By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — Daniel and Mariya Porter want to lock people in a room and get paid for it.
While the business idea might sound strange, escape rooms follows a trend that has been taking over the Unites States. The Porters opened Quest Escape Rooms along Niles Avenue in Royalton Township in late December with the hopes of introducing an escape room to Southwest Michigan.
Quest Escape Rooms operates as a game in which players are physically locked in a room and have to use various elements to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit. The games are set in a variety of fictional locations and have become known as a team building exercise.
For the current room available at Quest Escape Rooms, players must match wits with the “world’s most heinous pharmacist.” Due to a paperwork mix-up, the cleaning crew – which the players are representing – are in the evil mastermind’s office and must find a way to get out.
Quest Escape Rooms is at 4298 S. Niles Road, where the former BJ Sports was located. There’s space for three rooms, but only has one in operation at the moment.
The Porters have run a computer repair service for a decade called I.T. Ambassador in Berrien Springs. The idea for this new business venture came when they were contracted by another company outside the Southwest Michigan region to do some work for another escape room.
After that, they decided to put one in near St. Joseph.
Games can be scheduled by appointment through the website at questescaperooms.com because they still run the home computer repair business during regular hours.
The Porters further decided to open a small construction company. The long-term plan will be to combine the computer and construction businesses into a home automation service.
Once a year, Dan Porter said, all the rooms will be redesigned to offer new themes and rooms to escape from. In addition to the current room, Porter wants the remaining two to be based on an asylum and an archaeological dig.
Hidden in a typical escape room are clues that show players how to open secret panels and electronic locks. To progress through the game, the room begins to tell a story.
Quest Escape Room in Royalton Township allows for two to six people to take part in the experience. At least three are recommended though.
“We try to keep the groups smaller and design the games where people work together,” Porter said. “We made the game difficult to a certain degree.”
About 30 percent of the groups that come through and attempt to “escape” end up doing so. Porter said that is considered an easy percentage. However, an under-20-percent success rate is the what goes for the harder courses.
Each group has an hour, but a hint is normally provided when players don’t progress. Inside the room, Porter said players are not technically locked out. They can leave in case of an emergency, however, for the game’s purpose the room is presumed to be locked.
Players can push a button for a hint from Porter. Although there’s some sound-based clues and prompts, Porter said there are alternative clues for the deaf and hard of hearing.
While players are searching the room and listening/watching videos that explain the rules, Porter sits outside the room in front of a monitor. Through a video transmission from a camera inside the room, Porter watches the team try to figure out how to escape.
“You learn so much by watching people play,” Porter said. “People would keep trying to solve a puzzle some certain way, so we would adjust it as time went on.”
Mariya Porter said unlike most escape rooms – which use combination locks – what sets them apart is the use a lot of technology.
“There is technology that triggers things,” she said. “There are also some nontraditional puzzles. It’s not just a padlock and a key.”
The Porters have regular board game nights and say the escape room is perfect for that crowd who wish to take the game to a physical aspect.
Quest Escape Rooms is available for players of age 10 and up. All possessions and electronic devices are left outside the room and returned afterward. Players are required to arrive 15 minutes beforehand. Scheduled quests can be made online for everyday of the week, except Mondays.
“We’re where we want to be,” Porter said. “We’ll continue to tweak things as people give us feedback, but my favorite part of this is just designing the rooms. It’s so much fun.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 6, 2017)