense, pressured ending. As additional evidence for this, HintHunt have no interest in tracking record escape times, or leaderboards or so on. It’s very much entirely about ensuring everyone has a good experience.
Today, in the very densely populated London market, where many players will have done other rooms, that may not be a positive. I’d imagine playing this room now, I’d realise all this during the game and it might spoil it a little. But for a first room, it instead offered just the right experience to get me hooked.
Result – we escaped with seconds to spare! I got a new hobby.
Date played: 17 April 2013
Team: Dean, Jess, Jane
Summary: An unremarkable room but one which hooked me on the entire concept. A great introductory game.