ERChamp 2021: The Finale

Though my team didn’t qualify for the ERChamp finals this year, we still went back and played the finale as soon as we had a chance. Short summary- we really enjoyed it despite getting stuck badly early on. I’m already looking forward to next year’s contest.

A short recap on ERChamp: ERChamp is an online escape room championship open for free for teams of 2-4 who wish to go head to head with some of the best puzzle solvers in the world to race to the finish line once a year.

My team took about 3.5 hours to complete the challenge, though we asked a team that had previously completed the challenge for a nudge early on, so I’m not even going to bother to try comparing to the fastest times this year; I’ll just assume we would have been stuck at around 5% completion for a LONG time.

That first blocker, searching for a place we could use one of our items, took us an exceptionally long time, but we also got mildly stuck (about 15 minutes each) at two other points, so we weren’t just a mistake away from a great time.

The finale game differed in nature from most other ERChamp games we’ve played in one notable way- the geography of the game is relatively contained. Even in the qualifier round, a big part of the game was finding ways into new spaces and progressing through, but most of the puzzles in the finale round were contained in two rooms.

This design choice led to a different type of challenge. Very early in the game, you find locks and clues that contribute to some of the final puzzles in the game, but nothing tells you that you don’t have everything you need to solve them yet. You might study a book with a cryptic message for an hour, only to realize that there’s another half of the clue you need to integrate that can’t be found until later. We encountered a few elements like this in the qualifier round, but the finale ramps it up to a new level, throwing more than a dozen locks and interactive objects at players and letting players decide what to focus on.

It’s an unusual challenge, and I really enjoy it. Sure, I want to break my computer when I stare at a clue for thirty minutes and only find out later that it can’t be used yet, but the moral of the story here is that I probably shouldn’t be staring at a clue for thirty minutes. The puzzles all make sense, so the answer is rarely gleaned by staring at a clue for a long time.

Kudos to the teams that won this year. The top finisher completed in about an hour and a half, which honestly is almost assuredly better than the time my team would have gotten without getting stuck three times. They must have been veritably flying through the game- super impressive.

And a huge shout out to Lockme for setting up this whole event. Between setting up the puzzles and rendering the game environment, this cannot be a small task to set up, and to do it for free is a huge service to humanity.

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