VR as a platform
Most theme park rides aren't updated within their first year. That's the advantage, and the promise, of media-based attractions, particularly those that use virtual reality. Developing software is hard, but it's arguably easier than tearing a rollercoaster down and adding an extra loop in the middle. Like any modern video game, the VR acts as a foundation, a platform that can be slowly updated and built on over time.
Reveley says periodic updates were "discussed in the early days" of the Ghost Train project. He recalls a review session soon after the ride opened, whereby everyone, Brown included, started to talk about "all of the fun things we could do to take it forward." What started as "just a loose brainstorm" turned out to be critical, as many of those ideas were eventually developed and incorporated into the new "Rise of the Demon" update.
There's a balance, however. The draw of the Ghost Train is its complexity, and the bespoke nature of its design. All of the different elements were conceived and developed with each other in mind. It's the culmination of these ideas -- and how they create one fluid, continuous experience -- that makes the ride so unique. Altering the VR part is, therefore, no easy task. A valuable update needs to work with and, ideally, enhance the other components.
Figment relished the challenge, however. "When you have those boundaries placed upon you, it makes you more creative," Reveley said. "If you can do absolutely anything you want, no-one knows where to start half the time! So actually, the constraints of the format of the ride are perfectly fine. Most of the greatest rides in the world, they follow a certain format. The Ghost Train is a really unique format, but it's one that's got plenty of versatility to it, in terms of how the content can be updated."
For Figment, it was also important to maintain the original ride's story and lore. The Ghost Train presents a world where humanity has gone too far in its lust for energy. The harmful gas that's being extracted from the planet's core, and it's effect on the public -- all of that came together in a story which, while perhaps unoriginal, was more ambitious than your average haunted house or roller coaster.
"It's not like we've ripped up the story and started again," Reveley explains. "A lot has been said about Derren's input on the first version. You know, this was his story, it was always his story. I know for some people it wasn't necessarily what they were expecting, but then that's what Derren is about! Surprising people. This new content, is still absolutely part of that original world that he wanted to create."
The focus instead was always on the fear factor. Rise of the Demon was a chance for the team to take a second crack at VR horror. An experience that's more than a video game, that's more than a movie, and more than a piece of immersive theatre. "There are some horror film nuts out there that have probably seen everything you could possibly imagine," Reveley says. "But by going a bit darker, I think we're going to expand the range of people who are genuinely scared of this thing."