Novels and TV series have a longstanding love affair with crime scene investigation, evoking a natural impulse on readers and viewers to embrace the story and ride along with the adventure. In every murder story, different characters in a setting ultimately make twists and turns into an unpredictable nail-biting extravaganza. If you’re one who’s fascinated with this kind of genre, you might have thought of playing the role of the investigator yourself. So given the chance, are you game to do detective work for a day?
My answer was YES! 🙂
Brought by Runtertainment, Inc., the team behind Outbreak Manila, the 5-km zombie infested fun run, Breakout Philippines—the country’s premiere escape room game, and the 1000 ft slip-and-slide for Slidefest Philippines, Breakout Interactive Theater (BIT) had organized a one-day event last Saturday, July 11, 2015, for crime investigation enthusiasts to experience and solve a murder mystery filled with suspense and live action going on.
I teamed up with Franc, Louie, and Gianne, and together we interrogated probable suspects and accomplices of the murder and looked for evidences to answer one basic question: WHODUNNIT. As each character revealed information about what might have happened, the plot transpired to be riveting and simply nerve-wrecking.
Crime Investigation Case Solved at Breakout Interactive Theater (Commercenter Alabang)
Commercenter Alabang has grown from a humble movie house in the 1990s to one of the most prestigious malls in the country. The company started with three founders: Brian Valdez, Julio Rodrigo, and Tinio. However, as fate would have it, Tinio had parted ways with Valdez and Rodrigo because of a misunderstanding after some years.
In 2014, Valdez died of lung cancer and it was his last will and testament to have his only son, Nicholas Magnus, run the company as president and CEO. The business went on smoothly under Magnus’ leadership, and he was in fact awarded as the “Best Executive of the Philippine Malls” with Commercenter Alabang located in the south.
As part of the game play, the event we attended was Commercenter Alabang’s Appreciation Night and 25th Anniversary Celebration.
It was supposedly a momentous occasion where Magnus would thank loyal patrons and the people working for the success of Commercenter through the years. Sumptuous dinner was served by Belly Grub, and guests (participants of Whodunnit) were treated with a warm welcome by Magnus himself even before he went onstage.
Shortly, Magnus was called up by the host to deliver his speech. While thanking guests, someone called his phone alerting on the emergency. Simultaneously, we heard gunshots on the background.
Two private investigators entered the scene. Apparently, they were hired by Magnus to protect and secure the mall since he had been receiving threats on its safety. Julio Rodrigo, one of the founders and friends or Valdez, now Head of Security, was appalled when he learned about it as he felt bypassed for his role.
An undercover agent named Jojo Garcia was killed—and this signaled the official start of our mission. Who was the killer and what were his motives?
A set of evidences was presented on the Evidence Table. It consisted of the victim’s shirt and pants full of blood and a parking ticket detailing the date and time of arrival and plate number. This hinted us to check if the car was still parked in the parking area so we can get the next leads.
Suspect # 1
On the way to the car, we met one of the primary suspects of the murder. Butch Balmaceda, the guard on duty hired by Julio Rodrigo, was wearing sunglasses indoors and appeared too drunk to be fully cognizant of what was happening. We saw him smoking quite a bit of cigarettes and heavily sweating through his polo. He admitted feeling stressed because his wife was in the hospital and he terribly needed money to pay for the bills.
Amidst all his reasoning, he could be just lying or feeling a pang of guilt for murdering someone (thus the sweating, drinking, and fidgeting) in exchange of money out of desperation. If he were really the killer, it still wasn’t clear who could have hired him and why the murder had to be done.
Moving on, we found the car we were looking for. Inside were a ticking bomb, bags, some documents, and a box labeled with the name “Julian Rodriguez.”
The car had a dent on the back corner by the trunk. Beside it was a finished can of San Miguel beer which we thought could be a trace of Butch Balmaceda as he came clean on drinking the same can of beer earlier.
