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Marc

Derren Brown's Ghost Train: Rise of the Demon

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https://youtu.be/jS7EQ5V69hE?t=93

 

This video as part of a job advert shows the movement of the DBGT trains in action (link starts at relevant part). The video also shows loads of other behind the scenes shots of the rides and includes examples of maintenance work so it's really cool. 

FYI this video is from an engineers job ad which is why the video describes working there.

Job ad: https://merlin.csod.com/ux/ats/careersite/4/home/requisition/4061?c=merlin

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There's really nowhere else to place this, so let's pop it here:

 

British Theme Park Archive are reporting that a dark ride had been planned for many years at Thorpe (stretching back as far as 2008), with a ride similar to Spiderman at IOA being something considered. John Wardley, amongst others, was part of the team designing it too apparently. Many ideas were considered, and apparently Derren was bought on board in 2010. After many more ideas and iterations, eventually DBGT was decided upon and VR was one of the last elements to be added.

 

In the comments its confirmed this info comes from someone they interviewed, who said it was close but "didn't quite happen". How close in unknown.

 

 

I've heard a very different story behind the saga of how Thorpe eventually ended up with a dark ride (something that many had craved for years):

 

-The park had considered the idea of a dark ride / indoor experience many times (the acknowledgement of the need for this was one reason for Saw's indoor section)

-A decision was made for the park to focus on coasters and thrill support rides up until then (plus maybe a 4D show or Vengeance from the old London Dungeons coming over), but they got cold feet after Swarm's failures

-Derren was bought on board sometime in 2013 / early 2014, with the plan for a dark ride being decided upon in early 2014

-With the VR trend becoming a thing by the end of 2014, it was decided to incorporate VR then, again quite late in the process

 

 

Obviously there's no way to know for certain what version of events is correct, if either are. Maybe at one point or another someone somewhere within the Thorpe/Merlin hierarchy decided to look into a Spiderman style. Maybe it was just an idea that never got far beyond the drawing board.

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It was quite interesting on one of the backstage tours Thorpe gave to Towers Times (I think) apparently there were still cables for controlling effects on board the train that were disconnected before opening, and would have never been seen anyway considering you had a VR headset over your face.  So suggests the VR really was very very late addition and that the original concept was to have a lot more on board effects

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Anyone else thinking that DBGTROTD is going to be the big casualty on opening post Coronavirus? 

 

I can't envisage a time in the next few years when people are going to be happy sticking something over their face that some other sweaty punter has just removed? Considering it's an absolute dog in any case do we think they'll take it as an opportunity to out it out if it's misery in its current form and turn it into a VR free immersive tunnel, or just rip it out completely and put a proper ride in its place?

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I would love for them to do the decent thing and take the VR off, and redesign it as the simulator style ride it was arguably always meant to be. But it would have to be done properly not a rushed job, or it will never be entertaining. I imagine they'd wait for the Derren Brown contract to expire before they do that, meaning it might sit there SBNO in the meantime

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Realistically Ghost train would struggle without VR IMO - you have too long sections with the train sat there not moving for it work without it without huge changes which probably wouldn’t be worth it.

 

I can’t see it opening this year - if we do hopefully have a vaccine against this in a years time I can’t see it being too much of an issue then.

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Realistically Ghost train would struggle without VR IMO - you have too long sections with the train sat there not moving for it work without it without huge changes which probably wouldn’t be worth it.
 
I can’t see it opening this year - if we do hopefully have a vaccine against this in a years time I can’t see it being too much of an issue then.



What about with 8k screens as windows and hidden compartments to hide scare actors


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18 minutes ago, Marc said:

Realistically Ghost train would struggle without VR IMO - you have too long sections with the train sat there not moving for it work without it without huge changes which probably wouldn’t be worth it.

 

I can’t see it opening this year - if we do hopefully have a vaccine against this in a years time I can’t see it being too much of an issue then.

The ride system was designed without VR and to have more on-board effects, so I'm sure there's a way to make it entertaining, you're right though they would struggle to fill the time

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Realistically Ghost train would struggle without VR IMO - you have too long sections with the train sat there not moving for it work without it without huge changes which probably wouldn’t be worth it.
 
I can’t see it opening this year - if we do hopefully have a vaccine against this in a years time I can’t see it being too much of an issue then.



What about with 8k screens as windows and hidden compartments to hide scare actors


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I think the Ghost Train could not function without VR. It relies on it so much, the main VR sections are dull with VR, without VR they would even more bland.

I honestly cannot think of a route to make this into an attraction that will be sustainable for the park. In some of my last visits the attraction seems to be fairly unpopular for a fairly new ride, and the queue it did have made sense considering the ride is unreliable and never seems to achieve a decent throughput.

 

If I were Thorpe I would just completely start again. I would keep the building but everything inside would be completely removed. I really think this attraction on the whole is just a mistake. Anyway here is a few outcomes that I see with DBGT.

