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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

Last year, if Horror Unearthed players visited the park and wished to participate in the RFID-based elements of Halloween Horror Nights 22, they visited a registration booth, picked up their card and provided their Web-based user ID, linked to their e-mail account or mobile phone number, so that they could receive messages on their phones while playing the game. For Halloween Horror Nights 23, a passive UHF RFID inlay will be built into the Frequent Fear pass—a plastic card that a visitor purchases in order to gain entrance to the haunted houses. The pass can then be reused every time that individual returns to the park's haunted venue.

Kiosks equipped with RFID ME USB Dongle readers plugged into PCs are installed at the end of each of seven haunted-house mazes. Each guest passes his or her RFID tag over the designated logos, thereby indicating the location of that RFID reader antenna, while leaving the haunted house. The guest's tag ID number is then forwarded to a Universal server running the LegendaryTruth software, where that individual's score is updated in his or her account.

For Halloween Horror Nights 23, MTI's RFID ME USB Dongle reader is incorporated in kiosks erected at each of seven haunted-house mazes.

Guests can also try locating mobile readers based on online clues. This, Mannarino explains, was one of the most popular aspects of the game in 2012, and will be central to this season's event as well. Last year, on the final night, Universal Studios Florida offered what it called the "Wild Goose Chase," in which Scareactors dressed as game characters each carried a tablet computer with an RFID reader, and a player had to locate that character and have his or her badge read by the character's reader in order to score points. He or she then received a text or e-mail message indicating whether the choice was correct or mistaken.

In addition to making the mobile readers a part of each night's events, Mannarino notes, Universal Studios Florida is allowing this year's players to earn special RFID tags, such as "freeze" and "fire" tags. A freeze tag, when interrogated by a reader, could prompt that device to cease reading any tags for 10 minutes, thereby thwarting competitors' efforts. A competing player could then use a fire tag to reactivate the interrogator immediately.

While developing the system, Mannarino says, his team faced several challenges. Transmitting data from the mobile computers over a cellular connection proved difficult, he explains, because of the large amount of cellular traffic already in the park due to the many cell phones in use. To resolve this problem, the group installed mobile hotspots to boost signal strength.

In 2012, the Horror Unearthed online game had a total of 7,300 registered players, 1,000 of which also participated in the Halloween Horror Nights. Mannarino says responses from players to questionnaires about the event were some of the highest the company has ever received regarding a new project. "This has been a great niche—to create an experience of group play with hundreds of people playing together," he states.

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