Videogames By Land And Sea With Disney

Videogames have become mainstream entertainment thanks in large part to Nintendo's Wii and Nintendo DS. Gaming is now influencing Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) as they craft new experiences for Disneyland, Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line ships.

"Our audience is ever-changing and the more videogames become popular, the more visitors to our theme parks expect to interact in their world and also in their entertainment," said Sue Byran, senior show producer and director, WDI. "When we were working on DisneyQuest 12 years ago, our audience was mostly frightened by the idea of interactivty, we now have an audience that's excited about it."

Bryan oversaw development of the latest attraction at the Disney theme parks, Toy Story Midway Mania. The 4-D carnival ride sends passengers through an interactive videogame experience that offer 3-D stereoscopic visuals, along with special effects for a completely immersive target practice challenge through five levels.

"In Midway Mania, we have two kinds of air puffs and water to enhance the moments a stereo 3D object comes into your face," said Bryan. "If a balloon flies off the wall, you really feel it pass you. It's that sense that I'm in this world. It lets the environment become fully realized. Some of these gaming elements come towards you as you're playing for a complete suspension of disbelief."

That's something that neither arcade games nor home consoles like Wii can currently compete with. Like movie theaters with 3-D digital technology, theme parks are trying to up the ante for visitors who spend more free time gaming on high definition TVs with surround sound systems. The Wii and Nintendo's casual gaming revolution is also impacting the way Disney Imagineers create new experiences.

"When you look at casual gaming, the type of pick-up-and-play intuitive experiences we have in the park, we look for people who have that kind of experience when hiring new talent," said Bryan, who added that creating theme park rides offers different challenges than game development.

"While our audience includes classic gaming audiences, we also have grandparents and parents and three-year-olds," said Bryan. "We can't presume any kind of knowledge. Also, these people are entertained in different ways. We're designing it to be fun and intuitive for the kids and adults, as well as adding depth of challenge for the teenagers."

"We also think that interactivity is a great way to help us in our storytelling," said Estefania Pickens, associate producer at WDI. "We're interested in immersing guests in new worlds that they couldn't otherwise participate in. The more you do to actually involve people in that world and the more you can give them a chance to play a role in that world, the more they will feel immersed in that story. They'll feel like they're doing things with these characters."

The same diverse group of Disney Imagineers who made Mr. Potato Head, Buzz Lightyear and Woody come to life are also thinking up new ways to push videogame technology outside of the theme parks. Next year will see the debut of a proprietary new game experience aboard the Disney Wonder and Disney Magic cruise ships.

"We're going through a pioneering stage there with a new game we invented within Disney," said Jim Urry, vice president of entertainment for Disney Cruise Line. "It's a leaning code game experience that allows an audience on Deck 9 to get more involved in the game experience by moving their arms and bodies."

As part of a theme night around Pirates in the Caribbean, the new game will be introduced to passengers in 2009. A virtual Captain Jack Sparrow will interact with passengers on a large screen outside on the main party deck. Cameras have been positioned throughout the deck to capture the movement of participants, which will help guide the pirate ship through a virtual course.

"We tested this in Downtown Disney at DisneyQuest and you don't even think about anybody else around you," said Urry. "The more you move, the more you move the object on the screen. You get so wrapped up in it, it's a bit like Wii."

Disney has Wiis available throughout its ships in kids and teen areas, as well as in a pub for adults. Some gamers even get to play Wii on the large outdoor screen that will be used by the new pirates game next year.

"Passengers can get exercise while having fun with these games," said Urry. "We've found that adults in our pub, Diversions, have as much fun with 'Wii Sports' as the kids and teens."

Disney ships also offer a ship simulator as part of their kids program inside the Oceaneer Lab on the Wonder and inside Ocean Quest on the Magic. The simulator mimics the view from the bridge and allows kids to use standard maritime controls to steer the ship to Disney ports of call like Castaway Cay. The 3D videogame simulator also offers fantasy locales and mazes to navigate, as well as cargo containers and submarines to pilot.

While videogame technology continues to advance for handhelds and consoles, Disney Imagineers are able to pioneer new experiences that allow gamers of all ages to stay interactive even when they're far from home.

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