Disney spent a lot of money on Magic Bands using short and long-range RFID chips to open doors, pay for food and drinks, let them know where you are in proximity to an actor or bounty-hunting target.
Despite the ubiquity of RFID sensors, there were plenty of events where cast members had to ask people if they were reserved for an event and ask their names to manually check a tablet list of people scheduled for an event.
Despite the long-range, there were events where people were possibly not close enough to the actor they were listening to, to be given credit for being there. I don’t know how many rows deep in a huddle you have to be or how many people need to be there to overwhelm the sensor the actor is wearing, but people still got dropped from story missions and interactions due to some kind of glitch.
RFID chips first got wide adoption in shipping and warehousing because the goods could automatically be tracked as they moved around the country. Bar code scanners used to do the same thing, but bar cases can be damaged in shipping and easily become unable to be read. RFID chips didn’t have the same problem. RFID chips were then widely adopted in bus and subway passes.
The good news for interactive theater folks is RFID chips are cheap, small, and programmable, the readers are also cheap. It might be possible to add some interactivity to your experiences with these chips. Can you make it sensitive enough to kick off lights and special effects when someone enters a room?
Disney also used a lot of QR codes in their datapad, again this technology is cheap to use and every smartphone already has an app that recognizes QR codes and can link to a game-related website to show a clue or item to the player.
The missions from the datapads should be easy to replicate, it’s a text-based interface with some decision trees and scripting in the background. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d make a generic datapad client, decide on a scripting engine, embed the basic functions and build a server to track all the client states. Get the client in the iOS App Store and Google Play store, with signed and reasonably well reviewed and tested code. Then open source or really well document the scripting APIs or language such that any interactive theater group who wanted to run a Murder in the Old Mansion, Vampire LARP, Old West Town, or whatever programs all their scripts and items into a file that is downloaded when the player signs up for a game. Joining a game should be like joining a Discord server, you’re invited somehow, and you accept on the client. Maybe the character is built on a website and imported into the client, I don’t know. The server is likewise some kind of widely available software, with signed build versions that you can install on a free Linux server with a website and database, text file something depending on size. For people adverse to building their own tech stack and a canned image running on a docker container in the cloud where you can just add your game scripts and items to it to get your game running. The server should not be harder to setup than a series of wiki pages or WordPress articles with some templates that make the articles look genre-appropriate. No personal information goes inside the client or the server, billing isn’t handled anywhere near the game servers. Players don’t get the invite code or RFID chip until billing is already handled.
Mo Money Mo Problems
I hear you saying that on the Starcruiser, you can pay for drinks and stuff with your band. There’s two important things to note here, Disney is a big company and you can reasonably expect them to get the tech right. Anyone who runs over $100k through their credit card merchant account needs periodic PCI compliance verification. Bob’s Annual charity murder mystery probably depends on volunteers to keep the IT running and I wouldn’t necessarily trust them with my details. Part 2, you could run a completely separate financial system and still tie them both to the RFID chip issued to the player without the game system having any personal or financial data.
What’s in the box?
The files for the client and server would contain;
- Pictures of the NPCs
- Pictures of the Items in the story, including maps
- Scripts of conversations you will have with NPCs and any decision trees and actions triggered by the player’s choices
- Links to all the QR codes
- A list of RFID sensors and devices setup at the event site, including any worn by NPCs
- Preloading the images on the client saves bandwidth during play
What else do we need?
Ability for show runner and tech support to quickly edit the server side information
Wired for Sound
All of the performers were wearing microphones and earpieces, our Raithe had his mic die during an activity and had to disappear quickly backstage to come back with a handheld microphone. I’m not certain there’s much innovation a small team could make here, sound equipment is a fairly well developed field.
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