The Game Design of Cerebral

I’m going to make this quick, otherwise I would make this unquick.


Editor’s note: This write-up has no spoilers for the game, and is not about puzzle design. That will be a talk for another day!


The escape room industry as a whole is hilariously chaotic. The cardinal rules at one location may be heretical at another, and you have others that exist seemingly to only subvert expectations (looking at you with an angry eye, rooms that have an “unscrew the outlet” puzzle!)


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It’s really the wild west out here! While I have a few principles that I hold dear, it’s purely subjective… meaning I subjectively believe that following those design rules makes an objectively better game. I am straight-up tired of having to solve jigsaw puzzles while criss-cross applesauced’ on the floor. Give me a damn table to work on!


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What makes an escape room?

I assume if you are reading this, then you understand what an escape room is, if not check out this blog, or read the “What is an escape room?” question every ER website has.


Making an escape room is actually really easy. Make like 12-16 puzzles, put some theme in there for flavor, and cross your fingers that it lasts about an hour.


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What makes an escape room good?

That’s the question that keeps me up at night. 


For us, we strive to make the games we would want to play. Give me something novel, something that I think about even weeks after. Give me something that really “wows” me!


Cerebral is our attempt at “Holy Shit”. 



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The Theme


Starting off we knew that we wanted to explore the senses. We’ve made puzzles before that use the sense in interesting ways, like sticking your hand behind the curtain to feel the right clue. But there are many more senses than just touch!


We wanted to create a game that explored those senses and placed a magnifying glass on player experiences within the room. 


There is also a lack of choice within rooms. We wanted to explore the idea of what kinds of choices players would make when presented with a compelling situation.


Using some video game statistics, we find that most video game players choose the “good” paths, and that if given the option to pet a dog players will do it hundreds of thousands of times.


So in summary, we wanted to make a game that relied heavily on senses, and include some kind of moral dilemma dynamic.


The Story


What kind of story would benefit the most from these two themes?


This was the hardest question to figure out! What would benefit the most from using sensory-based puzzles, but would open up interesting circumstances for players to choose how to solve?


What if there was a Dr? Well, doctors are typically highly trusted (I know a lot of anti-vaxxers probably rolled their eyes at that), and it would be an interesting dynamic if he was the bad guy. While this isn’t a 100% original concept, it’s an exciting jumping-off point. We were thinking of something between Jonathan Kramer from SAW and Dr. Josef Heiter from Human Centipede.


Knowing our own limitations, we wanted to create a story in that you don’t directly interact with our Dr. (who will remain nameless for now). If we do it poorly we will have less of an evil character and more of an evil caricature. 


Crafting the story was painless once we understood what kind of antagonist our Dr. character was. You wake up in an uncomfortable location, must pass the doctor’s various tests which rely heavily on the senses, and make a few interesting choices during the game.


The Set


This was by far the easiest step! We wanted something reminiscent of SAW, while still being its own thing. Check out our blogs on the set to read more about it.


The Puzzles


Everything has to fit into one theme: the senses. While we can’t give any spoilers here, there are some interesting physiological puzzles that are present which I have never seen before in an escape room.


There is so much about this room I can’t wait for people to finally see!


To the average player there are tons of nuances that most likely go unnoticed. But for the enthusiast we strive to give back something that makes you go “Wow”.

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