Online, May 2021
With increasing numbers of digital conversions of physical escape rooms emerging, The Clare Abbey is an innovation that seems obvious in retrospect: why limit yourself to digitising your escape rooms when you can digitise any environment and turn it into a game? This game is set in the historic ruins of Clare Abbey in West Ireland, and uses a set of 360° views photographed on-site. Hotspots provide close-ups and clues, as well as navigating between locations. You additionally have a very helpful overview map and an inventory bucket with items you or your teammates have ‘picked up’. The result has a greater sense of scale than a typical digital conversion; it feels somewhere between the 90s classic computer game Myst and Google Streetview.
Despite an integrated intro video, I didn’t entirely get the story was or what we were trying to do, but eventually worked out that we were ghost hunters, seeking evidence of restless spirits in the ruins of the Abbey. The task is to find four different pieces of evidence, then transmit them to your sponsors.
With many different 360° views to ‘travel’ between, exploration and search play a large part in the gameplay. The instructions encouraged us to take notes, and that was essential – without jotting down what we’d found where, there would have been a lot of going back and forth trying to find something we’d seen ten minutes earlier.
This game is built using the Telescape platform, and demonstrates what that platform can do. The ability to explore a digital environment, complete with dynamic and interactive elements, triggered video content, and so on, can provide a very solid digital puzzle game. It also illustrates some of its limitations. That includes simple things such as the way you’re reset to the same orientation each time you change area – a minor point but one that weakens the illusion of exploring the landscape. The bigger issue for me is the co-ordination problem. In an avatar game, the avatar acts as a bottleneck, which constricts game flow but also helps makes sure players see what’s happening. In a pure digital game it’s easy to miss things being solved by your teammates. That can certainly be true in physical escape room too, but the digital environment means it can be a great deal more confusing, doubly so with such a large environment. (This game uses interstitial videos each time one of the main steps is solved, and that helps there, though knowing that something was solved doesn’t tell you what was solved.)
This game format is less to my tastes than some of the other styles of play from home game, but The Clare Abbey is certainly a sophisticated and clever digital adaptation. Using the large outdoor environment is a great idea that gives it a memorable appearance and theme, though comes with the downsides of emphasising search and exploration more than some will like. Just remember to take notes as you play, unless you have an outstanding memory!