“Today you will embark on a series of tests that will determine if you are the right fit for us before we bring you into our secure facility. Over the course of the next one to two hours, you will be undergoing a series of tests constructed to give us insight into your capabilities. Open the drawer next to you and retrieve Interview Form 1A. This will be your guide.” – Black Matter Foundation
A voice speaks to me from a set of speakers flanking a series of four monitors. A stream of unintelligible code, ominous messages, and propaganda plays. The screens cut out and a timer starts to count down from 2:00:00. I frantically throw open the drawer to my right to find Interview Form 1A and a pile of pens. I grab one and exit the small black trailer wondering what the hell I have gotten myself into.
Black Matter Foundation is currently an enigma: it appears to be a real-world escape room supplemented by an application process and online puzzles, but there are hints to it being more. We are introduced to The Black Matter Foundation by a stock personality. He invites you to browse their website, and explains that they were involved in everything from the Manhattan Project to MK Ultra. To be accepted, study participants are given a test: decipher a password and fill out an application. Those accepted are given an address, time, and date with instruction to “Find your UBER.” Once the elusive “UBER” is located, participants start an elaborate set of puzzles, tests, and trials that force them to explore multiple locations across the city of Anaheim to prove their worth. Black Matter Foundation innovatively uses commonplace locations and objects that are in plain sight of the public to create a clandestine feeling of discovery.
With a complete lack of visible staff, Black Matter Foundation has created something entirely unique: a free-standing experience with minimal upkeep and no interaction with participants. They make use of real-world surroundings to make puzzles, as opposed to creating them from scratch. This proved to be a successful example for what can be done outside of a confined space, using objects that only those in game would explore. Further, new technologies are used throughout the experience; an augmented reality app, called Zappar, allowed for participants to access hidden messages on various objects leading them to the next clue or location—again, changing public objects into in-game puzzle pieces seamlessly.
Although this was a fun and innovative experience, Black Matter Foundation did experience a few growing pains during their beta-test. With a lack of staff present, if participants do not reset the previous puzzles appropriately, the next set of guests will be unable to solve the puzzle—and may not even be aware they cannot. This can lead to very frustrated participants and guest back-ups. Further, the lack of staff led to some smaller issues, like running out of interview forms and pens; thus, some more strict oversight is needed as the event progresses. Finally, interference from the public proved to be an issue for some guests. As all the puzzles are in the real world, harder puzzles could lead participants to be wandering an area for upwards of forty minutes, looking in car windows and even attempting to enter parked cars or businesses. This can attract unwanted attention from onlookers thinking that participants look suspicious (which they do). A few guests even had the cops threatened to be called on them. As all these issues can be easily corrected, we look forward to their next event and how they evolve.
Black Matter Foundation is an innovative extension of the escape room phenomena. Taking the puzzles into the real world, they provide a truly novel and exciting game that serves as an introduction to their storyline. With any new endeavor, they suffered a few hiccups in their execution and logistics, but that should be expected—and with a few minor tweaks, they will have a wonderful show that can lead a new genre in Southern California. I for one am excited to see what they can do with this concept.
Send your project concept or submit your brain to Black Matter Foundation on their website today!