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What are escape rooms?

Escape rooms are live-action team-based games where players discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to accomplish a specific goal (usually escaping from the room) in a limited amount of time.

I've been studying them since late 2014 and have recently released a white paper where I present the results of a survey of 175 escape room facilities around the world.

Nicholson, S. (2015). Peeking behind the locked door: A survey of escape room facilities. White Paper available at


Video review of The Extraordinaires Design Studio


I went to the 2015 NY Toy Fair (tweets and pictures at and found one product that really got me excited.

It's called The Extraordinaires Design Studio, created by the same group who made Rory's Story Cubes.   It's all about learning how to make a design with a user in mind, which is a valuable lesson for anyone who creates things.  I'm teaching a course on Experience Design this semester, and I was amused how they have taken the concepts I'm teaching in that course and turned it into something for kids and families to explore.


You can see this video over on BoardGameGeek at

And remember rule #1:  You are Not Your User!


Next Game Designers' Guild Feb 20.

On Friday, February 20th, we will have the next meeting of the Game Designers' Guild. 

We will start at 5:30pm with some type of a group game.

From 6-7PM, we will talk about designing an Escape Room for a local national park.

Afterwards, anyone who has brought games can set them up to get people to playtest the game.

Bring your games, and we'll see you at 011 Hinds Hall (the Innovation Studio) on Friday, Feb. 20.


Review of The Next Great American Game, Deluxe Edition

I recently was given a copy of the documentary The Next Great American Game, Deluxe Edition to review.  While I didn't promise them I would do a review, I felt it was worth sharing my thoughts.

There are two parts to this documentary, and I'll talk about each separately.   

The main movie is the story of Randall Hoyt, a game designer who believes he has created the next great American game.   From what I can pick out, it is a roll-and-move game about weaving through traffic jams, with random effects thrown in for flavor.  Like so many other unpublished game designers I've worked with, Randall has not explored what is going on with modern board games as he heads to Gen Con with visions of contracts dancing through his eyes.  It's a typical case of someone designing a product without spending the appropriate time to understand the market, publishers, or potential purchasers. It does not go well.

I found the first half of the movie to be uncomfortable, as Randall exhibits what I've dealt with again and again - being defensive about his game as being the greatest game, frustrated as nobody will take his art seriously, and not doing the proper homework before entering a field.  As I run a community-based group for game designers, I have seen my share of Randalls, so for me, I've seen the story in the real world many times.  While I would hope that other first-time game designers would see enough of themselves in Randall to not made the same decisions, I fear that the Dunning-Kruger effect will have them saying that their game is better. (pro tip: It's not.)

The second half of the movie is better, as Randall realized that he needs to listen to what people are saying and make changes.   He still slips into moments of grandeur as he comes back to visit with some of the people that he previously pictched to.   With the exception of a dentistry story that made me squirm in my chair, I found the ending of the movie sent an appropriate message and appropriate expectations to up-and-coming designers.

There is something that new game designers need to recognize with this movie (which becomes most apparant from the director's interview in the bonus features) - because this process was about creating a movie, the producers helped Randall to get meetings with game companies and searched out opportunities for him to pitch his game.  In addition, having the cameras in the room during the game pitch ensured the game companies were on their "best behavior" during the meetings.  Someone going on their own expecting this same treatment may find a frustrating outcome. 

The real value for game designers in this movie is in the Bonus Features, some of which come with the main movie, and many more of which are in the Deluxe Edition.  This portion contains interviews with many well-known game designers and publishers, where a more realistic view of the world of recreational board game publishers comes to light.  For someone wanting to hear the voices and thoughts of Reiner Knizia, Alan Moon, Klaus Teuber, or Richard Garfield (amoung others), it is a treasure trove with hours of wisdom and stories for game designers.  If you listen to podcasts regularly, you will have heard from some of these people before, but to have them collected in one place is quite valuable.

To compare this to other movies out there, the Bonus features are akin to the content found in Going Cardboard, but with a more focused look at game design.  The Bonus tour of LudoFact is a short version of what can be found in Made for Play, which focuses on the publishing process.

The main movie plus a handful of designer interviews costs $19.95 and the Deluxe edition is $39.95.  The Bonus content by itself costs $24.95.  

My suggestions?