 

  • The VR sections are just kinda of skipped through. The attraction is turned into a makeshift scare maze which is fun but will be unpopular and removed in a couple of years time
  • The attraction is closed due to 'hygiene' reasons that is blamed on coronavirus. The attraction sits SBNO until further notice. 
  • The attraction briefly reopens, but closes down in a year or two due to low popularity and is SBNO until Merlin want to use that space again
  • The attractions operates, but operates with limited capacity and limited hours to cut costs and parts of the attraction are compromised because of its low ridership. Maybe like only open it on weekends, after 12am opening, closures on quiet months.

 

 

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Prior to launch in 2016, the park drew up a rough contingency plan for what would happen if the VR totally failed. And I mean totally failed. As in they got to a point where using VR was a complete impossibility, and they *had* to get the ride open. It was a rough plan, and I doubt the park ever would have truly considered it, but it effectively made use of planted actors (who would become 'infected' by the gases and turn crazy), the screens near the top of the carriages to communicate a story and a more 'live' experience in generally. As I say, and as far as I understand, this was very much a quick and rough plan drawn up in case absolutely everything failed, but wasn't exactly considered as a serious option.

 

It would certainly be feasible for the park to implement something like this. It effectively just requires to hiring of extra actors and the writing of more scripts. Again though, I highly doubt the park actually would do this, especially given the feedback to the ride so far.

 

Ghost Train was meant to have more effects that did not make it into the ride. Leg ticklers I believe were bought but never installed, for example. The point early on in the process where the windows were meant to be screens is another example. These things are much harder to solve and introduce retrospectively too.

 

What does this means for Ghost Train's future though? I believe the Derren Brown IP contract is multiple years (6 I heard). Whether there's any break in the contract is anyone's guess. Obviously things like a global pandemic aren't top priorities to be talked about when drawing up contracts for IPs for rides. So it would be interesting to see what happens. But then, what do they do with the space? Do they totally gut it out and put something new inside? Transform the ride system into some form of immersive tunnel (which, with the ride system currently in place isn't impossible, but likely expensive)? Completely remove the whole thing? They *could* leave it SBNO and transform the inside for Fright Nights attractions, but again that's costly and also leaves a giant elephant in the room.

 

Another potential issue: could there be a negative public reaction to the theme of the ride? If you piece and twist it together, it's all about a respiratory thing causing illness. In this day and age, I could see some people trying to twist it...

 

In my opinion, it's very hard to see Ghost Train opening in the mid-term. Certainly not this year, even if the park reopens. If we work on the timeframe of no vaccine till autumn next year, it's hard to see it reopen next year. After that, the contract could be up.

 

There's the more global problems as well about what this means for VR in the entertainment and leisure industry in general. But also, what about 3D rides? It's less of a problem as they've been around a lot longer and cleaning them is easier. But I still reckon many people will feel less comfortable wearing them. And it does mean parks have to be more careful and thorough washing them (and I'm sure there's plenty of parks who aren't..). That's going to be an interesting step for the industry.

 

So yeah, tl;dr. I can't see Ghost Train reopening any time soon. A true reimagining of it will cost millions to do well. They're left with a giant elephant in the room which completely screws them up any way.

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7 hours ago, PJ. said:

If it is totally closed I hope they film the experience in action from all angles.

I would absolutely love for them to effectively make a documentary about the experience.

 

Whilst it has fallen flat and is a failed experiment, there's still a ton of thought, effort and work that went into it from a variety of different parties. Even just the designing of the experience, communicating what they were trying to accomplish would be interesting. Then seeing how it all works - a kind of grand reveal of how a magic trick works - could be great too. I'm sure a lot of people would be underwhelmed to see how it works, but it's still interesting all the same.

 

I doubt we'll ever get anything that in depth. Even a longer video of how the ride system works feels like a stretch. But we can still dream.

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15 hours ago, JoshC. said:

Ghost Train was meant to have more effects that did not make it into the ride. Leg ticklers I believe were bought but never installed, for example. The point early on in the process where the windows were meant to be screens is another example. These things are much harder to solve and introduce retrospectively too.

I can see that leg ticklers wouldn't really work, you'd see them as you board before the lights go out (they're just flexible tubing). The screens, fog and all that are what's interesting,  I wonder how much was actually installed before being removed or just mothballed.

There must be a solution to using the ride system to its full potential as a simulator ride. It's the designers' job to come up with a solution and make it work as an experience, but it would take money not a quick rehash with some actors. Also as far as I know (might be wrong) Simworx built it without VR in mind to be rolled out to other parks in the future. It would be a shame to waste the  ride system which was by far the best thing about the ride in my opinion.

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5 minutes ago, SteveJ said:

I can see that leg ticklers wouldn't really work, you'd see them as you board before the lights go out (they're just flexible tubing). The screens, fog and all that are what's interesting,  I wonder how much was actually installed before being removed or just mothballed.

There must be a solution to using the ride system to its full potential as a simulator ride. It's the designers' job to come up with a solution and make it work as an experience, but it would take money not a quick rehash with some actors. Also as far as I know (might be wrong) Simworx built it without VR in mind to be rolled out to other parks in the future. It would be a shame to waste the  ride system which was by far the best thing about the ride in my opinion.

The leg ticklers were in place when it first opened - can make them out in the picture below on the left side of the train - also the smoke used to work and the screens played a news report in 2016 - think both were removed after the rise of demon changes.

