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Kim Possible, the new interactive "game" at World Showcase, is now running at Epcot! The steady stream of new arrivals in Walt Disney World continues (sometimes, it just feels really good to live here because we get new stuff every few months, even right here in the dead of winter), and the winning streak begun with American Idol continues as well. Idol is probably going to be a hit (barring a dearth of talented volunteers, that is…we'll see what actually happens after February 14), and Kim Possible looks to be even more likely a certain crowd-pleaser. That's not to say there are no caveats. There are. But by and large, the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure delivers. It's more engaging than you're expecting, it's fun for just about all ages (another surprise), and I can barely believe that it's free.

The show first tested a long, long time ago (more than a year, I think) for a very select group of lucky volunteers. In the past couple of months, the frequency and volume of test-and-adjust periods have increased slowly, though passers-by still had to have good timing and be lucky to be selected. As far as I could tell, they never hung out a shingle and just let anyone sign up who was interested. They were cherry-picking families (or so I've been told).

The sign is out now… come play!

That method of testing changed about a week ago, and the adventure moved to a more traditional soft-opening: they hung out a sign and simply opened for business to anyone who cared to play, though the attraction was not on souvenir maps, show schedules, or national marketing campaigns. As with all such soft-openings, I consider them fair game to be reviewed. If a paying customer can access it legally, it is subject to the same high standards we expect from all Disney experiences.

Those earlier tests had yielded smaller crowds, but this past Saturday finally saw bigger numbers at the adventure. One assumes that word is spreading among locals that it's open for business. Even then, there were only about 300 simultaneous players; small potatoes when you consider that Epcot can reportedly hold 100,000 people. The Kim Possible computer servers can theoretically handle 3,000 simultaneous players, which also sounds small at first. But if you calculate how long each game takes (more on that later), that might translate to 5,000 or 6,000 customers serviced per hour. And most players holding a game device are not playing alone, but rather using a single device for their whole party of 3 or 5 people, so we may even be talking about 10,000 people per hour (or could it even be 15,000?) Try doing that with a regular ride. Even massive people-eaters like Pirates of the Caribbean or the steam trains only move 3,000 people per hour.

The display in Innoventions is a bit busy.

There are seven games (called "missions") you can take part in. There are eleven pavilions in World Showcase, meaning four of them have no Kim Possible game: Canada, Morocco, American Adventure, and Italy. The others have games and quests stuck in them. Players sign up to play the games in several locations: both sides of Innoventions, at the Odyssey Bridge (near the interactive water fountain on the main drag of Future World), or at the so-called Field Stations in Future World. There are three Field Stations: Norway, International Gateway, and Italy (despite that pavilion not otherwise hosting a mission). Regardless of where you sign up to play, you have to visit one of the Field Stations to get your game device anyway.

But it's not an instantaneous process. You swipe your park admission ticket to sign up (only one ticket is needed per party), and you get a "field pass" (it's just your mission ticket) that is, to all intents and purposes, just a FastPass to play the Kim Possible Adventure at a certain time. The default is 30 minutes ahead of the current moment, but the system is designed to make that number leap forward if the crowd conditions and demand on the system dictate it. I imagine that on a crowded day (New Year's Eve leaps to mind), you'd get a "return time" of several hours in the future. Note that although it works *like* a FastPass, it's not hooked into the FastPass system. The two are separate computer networks and don't "talk" to each other.

Great - more paper passes to collect!

You can do that swiping and receiving of your Kim Possible ticket at any location listed above, but the exact ticket you get tells you to report to one specific Field Station (Italy, Norway, or International Gateway). The ticket is unspecific about exactly where in the pavilion to show up, and it furthermore occurs to me that a great many Epcot visitors may have no idea what the International Gateway even is (for the record, it's that side-entrance to Epcot wedged between the UK and France pavilions). It turns out that the Field Stations are heavy wooden carts off to the side of each pavilion, and tucked into recesses in the main walkway around World Showcase. I'd seem them creating those recesses in past months and wondered about them, but it makes sense now.

When you get there, the smiling CMs take your ticket, scan it, and ask if you're on your first mission. They have to ask this because if you've already done one, they'll want to know which one so they can assign you to something else. And yes, you can request a specific one if you prefer. I wonder if that can continue forever. My favorite one is a clear standout and if word gets out, that may cause more people to crowd into that pavilion, de-centering (if not outright destabilizing) the whole system.

