With Batuu Bounty Hunters, Disney is trying to use its MagicBand+ technology to bring a new type of theme park attraction experience to life.
Set in the Stars Wars: Galaxy's Edge land at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort, Batuu Bounty Hunters is Disney’s most notable use of MagicBand+ as an attraction enhancement. Disneyland invited me and a handful of other reporters to test MagicBand+ play Batuu Bounty Hunters in advance of MagicBand+'s official debut at the resort on October 26.
"MagicBand+ has allowed us finally to deliver against that [bounty hunter] archetype that we've always been wanting to bring to life [in Galaxy's Edge] but didn't really have a way to do so before," Asa Kalama, Vice President Executive - Creative & Interactive Experiences for Walt Disney Imagineering, said to us. "Black Spire Outpost on Batuu is is the natural home for folks like a bounty guild, right?"
Asa provided us a detailed explanation of the game, so I will let him do the talking here, in this edited transcript of his remarks:
"Coincidental to all of this our good friends at Lucasfilm put out a television show [The Mandalorian] that just so happened to feature a tracking fob for the first time, so you got to see how bounty hunters actually get to locate their charge. So when the MagicBand+ team came and started to talk a little bit about the new capabilities of the bands - obviously the haptics and the lighted ring - it was sort of a lovely chocolate-and-peanut butter sort of moment, right? It was a piece of hardware that delivered on the promise of that tracking fob that we've now seen on screen.
"And what we like about this particular approach is it's inherently analog. It's something that feels almost toy-like, which is very much in the spirit of what we're trying to do in Galaxy's Edge. We want to encourage you to truly take on that persona, to feel like you're a character. It sets you immediately in the story."
"In terms of actually receiving your assignment, this was another opportunity for us to expand the world of characters that we think live in Black Spire Outpost, and so it is behind a sort of speakeasy-style window located at our speeder garage in Black Spire Outpost that you will encounter Raga Baua. And she is our local guild master. She's come to a sort of tenuous relationship with Oga, who runs Oga's Cantina as you all know, to allow her and the guild to do business on the planet. They sort of have a tacit relationship and agreement that they won't get in each other's way. And obviously, Oga is taking advantage of the fact that the bounty guild is helping clean things up just a little bit and make her job a little bit easier.
"Your experience begins at what in a former life had been a speeder refueling station. Where you would have gone and hooked up your speeder bike to get it all charged up, the guild has hacked it and repurposed it now into what is essentially their job board. All it takes is a quick tap [with your MagicBand+]. You'll be assigned a bounty and then dispatched out into the land using your thermal viewer, which you will find inside of your Play Disney Parks app."
"At the time we started this project, I had a three-year-old daughter, and I was always keeping in the back of my mind making sure how is this an experience [that] is truly going to work for everybody. You don't have to be a hardcore Star Wars fan. You don't have to be steeped in the lore. You don't have to have a ton of experience with gaming or even digital products at all. So how can we pair this with a mechanic that is fundamentally understandable and something that we all know? I wouldn't say all but many of us did in preschool [play] the simple game of warmer/colder, which pairs very nicely with the band.
"So the way that our tracking fob works is as intuitive as you might expect. As soon as you tap in to receive your bounty, you follow the green lights on your band that blink in rapid succession, getting faster and faster, as you move toward your target. But if you go in the opposite direction, it goes red to let you know that you're going the wrong way.
"A very simple mechanic, but one when intermixed with a natural environment where you're moving around, there's people flowing through, all of a sudden starts to feel like you're really in the story. It has that ease and approachability but also just enough complexity to make it challenging, even for an adult."
"Once you arrive at what you believe is the designated location of your bounty, you'll know you're in the right spot because [the band] will be blinking purple.
"All you have to do then is tap the band to your device. If you're in the correct location, it will pop up that thermal scanner you'll use to do a really cool sort of AR view through that door, revealing the character on the other side. You tap the screen to report the location of that bounty to the guild, and then you return back to Raga Baua at that speakeasy door, where you place your hand in the scanner and get paid out your galactic credits.
"If you are an avid hunter, there are a lot of bounties that are out there, so it's really up to you to decide how many you want to choose to go after."
Thanks, Asa. Now for an embarrassing confession from me. I had meant to bring you a video of me playing Batuu Bounty Hunters, but the fact that you do not see one embedded here should clue you in that I failed in that basic production task.
I knew that playing BBH (I'm just abbreviating it from here on) would require both hands, one wearing the MagicBand+ and the other to hold my phone for use as the "thermal scanner." So I decided to wear a head-mounted camera to record my experience. However, I foolishly did not tilt my head down at the correct angle to capture video of the band and my phone, so all the action was out of frame, making the video worthless. It's been a long time since I made such a rookie mistake, and I apologize.
Anyway, BBH was fun. It's a cute game that I could see being attractive especially to younger kids. But is it worth spending $35+ for a MagicBand+ to play? That's up to you.
Asa said that an average game takes about 10 minutes, and I finished mine in about 15. To be fair, I was messing around, walking all across Black Spire Outpost trying to show off the band glowing red as well as green, to get more video. Alas.
But I did get to enjoy the moment when my band first flashed red and I felt the haptics vibrating on my wrist, because at that moment I realized that I was playing a Star Wars character who had a literal opportunity to say out loud, "I have a bad feeling about this."
When playing BBH, you have one hour from the time you to tap in and accept a bounty to find it and report its position, and then another hour to come back and claim your credits. Reporting the bounty requires a data connection on your phone and the updated Play Disney Parks app, and there are points in the Black Spire Outpost were Disney's wifi connection is a bit dodgy, so you might need to fall back on your cell data to complete a game.
Playing BBH isn't the only use of a MagicBand+ wristband, of course. I detailed more uses for the devices in my previous post, How to Use MagicBand+ at the Disneyland Resort.
Regardless whether people come play BBH or not, widespread use of MagicBand+ would speed greatly the flow of guests through the resort's park gates and Lightning Lane entrances, as tapping takes less time on average than people trying to awaken their phone, call up the Disneyland app, and scan their screens.
Disneyland officials also confirmed that Disneyland would continue to take photos of entering guests to associate them with their MagicBand+, rather than using the finger scans employed at Walt Disney World. After your first park entry with a MagicBand+, tapping in at the front gate will bring up the photo of the person associated with that band on the cast member's screen, allowing them to confirm that the person using the band is the right one.
By bringing MagicBand+ to Disneyland, Disney is reaffirming its commitment to this product, even as more fans are using smart watches and other devices that can replicate most, if not all, of the MagicBand technology. If that's not the right move, well, I guess Disney can always put out a bounty on the executives responsible for that decision.
After all, it's now training a whole guild of bounty hunters to find them. /sTweet
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