By Louis Alfieri
Raven Sun Creative had the privilege to collaborate with Hershey Resorts and Entertainment and Sally Corporation in the creation of Hersheypark’s Reese’s Cupfusion. Here Louis Alfieri, principal and chief creative officer of Raven Sun Creative, shares some insight into the Reese’s Cupfusion journey from blue sky to guest experience.
Our mission: translating two much-loved brands – Hersheypark and Hershey Company’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – into a story-based shared guest experience.
EARLIER this year, Hersheypark in Hershey, PA, debuted Reese’s Cupfusion, an interactive dark ride that established a host of significant firsts, both for the destination itself and the interactive attraction category as a whole. In addition to claiming the mantle of “world’s most interactive gaming attraction,” Reese’s Cupfusion marked the first story-driven dark ride – one based around an original IP – in the park’s 113-year history.
Reese’s Cupfusion puts guests in the roles of Agent Trainees charged with protecting Reese’s Central, a futuristic factory powered by Reese’s Spirit – the world’s love of peanut butter and chocolate. At the heart of Reese’s Central is the fabled Crystal Cup, the object that collects Reese’s Spirit to create the energy that runs the factory. Agents must protect the factory from the troublemaking League of Misfit Candy, led by the bumbling Mint the Merciless, who will do anything they can to lay their sticky hands on the Crystal Cup so they can use it for their own nefarious purposes.
Reese’s Cupfusion began life as an exploration in expanding the overall park offering and growth of Hersheypark. Eventually, the project zeroed in on the redevelopment of the Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge (RXCC), which opened in 2006 and was among the first generation interactive dark rides developed in the LBE industry. The complete reimagining of the attraction offered something new and far more uniquely ambitious for Hersheypark than merely overhauling an aging attraction.
Hersheypark saw the opportunity to create an attraction that would bring new dimensions to the brand’s identity, expand its storytelling options and deliver a deeper and longer-lasting kind of guest engagement. Translating two much-loved brands – Hersheypark and Hershey Company’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – into a story-based shared guest experience demanded a deep understanding of both brands and their core audiences.
Focusing on the value proposition
Reese’s Cupfusion grew out of two years of collaborative exploration between Hershey Entertainment and Resorts and our team at Raven Sun Creative. It became clear in the earliest stages of ideation that the new attraction needed to take a much more expansive approach to storytelling with more of an emphasis on creating an interactive narrative experience. From the outset, we wanted the guest to have a new level of agency.
We explored a huge range of story possibilities. Our constant guide during the blue sky process was Hersheypark’s unique brand value proposition. Situated in the heart of “the sweetest place on earth,” Hersheypark puts a focus on active families seeking to make the most of vacation togetherness in a wholesome destination they trust. Maximising engagement for the entire family is a centerpiece of their offering.
In the pursuit of bringing that brand value proposition to life, the combined team focused on delivering a 360-degree gaming attraction that would offer a world’s first, multi-level, inclusive experience for the whole family.
This goal required a major reinvention and upgrade to the attraction experience, one that took full advantage of the leaps in technology and gaming that had occurred since RXCC’s debut. From the inception of Reese’s Cupfusion, the team’s key targets were focused on creating a story-driven, highly interactive, multi-faceted, multi-demographic, guest-centric experience.
To license IP or create IP?
Early in the process, the project team examined the possibility of licensing existing outside IP as a source of creative content for the new attraction.
During our deep dive into IP, the project team kept returning to a question: Was there a better option, one that would get more mileage out of the park’s budget and resources while delivering the impact we sought?
When the Hershey Company and the Reese’s brand expressed interest in partnering again on the new attraction, the project team proposed creating an original IP that would translate the Hershey Reese’s and Hershey Resort brands into an immersive narrative adventure. This new IP would introduce guests to an entirely new story world, including a large cast of characters in a fully realised new setting, within the context of the attraction plaza, queue, pre-show and action-packed interactive dark ride.
An ambitious goal to be sure; the Hershey Company, Reese’s brand and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts saw the value in creating a new brand-based IP that would anchor the story-driven guest experience.
In conceptualising Reese’s Cupfusion, our team began by challenging the typical perceptions about interactive gaming dark rides.
There is a certain line of thinking in the industry that says a dark ride can either be interactive or story-driven – passive or interactive but not both. The standard logic is that too much story competes with a guests’ agency in the gaming experience. In the rare cases when interactive gaming dark rides have been based on story, they are based on an existing IP where guests may have more familiarity with the story.
Proposing a story-driven interactive gaming dark ride based on a new IP that guests were encountering for the first time required impactful storytelling, an understanding of how to convey core character traits and messages in a short form narrative and balancing the story with the guests innate desire to play the game intuitively and unimpeded.
Our team believed that, when balanced correctly, story, game and world’s first types of interactions (in this case the world’s first communal game play functions) would work together to elevate the guest experience and create something that hadn’t been done before. The key to that balance was never forgetting who the true hero of our story was – the guest.
Creating a multi-layered gaming experience that truly offers something for everybody – as individuals, as a communal experience and at varying levels of capability – required a straightforward and intuitive framework that offered a wide variety of play experiences including:
- Competitive play in each vehicle and between vehicles that share the same gaming area
- Co-operative play, working with your fellow agents to unlock bonus characters and content
- Discovering and unlocking special “Easter Egg” features
- Fixed and motion-based physical targets
- Small and large media targets of varying levels of difficulty
- Intermittent media based targets
- High level of character and target density
- Multiple levels of agency, narrative, discovery and variability to ensure maximum challenge and satisfaction on multiple rides
Comedy and endearing characters were two of the most important tools in creating a world with cross-generational appeal and demographic reach. The goal was to create a universal guest connection that had a distinct identity. Building a world that guests can invest in was the key to us creating an experience true to the Reese’s brand that avoided becoming a product commercial.
A core goal in realising the world of Reese’s Central was creating an environment that combined both interactive media screens and physical sets in an absolutely seamless way. The team sought to deliver an attraction that offered sophisticated media gaming without sacrificing the sense of place and kinetic movement provided by set and show action equipment.
Our creative team envisioned Reese’s Central as a lush cinematic world that evoked both classic cartoons of Looney Tunes and Tex Avery and the films of Pixar. The design challenge was finding an achievable way to deliver those visuals in a consistent, high quality way on a rapid schedule and regional park budget.
The solution we arrived upon was a complex process for modeling the entire world in 3D. Using advanced composite and rendering techniques enabled us to deliver that 3D world as an illusion, matching the media screen in a 2D format in the physical world. This required our team of artists and partners to model, texture, light, render and deliver every square inch of the facility environment, including walls up to 22ft tall and 1,200ft in length, as 1:1 digital models and graphic files. The files and process were among the biggest any of us had done in our careers.
Once the final attraction concept was approved, our team at Raven Sun Creative had an ambitious 16 week schedule to perform the final concept, schematic and detailed design before handing over in excess of 3,000 digital files to the Sally Corporation team. Sally was then challenged with meeting an accelerated 10 month schedule to perform shop drawings, fabrication, technology development, media production, installation, programming and commissioning of the new attraction.
Our teams worked collaboratively within the available budget and throughout the accelerated schedule to make the most of every available asset in a complete retrofit and transformation of the existing attraction environment; such that returning guests would not realise what had been reused to maximise impact of the available budget for the new guest experience.
Throughout production and installation, our combined teams at Raven Sun and Sally worked closely with Hersheypark to articulate the brand value proposition, protect the creative intent of the project and deliver a global destination level world’s first guest experience.