C-U Adventures — opening this October in Urbana — will offer a new entertainment option in C-U: A type of real-life game experience known as “escape rooms.”
Escape rooms have been popular on the West Coast and in Asia for years, and they have quickly been making their way to other urban centers around the world, including Chicago and Indianapolis. They involve participants searching through a room for physical clues to solve a series of puzzles that will eventually help them “escape” the room in a set period of time.
"In a post-internet world, people spend so much time in front of their smartphones, computers, consoles, and TV's. Right now, people are craving tactile, real-life experiences where they physically interact with the gaming environment," said Anne Lukeman.
She and her husband, Chris Lukeman, co-own C-U Adventures. Anne and Chris are long-time filmmakers: they run a video production company, Railsplitter Media, and are the founding board members of the Champaign-Urbana Film Society. They were attracted to escape rooms because of their love for film as well as videogames.
“Escape rooms are strongly linked to games, especially video games, and also theatre,” she said. “So they are very exciting to us because they are about telling stories in different ways,” said Anne.
She and Chris first got the idea to open an escape room entertainment venue after participating in a similar type of space — Wizard Quest in the Wisconsin Dells — a few years ago. “We liked that Wizard Quest was about solving puzzles,” said Anne. “The space was amazingly built, and the production quality was very high.”
Anne and Chris are holding themselves to similarly high standards for the production value of C-U Adventures, which is important because Anne emphasized that escape rooms are all about details.
“You might have to look for a letter that has been torn into several pieces, for example,” she said. “Once you find all the pieces and assemble them, that letter might give you a riddle to solve that would help you unlock a door.” That level of attention to detail means that each of the escape rooms needs to be just right before it is opened to the public.
The result is that participants may feel like they are in a movie but at the same time be challenged to use observation and critical thinking skills to figure out how to escape.
C-U Adventures will eventually house several different puzzles, but they’re starting with a "back to school"-themed experience called “Office Hours.”
“I don’t want to give too much away,” said Anne. “But the basic concept is that you discover a mystery about your college professor. You find out he’s gone missing and you have to figure out what’s happened. It’s a multi-room game. One of the rooms is the professor’s office, and there are other places you go as well.” Chris describes “Office Hours” as “Indiana Jones meets H.P. Lovecraft, with a bit of the 90s TV show 'Legends of the Hidden Temple' for good measure."
The second adventure, which is set to open later in October to coincide with Halloween, will be a haunted cabin. Future room ideas include foiling a medieval wizard, saving a doomed spaceship, and 1990s computer hacking are planned for later this year.
Converting the space into a multi-room game has been time-consuming. “We have about 1200 square feet total,” said Anne. Chris, who is also a production designer, is collaborating with a set designer to make the space feel real. “We’ve painting, building elements for the rooms, and filling them in with the right furniture and the right antiques,” said Anne. “We’ve been collecting a lot of antiques so everything is just right.”
The time granted for each escape room at C-U Adventures will be sixty minutes, and participants should register online in advance.