Interactive Fiction - On the Galactic Star Cruiser?

The embargo for reporting on Disney’s pricey Galactic Starcruiser resort has lifted. I’m watching a video and it appears that guests are “communicating” with characters in the crew on their phones using a choice-based narrative interface. Apparently this is how an interactive “plot” for the two-day experience is accomplished.

I will never be able to afford something like this, but it looks like a really interesting concept. Apparently playing the game can provide information like access codes that can be used to enter off-limits areas of the ship?

The interaction part starts at about 18:42 in the video.

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I wonder if the interaction is all pre-programmed or whether there’s also a live aspect to it, where there’s a bunch of people acting the simulation. If this experience is expensive, the latter is most possible.

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[Perhaps spoiler-y? Maybe don’t read if you’re planning to spend $6000 to take this experience…]

TL;DR: I think the phone-datapad parts are pre-programmed and not created live, but the pre-set adventure game elements delivered to each person will change based on live interactions during the experience.

So this is very elaborate live interactive theater, and it seems to be only partially guided by the choice-narrative sections which are pre-programmed on a data pad provided when guests check in. The story alternates between cosplay/escape room/interactive theater segments which are sometimes scripted and often improvised one-to-one with crew and cast members and characters on the ship, and programmed choice narrative sections on the data pad that point guests toward the next physical event. There’s even an in-room AI character guests talk to via voice-recognition that answers questions and comments on the activities they’ve partaken in and suggests other routes.

After watching some different videos, my impression is the choices made on the phone “data pad” are already set up and are not any different from a standard Twine narrative (with very fancy styling). However, all these are tracked in a database that figures out where the guest is and cues what part of the story is next for each individual. (There is an “itinerary” set up at the beginning like standard cruise ship activities for each guest, but that seems to fall by the wayside as story events happen and take over.) It’s structured as different characters in the story text messaging the data pad asking for help, and new story sections are cued to each individual based on choices and physical interactions. Each guest may be sent different versions of the story and given different missions based on where they are physically at any given time and what they pursue.

The “passengers” all wear an identifying wrist band that is the room key and is the same magic band used as park tickets and “Lightning Lane” (FastPass) in the Disney parks. Based on the story that the guest chooses, they may be told to go seek out a live character and mention a code phrase. That character then will ask the guest to scan their wrist band on a droid or a wall fixture to “transfer information”. Or the story may direct them to search a cargo hold and find a piece of luggage and scan it with their data pad. Doing that that cues the next specific section of the story to be transferred to their phone-datapad, often after a little bit of a timed delay. (One guest did note it was amusing that one of the live characters was seemingly text messaging their data pad at the same instant they were standing a few feet away in the ship’s atrium conversing with another group and obviously not doing this…) So I don’t think characters or any backstage people are live texting, but the choice-narrative story beats are pre defined and programmed routes through each story doled out by a server keeping track of all this.

This continues on the second day when the guests “transport” down to the Galaxy’s Edge section of Disney Studios. They wear a special identifying Starcruiser pin so may get special interactions with face-characters and ride cast members. They can complete an extensive scavenger hunt in the park, similarly scanning at terminals scattered in different locations, playing mini games (for example to jam an antenna on an in-park spaceship), and scanning through the line of the two major rides in the park which actually have some slightly different elements and audio that tie in to their specific stories.

This does not appear to be completely linear - in one video two members of a group completed a task that got them access to a special scene on the bridge where they helped with a space battle against Tie-Fighters (a very elaborate arcade game) but the third member of the group was denied as she hadn’t gotten through that story line and was “not authorized” since she’d not been specifically summoned to the bridge. However, while she was separated, other live events occurred and split her from her group for a different set of tasks. There are literally alternate routes where one group will be in the engine room sabotaging the starship with the First Order and another group at another time fixing it as directed by the Cruise Director who rounds them up as an ad-hoc group to assist.

