Adventure Lab’s VR escape rooms are a fresh kind of entertainment

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Adventure Lab offers VR escape rooms with a live host.
Image: Adventure Lab

Trying to find ways to stay entertained during quarantine has been a challenge. Many are left feeling like they just want to escape their home. While escape rooms are closed and will likely be for some time, virtual reality (VR) gives users a new way to escape—both from boredom and from the real world.

A VR startup called Adventure Lab is looking to make live virtual escape rooms the next big trend in entertainment. It’s certainly an odd experience, but one that is totally unique. Add in the fact that players inhabit animal avatars and Adventure Lab’s games get even stranger.

Live Escape Rooms

The idea of live VR experiences, no matter what it is, feels like something from the future. Startups already exist that aim to immerse users in a virtual movie theater for live film streams. Users pay for a ticket, sign in at a certain time, and watch the movie “with” other VR users in real-time.

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Adventure Lab’s live escapes rooms work on a similar premise. Rather than playing a pre-downloaded video game, users interact with a live host as they navigate the virtual setting. The experience uses actors who have been trained remotely during quarantine who lead players through a story. They improvise from a script and embody cartoon avatars that can talk and interact with players.

Notably, the hosts take a share of the revenue from each virtual escape room. Some come from a theater background, others dabble in VR, a few are just getting used to it. Regardless, having a human host in a VR game increases the immersion factor, making it feel more like a real-life escape room than just another video game.

Unique Concept

Adventure Lab is aiming to do something truly unique. Fortunately, it has a noteworthy backing. The startup was created by veterans of both Pixar and Oculus Story Studios. That combination couldn’t be more perfect for what the team is trying to achieve.

Its president, Kim Adams, and CEO, Maxwell Planck, have a wealth of experience in animation and VR storytelling.

The startup is developing self-contained VR escape room events that resemble a real-life experience. A group of up to four people can join at one time to cooperate and get through one of the challenges. That being said, having four participants isn’t necessary. A duo or trio can partake in the events.

Players are welcomed into the game via a waiting room where they receive a bit of background on the upcoming challenge and are trained on how different elements work. Throughout the experience, players must learn to solve puzzles and navigate the environment with a variety of interactive tools. Meanwhile, the live host will encourage users and offer help when needed. They may even do a little antagonizing when playing the role of a bad guy.

In one of the experiences, titled “Dr. Crumb’s School for Disobedient Pets,” players choose one of four animal avatars. Each one is equipped with special powers that let them access certain rooms and move differently through the game.

Right now, Adventure Lab’s experiences are available on the Oculus Store, Windows PC VR headsets, and SteamVR. When users purchase a ticket to a virtual escape room they are sent a code that is entered into the Adventure Lab app. This routes them to a specific room to meet up with a host.

Perfect Timing

As of now, it doesn’t look like interactive attractions will be reopening anytime soon. When Disney World shuts down, you know things are serious. Even a theme park, though, is a different story than an escape room where visitors touch virtually everything. No amount of wiping and hand sanitizing can make such a space safe right now.

While people are itching to return to fun activities in the real world, digital events are growing in popularity. Adventure Lab couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

With millions still quarantined at home (or staying there willingly) VR events offer a welcome escape from the real world. Adventure Lab’s unique escape room experiences are just starting to tap into VR’s potential. It will be very interesting to see where they go in the years to come.

Planck says, “Eventually we want to build all these building blocks so other adventure makers can come on. As we get our feet under us, we do want to expand. We want to bring on adventure makers that we work with closely. We want it to be a little more curated, a little more structured.”

Meanwhile, users can sign up for other virtual escape rooms (though not in VR) through platforms like Zoom. One from a company called Puzzle Break lets friends solve puzzles via Google Drive and screen sharing. They also use the idea of a live host to help out and keep things on track.

Big Ticket Experience

While Adventure Lab’s escape rooms seem like the perfect cure for boredom, prospective players should know that the experiences come at a price. It costs $100 for a group of four to play. That’s a steep price for a game that can only be played once.

There are plenty of VR apps out there that support multiplayer. Likewise, there are a few options for VR escapes rooms—albeit without the live host. None of them cost $100. In fact, most of them are $20 or less. That makes the price tag of an Adventure Lab experience a little difficult to swallow.

To make matters worse, players need VR equipment to actually partake in the experience. One of the most well-rounded yet affordable headsets, the Oculus Quest, retails for $399. Again, that isn’t a small sum.

Nonetheless, for those who have already invested in a VR headset and have some friends who are bored and willing to split the cost, Adventure Lab’s digital escape rooms are a wholly unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.

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