MADXscape is a fresh take on escape rooms

Student riding bike
Photo by Austin Andru

Connor Bess completing his spy training in the MADXscape room.

The MADXscape room at Durham College is a Camp X-themed time travelling puzzle adventure that brought in 45 people as part of Doors Open Oshawa.

Doors Open Oshawa is part of a greater initiative of Doors Open Ontario to show interesting places within communities in Ontario. This is brand new addition to Doors Open Oshawa.

This is no ordinary escape room.

“You’re not dealing with old toolboxes and rusty things,” says Greg Murphy, dean of the School of Media, Art and Design. “This is all done using AR (augmented Reality), VR (virtual Reality), haptic technologies.”

The story, written by journalism professor Teresa Goff, sends participants back in time to the Camp X spy training facility in Whitby used during the Second World War.

Their primary objective is to get to Durham College from Camp X by solving a variety of puzzles. A monitor tracks the progress of escape room players as they’re doing this with pins on a map from Camp X to DC.

Using an iPad, participants scan the room for clues that appear on the screen in AR. One puzzle involves motion controllers for a combat simulation, another involves an interactive AR bike race, and a dancing game using pressure sensitive pads.

Several school programs were involved in the creation of the escape room, including, digital photography, interactive media, contemporary web design, graphic design and journalism, says Murphy.

“It was unreal,” says Francesca Porco, a second-year interactive media student who worked with the pressure sensitive pads. “It’s one thing to see your work on a computer screen and another to see it applied.”

Students had to learn brand new technologies they haven’t worked with before.

“They realized it was a lot of work,” said Wade Clarke, a professor of interactive media design and one of the key organizers of MADXscape. “They spent hours and hours and learned how to do it and really appreciated the opportunity.”

Clarke says it was challenging to create and ensure consistency across the board but they followed through in the end, and Murphy is impressed at the continued work of the students, some of whom have already left DC.

“We’ve got two students who worked on this when it was first started, they graduated, but they still continue to work on it, so we have two alums,” says Murphy. “Then we’ve got five students who are in a program and we’ve got another student still in high school. So in a sense we have three generations of students working on this.”

After having completed spy training, Vijearajah Rathan, an interactive media student who came to see what the other students created, says, “it allows me to know what I’m going towards, I can see where I’m going in the future.”

It took 16 months to complete. Many people of all ages came through to the room in C154 in the Gordon Willey building. “The age group varied from 6 years old to 80 years old,” says Linda Cheng, a professor of contemporary web design involved with the event.

Murphy says when the concept had come forward, “nobody had done it, there was no model.”

Each game and puzzle was custom-built by students. The only prebuilt program used was Aurasama to display the AR graphics.

“Everything was from scratch. The stories, all the puzzles,” said Brent Hudson, a professor at Durham College.  Other escape rooms “order a puzzle system.”

“You’ll recognize nothing in it,” from other escape rooms, Murphy says.

The MADXscape room will return for open house on November 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.