Movies at MoPOP Presents: "The Comeback" - Community Spotlight With Hourglass Escapes
We recently launched our brand new Movies at MoPOP series “The Comeback" and on top of celebrating films from all over the genre map (watch School of Rock with us Friday, September 10!), we're also illuminating the many comeback stories in our own backyards by showcasing some of our community's great achievements throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
First up, we put the spotlight on Hourglass Escapes, home of the best mystery and supernatural-themed escape rooms in Seattle!
Hello! Would you mind introducing yourself and Hourglass Escapes for the folks at home?
Seth Wolfson: Hi, I am Seth Wolfson owner and creative director at Hourglass Escapes. We are an in-person and virtual escape room company based in Belltown most known for our Evil Dead 2™ escape room.
Joule Zelman: I’m Joule Zelman, one of the Game Masters and Narrative Designers here. I was hired during the pandemic, in October 2020. I’d only ever done one escape room before, and that was Hourglass Escape's Evil Dead 2™. I played it with the horror hostess Isabella Von Ghoul and some other women from the horror fan community. I remembered it as such a blast that when I saw the job opening, I had to apply.
What were the first few months of the lockdowns like for y’all?
Seth Wolfson: I spent the first few weeks really depressed to be honest. But a few weeks into it, I read that there was a few places doing “LiveAvatar” escape rooms. So we talked to them and got the equipment to create a live avatar version of the Evil Dead 2™ escape room. We literally strapped a phone to a chest rig and connected it to Zoom. We had a web interface we created for the in-game inventory and had people using Zoom direct our host or me in the room as I played a character named “Shemp,” which in and of itself was an Evil Dead 2™ reference. It was a hit. We not only won over six awards internationally, but opened up our other games to LiveAvatar and put the crew back to work.
Joule Zelman: It was an odd time to start a new job in a new field. Getting out of the house and joining a friendly and caring workplace was great for my mental health. We were completely locked down a lot of the time, which meant virtual games only. I was extremely nervous at first, but I quickly started having fun with the improv aspect of hosting a remote game. I loved pretending to be a phantom pirate who’s really sort of a friendly doofus for our customers to guide over Zoom.
How did you see the community come together in that time to support Hourglass Escapes?
Seth Wolfson: Escape rooms all over helped each other go remote. There has been a huge community of owners that crowd sourced ideas. We even held a workshop for owners to get them online and making money running virtual games. We created and launched over a dozen virtual and online games for ourselves and clients world wide.
Joule Zelman: Internally, it felt like we were all in it together. Outside the company, our customers seemed to really appreciate the chance to forget the state of the world and hang out virtually with their friends and family. Having puzzles to do together really takes the edge off Zoom fatigue. When we could be open to in-person games, our customers were all local at first — overall great people who wanted to have a good time while respecting COVID-19 measures.
Were you able to do anything during the COVID lockdowns that you weren’t able to do before?
Seth Wolfson: Innovate! The pandemic forced us to innovate, and it also brought us a world-wide audience. We became very well known for our LiveAvatar games, then our new point-and-click self-guided games got so much notoriety we spent most of the pandemic creating games for other companies.
Joule Zelman: Remote games, of course. Since I wasn’t here before the pandemic, I didn’t experience the contrast personally, but more broadly, the lockdowns and layoffs prompted a total change in career and tack for me. Plus, it’s the first time my improv skills have ever earned me enough to live on. My latest character is for Evil Dead 2™ — she’s a sarcastic but lovable old Brooklynite who finds herself trapped in a cabin of horrors.
What about the last six months? What has opening back up AND operating in a digital space been like?
Seth Wolfson: Once we started opening up we focused more on in-person games, and launched some point-and-click games. June seemed to pick up and then July was one of the best months we ever had, but digital slowed down a lot although we are now licensing out our digital games to companies in other countries. We also have started to develop new games and have some things on the horizon that we are very excited to create.
Joule Zelman: It’s been really exciting to take part in the design and narrative processes. I’ve been doing a lot of writing for games — writing is a big part of my identity, but I never pictured myself creating for this kind of media. Having more customers play in person has been a whole new vibe — at first people were really giddy to be able to get out in bigger numbers. Now, most players are feeling more cautious, but we still have a lot of fun interactions.
How are you seeing the community come together now?
Seth Wolfson: Locally, most of us still chat and help each other out more than ever. We tend to pool resources for large group events and spread the work out. Washington has an amazing community of escape room owners.
Joule Zelman: One awesome thing is that we’ve had escape room owners and operators, or others who’ve worked in the business, as customers. It’s always fascinating to see the puzzles anew through their eyes — and of course, we appreciate the business!
What does Hourglass Escapes have planned for the next six months? What are you all looking forward to?
Seth Wolfson: We are getting ready for our last few months of Evil Dead 2™ to be packed, especially around Halloween. We are also launching Holiday on the High Seas November 1. A retelling of our Tales of the Ghostly Galleon that is for families and kids ages 10 and up starring Cecil Baldwin as Capt’n White Beard AKA Santa Clause. Our Arkham Horror Files escape room opens in the new year and is going to be epic. It will have its own new space and be our most immersive build to date.
Joule Zelman: It’s going to be so busy. I’ve been working a lot on our Holiday on the High Seas edition of our pirate game, Tales of the Ghostly Galleon. Turns out pirate-Christmas puns are in my wheelhouse. I’m also thrilled for our upcoming Arkham Horror Files escape room — I love cosmic horror and noir in general and the tabletop game in particular. It’ll also be my first time being there during a room’s building phase.
What are different ways we can all support you, either locally or internationally?
Seth Wolfson: The best way to support us is to play our games. Our in-person games for those local or our various online options. Buying gift certificates from your local escape room, no matter where in the world you are, is a great way to support local business, too.
Joule Zelman: Come by and see us! Recommend us to your friends both in the area and around the world!
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