Midsummer Scream mixed up a few things in 2019, one of them having Halloween Horror Nights and Knott’s Scary Farm swapping days. I know that sounds trivial, but there’s a certain rhythm you get used to for events and our entire industry is about paying attention to little changes. (I mean, let’s be honest. We keep an eye on blackout dates on different annual pass levels and the paint scheme used on cinnamon bun stands.)

Thankfully the most important beats are still there. Midsummer Scream getting a teaser presentation of Scary Farm, and the official announcement of the Knott’s Scary Farm preview event at the end of August, when all details will be dropped in a single evening. So we got the first half of that, with Jeff Tucker gleefully kicking it off on Midsummer Scream’s final panel of their amazing 2019 year.

After giving the details of their own announcement event on August 29th at 8PM PDT, he dropped the range of dates for the entire event, starting on September 19th, and in a change of pace from the last few years, stretching into November for a few days until the 2nd. Being that Knott’s embodies the spirit of Halloween, it’s interesting to see them extend the event past October 31st. I’m sure this is a possible test, so if you want to see this extension continue into future years, make sure to plan on visiting on those nights. They’re likely to be some of the less crowded Friday and Saturday evenings, too. (Read: Go on those nights)

The final bit of news they revealed was about the mazes this year. Not what’s new and not what’s gone, but rather, in a first, what’s going away. As in, this will be the final year for Infected: Special Ops. And to take a page from Disney’s marketing genius, they will have a commemorative gravestone pin to honor the lifetime of the beloved maze. We really hope this continues, both in terms of giving guests a heads up of the final year of a maze and also selling this little bit of merchandise. It was also hinted at there will be an additional graveyard map for you to pin these to, so as the years roll on, the graveyard will slowly gain new honorees into the “Knott’s Scary Farm Legends” lineup.

Of course, there’s also the irony that certain mazes are retired as their popularity wanes, and giving notice of their retirement would give it the extra attention that might offset such plans. And we also don’t know if other mazes will be treated with such reverence, but we hope they are. Every maze is someone’s favorite. Even Mirror Mirror. I assume.

Beyond the news, trying to save most of the good information for their own spectacle that’s just a few short weeks away, they decided to do a deep dive into two Jon Cooke creations, going over some changes that they’re getting this year. Yes, to reiterate, while this is the final year of Infected, it will still be getting some fundamental changes in terms of new characters and locations.

But first, they covered Dark Ride, a classic in its own right.

One easter egg revealed was that the voice of Merlin in the maze was none other than Ken Parks, who revealed he used to moonlight as the voice of Disney’s Merlin in a pinch when he was called upon. As to why the maze about a spooky house with clowns and monsters suddenly has a dragon and wizard battling, is something that was never covered.

But beyond that, they showed off two of the mazes they were adding to and modifying this year.On a side note, I appreciate seeing these maze blueprints after a maze has been exposed to the public. You can learn and appreciate so much more from these layouts when you actually know something is and have actually walked those paths. The first new room change is the surveillance room. Located near the end, it was originally just a random nondescript “air duct” room that stood out as almost just a bit of breathing room after the gauntlet of scary clowns.
For this year, it will now be the surveillance room, featuring the all-too-familiar design of a stack of really old TV monitors, piled high.

They also indicated that it would be somewhat interactive with buttons on the console doing something if it gets pressed. This might be new, but the interactivity of a maze is something that doesn’t come up much as we’re told to not touch the talent, so that usually means don’t touch anything, as the monsters could be hiding anywhere. But it seems like it might be a good idea this year to maybe get a bit more curious as you take a walk through the mazes.They went into detail in the slides that were shown. And it’s exactly like a room that I had pictured in my head had someone explained it to me. But to actually translate that to something tangible is a work of art. It should turn out to be a perfect fit for a maze that’s become a staple of Scary Farm. After that, they’re also adding a final ending to the maze. While the maze itself is grand, it does end very abruptly as soon as you make your way past the gigantic room. For that, taking another queue from theme park’s actual dark rides, it’s going to end in a gift shop. The story behind this is that it’s staffed by an inept employee who fails to realize the actual ride closed down years ago. These kinds of little details are something you might not always recognize explicitly, but all of that combines to really reward people for piecing together a maze’s story and plot.

