With the end of summer and the beginning of fall, we at thought it would be a good idea take a little pause and explain some of the major Invite Japan events and happenings that have been taking place here, and some of the important projects coming up in the fall that we’re looking forward to.
We’ve briefly mentioned a lot of these developments in our bi-weekly email newsletters, but we want to give a bit more time and space to really get into them and explain more thoroughly what’s going on with each one.
What Invite Japan did over the summer
Despite summer being a usually laid-back time, for us it was pretty jam-packed. We had an inaugural “internship program” where we trained two intelligent and bright-minded individuals in some of the ways that we make puzzles and team building activities. We also were busy at work on our newest online game, Okinawa Adventure, while still dealing with our regular clients and events, most notably a resurgence of HSJ Asakusa programs.
1. Internship program
Over the course of a three-day period in August, we had our inaugural “internship program” at Invite Japan. We say “internship”, but this wasn’t exactly a normal internship. It’s probably better to think of it as a crash-course in puzzle design.
For the program, we trained two intelligent and bright-minded individuals in the ways that we at Invite Japan go about creating new puzzles and team building events. They were taught about what goes into a good puzzle, how to find elements that will go into it, and what to be careful of.
The coordinator of the program and design maven, Chloé, also showed them other aspects of the process, such as how to write good and clear explanations, how to think about translating into other languages, and some aspects of story writing that can bring multiple puzzles together.
On the first day, the interns played our Suitcase Mystery games. Our Suitcase Mystery series is a fundamental part of our team building lineup, and playing them gave them a good sense of what types of puzzles we tend to create. The interns also listened to our Creative Director, Dennis, give a lecture on the different things to think about when making a puzzle, including:
- Finding locations and items that will make good puzzles, not just ones that look interesting.
- Paying attention to symbols that may have different meanings in different contexts.
- Not assuming that players know everything you expect them to.
- How to guide players on the right path without giving away anything or making the puzzle too challenging.
The first day concluded with the interns coming up with their own one-step puzzles, based on the types of puzzles in Suitcase Mystery.
On the second day, Chloé showed the interns our outdoor scavenger hunt in Asakusa. She also led them around so that they could take pictures of various locations, which they would use later when coming up with their very own puzzles. Back at the lab, the interns were shown some of our Nazotabi and Hidden Secrets Journey kits for more inspiration, after which they were given time to work on their own scavenger hunt puzzles.
On the last day, the interns finished up their work and presented their scavenger hunt puzzles to the Invite Japan staff. We were all quite impressed. They came up with some very original puzzles based on Tanuki Street, and even came up with a cute story about a Tanuki family to tie the two puzzles together.
The internship program was overall a success. We all felt that both the Invite Japan staff and the interns had learned a lot from each other, and that both sides had gained so much from the three-day program. We also realized how much we have to teach other people. Our methods and ideas on puzzle creation can really be transformative in many ways, and turning this program into a workshop that anyone could attend might be a good idea (look out for that in future).
2. Asakusa HSJ
Another aspect of the summer which, while not as new as the internship program, was still exciting for us was the resurgence of HSJ Asakusa programs. Hidden Secrets Journey (HSJ) is our outdoor scavenger hunt program. For the past couple of years though,our HSJ program in Yokohama has been more popular (and we even had a few Yokohama events this spring).
However, this summer the attention was all on Asakusa. This was nice for us, since Asakusa is near the area where we used to have our escape game facility, and so we know the area really well. We also hadn’t been back in a while, so there was a warm sense of nostalgia.
Asakusa has so much exciting culture on every block. Not only around Sensoji Temple, but also down many of the sidestreets and near Sumidagawa Park–there’s also something new and fascinating to look at, and wonderful shops and curios to discover. Add to that the strong street food culture, from melon pan and menchikatsu to taiyaki and dango, not to mention the outdoor seating of the izakayas along Hoppi Dori. That’s why this area makes for such a great outdoor scavenger hunt environment, and why we always come back to it.
These opportunities also gave us the chance to rework puzzles, and refurbish some of the designs in keeping with our overall HSJ theme of SDGs. Now, both our Yokohama and Asakusa programs are equally strong and provide two very different, but equally fun, cultural experiences for our clients.
3. Okinawa Adventure
As we mentioned though, our big summer project was Okinawa Adventure, which is our newest online team building game. While Okinawa Adventure is being released this month, all the work that went into designing new puzzles, creating an original story to tie everything together, and crafting a web interface that would be easy for players to use–this was all done in the past few months.
