How we built the quest in reality

    There is no need to explain once again what quests are in reality and what they eat with. Moreover, this topic has been covered more than once on Habré (and Giktayms) [1] [2] [3] . I’ll tell you how we built the “Space Odyssey” - the most technically complex and, probably, the highest budget of the Claustrophobia quests.

    According to legend, a team of players (from 2 to 4 people) are space tourists flying to a neighboring galaxy to study extraterrestrial civilizations. But something went wrong, and now players need to get out of this situation in an hour by solving a variety of puzzles with electricity, compressed air, computer control panels, video cameras and augmented reality.

    To do without spoilers, I will not disclose the principles of puzzles, but there will be many technical details about how everything works from the inside. Or, in relation to the players, outside.

    We tried to get away from the concept of "every puzzle is an independent device." The structure of quest electronics is very similar to a smart home: a lot of modules grouped by function (and not by game logic), data network and server. The game server centrally controls all quest devices.

    For example, this is how the situation looks from the player’s point of view:
    • player presses a button
    • the light turns on

    And so it really happens:
    • player presses a button
    • input unit reads button status
    • server polls input block
    • the server selects the desired action in accordance with the script of the game
    • the server sends a command to the output block
    • output unit supplies power to the fixtures

    This approach allows you to programmatically change the logic of the game, track its status and, if necessary, intervene for the operator to manually control.

    Structural diagram of the quest (click-through increase): The diagram looks rather heavy and confusing, but then we will take a look at each subsystem in turn. I think it's worth keeping the story in chronological order, as the quest is built.


    Work on the quest begins with a sketch of the script, an empty room and the inexhaustible enthusiasm of the creators. Gradually, the script is overgrown with details, designers - with ideas and layouts, engineers - with diagrams and drawings, and room walls - with markings ( “there will be a hatch”, “puzzle”, “from there - there will be dust and dust” ). When everyone agrees what exactly they will build (at least in general terms), work begins.


    An aluminum composite was chosen as the material for the walls. This is a rather interesting material: a layer of plastic (4 mm), coated on both sides with thin layers of aluminum. The front side is coated, its color can be different: from white to anthracite-black. Composite to the touch, cold as metal, does not create the impression of "cheap plastic." But, unlike metal, it does not make a booming sound upon impact. In a word, the task of “picking up material that most people have not encountered in ordinary life” has been completed.

    The sheets of the composite bend from being pressed by hand, therefore, under them is drywall on a steel frame (in places with complex geometry - a wooden frame). The composite is easy to process: it can be cut, sawed, milled. Having incised the inner layer, the sheet can be gently bent. This allows you to build complex decorations without seams and visible fasteners. We generally tried to avoid visible hardware where possible. Walls with rows of bolts and rivets are appropriate for the steampunk atmosphere, but not for the starship from the distant future.

    In the photographs, the installation of walls and decorations is in full swing. The front side of the composite is covered with a protective film, which will be removed only before the start. In those places where there will be puzzles and interactive elements, niches are cut in advance and wiring is made.

    The ceilings

    What players see above their heads is a false ceiling made of perforated black steel sheet. Such a solution is very convenient because all communications can be hidden behind the ceiling. You can easily arrange air conditioning and ventilation, without worrying about the fact that the grilles will stick out in the most inappropriate places. Behind the ceiling are speakers and microphones. Finally, the ceiling hides some puzzle mechanisms. So that nothing shines through the false ceiling, all surfaces above it are painted with matte black paint. Here is the installation of wiring for the ceiling:


    The floor is a “sandwich” of several layers. Bottom to top: concrete screed, substrate, laminate, dark linoleum and finally a black perforated sheet, the same as on the ceiling. Linoleum reduces the rumble from steps on metal. Grooves are made in the laminate layer, in which there is a backlight: an aluminum profile with LED strips. The profile is covered by a diffuser (it is not installed in the photo yet), the upper surface of which is flush with the rest of the floor. There are no slots in the metal sheets, the light is visible through the perforation.

    Floor lighting, like the rest, has two groups, white and red, which switch in the course of the plot. The illumination of the floor plays a decorative role, its power is several times lower than the power of wall and ceiling lighting.


    Finishing is in full swing, all communications are laid, it's time to do the hardware. This is how the braid of wires coming from the quest looks like:

    All gaming devices can be divided into four categories: computers, actuators, lighting and puzzles.


    What a spaceship without a bunch of screens and control terminals? In the quest, a total of 7 computers with 9 monitors are installed. Where the logic of tasks fits into the scheme "one application - one monitor", nettop format computers are used: compact, quiet, warm up a little. Where it is supposed to output the picture to several monitors at once, there are ordinary system engineers with multi-headed video cards.

    Monitors - open frames, designed for ATMs and payment terminals, are built into the scenery. Some of the monitors are touch-sensitive, equipped with touch panels, while the rest are simply anti-vandal glasses. Two more interface panels are made on the basis of tablets built into the walls.