And as you can see from the layouts, they are really adapting an unused location and fleshing it out into something magnificent.

And, as mentioned earlier, this also means new monsters in the maze, which gives us a chance to see how they detail them. One being the employee and another, who we’ll likely see elsewhere in the maze, is a creepy baby who grew up in the dark ride, raised by these clowns. For a maze that many considered near perfect when it first opened, it’s great to see constant attention given to it.

Being coy is almost a staple of these announcement talks, so there will definitely be more things added and changed than they are telling us about. But that was as far as they went with Dark Ride. Because next up was Infected.

While it may be obvious to many of the Scary Farm devotees, they touched on the influences that inspired the maze itself. A lot of very specific video games (Left 4 Dead, COD:BO, the Resident Evil titles) and paintball itself were not a surprise to see on the list.

But they made a special effort to remind everyone that the heart of the maze is still Halloween itself, and the haunted houses. And that no one should forget that. Home haunts.

They spent a good while reminiscing about the past locations of Infected, when it inhabited Camp Snoopy. Before it was there, it was originally specced out as taking place in the unused Soak City and the park would have had vans running through the night taking people over, but apparently shied away from that plan because of the proximity of so many guests to pools. They’ve touched on that Soak City idea before, but never discussed the transportation logistics of it before. A van system like that would have been useful as a deployment vehicle, but might have also added too much overhead to the already complicated setup.

Instead they settled on a 30 minute window to convert Camp Snoopy into a large escape-room-style maze every night. They said that due to the placement of the zombies, they were able to make the zone appear far more filled with zombies than it really was.

The guns themselves were also custom made for the park and went through changes over the years. While that fact wasn’t new, they touched on the technology needed for it. Self-contained infrared. The traditional laser tag weapons all talk to a central server over Wi-Fi. And while that’s fine for the 2nd floor of a shopping center above a Baja Fresh, for a theme park packing in tens of thousands of guests, that creates a reliability issue. So they had to design a whole new system that wouldn’t be affected by the myriad of phones scanning the networks and clogging the spectrum.

It’s honestly amazing that they don’t play up this kind of work beforehand. This is the kind of work that’s at the forefront of themed entertainment and often works so well that people don’t even think about the work that went into it.

Heck, it wasn’t until this year that I realized that the maze takes place in the modern day city of Calico. Even people up on the stage were unaware of that. Jon Cooke went into detail about each of the mazes that take place in modern times have little nods to each other, like TVs in mentioning a zombie infection and Infected having an advertisement for the team of Paranormal Inc. There’s a cohesive story connecting all of these mazes. These aren’t just mazes made with the idea of “How can we make ____ into a scary thing?” but an actual world they’re building and is something that rewards longtime guests by sharing that story with them.

And as the years went on, the gaming system for Infected became more slick and streamlined. The rifle actually upgrades as your score increases, confirming something that was never fully explained to the guests. In the first few years, you had to hit specific targets to upgrade the weapons, and only temporarily.

And the score system went from a night-long highscore board to a simple headshot counter so you could compare with just your party and hopefully go back in a second time to improve your score. That was key to increasing the desire to go through the maze multiple times, something that really added to the staying power of the maze.

As to the changes this year, for what they’ve revealed, there will be two new locations, more themed to the idea of this being a city that has been taken over, and will be a dilapidated store and a meat packing house. In one of these situations your group is going to split up, as well. That also means new infected zombies for you to shoot as well.

Knott’s seems to have a winning strategy for their mazes for their Halloween events employing a mix of returning classics that get plussed up, and new blood with surprises around every corner.

The August reveal event is sold out, but standby attendance will likely be available for a select few. Details are at http://knotts.com/ksfannounce

Knott’s Scary Farm runs from select nights from September 19th through November 2nd. Tickets are for sale now at https://www.knotts.com/play/scary-farm.

We’ll see you in the fog!