Could Butch be the one who had set up the bomb? This would only make sense if he had the car key. Our next questions were: who drove the car and whose car was it?
Suspect # 2
Next, we interviewed Nicholas Magnus and learned that the car was his and Manu was the name of the driver who drove him that day. With these info, our minds wandered on the possibilities that either Magnus planted the bomb in the car so he could claim insurance or Manu the driver did it with another hidden agenda.
The reason why Magnus’ last name wasn’t taken after his father was that he was born out of wedlock from Valdez’s second wife. Also because of this, many believed that it was not right for an illegitimate son to be handed down the major shares of the company and become its most powerful controlling entity.
Suspect # 3
Julio Rodrigo was one among those who opposed the idea—for without the presence of Magnus, he could have been the next lawful successor of Commercenter. He strongly stressed though that he would not reach the point of killing someone just to be at the top.
When asked why he did not think of starting up his own business and maybe even compete with Commercenter, he said he loved the company so much like his own “baby.” Hence, he could not forgo the thought of leaving it despite that he remained as the head of security as originally appointed.
Suspect # 4
While we were having dinner, we’ve known Manu Tinio as the guy in white barong walking around the sides of the dining hall.
After the incident, we saw him outside the mall wearing a black polo.
Why did he change clothes and why was he not found with everyone with us inside when the commotion took place? He said that food spilled on his barong and he had to make security rounds in the mall building to secure the perimeter as part of his job being the assistant head of security next to Julio Rodrigo.
When asked if he knew Magnus’ driver (who goes with the same name “Manu”), he said no nonchalantly. His expression didn’t betray his speech.
Suspect # 5
Working in Commercenter for 25 years, Rina Cruz personally did know Valdez and she would be compensated with a commission from the insurance if anything goes awry with the company. She was found carrying a logbook containing all the “time in” and “time out” entries of employees at Commercenter. We noted the entry log of Manu Tinio and discovered that it did not matched the time of arrival he stated. We were then convinced that Manu Tinio was a liar. Conversely, it was also possible that Rina altered the logs to further complicate weaves in the murder mystery.
As the operations manager in charge of all the staff sourcing in the mall, Rina must be holding critical personal information of people being hired in Commercenter. Since the “Manu Tinio” we met previously held the same surname as Tinio, the former partner of Valdez and Rodrigo, we inquired on the odds that the two could be related. Additionally, we asked if she’s aware that “Manu Tinio” was the same “Manu” pertained as Magnus’ driver. Rina denied both accounts and told us these could be passed off as mere coincidences.
It was 20 minutes before the two-hour limit and we had to fill out the accusation sheet and evidence sheet to be surrendered at the end of the game for evaluation. We initially decided that Butch Balmaceda was the killer because there were more evidence to back the accusation and support its demise.
Fortuitously, we ran across the Emergency Exit at the second floor and found more solid proofs that convinced us to change our answer and conclude that the real suspect was Manu Tinio. My gosh lah! White barong with blood stains, gun, picture of the founders, Marlboro cigarette box—all these were solid indications that pointed to him.
A bartender named Cocoy testified that he smoked with Manu Tinio a while back and that it was only Manu Tinio who wore the same barong.
The guy wanted revenge because of the falling out of Valdez and Tinio. It’s vague for me though how Manu Tinio was related to the founder Tinio.
Breakout Philippines has taken interactive entertainment to a whole new level. Whodunnit, Breakout Interactive Theater’s first public release, fell in the same vein as the unpredictable and suspenseful nature of CSI, Sherlock, etc. It’s the perfect game for detectives at heart! 🙂 Everything was planned out well in the mall. The great acting of the cast, the realistic plot and setting, and the game mechanics helped build the excitement that fueled us participants to compete and unravel the mystery.
Watch out for more crime solving cases and detective work by Breakout Philippines next time. 🙂
Thanks, Franc, for the invite!