    Computers are connected to a local network through which all gaming applications communicate with the server. All machines are configured with remote access, so you can update or fix something in the software at least during the game. You cannot connect an Ethernet cable to the tablets, so they access the network via Wi-Fi. Placing the access point in such a way as to ensure a normal connection was not so simple. The room has thick walls, and even metal cladding works like a Faraday cage: wifi is caught only within direct line of sight.

    Executive mechanisms

    The next category of quests is a piece of hardware - actuators that must be controlled in the on-off mode. These are door drives, electromagnetic locks, pneumatic valves - a total of one and a half dozen channels. Some of the loads operate from 220 V, some from 12 V. Industrial automation modules are used to control all these mechanisms.

    This box is a discrete output module. It accepts commands through the RS-485 interface and has eight independent relay outputs. Two of these modules serve all actuators. Powerful loads, such as motors, are connected via intermediate relays. All modules are connected to the same network and are controlled by the server through a USB / RS-485 converter using the MODBUS protocol.


    A total of about 50 meters of LED strips illuminate the ship. All lighting is divided into main (white) and emergency (red), these groups are turned on at different times according to the plot of the quest. To control the light, the same industrial modules were used as for the actuators, but not with relay, but with analog outputs.

    The module has 6 outputs, for each of which it can give a voltage from 0 to 10 V in 0.1% increments. These signals control the multi-channel dimmers through which lighting is fed. Thus, we get the opportunity to smoothly and independently change the brightness of any backlight group at the command of the server.

    This is what a fully-mounted automation cabinet looks like:

    1. a block for actuators;
    2. a block for lighting;
    3. discrete output modules;
    4. power supply for control electronics (24 V);
    5. RS-485 / USB converter;
    6. analog output modules;
    7. dimmers;
    8. power supply for LED strips (12 V, located behind the dimmers).


    Many puzzles have their own microcontroller brain. More precisely, even the cerebellum, because it only transmits its status to the server, and receives commands from it. Puzzle modules are connected to the same MODBUS bus as promomatics.

    They took it as a platform for puzzles ... Who said Arduino? No, it's a little cooler. We have developed a unified board specifically for the quest. It includes a core (ATmega32 controller), an RS-485 / UART converter, a power supply (input up to 36 V, output 5 V), several power transistors to control various loads, and a couple of light bulbs - blink for debugging beauty . Here they are, in a neat bunch waiting for the desoldering of parts:

    Here is the board already assembled:

    And here is how it looks in its natural habitat (one of the puzzles on the wrong side):

    The boards are connected to the network using a standard twisted pair cable, data (RS-485) and power supply (24 V) go on the same cable. In total, 8 boards were used in the quest. I repeat that they are all the same, puzzles differ only in the connection scheme and firmware. The boards were so successful that our next quest (Recording Studio) is also built on them.


    One of the puzzles needs compressed air, and this caused an unexpected difficulty. The usual compressor is too loud, it can be heard even from the next room. The solution was found in the form of a dental compressor, which in normal people feeds a drill with air. Not that it is very quiet (usually it is drowned out by the sound of the drill itself and the cries of the patient ), but much quieter than the construction ones. If the compressor is hidden in the bowels of the ship and additionally soundproofed, then it is almost inaudible.

    The compressor is turned on in advance to gain pressure in the receiver by the time the players get to the pneumatic puzzle.

    Team cabin

    The heart of the ship is the team cabin, it is available to players from the second half of the game. A console with monitors and a bunch of luminous indicators extended over the entire width of the cabin. At the construction stage, everything looks much more modest:

    There are two projection screens above the console, showing the starry sky (and ██████████ ) during the game . Screens are made of plexiglass with a special translucent film glued on it. Projectors are located behind the screens, which causes certain difficulties, since there is very little space. Fortunately, there are ultra-short throw projectors that can be hung almost close to the screen. Since the screen is located at an angle, the standard projection mounts had to be mercilessly modified by a grinder and hung from the ceiling with stilettos, in an inclined position.

    The walls behind the screens were painted matte black to avoid reflections. When the projectors are off, nothing is visible through the screens:

    Touch buttons

    So that the remote control does not seem like a lifeless piece of plastic, they decided to put on it more different buttons and bulbs that do nothing useful, but create an entourage. We have a ship from the distant future, so you can not spoil the minimalist design with toggle switches and knife switches. Buttons decided to make the touch.

    Each sensor is a separate small board on which a microcontroller (ATtiny13) and an RGB LED are mounted. The remote control is made of a sheet of white plastic, and the sensors are mounted on the underside of this sheet. The plastic is translucent, so that the LED shines through, while nothing sticks out from the outside. The circuit responds to touching the panel by changing the antenna capacitance. An antenna is a piece of wire fused into the panel from the inside. This is what the sensor modules and antenna blanks look like:

    Each module is glued into place, connected to the antenna and power. A hole has been cut out for each button, into which it rests when the panel is put in place:

    There are about 100 of such modules in total. Due to mass production, they turned out even cheaper than ready-made mechanical buttons with backlight (not to mention the touch).