And we are very proud of our work. The testing that we have done so far has been good. This is definitely our most ambitious online game yet. With the puzzles, we tried to create a more collaborative environment for players, which means designing more puzzles with asymmetric information. We also wanted to rely less on keywords in one language, so we created a new system of signs and symbols that makes the final keywords easier to translate into lots of different languages.
We also did a lot with the characters and setting, and made them be included in the game more. In Okinawa Adventure, players take on the role of a team of detectives who are on holiday in Okinawa. However, their travel plans are disrupted when they stumble upon a talking shisa (Okinawan lion statue). This shisa has a mystery for the detectives to solve, and thus players take off on a magica, wild ride across Okinawa’s geography, culture and famous sites.
Okinawa Adventure is, of course, primarily a fun adventure story. But it’s also a way for teams to take a little “trip” together. The magical part of it is, though, that no one needs to leave their homes. Okinawa Adventure represents our continuing desire to provide fun online experiences that counteract some of the exhaustioning aspects of online work.
What we’re looking forward to this fall
This brings us to the fall, where we’re excited to premiere our new online game. However, we have a lot of other events in the works, including some brand new programs. This will definitely not be an idle time for us. We have a lot on our plates, but we’re ready to get into the autumn and challenge ourselves to create and host some great puzzle-based events.
4. Okinawa real adventures
First up is an event that we’re really looking forward to–an in-person event in Okinawa. Yes, that’s right. While we were working on an online game based on Okinawa, the real Okinawa jumped into the picture. Hey, we’re not complaining.
This event will be a suitcase mystery at a hotel in Naha, for 230 people. Which means that it will test a lot of our capabilities as facilitators and organizers. The logistics of sending over around 40 Suitcases there and back alone is nothing to laugh at.
However, this real Okinawa adventure offers us another opportunity for our expansion into other areas of Japan, something that has been slowly developing more and more. This year alone we’ve had events in Niigata and Kyoto, and now Okinawa. We might also have one more in Osaka if all goes well. Which means that soon enough, we may just be traveling all over the globe.
5. HSJ Kamakura
We talked about HSJ Asakusa earlier, but another one of our outdoor scavenger hunt programs is also getting a new makeover. HSJ Kamakura was created a few years ago for a client, and was never really used again after that.
However, we have a new client interested in a program in Kamakura. And Kamakura is a fascinating location in its own right, with a long history and copious cultural heritage, combined with its more modern connections with surfer culture. In other words, this is a great chance for us to revamp a puzzle area that could attract a lot more clients and players.
It’s funny too, because each time we go back to an older area and review the material we have from there, we always realize how far we’ve come in our puzzle creation work. Not just the puzzles themselves but also the design and look of the puzzles. We understand where we need to make changes and adjustments to make puzzles fit to our higher standards.
So, ultimately, it’s a lesson in how much your team can really change without noticing it in the moment–it’s sometimes only by looking back at your old self that you realize how far you’ve truly come.
6. Samurai Dash
Last but certainly not least, one of the most exciting things we’re looking forward to this fall is a brand new program that we are in the process of creating and developing, called Samurai Dash.
One of the major reasons why this is exciting is that it’s been quite a while since we’ve developed a brand new program like this. The last time was Puzzle Bazaar, our puzzle program for large socializing events and parties.
For Samurai Dash, there is an added layer of newness, since we want to combine traditional in-person puzzles with some sort of online or smartphone-accessible elements, almost like a proto-augmented reality game.
The impetus for this game was a client who wanted an outdoor, in-person event in a nearby park. Parks are fun, but are hard to make into good outdoor scavenger hunt games because of the lack of puzzle elements to draw from. That’s where the idea to add some online aspects came in.
Right now, we have a very basic outline of the event, and not much details about what it’s going to end up being in reality. All that we can share is that there will be nobori flags, and the game will reference samurai. But as you know by now, we’ll definitely make it fun, mentally stimulating, and mystery-filled.
So that was our little pre-fall post-summer update from Invite Japan. As you can see, we’ve been keeping busy, and there’s still a lot more work to be done to get these new projects out. But we’re feeling good about the rest of the year, and we’re looking forward to yet another great team building year in 2023 (it’s coming faster than you think–get ready)!