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Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights Becomes More Interactive Via RFID

This year, visitors to the Florida theme park's annual haunted houses will have new RFID-based challenges to complete, and be able to earn special RFID tags to help them collect points.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 26, 2013

This year's Halloween season promises to be more entertaining than last year's for guests at the Universal Studios Florida theme park, thanks to the park's expanded use of radio frequency identification technology.

Universal Studios Florida has produced Halloween Horror Nights each autumn since the event's 1991 launch. Initially, the experience consisted of walking past "Scareactors" and spooky props inside haunted houses, but during the past few years, the theme park introduced an Internet-based aspect of the event, known as Horror Unearthed, in which players could face online challenges and earn reward points, competing as individuals as well as in teams.

A new haunted house based on An American Werewolf in London will make its debut at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 23.
Last year, the Internet-based game was linked to the physical event at the theme park via passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags and readers (both fixed and mobile) supplied by Taiwanese technology company Microelectronics Technology Inc. (MTI), as well as the theme park's own software for managing read data and linking it to game-based responses, which were stored on the players' personal accounts and sent to those individuals' phones via e-mail or text messages. The Universal Orlando Resort's entertainment technical and art and design divisions worked together to develop the game software, and to link each RFID tag and read event with the points related to a particular reader.

Users created an ID and password on the Horror Unearthed Web site. Upon visiting the park, each player could then acquire an RFID-enabled tag linked to that ID. Readers stationed around the park interrogated that tag as the visitor accomplished specific missions, such as making his or her way through a haunted house or finding a specific character using a mobile reader, and the points earned were then added to that individual's account. Guests could continue playing the game throughout October, either online or during repeated visits to the park's haunted houses. The RFID features drew such a favorable response, says TJ Mannarino, the senior director of art and design in Universal Orlando Resort's entertainment division, that the technology is again being offered this year, with additional capabilities.

Universal Orlando Resort's TJ Mannarino
Prior to selecting the technology last year, the Universal Orlando Resort's entertainment technical team evaluated approximately 50 different styles of tags, as well as multiple readers, in both active and passive systems. They also built mock-up stations within the design offices to simulate game play at the park. Based on the test results at those stations, the group selected MTI's RFID ME USB Dongle reader installed in PCs, as well as the company's MiniMe reader plugged into Google's Nexus 7 tablets, to read passive EPC Gen 2 tags inside plastic cards.

According to Mannarino, when this year's event—Halloween Horror Nights 23—opens on Sept. 20, it will utilize the same readers, but include additional RFID-enabled features.

To play this year's online game, known as LegendaryTruth: The Collective, participants will begin by visiting the LegendaryTruth Web site, creating a login ID and password, and selecting one of six "legions" to which they will pledge their allegiance, such as Cerebin (the beasts) or Baccanoid (the warriors). Sometime later this week, players should be able to sign up, Mannarino reports, with the game expected to become active early next month. Other participants from the same legion will then play with them online, as well as in the park.

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