    Operators continuously monitor the progress of the game, ready to intervene if something goes wrong. In the premises of the quest installed dome IP surveillance cameras. The video stream is transmitted to the operator’s computer and simultaneously recorded in the archive.

    The cameras have their own built-in microphones, the sound from which also goes to the archive. However, for real-time monitoring, there are separate “rustle” microphones. The signal from them is not digitized, but is output through the mixer to the operator room. This avoids delays, which are very unpleasant when the operator communicates with the players.

    Audio broadcast

    The quest has two independent audio broadcasting systems: one for game sounds and background music, the second for operator messages. We used the usual active speakers (about 20 watts per room), which are hidden behind a false ceiling. As experience has shown, this is not the best option. Speakers love to catch all kinds of interference and interference (especially from mobile phones). It is better to put passive ceiling speakers and an external amplifier.

    Help button

    Players can ask for a hint at any time by clicking on a special button. In this case, the operator sounds a signal. In other quests, they often use wireless calls for this - cheap and cheerful. This option did not suit us. Firstly, the call button does not fit into the interior of the spacecraft. Secondly, as already mentioned, wall cladding perfectly attenuates all radio signals. I had to mount a button with a backlight in the wall and run a separate cable from it to the camera room.

    Here's what the operator’s workplace looks like:

    A picture from surveillance cameras is displayed on one monitor, the second serves to control games and administer. The server has a web-interface, which shows the progress of the game, the status of all applications and devices, as well as buttons for manual control.


    Almost a year has passed since the opening of the Space Odyssey, and some intermediate conclusions can be drawn on the work of the quest. The first month or two after the launch there was a period of catching errors. Without them, nowhere, especially in such a complex hardware-software system. Most of the bugs were identified at the test games stage, before the official opening, but several of the most insidious errors were patiently waited in an ambush.

    Over the next few months, the quest passed a "strength test." It is one thing to experience everything on your own, and quite another - to the merciless hands of the players. So we were surprised to learn that one of the puzzles has not two solutions, but four. But more often, the discoveries were not so joyful. One by one, a variety of elements failed. Partly due to the development of the resource, partly due to the fact that players are not only smart, but also strong.

    Gradually, we replaced the parts with more durable ones, reworked some elements. Several puzzles have been completely redone, including design and game mechanics. For example, in one of the tasks it was necessary, using an endoscope, to find a hidden clue. Then suddenly it turned out that there was a very similar task in another quest. Now we do not have an endoscope, and instead of it - a completely different device.

    I will tell finally a few of the most striking cases from our games.

    Completely manual control

    In the quest all the doors are automatic. In a good way, it was necessary to put pneumatic sliding doors (as in the subway), but there was not enough space for them (and experience with pneumatics). As a result, they put motorized roller shutters. At one point, the relay that controls one of the doors burns out. What to do here, it is clear: to put a more powerful, and better - solid state relay. But it takes time, and the games go, show must go on. As a result, the operator is given a special jumper and instructions: at the right time, close this and that contact in the shield. The weekend played on such a manual control.

    Caution! Doors are closing

    Not everything is alright with these doors. As I said, players are sometimes strong. And here is one of these players poddelyaet rolling shutter and jerk raises. The canvas bends with the letter S somewhere inside the scenery and goes up. After the game, the operator tries to bring the quest to its original state, gives a command to close the door - the door does not close. Then he takes up the canvas and pulls it back down. Grunting! The door leaf falls into place and breaks off somewhere up above, at the drive itself.

    The whole point of the situation is that you can get to the drive only from the inside, from the room where the entrance is closed by a torn canvas. In the end, he managed to raise 30 centimeters from the floor and climb there, and then stick a stepladder and tools.

    Villainy rule

    At a certain point in the story, a secret hatch opens, after which players find another useful item. The hatch drive is electric, the hatch is equipped with limit switches “fully open” and “completely closed”, which turn off the motor. Once the trailer closed position refused. The motor comes to a stop, slightly bends the hatch and inverts one of the parts of the drive, which blocks the limit switch of the open position. Sailed. You can get to the drive only through the hatch, it is closed. But you can’t open it, because the system believes that the hatch is already fully open (the trailer is clamped), and does not supply power to the engine.

    Luke eventually managed to open, slightly spoiling the skin around. The limit switch system was completely redone so that this would not happen again. And just in case of fire, a toggle switch was made, which supplies power to the motor bypassing the limit switches. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get him out of the quest without dismantling the half-ship. So the toggle switch was screwed into the farthest and darkest corner of the ceiling, in the hope that no one would find it.

    In vain they hoped. In less than two weeks, one rather tall player found this toggle switch - and pressed, moreover, towards closing the hatch. The motor pulled, the drive disengaged in a specially made place and the hatch swung open with a crash. Fortunately, no one was hurt, the players escaped with a slight startle. That toggle switch is now screwed up with a special plug, but you still can’t relax - no one canceled Murphy’s law.

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