REAL-TIME INTERACTIVE GRAPHICS
Vol.32 No.1 February 1999
Taking Location-Based Entertainment to the Next Level
Within the spectrum of application areas making use of interactive, real-time graphics techniques, entertainment applications are probably the ones most visible and accessible to the public. Within the entertainment sector, there are various manifestations — computer and arcade games are surely the most commonplace examples. So-called location-based entertainment centers may involve high-quality computer graphics, but they tend to be prerendered rather than generated in real time. Although they may be made to appear responsive, the “interaction” is generally limited to passively being jostled around in a motion platform — there is rarely any active interaction whatsoever.
However, an emerging phenomenon in the entertainment sector may be set to redefine the “location-based entertainment” categorization. The idea is certainly location-based (that is, you need to go there to experience it), and it is certainly devoted to entertainment. But the interaction is real, the choice of experiences is diverse and the target audience is very broad. In the summer of 1998, Disney inaugurated a site and a multitude of experiences that they collectively call “DisneyQuest.” It may be argued that this is not the first attempt of its kind, but the array of interactive experiences offered is wider, and the scale and quality of the production is probably higher than has been seen before.
In this column, we are pleased to have Joseph Garlington of Walt Disney Imagineering offer us an overview of DisneyQuest. For those who have yet to experience it first-hand, he gives us some idea of what it is (or rather, what it isn’t), describes some of the interactive experiences available and finally talks about some of the challenges encountered in producing the experiences.
We are very interested in hearing from our readers. In particular, if you are involved in a new (real-time, interactive) application, or have a related topic that you think might be interesting to share with the SIGGRAPH membership through our column, please let us know. Also, if you have feedback to offer on current or past columns, we would be more than glad to hear it!
— Glen Fraser, Scott S. Fisher
DisneyQuest and its Challenges for Computer Graphic Imaging
We get asked almost daily, “What is DisneyQuest?” It’s just different enough from anything that Disney has done before that we still have trouble answering the question in a way that makes sense to others. This is what we do know...
DisneyQuest (DQ) is both a place and an experience. It’s in a building about the size of a department store. It holds a large number of entertaining virtual worlds and other interactive experiences. These activities allow families and friends to have fun together in a variety of unique ways. The first DisneyQuest, at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, has been open for about eight months, and a second one opens in Chicago the summer of 1999 with more to follow in other locations.
This is all we know. Really.
So-o-o-o.... perhaps it’s easier to describe what DisneyQuest isn’t.
Figure 1: Aboard the “Turbostars,” up to 24 guests at a time are transported into the Comic Book World to fight supervillains.
Figure 2: A pirate villain, one of the six different combatants pitted against the guest in the course of the attraction. When he hits you, you feel it as a sharp thump (and vice versa).
Figure 3: A real raft sits atop a motion-base comprised of airbags synchronized to the rapids, pools, whirlpools and waterfalls projected in front. Up to four guests at a time use oars to navigate wherever they want within a prehistoric water park.
Figure 4: The slip-sliding fun of the “mud chute,” one of the branches of the river which the guests can navigate. A troodon dinosaur scampers across a fallen log.
Figure 5: Located in the Create Zone, six stations feature touchscreen monitors on which guests can paint a picture with “magic” brushes, and then take home their masterpiece.
Figure 6: One of the themed settings which the guests can access in Living Easels (this one features characters from The Little Mermaid.) Other settings include a prehistoric landscape, Dream Land, Candy Land, Toon Town, Gross Land and others.
Figure 7: The motion base used to ride the rollercoaster you designed. A full 360° range of motion is available to the more adventuresome.
Figure 8: Moltonia, one of the three landscapes available in which to build your very own rollercoaster.
Disney Media Contact
DQ is NOT an arcade.
All of our attractions are indeed interactive, but arcades are about solitary play. At DQ, the attractions are for groups of people to play together. It’s never about being alone, about solitary victory over a computer adversary.
It’s NOT a theme park.
At theme parks, guests experience both rides and shows in lands that cover many acres. At DQ, there are plenty of places to go, but there are no rides or shows in the traditional sense. Here, you’re not only thrust into the experience; you actually become part of it. Once you’ve passed through the Venture Port, the DisneyQuest equivalent of the Hub in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, everything you do is something you control, and the fun you take out is directly proportional to the fun you invest.
It’s NOT Disney’s version of Game Works, Dave and Busters, Chuck E. Cheese’s or Block Party.
