Genre: Escape Room
Description: This game was created for the Inaugural Presidents Cup Cybersecurity Competition and served as the final round of the team portion of the competition.
A bit of background on the project: In May 2020, Donald Trump signed an executive order to increase cybersecurity in the USA. This included the creation of the Presidents Cup Cybersecurity Competition, which has the best minds in cybersecurity in the federal workforce compete against each other in order for the government to determine who is the most qualified to defend our nation. My team was tasked with designing and building a game that would serve as the final round of the competition.
We were told that the game was to be an escape room that incorporated cybersecurity challenges (to be built by another team of cybersecurity experts, thankfully) in ten different categories. It was an interesting design challenge because not only did we have to make puzzles in a world that incorporated the story given to us, but also we had to fold in these challenges in a way that meshed well with the world.
I spent the first 70% of the project or so only as a designer, mapping out what puzzles would exist and how they interacted with the challenges in a way that pleased our client and was within scope. I used dependency charts to diagram the puzzles, since I knew those are the industry standard for design of point and click adventure games, which our escape room essentially was. A draft of one iteration of the dependency chart can be seen to the left (high-resolution version here).
The main purpose of the escape room in the scope of the competition was to create a challenge that rewarded teams that worked well together, and that influenced my design a lot; I made sure to put useful inventory items and pieces of information far away from the area where they were to be used, in hope that one player would find the item, and another would find the area where it's helpful, thus ensuring communication. It also led me to create the robot puzzle, in which the door to the SCADA Room is blocked by a fallen file cabinet (see map to the left), and can only be unblocked by a robot in the room that must be controlled from inside the Data Center Room. Due to this location, one can't see the robot and control it at once, so one player must watch the robot and give directions while the other controls it, thus enforcing teamwork.
We also had to test the puzzles, so I created the paper prototype shown to the left. I found icons of all the interactable features relevant to the puzzles (over 80 of them!) and made paper game pieces of them all, which were arranged in a specific way on a large map of the world I drew, and ran the game as if it was a tabletop RPG, telling players what they saw and how the world reacted to whatever they told me they wanted to do. This really helped us understand the flow of play and which puzzles were too challenging, if any.
Once all the puzzles were locked, I had to develop the public-facing leaderboard that would keep track of each team's progress (7:23:08 in the video gives a good view of the leaderboard). This included working with our UI Designer to make the leaderboard as dynamic as possible, including the creation of a progress bar that showed which puzzles each team had finished so far. Development required a lot of network programming, since the leaderboard had to repeatedly check the game state of each team to see if they'd accomplished anything new and relevant, which was difficult, since I had never done any network programming before, but I was able to learn the methodology necessary to make the leaderboard fully functional and entertaining to the public watching the livestream of the competition.
- I literally made an escape room for the United States Department of Defense. How many people can say that?
- Integration of cybersecurity challenges in a game environment
- A motivational poster of the evil boss man is actually useful
- Game designer/puzzle designer for Acts 2a and 3a (unlocking East Hallway & Forensic Lab)
- Developer for the leaderboard, robot controller, and sound controller