Forest Escape!

Group 8: Katlin Walsh & Jessie Zheng

Project Description

“In order to build trust and friendship in each other as we get into our digital futures program, the university has ordered us on a mandatory team building exercise in the woods. 

What Kate and Nick thought was going to be a traditional hike in the woods with some trust falls quickly turns into something unexpected. After walking for hours we finally admit to ourselves that we’re lost, but not to worry! As a digital futures cohort, we all pull out our phones and try to find a map to get home.

Alas, with no gps signal, the only thing that seems to be working is a strange webpage, directing you to the location of a paper map. You have to work together to make sure you’re not looking for a clue that’s already been found. And be careful, as soon as you lift your finger, the clue will disappear.”

Forest Escape! is a game that builds teamwork and communication skills within a group. Not only does it engage players within a physical meeting space, but it also encourages them to interact within a virtual space by interacting with their phones. By combining traditional geocaching, escape the room, and team building exercises, Forest Escape! aims to get players to think critically on how to use their individual devices effectively as a team. The game is purposefully designed so that any number of players can participate, prompting groups to create a strategy in order to work together and complete the challenge. 

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Project Context

Forest Escape! aims to utilize both physical and digital space in a novel way. Creating a physical network of people using phones was critical to the design of the project, due to the limitations surrounding the creation of a digital network. The use of riddles or clues communicated digitally in combination with a physical interaction was a major reference for the ideation process. Research surrounding the history and evolution of geocaching, in addition to the popularization of escape the room games was used to create the initial framework of Forest Escape!

Geocaching & escape the room

Geocaching has been a popular combination of technology and adventure for many years, being described as a “high tech treasure hunt” (Lary 15). Geocaching is traditionally used with a GPS coordinates in combination with a riddle about the location of the cache. Geocaching has also been known to include a log book, which allows players to log when they find a cache before they re-hide it in a similar location. While useful, the logbook aspect of the geocaching phenomenon was removed for this game in order to test teamwork and communication skills. Variations of geocaching include multi-site caching – where clues are hidden in a specific order around a single site, and locationless caching – where no GPS is used. For the purposes of the game being created, locationless caching was used as a basic foundation for engaging players. 

Work in progress intro screen ideation.
Work in progress intro screen ideation.

The 20 clues created could be found in no particular order, allowing players to use their own approach when searching for different cache items. Should a player wish, they can search for clues by difficulty level, general location, or order in which they appear on the screen. This method of displaying objects allowed for unique gameplay outcomes and strategies each time a new group tests the game.

Within recent years, the popularization of escape the room games has occurred. In these games, a group of players is typically locked in a room and given clues on how to escape the room within a specific time limit. The escape room instruction video by Identity Games helped to establish clearer rules for the game being produced. In the video, the game is divided into three parts of the process with play time limited to one hour.  During the first phase, players are given an envelope which contains challenges such as crossword puzzles for them to solve. Players are then rewarded a piece of the clues which indicate where one of the missing keys is hiding in. In part three, after gathering and analyzing all the information, players put the keys in the timer which they think are essential to get out of the escape room. In this example, the game is too complicated to be run in the targeted 7 minute experience, however the structure of the game is very concrete and was used as reference for the phases in Forest Escape!

Referencing the three parts of the escape room rules in the YouTube video, we established the main structure of the game using the following phases. 

Phase one: Information gathering

Players press and hold on their phone screen to view a numbered clue.

Prior to the start of play, 20 clues are hidden around the decided game location. Once players assemble in the game location, the project description is read to them, and the group is instructed to go to the provided link using each of their chosen devices. 

Phase two: Clue retrieval

Players use their phones to search for pieces of the map while placing them in a common location.

In order to get out of confinement, players need to work together to retrieve each of the 20 map pieces. Players must learn how to work together to ensure that the clue which they are looking for hasn’t already been found. By creating a documentation system of their choosing, players may speed up this phase of the game.

Phase three: Map assembly

Players work together to assemble pieces of the map.
An illustration of 20 map pieces assembled into a grid.
Final assembled map reference image.

Finally, once all map pieces are found, players need to arrange them into a 4×5 grid and inform the leaders of the game how to escape the forest. 

Collaboration & strategic thinking

Sample app layouts for a 100% technology based game. This was the precursor to hiding physical caches.
Progress work of sample app layouts for a 100% technology based game. This was the precursor to hiding physical caches.

As the aim of the exercise was to create a game that was both entertaining and challenging, the integration of collaboration and strategic thinking was used. The concept of teamwork strategies was discussed in the journal “ Promoting leadership and teamwork development though escapes rooms” )(Wu) which talks about how the escape room game could facilitate non-traditional, experiential and peer-group learning opportunities for players to learn teamwork skills and a sense of leadership. The article inspired us to include specific instructions on how to use the technology in the game, however to allow players to individually explore strategies which were natural to them in order to collaborate. This conscious omission of potential strategies created some tension within the players, as a cell phone is typically used by a single person. A player’s natural inclination is to complete all tasks independently, finding each of the 20 map pieces and then returning to the group to assemble it. Players quickly found however, that without constant communication they may be searching in vain for clues which have already been found. Players must step out of their comfort zone in order to challenge their habits to find the pieces as quickly as possible.

Work in progress layouts based on the game engagement article.
Work in progress layouts based on the game engagement article (Felipe).

Finally, to make the final game more engaging, the article “3 Questions That Will Help You Make A More Engaging Experience” (Felipe) about a game should have a compelling loop which enables one stage to feed to the next one seamlessly and each stage should always be connected very tightly to the game goal. We followed these suggestions by weaving a backstory into the explanation of the game, instructing players while they engaged with the game itself. 


Find the complete project code on github here!

Works Cited

Felipe, Lara. “3 Questions That Will Help You Make a More Engaging Experience.” Student Resources, 4 Apr. 2018,

Lary, Lynn M. “Hide and Seek: GPS and Geocaching in the Classroom.” Learning and Leading with Technology, vol. 31, no. 6, 2004, pp. 15–18.,

YouTube, YouTube, 1 Aug. 2016,

Wu, C. “Promoting leadership and teamwork development through Escape Rooms.” Medical Education, vol. 52, no. 5, 2018, pp. 561-562.


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