Well, in just a few days, I will step aboard the Halcyon Starcruiser as part of Disney’s latest immersive interactive offering, that clearly has to to tell you it doesn’t go to space - which sits beside a theme park. Yet, the goal of the experience isn’t really to take you to that theme park, or go on a fake space cruise - it’s designed to be the next generation of storytelling - and represents the final vision of 9 years of experiments with WDI R&D.
Living in Southern California, and being a huge fan of theme parks, rides, haunts, and immersive entertainment - I feel like I’ve been playing in these spaces for almost my whole life - so I want to give you a leadup of my experiences before I cover the Galactic Starcruiser next week.
My Interactive Legacy
Myst Online: Uru Live (2003)
The whole thing was a massive failure, and after being rebooted two times in 2004, and 2007 - it was never a failure in my eyes. That experience of exploring caves, talking to characters, and living out that fantasy in my life would be a common theme I would explore again and again. You can still play Myst Online for free - if you want to check it out.
Flynn Lives (2009)
Evermore Park (2018)
Omega Mart (2021)
9 Years of Disney WDI R&D Interactive Stories
The Optimist (2013)
Legends of Frontierland (2013 and 2014)
A game favorite by the players was getting characters to “hook up” and get married, we attended so many fake weddings that summer!
This game could finally show me what you could do in an immersive, non-linear storytelling experience in a theme park. Everyone had their own story, but was also working towards a common goal. You could be creative, and not just consume a product or intellectual property.
Ghost Town Alive (2016)
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (2019):
Empty Stages and Broken Dreams
Sure, you could get some neat backstory from “tuning” a random antenna, or activate a show effect on the Millennium Falcon by “hacking” it - but that level of interactivity, story, and detail that we expected from the land marketing and hype, wasn’t there.
In fact, the app even sets up everything you need to unlock for you on your Profile page. This isn’t “live your star wars story”, this was “unlock Star Wars stuff in an app”. That exciting land game we tested? It would just be “hacking panels” with a game that has no real meaning, no real impact - just something for people to fiddle with and panels to blink colors.
When it works, Hondo on the Millenium Falcon will acknowledge that you’ve flown before, and you might get the credits from the missions - but Cast Members mostly ignore the small displays that tell them your status. They weren’t paid to play with you, and they almost never do.
The Explorer’s shop sits empty, a previously designed home for interactivity on Batuu.
You could see the vision, but the pieces sat empty. Even the facade for the Explorer’s Shop, once supposed to be the home base for the interactive game, sits empty with a “KEEP OUT” sign on a door that people try to open. Stages sit empty, that stunt shows were built and designed for. The press got to see them at the press day, but we didn’t. The vision of what Galaxy’s Edge should be sits around you, but it feels so lifeless and dead - because these pieces were never turned on! “Premium Missions” with mission packs to unlock for the various factions still sit in the Datapad code; they couldn’t even get some $5 in-app purchase extensions out the door in time for the land opening. It really felt like “live your Star Wars story” was really dead - nothing more than marketing hype and some digital achievements in an app that most people won't download anyway. It was clear that this was either budget cut out, or that it was spun off into the Starcruiser concept right before it opened.
The Sims 4: Journey to Batuu
Only in The Sims can you officially “Woohoo on Batuu”.
Seriously, the attention to detail on Batuu in The Sims is phenomenal.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser
One of the parties responsible for locking interactivity behind the paywall.
This experience is too damn expensive. Assuming two nine hour shifts of characters, we’re looking at over $100/hour each for the experience. Yes, you get a theme park ticket, food, and some drinks - but this price is unobtainable for most, and I hate that the modern Walt Disney Company has decided that something that felt planned for everyone needs to be locked so hard behind corporate greed. (Again, your reminder that even if you buy a day ticket at Knott’s, the character interactions and experience with Ghost Town Alive! only costs about $10/hour.)
Expectations and Cautious Optimism
I wasn’t even supposed to be going on opening day, but due to some of these same friends I met on these other experiences, it worked out - and we're taking the plunge. I’m not sure what to expect when I “get on the ship”. What kind of experience will this feel like?
For once, it’ll be my first Disney immersive experience where everyone is literally “bought in”. You don’t have to force people to try to download an app to try to play when they would rather go ride Space Mountain. It’s the purest, and cleanest “immersive experience” you can visit - and in many ways - isn’t for people that like theme parks.
This isn’t going to be the epic multi-month experience I saw with Legends of Frontierland. I have two days. This isn’t going to be the 8 week story adventure of The Optimist. This isn’t going to be the passive world of unlocking everything on the Datapad on Batuu. I can’t reload a save game like in The Sims - this experience feels at an intersection of all those things, 9 years of R&D development to create the “ultimate storytelling vision” - but will it work?
Back in the Myst Online days, the creators would always explain to us that the vision of exploration was always built around “Cautious Optimism”, and given what I’ve seen from Disney over the last 8 years, and my own experiences - that rings true here. I hope it inspires others to start their copy machines, push this art forward, and do awesome experiences like this at a price and level that is a little more inclusive for the masses.
In some ways, they have already disappointed.
Our CreativityOne thing through all these experiences, is that we’ve always brought our own joy. From our own games, to sharing it with the world, to our own clothing and creations - we make sure the experience is augmented by our own creativity. I refuse to only consume these experiences, I want to be *a part* of them.
Disney's corporate bureaucracy makes this hard. Unnecessary operational obsession about *what is a costume*, when you’ve got tons of kids and adults running around in house robes just a few miles away. This is something that The Sims 4: Journey to Batuu really got right, and I wish they would have copied for Galactic Starcruiser. Just have a bunch of “in universe” clothing and accessories that you can buy, and get shipped ahead of time - or at the door.
One of the coolest parts of Westworld was seeing people pick their outfits, and I’m just really bummed that we’re buying and customizing stuff off Amazon and excessively making our own stuff, instead of being able to pick-and-choose as part of the experience - you know living our Star Wars story.
End of a chapter...
But here we are. Custom outfits created, custom datapad cases built, even themed luggage - and nearly 9 years of WDI experiments later - we're about ready to see what feels like the final chapter in this development. I’m excited to share the end of this up and down journey with you - tell you my joys, experiences, and frustrations with the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser once we step off the ship next week.