As someone who got really in-depth with Disneyland’s Legends of Frontierland a couple of summers ago, it’s hard not to compare the two experiences. It’s clear that while both Wild West experiences were setting out to create a more interactive land experience, I think that Knott’s Ghost Town Alive comes out the champion, and could be a model for other short-term interactive events in the themed environment space. This look offers no direct spoilers, but some images may spoil story aspects.
Game design vs. story design
Ghost Town Alive! isn’t a game, it’s a fixed experience.
In Disneyland’s Legends of Frontierland, it’s primary purpose was to be a game. Games have winning conditions (in this case, the team with the most ‘land’), players, and rules. There was an economy (bits), and it was driven from how much players wanted to make their own to advance stories, create things, or just participate in the overall day. But, it was complicated, and ultimately serviced players who enjoyed playing and creating things over story.
Ghost Town Alive! plays out more like an interactive fixed theatre experience like Sleep No More, where you have a central story that happens no matter what – and guests simply observe it. Guests cannot alter that story (there is one instance that can change the daily outcome), but they simply participate it at a level they feel comfortable with. There’s no game that drives the daily story – it is fixed. I argue that it offers more casual repeatability than other experiences, because you can come back and pick up the story from a different character, different time, or different angle.
Experiences and connections
Because of the set Alive! story, it’s very easy for some of the other aspects to the experience to seem connected to the main story, all while being separate. Because there is just a single ongoing storyline that repeats each day, no character need to be caught up on what’s going on, and can actually play into guests spreading ‘information’ because they know exactly what it going on where and at what time.
This allows the banker to have a small game to play, and casually talk about the ongoing town drama, without getting caught up in other people telling him/her what is going on. It works well, and it really makes the disconnected experiences (like getting a moustache from the barber, finding hidden treasure from the bank, and surveying land from the Assay Office) still feel connected to the main story. These characters can encourage guests to go out and see when big story scenes are about to take place.
The future of themed environments
For a regional park like Knott’s and Cedar Fair to put on an experience like this, is ambitious to say the least. It works really well, and smartly adds capacity to an area that didn’t really have it before. By turning what used to be a shopping mall with peek-ins into a full fledged experience, it keeps people out of ride queues, and enjoying the themed environment of Ghost Town in a totally different way.
Overall, both Disneyland’s Legends of Frontierland and Knott’s Ghost Town Alive! served two different purposes and there’s room for both, or maybe a hybrid of them. Experiences like these are one aspect to the future of theme parks, and I feel like with Ghost Town Alive!, Knott’s has created a great playbook for other experiences that could come to themed environments in the future.
I’ll be visiting Knott’s many times this summer to play along with Ghost Town Alive!, just to collect as many of the experiences that I can.
Hope to see you there, pardner!