It’s pretty neat, but very expensive and we’ll see how popular it remains as time goes on. I suspect the price will drop as they run through hard-core Disney and Star Wars fanatics with cash to burn, and it seems like they could refresh the story in the future by changing actors’ scripts and pre-programmed story elements.

First of all, I’d never even heard of this “cruise” before, so thanks for describing it in such great detail! It’s obvious the paying customers are quite excited to be LARPing their way through what appears to be an elaborate escape room type experience.

As for the choice narrative, while it’s cool as heck to see some IF in there, it also comes across as a little undercooked, making me get the strong feeling that whoever put this together isn’t an IF veteran at all.

For one thing, nobody in the history of television or film sci-fi (as far as I’m aware) has ever communicated with people by text. Even The Expanse (which, IMHO, has the coolest-looking “communicators” of any sci-fi show) is all about videos and facetime chats. The textual elements (if they exist) are always akin to emails more than instant messaging. And I don’t remember any texting of any kind on Star Trek, Star Wars, or BSG, although I’m not an expert.

So why “go cheap” and use text messages instead of video (pre-recorded or live)? Not sure.

Also not sure who thought two lines of message and then five or more lengthy “choices” to respond was a good idea. That’s way outside the scope of good design for most choice-based IF. And except for a chatbot, who gives you pre-populated buttons to click on for your response? Honestly, for 6000 bucks(!) or more a person, you’d expect to get something more than a rejiggered iPad to play a Twine game, for goodness’ sake!

Also, the synching issue that you mentioned (a player supposedly texting while obviously not) is a clear symptom of poor design. And I really feel sorry for that third player who got locked out of the “space battle” because she hadn’t completed her script fast enough. Obviously, something should’ve occurred to hand-wave her through (or have an NPC help) so as not to miss out on the cool video game (the space battle).

Lastly, god knows I’ve created enough chatbot flow charts to confidently say that there’s no way in hell the folks who constructed this “cruise” found a way to plan for every single possible state of multiple live players in multiple physical locations while progressing through different nodes or points of the game. My professional guess is that a whole team of people backstage were winging the hell out of what to do during various chokepoints/problems.

All of the above being true, the idea of LARPing on such a grand scale and the use of a chatbot IF element for “Comms” does seem like it could be a lot of fun. But it needs to be scaled down to smaller groups of, say, 6 people for it to be more cohesive and well-designed.

While the initial group of hardcore fans might be willing to overlook the obvious goofs, sending hundreds or thousands of people through this “ride” is going to magnify all the cracks in the system.

Very interesting report, thank you! :pray:

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I suspect because A: If they need to change plot details or randomize a passcode, that would be difficult with video and easier in text, B: Reading text is quicker, often includes “secret” information, and multiple people having to listen to a full voice message or video while already in sensory overload in a theme park around 100 other people also listening to audio messages could give away plot to anyone who overhears someone else’s phone blabbering away C: It’s likely the cast rotates often, and it’s much easier to just change the thumbnail picture of who is performing any given role on a day than to have multiple versions of the messages recorded in each person’s individual voice.

There is also an in-room droid that shows up on a screen and will discuss hotel services and the plot via simple voice interactions with guests. While this is essentially the same as the Walgreens chat-bot I talk to on the phone all the time and have become good friends with, this is actually a pretty cool use of the technology and is more toward what you are suggesting with interactive video chats. Easier because the droid is CGI and doesn’t have an understudy! One reviewer said that she was shocked that some of her conversations with the droid could go on for ten minutes or more.

In one of the videos, an Imagineer said they’re excited to use this type of technology in other resorts so guests and their children could talk to Tinkerbell or The Genie in their room to plan their day and discuss what they did in the park since it’s hooked to the database that includes every place the guests scan their wristbands.

I thought the same thing when they said some interactions would be phone based - why pay $6K to play a phone game, but it turns out that the choice-narrative part is just one element of the experience, providing interstitial guidance and interactions (use it to hack a door) between the major live and physical plot points.

And sure, text messaging in futuristic IF doesn’t show up in a lot of SciFi movies, but I believe that’s an aesthetic choice for cinema because it’s much more dramatic to show a character speaking in a movie than to make the audience read a text message. Since we in the present fully commit to text messages, I would guess when we get to starcruisers and light speed, text will probably still be around. I can video chat right now with anyone I know who has the tech, but in reality it’s quicker and easier to use text or make a normal phone call.

I don’t guess you’ve ever played any of my games :slight_smile: Sure, providing just choices for Yes/No is simpler, but I find there’s a lot of character and plot mileage you can get out of providing more nuanced choices. Even three choices [Yes, I’ll help you.] and [I’m suspicious but I guess I’ll help you.] and [If I have to help you, I will.] that all lead to the “yes” option allow the player to roleplay the simple “yes” response and give the impression of more agency, even if it’s an illusion.

I think some events have participant limits. There are only so many physical stations on the bridge just like there are only so many seats on a ride. And not everyone in a party may want to make the same choices. In the interactive theater production Sleep No More there are the coveted “one on one interactions” where an actor will select one audience member to pull aside and have a unique experience, and that’s kind of the breaks - just like when you play a choice narrative, one can’t make every choice. If everyone had the same experience, it wouldn’t be as interactive. And in the video she said there were so many other things going on they missed by being on the bridge that it evens out.

Also, apparently bridge training is a required activity for everyone at one point, so everyone gets a chance to play on the bridge. The second space-battle happens later towards the finale and is an optional second chance to use those skills. I’ve also seen a track that occurs that includes a secret meeting with Rey (live) and Yoda! (via hologram) that not everyone gets to see that might overlap with the bridge event.

To be sure, there is a backstage support team. All the performers wear microphones and in-ear pieces so they can hear a stage manager, and I suspect they might also sport a mobile camera so backstage can see who the performer is talking to (or they use security cams). The reviewers said it’s so surprising that characters remember people’s names and what you’re doing, and I’m positive that’s what the support crew is doing. The actors don’t have to remember everything as they’re wildly improvising because if they encounter a guest they can get a whisper “That is Alice in the blue dress, you met her earlier in the bar, and she’s on the First Order path right now…” - which is actually pretty slick. The performer can be like “Alice! Did you enjoy your cocktail?”

I’m glad to discuss this - I don’t meant to argue with you, but I’m fascinated by both IF and theater so the logistics of this is right up my alley.

And I’m very glad to hear your opinion on this! Especially because I have very limited personal experience with LARPing and IF-adjacent theater events, whether it’s an escape room or this colossal undertaking by Disney.

If folks are finding it fun, then that’s all that matters, even down to “texting” with your favorite Disney folks in your hotel room, which feels a lot more on-brand to me than the space cruise.

But my memories of Disney are all about “animatronics” and rides and other pre-programmed things that do not rely on wireless video feeds, earpieces, and memorizing dozens of people’s names on the fly. Just seems like a lot of balls up in the air that could come crashing down. Or, to put it another way, poor engineering design from a place offering reliable entertainment experiences to huge crowds of people.

Again, though, if the paying guests are happy, then it’s all good! :mouse:

Disney is trying to keep pace with Universal who ramped up immersion with their Harry Potter themed lands in both parks. A two-day immersive “show” themed as an imaginary cruise aboard a starship is pretty next level. Luckily Disney has money and resources to pull this type of thing off since they specialize in managing crowds.

