Escape rooms didn’t start out as physical rooms – they started out as flash games on the computer. Let’s examine the roots of escape rooms together by first looking at one of the original but often forgotten genre-defining examples of escape-the-room flash games: Mystery of Time and Space (or MOTAS for short).
MOTAS was developed by Jan Albartus in 2001, and was updated through to 2008 (though other accounts say it’s been updated until as late as 2013). The game originally began with a single level, but it was eventually expanded to have 20 levels total. One important thing to note before looking into the game more closely is that it isn’t an escape game. Its focus is more on solving puzzles to get to the next level, instead of trying to escape from a room. However, many of the elements we now associate with escape rooms got their first start in MOTAS.
Graphics and Puzzles
The game itself isn’t eye-catching, but it’s designed well enough that you can clearly see what you can interact with in a room.
Each level is made up of a series of rooms that the player can explore. MOTAS’s rooms use a static perspective to show each room’s contents. The rooms within each level are distinct from one another, and the only time rooms are copied are when they are for certain time-based puzzles. Puzzles don’t require players to hoard many items – the game operates on getting a tool to open something which gives you a key for a cupboard that has another tool. This is repeated throughout the course of the game, and we see this simple mechanic evolved in many other escape games. The puzzles themselves differ from each other, and no puzzle is reused twice. MOTAS definitely looks aged, but it is mechanically sound.
A screenshot of the a static image the player interacts with
Mystery of Time and Space’s story is presented in the form of an intro scene and some cut-scenes throughout the game.
The player agrees to have their memory wiped as they would be able to explore the parallel dimension that the game takes place in, in exchange for something that never becomes clear. MOTAS also raises the possibility that the main character may in fact be a clone, or lucid dreaming the whole event. The story does handle some interesting themes on that part, but it suffers from a lack of elaboration on any of these elements. There is a point where the game does follow through on previous plot point, but aside from that moment, MOTAS features little in the way of lore.
SPOILER ALERT: What makes it worse is that there is no proper end sequence at this point. Upon completion of level 20, the game shows a “To be continued” screen, where players can then sign a guestbook. That message has been there since 2008, from what information I’ve found.
At this point there’s no resolution whatsoever of any of the plot elements, as bare-bones as they are.
Despite it being a critical influence for a lot of other notable escape room flash games like the Crimson Room, it is extremely dated. Virtually every element of the game is lacking in some way. It does, however, appear to not have any bugs, and it’s one of the larger escape flash games in terms of its content. All in all, if you were to play it today, it makes more for a trip through nostalgia than a timeless classic.
If you are interested in checking the game out, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that, as of right now, the game appears to be down on Jan’s website and no mirrors seem to exist of the game from what I could find. Furthermore, it seems Jan has disappeared off the web – the game hasn’t been updated in a long time, and all of his pages haven’t seen any activity. The good news is that the internet never forgets! Through the power of Let’s Play videos, you could always check out a video of the game. The following video is one of many play-throughs you can check out to revisit this forgotten forefather of escape games: