STOCKTON — Are you smarter than Sherlock Holmes? Can you lift a pirate’s curse? Would you be able to heist the world’s biggest diamond?
Visitors to Limitless Escape Games can answer these questions by engaging in scenarios that pit their wits against clue-filled rooms. And they keep coming back for more.
Barely open a month at the Stockton location, the theme-based gaming experience has been attracting curious passersby, people on date nights and hardcore gamers looking to best theirs and others’ scores.
Mike Hill, 35, stumbled on the concept while on a business trip to Austin, Texas, a few years back. He was instantly hooked, going back to play again as soon as he’d finished his first game.
“I instantly fell in love … this was the coolest thing ever,” Mike Hill said. “I was with my work partner. We were talking about it at lunch, and we were like, ‘hey, do you want to go again?’”
Mike Hill began traveling to Los Angeles and other areas to play more of the games. His wife, Brook Hill, suggested opening one of their own since he loved it so much.
They took a chance on the gaming experience and opened a location in Livermore, which began operating on Feb. 8, 2017. Although the location attracts a bevy of players, the majority of its clientele is comprised of co-working groups from tech-based companies looking for team-building exercises.
“It started in Asia and Europe, and it’s huge there, and it’s slowly made its way from there to the East Coast where it’s really popular,” said Brook Hill, co-owner of Limitless Escape Games. “It’s slowly making its way to the West Coast now.”
Brook Hill, 32, estimates that since opening the doors Dec. 22, 2017, on the Lincoln Center location in Stockton, they’ve had about 1,200 players. In Livermore, the numbers are a little harder to judge, estimated in the tens of thousands.
“It’s just a really great business model. It really took off,” Mike Hill said. “I never owned a business before. My parents have owned a bunch, so they have an entrepreneurial background.”
Mike Hill’s parents encouraged him to pursue the idea.
There are currently three games available to play at the Stockton location (the same for Livermore), and two more will be added this spring. Players can choose from Pirate Adventure, Bank Heist or Sherlock Holmes. The two new games will be Virus Outbreak and Wizard School.
The overall goal of each game is to uncover clues that will reach the main objective, whether solving a murder mystery, lifting a curse or stealing a giant diamond, thereby escape the rooms each game takes place in. Oh, and it must be accomplished in an hour.
Most people prefer to play the games in groups, though there are those who play alone. Help and hints are only a word away, as a Game Master, such as Wes Decker, monitors the progress of every player, feeding them ideas when needed.
“The games are designed for you to be in a team and working together, so the more the merrier,” Brook Hill said. “But there are the people who are enthusiasts, so you never know.”
“It really depends on the group. We designed it to be an hour for up to 10 people to try to get out,” Mike Hill said. “One person trying to do what 10 people do in an hour is really hard, but we have people come in that are just savants at puzzles.”
Mike Hill went on to say such gamers will have things like braille and Morse code memorized, which can help in the unlocking of some of the clues. Engineers from Google played the Sherlock Holmes adventure in Livermore — a game the Hills thought would be impossible to solve in under 50 minutes. The engineers solved it in 17 minutes. He thought they would be miffed because of the ease of solving the game.
“They came out and were like, ‘that was awesome,’” Mike Hill said. “They go around and set records at escape games.”
Limitless Escape Games keeps its fare family friendly, and the doors to the games are never locked, unlike some more intense gaming outfits.
“Escape room is what the genre is called, but ours aren’t so much escape. Ours are family-friendly focus,” Mike Hill said. “Some of the ones in L.A., they’ll literally put you in a coffin, lock the coffin and lock the room. We don’t even lock the door. Ours is more adventure-based and task-oriented.”
Those interested in learning about the adventures can go to limitlessescapegames.com and watch story videos explaining each one. The gaming rooms are designed to reflect the era of each storyline. Mike Hill said their goal is to make each experience as immersive as possible.
“I’d say that’s the biggest differentiator,” Brook Hill said. “I think the think that really sets us apart is the immersiveness. When you step into Sherlock’s apartment, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. When you step into Pirates, you feel like you’re in a cave in a pirate ship. It’s very much the feeling you get when you visit Disneyland.”