The CM adjusts this or that, and then hands you a cell phone (a Verizon LG) with a large blue rubber attachment dangling off to the side, though very firmly affixed (this turns out to be the GPS tracker and anti-theft security device). The cell phone is your "Kimmunicator" (get it?) and it's been dumbed-down and idiot-proofed so effectively that in short order you stop thinking of it as a cell phone and treat it like, well, a multi-purpose communication and analysis device.

The LG phone and, in the background, a dropbox to deposit it in after this particular mission.

To judge by its supposed abilities in the game, it's equal parts cell phone and Star Trek tricorder. It can supposedly scan the area, analyze results, send out electronic pulses and signals, take photos, and even synthesize bagpipe music. The reality is that it's just a phone with pre-programmed responses that only play after you trigger an event by standing in just the right spot and hitting the OK button, but it's a convincing conceit, and pulled off smartly.

On the screen, you're interacting primarily with Wade, the African-American whiz kid who sits behind the computer in the Kim Possible universe. You don't need to know the Kim Possible characters (I didn't) for this to be enjoyable. Wade urges you to jump in and help save the world for this next mission, which unfolds in a series of downloaded videos. The top half of your Kimmunicator is a video of Wade (drawn in traditional animation style), while the bottom third is a closed-captioning of the words Wade is saying. It stuck out to my obsessive-compulsive mind that the flow of written words didn't quite match the pace of Wade's verbal speech (the text disappeared and moved to the next page too fast every so often).

It's hard not to watch (and read) along.

The typical mission consists of four or five events you must trigger to reach the resolution. Each story is linear, not branching or based on user responses, but it's not quite as simple as you might imagine. For one thing, although you may only see four events in a mission (as we saw in China), there are actually seven or eight potential events in each land (I think we saw all eight of them in Norway). Most of the time, you'll only get about half of the potential tasks in a given mission.

The Kim Possible central servers react to numerous inputs (number of players, how many players are in a given land, which effects are currently broken, and just plain randomization algorithms) and decide what comes next for your Kimmunicator. You'll skip over some events, but do others that you skipped the last time. One immediately obvious benefit to this approach is to create enormous repeatability to the experience.

The new Kim Possible costumes fit in well in both Future World and World Showcase.

Usually, a mission lasts 30 to 40 minutes. The types of tasks are varied, but frequently amounts to moving to a very specific spot in the pavilion and clicking OK. The GPS unit attached to the phone is surprisingly precise (perhaps too precise, in fact); you won't be able to just get "close" and hope to trigger the event. When you get there, Wade may be making noise about scanning this or that, generating a sound tone with the Kimmunicator, or pulsing out a signal…it's all just window dressing for the fact that you are present here, and the system knows it.

Delightfully, most of the time you are rewarded with visual candy when you trigger the event, often in the form of a special effect or very minor physical animation powered by tiny gears and motors. I think of those as minimatronics, with minimal movement like you might find in Knott's log ride or the former Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. Things like:

  • a tiny satellite dish that rises out of a lampshade
  • a flag that gets raised atop a pole
  • a cricket that appears to paint while facing the other way
  • a monkey rises out of the water
  • a butterfly that opens its wings to reveal a code
  • a trophy that spins around to reveal a code
  • a nutcracker that lifts a sign to reveal a hidden message
  • a train that navigates the track with a code displayed on its side
  • a cuckoo clock that chimes out a message
  • a row of beer steins that sing with their flaps
  • a special glockenspiel of two characters chasing each other
  • a wind chime that shakes itself
  • a robotic-looking character that rises out of a merchandise display in a shop

  • What if the butterfly breaks?

    It crossed my mind that the upkeep issues may very well become relevant to this experience. Each of the above depends upon gears and motors properly functioning. Will the workers quality-check each of them every morning? Will the adventure grind to a halt if something is broken? Or will it continue, unaware that the effect never actually took place, and resultantly look embarrassingly amateur? Or will the server know to bypass this particular effect instead?

    Many of the triggered events use something other than minimatronics. For instance:

  • smoke rising from a chimney
  • water gushes from a rock
  • fiber optics appear on a rock
  • lights flash on in the eyes of gargoyle statues and tiny "railroad" people
  • screen animations
  • water fills a supposed alcove (it looked like the hydrolator!)
  • train scoots by with a code illuminated on the side
  • your picture being snapped from a camera hidden in the trees or nearby buildings and then appearing on your Kimmunicator

  • You'd have to be standing in just the right spot to see these fiber optics.

    One of the best things about these triggered events is that the vast majority of them are cleverly placed off in a corner, or you are looking in a direction that most folks don't normally see. In other words, these triggered actions will probably stay pretty invisible to most visitors to Epcot, and not be disruptive.


    © 2009 Kevin Yee

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