I have done improv mystery dinner theater and essentially actors get a script plus a “bible” of facts and conversation subjects (just like a game!) and can improvise with the audience based on that, and then have to watch the clock so they know they have to be in a certain place to say their scripted lines about the murder at the right time. Similarly for Starcruiser, I’m sure the big story beats are set and planned. They just happen simultaneously in multiple locations and are clock-based. There is likely a bunch of stage managers in a mission control room with cameras on the action who manage the overarching show, and each character probably has their own remote handler who talks to them via the earpiece directly and keeps them on schedule and prompts them with names and facts. The “winging it” is the improv skill of the actors interacting with individuals, but the big show is set and kept on schedule. The Cruise Director mingles and can discuss the ship and events and occasional secrets with guests as they are brought up, but knows she has to deliver a scripted speech introducing the Captain to everyone at a certain time. There are also a bunch of hotel ‘crew members’ on the floor in character whose job is to assist physically and can help the actors wrangle the crowds and get them out of the way or sweep in to get the actor off the floor if they need to be elsewhere or if someone is randomly causing them trouble.

The other thing that is interesting is there are characters who wear full headgear like helmets - stormtroopers and an alien character - so they can’t talk in costume, however they have pre-recorded lines and default responses that can be triggered through a speaker. Stormtroopers always come off like clueless grunt NPCs (I don’t know if they somehow choose responses by pushing buttons in their gloves, or if someone watching remotely does) and their disdainful non-responses are pretty funny. The alien character chatters in a mysterious language - as if she understands English but doesn’t speak it, and essentially mimes response with body language similar to Chewbacca.

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Well, to be honest, the last time I was in Disney World was when Reagan was president so… :rofl:

Seems cool! I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more videos about this Disney space cruise experience.

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And also to be honest, I am a huge fan of Disney and theme parks in general, and I understand they might be making some poor choices in general - such as taking away FastPass and charging people to wait in a shorter line via their “Genie” service.

I just thought the Starcruiser tech and logistics were really interesting as related to IF. I understand they have a lot to work out, and the main arguments against it are “It’s not based on original old school Star Wars” “It’s not Star Wars enough for hardcore fans” and “It’s way overpriced.” The people who complain that the rooms are too small and there’s no pool are missing the point that it’s meant as a separate grand-scale experience and not a relaxing resort! Lounging in a room and at the pool are best served by any of their other thirty-someodd resort hotel properties.

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Sounds like a marketing issue. For me, when I read your first post, my frame of mind was 100% about this being a “ride” meaning a standalone experience inside the resort. Therefore, all my thoughts were framed “Would this be a fun ride/experience?”

However, if people are thinking about this in terms of their rooms, then clearly it’s being framed as being closer to a cruise than a ride (and that’s the official name of this thing, right?). And cruises are mostly about the room, the daytime excursions, and the amenities like food and swimming pools, etc.

I truly wonder if rebranding this StarWars thing as an “interactive experience” rather than a cruise would help people get in the right state of mind. Honestly, I’m no expert in SW canon, but I always imagined that the day-to-day lives aboard a starship would be more like being in the Navy/military, i.e. bunk beds and communal showers and a lot of “sir, yes sir” stuff rather than entitled pampered guests on a cruise.

In other words, sell this thing as the paying guests are bottom-level recruits in the Star Wars navy (or rebel alliance or whatever the right term is) rather than an “all-you-can eat buffet” cruise with silly uniforms, and it might be more popular.

Either way, it is fascinating to see what a shit ton of Disney money is doing to create an immersive IF style LARPing experience, so thank you so much for sharing this and combing through all those videos.

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You are right. It actually is much closer to a “mystery weekend” show. They are marketing it as a cruise…albeit in space (hence no pool, and the “daytime excursion” is to Galaxy’s Edge in the theme park) and I think some of the people were looking at the shots of the rooms and comparing the price via room size and amenities to land-based resorts (which have pools and bigger rooms) or actual Disney cruises (which are longer than 2 nights) and not understanding the interactive experience part of it. One newspaper said “$6000 to be locked in a bunker for three days” which wildly undersells it.

Hopefully nobody is dropping ~$6000 without knowing what they are getting into, but I don’t put anything past people nowadays.


This is interesting, thanks for posting it!