The latest offering from Disney comes by the way of a limited production run subscription box. Numbering to a reported 999 boxes, this has the makings of being one of the rarer haunted mansion themed items that Disney has produced. The “Ghost Post” delivered to my door step, a plain brown box that protected an inner more highly detailed box, adored with the Haunted Mansion’s crest and made to look like an old steamer trunk, complete with lock and leather support straps.
The material of the themed box is made of a thick durable cardboard, with a semi-gloss finish, destressed leather graphics, the Haunted Mansion crest on the top panel, and on
e other design element, the first floor of Disneyland’s version of the Haunted Mansion on the backside panel. This seems to indicate that (once delivered) all three boxes can be stack on top of each other forming the complete Haunted Mansion design.
The items/artifacts found within are a mix of paper craft, paper documents, and physical items which work together in various ways to help unfold the story as you discover the hidden meanings and uses of the various items. There is a high production value to all the items, from the wonderful monster scroll design on the tea cup (harking back to the wall paper design in Disneyland Hunted Mansion), to the tarot like cards featuring classic images culled directly from the Haunted Mansion. It’s exactly what one would expect from Disney when dealing with collector items. Each with its own tactile feeling and sense of purpose.
Tying all this together is a very well designed website “The Ghost Relations Department” where other players can come together and discuss their findings, and a clever iOS app known as the “Phantom Radio”. Installing it on an iPhone (5S or above) allows you to tune into the spirit world, and listen to classic Haunted Mansion attraction music, sounds and some of the old 1970’s radio commercials for the original Haunted Mansion. It’s in Disney’s credit that anyone meeting the minimum iOS requirements can install the app itself and listen to classic Haunted Mansion music, sort of a consolation prize for those who were unable to purchase the subscription box due to the $200 cost or how quickly it sold out.
The app itself is a cleverly disguised Augmented Reality (AR) viewer, and by pointing your iPhone to the various artifacts, additional content is unlocked within the “Phantom Radio”. The newly acquired content takes form of disembodied spirits talking directly to you through the “Phantom Radio” and providing additional directions and clues to further your journey. Dialing into the spirit world using the AR app takes on many forms either by moving the dial to newly unlocked symbols or by dialing into existing star symbols and then rotating the phone around the compass points to more finely tune into the spirit world. The constant back and forth manipulation of the AR app with the artifacts leads to more discoveries and more AR pointing and in some cases it will direct you to Disneyland itself. Here lies an interesting question, while “The Ghost Relations Department” does state that a full and complete experience can be had without visiting Disneyland, why add it in then? It gives the feeling that those without easy access to Disneyland (read annual pass holders in southern California) may have missed out on something and the whole experience will feel incomplete.
Opening the box begins an immersive story placing you and the other 998 recipients in a quest to assist the ghosts from the Haunted Mansion in their time of need. A need so great that they have reached out across the spirit world into ours. Combing over the artifacts and piecing together the clues hidden within the items along with the interaction of the “Phantom Radio” leads to wonderful “ah moments” followed quickly with “how clever”. The puzzles are not overly complicated and hints are found aplenty. But the more that you play and discover, the more it seems as though there is something else just out of reach. It is rather exhilarating experience, and very cinematic in its presentation.
One of the first puzzles to be solved, utilizing the tea cup’s mirrored surface to reveal a hidden message, (a warning?).
So what does this all mean? Is this just a fancy subscription box, a standalone Augmented Reality game, or something else? While looking at all the pieces, I see a bigger picture, one that has bigger implications down the road. It seems as though Disney is giving its most ravenous fans what they wanted the most, a working piece of the theme park at home. A literal working piece since it seems that artifacts of the box tie directly back to Disneyland and encourage you to return, back to where the story first began, or continues. Over the course of the next 90 days, an exclusive group of players who are willing to pay for the privilege will partake in an experiment that Disney has designed, another in a long line of increased interactivity utilizing existing theme park infrastructure, intellectual properties, and modern mobile computing devices.
Stay tuned as I delve into this experience myself and log my findings here. The game is afoot.