Dissertation Project

15th September '19 – ⁠12th May '20



The primary aim of this project was to build a user-friendly tool to support escape room maintainers and their relationships with their audience. The literature survey exposed concerns regarding use of technology within an escape room setting, and a gap in the market for an external technological tool. The end product was built as a web application functioning as a social network between escape room maintainers and enthusiasts. This met requirements established by surveying and discussing with maintainers. The dissertation paper documents, and justifies decisions made along, the process of development of this product.

You may have heard of escape rooms - they're team-based, interactive experiences where groups of people solve puzzles to escape a room, solve a murder, or achieve some other objective. I've enjoyed challenging these with friends, and admire the design that goes into building a challenging room. It's an interesting industry that's come to life over the past five or so years.

Initially, my dissertation aimed to create a distributed system for use inside escape rooms - microcontrollers or systems on chips could send triggers back to a main server, to allow the maintainer of the escape room to track puzzle completion at a detailed level. Laser tag franchises such as Quasar Elite give participants detailed stats - how many times they shot or were shot by each person, for example - and a solution like this would potentially help escape rooms of all sizes to implement this for themselves.

My literature review explored implementations of escape rooms, both in the industry and in educational scenarios. These guided a set of requirements and priorities for digital solutions in escape rooms, which led me to abandon the initial idea in favour of something much more helpful to escape rooms.

I noticed that escape rooms' online presence was somewhat fragmented, and that it wasn't particularly intuitive for enthusiasts to seek out rooms. Some folks maintain lists, but there are local and national groups on Facebook and other platforms dedicated to asking for recommendations. Escape room maintainers agreed with this, communicating that they'd be interested in the use of technology to engage directly with enthusiasts on a platform just for escape rooms and their customers.

Based on the survey I'd conducted, I started to establish requirements and a vision for the platform, which I decided to call Blacklight. Blacklights (UV lights) are often used to reveal the solutions to puzzles, and are infamous within the community for their use in the wide majority of escape rooms. Blacklight is a webapp backed by Ruby on Rails, with some React in the frontend. Auth0 is employed for authentication. Since a lot of escape rooms already have presence on Google Maps, I thought it also made a lot of sense to integrate with that too.

The final product isn't far from being marketable - more test coverage and data pagination would be just a couple of things that could have helped to bring it closer to being a complete product. However, COVID-19 radically affected the escape game industry as escape rooms are reliant on the physical presence of their customers. Development of the product continued in the face of this, in hopes of supporting the escape game community after the outbreak had subsided.

Blacklight serves as a strong example of my full-stack development capabilities. You can check out the final product here and read the dissertation here. I'd encourage you to check out the commit and issue history for the project to see what guided my decisions.

Copyright © 2016-2021 Simon Fish