 

Im not sure if ghost train it’s self would work without VR - it’s quite different to standard immersive tunnels simworx have built - The trains are built by Severnlamb the block system by Intamin - I’m not certain what parts simworx built them selves to be honest. VR wasn’t a last minute addition to ghost train by any means - the ride was designed to have VR fairly early in its planning.

 

9B5C146B-DA44-417C-9007-1613992701BF.jpeg

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10 minutes ago, Marc said:

The leg ticklers were in place when it first opened - can make them out in the picture below on the left side of the train - also the smoke used to work and the screens played a news report in 2016 - think both were removed after the rise of demon changes.

Not those mini screens above, the big windows I mean, is it true these were initially simulator screens (or were designed so they could have been if wanted) before being covered/removed?

I heard a lot of the problems with the VR was that it was designed in relatively late to planning, rushed in by marketing who thought it would be a great addition, after some of the design had been done. It would certainly seem that way but  may not be totally true.

Yeah the Simworx thing I'm also unclear about, I know other parties were involved in the manufacture but I heard that it was package prototype ride by Simworx (with those other aspects outsourced like the trains and track), excluding the VR on board. Again might just be an exaggeration that I was told.


One thing we do know for sure is there were changes to try accomodate the VR, in that wobbly period when the opening was delayed

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8 minutes ago, SteveJ said:

Not those mini screens above, the big windows I mean, is it true these were initially simulator screens (or were designed so they could have been if wanted) before being covered/removed?

I heard a lot of the problems with the VR was that it was designed in relatively late to planning, rushed in by marketing who thought it would be a great addition, after some of the design had been done. It would certainly seem that way but  may not be totally true.

Yeah the Simworx thing I'm also unclear about, I know other parties were involved in the manufacture but I heard that it was package prototype ride by Simworx (with those other aspects outsourced like the trains and track), excluding the VR on board. Again might just be an exaggeration that I was told.


One thing we do know for sure is there were changes to try accomodate the VR, in that wobbly period when the opening was delayed

Ahh my bad - the windows were initially supposed to mist up I believe during different points so you wouldn’t see what’s behind the scenes if you didn’t have VR on - but the reflections from the windows would mess with the VR so they were in the end just covered up.


I believe simworx ultimately manages the entire project but the most part of it was built by different manufacturers - probably not helping ultimately in all the problems.

 

I don’t think the VR was added late as a marketing gimmick - the concept of a train with screens in the window wouldn’t really work on ghost train as you’d be awkwardly looking at a screen somones sat infront of - unless you only had people one side but that would end in a ridiculously poor throughput.

 

Yeah there was problems with VR contributing to the delay but by no means is VR it’s only issues - it’s a shame really as when the entire experience works as it’s meant to I still do think it’s good, it could have varied a lot more had it been a success to keep it fresh - it’s just so rare the whole thing works as an entire package. 

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Simworx were the turnkey provider for the experience. My understanding of the situation is that they were approached for the project (after Merlin and Thorpe had a good experience with them with Shrek in London and Angry Birds 4D) and were asked if they felt they could provide what was wanted, since it was a very unique project. I'm sure at the point when Simworx agreed to the project, VR had already been decided / was in the closing stages for been confirmed.

 

I've heard differing stories about why Severn Lamb were bought in. As Marc says, they designed the trains, but one version of events I heard was they were bought in because they had experience building trains, so were better to provide more realistic-looking carriages. The other version is that, despite saying they would, Simworx didn't want to design enclosed carriages (most of their carriages are open in design) so they sub-contracted Severn Lamb to do it. Similar conflicting stories exist about why Intamin were bought in. 

 

On top of that, you've then got Figment Productions designing the VR and having their own needs for executing it. They very much worked closely with Merlin/Thorpe and probably had little contact with Simworx/Severn Lamb. So it's not hard to imagine a situation where Figment were telling something to Merlin, who told something to Simwork, who told something to Severn Lamb, and the original message getting muddled along the way. Basically, it's all a mess.

 

The ride system that Simworx did could still be replicated elsewhere without VR, I guess. At one point during Ghost Train's construction there were murmurs that Merlin wanted a similar experience for Gardaland. The question is why would anyone want it. If you took the generic immersive tunnel set up (ie huge screens outside the carriage) and modified it to Ghost Train's style, it just sounds like a nightmare. And just not an enjoyable experience. It could probably be scaled down with a longer track circuit, but again the question is why.

 

If you look through Simworx's website, there's not a lot of theme park projects they've worked on, especially recently. A lot of their recent stuff is on a small scale, with a lot of concepts for ideas too. Given how much competition there is for dark rides, cinemas and stuff like that in the theme park industry, it does make you wonder if simply they're not cut out for making large-scale theme park attractions. They certainly had some potential, and parks did go to them at first, but when most aren't, there's surely a reason behind it.

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9 hours ago, JoshC. said:

Also, speaking of the SImworx website, the page they have dedicated to Ghost Train still has some lovely PS1 graphics...

 

image.png

 

Looking back you do really have to wonder what was going through everyone's minds to sign that off.

Thats just what the early days of VR could do. 

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