If you are wanting to see the path of a first-time designer as someone who is not into modern board games dips his toes in the pirahana-infected waters and like a documentary that focuses on the story of a single person, then the main movie is for you.

If you are a student of game design or more experienced in the field, the bonus collection is a better choice, although if you are already a fan of podcasts, then you have heard much of this before from these same designers on various shows.

If you are seeking more of an overview of the modern board game industry, fans, and players, Going Cardboard would be the better choice.

You can purchase access to The Next Great American Game, Deluxe Edition via their website at .



Spring 2015 gaming-related classes at SU

Here are some of the Syracuse University courses related to games that are open to students from all majors.  If there is a course that needs to be added to the list, please contact

I keep this list updated on the "Syracuse University Game-Related Classes" tab at the top of the page.

Spring 2015

CAR 201 M002 (47678) Intermediate 3D Animation  
Thursday 1:30pm -5:30pm
This course will introduce you to 3D animation concepts and techniques in Autodesk Maya. We will begin with basic animation and rigging, address animation fundamentals and storyboarding, and finally dive into advanced rigging and animation.  Basic knowledge of 3D modeling & texturing in Maya is required to enter the class. Contact Rebecca Ruige Xu ( if you need a waiver for the prerequisite or have any question about the class. If you are a graduate student and would like to take this class, a graduate level independent study can be arranged, contact Rebecca ( for details.

CAR 230 - Topics in Computer Gaming I: Virtual Reality
(Oculus Rift DK2 + mobile VR, 360 degree video production, 3D interactive environments (Unity Engine))
w/ Meyer Giordano, Shaffer 016 Thursday 1:30a-5:30p
CAR 400 - Comics & Graphical Literature
w/ Philip Heimes, Shemin Thursday 2-5. (Studies in Culture or Art History Credit)

CAR 530 M002 - Special Topics in Computer Art: Creating Electronic Art with Max/MSP
w/ Peter Lee / Annina Rüst, Shaffer 016, Wednesday 8:30a-12:30p
Description: This class is an introduction to making electronic art with Max/MSP, a visual programming language. Max is used by composers, performers, software designers, researchers, and artists for creating recordings, performances and installations.
COM300: Psychology of Interactive Media 
Tues & Thurs: 6:30-7:50pm
Why do we engage with online content?
Interactive media offers almost infinite opportunities for communication, but how do inherent psychological needs predict when we like, comment, share, and post online?
Open to all majors, this interdisciplinary class draws on media history, psychological research, and real world campaigns to demonstrate how interactive media affects consumer attitudes and behavior. By the end of the course, students will be able to apply psychological strategies to develop engaging and successful campaigns that connect with audiences in an ever changing media environment. Weekly topics include...
  • ​​Psychology of Self & Corporate Branding 
  • Why Do We Care? Prosocial Campaigns 
  • The Education Politics of Video Games 
  • Social, Mobile, and IRL Immersion
Prof. Charisse L’Pree Corsbie-Massay ( Class Number: 46675
IST 500.M800: Experience Design
Scott Nicholson
You come across a bookmark.
It says 
“Make a Difference! Try Experience Design!
Experience Design is the development of user-based meaningful interactions that connect a user to a product or service. In this project-based class, students will take experience design concepts and apply them to a real-world non-profit context to create an information-based experience. This is not a programming class, although students with programming or Web-design skills can use those in working with their client.”
It contains a single URL:
NEW 400/600 Virtual Reality Storytelling
Wednesdays 5:15-8:00 PM 
Learn to make immersive game-like stories with 360-degree videos for the Oculus Rift — the 3D headset that makes you feel physically present somewhere else.

This course is taught by Dan Pacheco, Chair of Journalism Innovation at Newhouse and is open to students of any major, including from Newhouse, iSchool, VPA, L.C. Smith Computer Science, Whitman and Maxwell. Look for NEW 400(undergrad) or NEW 600 (grad) or Virtual Reality Storytelling in MySlice.

You come across a bookmark.It says Experience Design is the development of user-based meaningful interactions that connect a user to a product or service. In this project-based class, students will take experience design concepts and apply them to a real-world non-profit context to create an information-based experience. This is not a programming class, although students with programming or Web-design skills can use those in working with their client.”It contains a single URL:

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