It is a lot bigger — and more diverse — than any of these. It’s not focused on yuppies or the drinking, dating crowd. Most of the game play stations inside are custom-built with the express intent of creating things for families and couples to do together, with every kind of personality type accounted for, from aggressive to expressive and everything in-between.
What It Is
DisneyQuest was created so that we could give a Disney theme park-type experience to people in their neighborhoods. We also knew we wanted to attract the same family audience that comes to our parks. The bulk of them don’t go to arcades. We knew that if we just did a big Disney arcade we wouldn’t get the people we wanted to come to actually do so.
We believe that our audience comes to our parks, not only to experience the shows and ride the rides, but also to be with each other. The rides and shows are what make being together fun and special. Disney parks are social places and we needed to ensure that our new venture was social, too.
So, in short, for this new entertainment concept we needed to develop interactive attractions that:
We looked around for stuff like that to buy - and couldn’t find anything. So, we went out and built our own.
A Brief Tour
A guest entering DisneyQuest rides our Cybrolator to the Venture Port. The Cybrolator is an elevator with a computer graphic (CG) show that takes guests to the center of the building, transporting them out of the real world and into our fantasy. It’s a place where you suspend your disbelief and head for adventure.
We’ve divided the attractions into four basic types, and put them into areas, or “zones,” of their own. We did this so guests with different tastes could more easily find the kinds of things they like to do.
The first zone is the Score Zone, full of competitive games, games about winning and losing, about getting a score. This is our most arcade-like zone. It includes, among other attractions, Ride the Comix, where guests don a head-mounted display (HMD), pick up a virtual sword and engage comic book super-villains in hand-to hand-combat. Other attractions in the zone include Invasion, an Extraterrestrial Alien Encounter, where guests are sent to a far away planet to battle aliens and Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam, a giant, multiball pinball game that guests control with stand-on joysticks.
The Explore Zone contains games that are goal-oriented and require guests to cooperate with one another. In the Virtual Jungle Cruise, four guests at a time climb aboard a real rubber raft that floats on a motion base made up of giant inflatable pillows. They paddle past dinosaurs and over waterfalls, going wherever they want in a Cretaceous Era “water park.”
Also in this zone are: Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, where guests wearing HMDs fly magic carpets through Agrabah; Hercules in the Underworld where guests, as Hercules and friends, battle Hades for Olympus; and Treasure of the Incas, where guests drive remote, tele-present cars through an Inca-themed maze in search of treasures.
In the Replay Zone the feeling is one of nostalgia. The largest attraction here is Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlaster – bumper cars with cannons. Two guests get into each car — one as the driver, to ram and pick up balls (by driving over them), and the other as gunner, to load, aim and fire volleyball-sized balls.
And then there’s the Create Zone, a quieter area for guests who like activities that provide them with a mode for self-expression. At Sid’s Create-A-Toy, you can design your own toy and then buy it and take it home. At Animation Academy, you can learn to draw a Disney character or make a simple animation. At Magic Mirror you can morph and decorate your own face. At Living Easels, you can compose a “painting” out of animated objects.
The biggest and most popular attraction in the Create Zone, and in all of DisneyQuest, for that matter, is CyberSpace Mountain. Here, you and a friend can design the roller coaster of your dreams (or nightmares) and then the two of you get into a simulator and ride it.
Computer Graphic Challenges
To a large extent, we attribute the success of DisneyQuest to the computer graphics imagery that is the heart of 80 percent of the attractions. We use two basic platforms for the work: Compaq Workstation 5000s for the smaller games and SGI Reality Engine 2s for the larger attractions.
We built 20 custom games for opening and used software companies from around the country to do the actual production work. (Hercules and Aladdin were done in-house by the Walt Disney Imagineering VR Studio.)
The companies we worked with were first rate, with very good people. But few had done Disney projects before, which meant we had to first teach them what was and was not “Disney.” We did this by having them work on mockups before beginning real production. This enabled us to get a feel for how each company worked and how they viewed our product. Disney is a very unique company with a very unique culture that creates a very unique product. The challenge, especially for companies that work with us, is developing an intuitive understanding of what is and what is not within bounds with regard to the products we create and how we create them.
We’ve also had to deal with technical challenges. Images that look fine on a 36-inch monitor can look terrible when projected on a 15-foot diagonal screen. HMDs and wrap-around screens (some nearly 360 degrees) also proved to be challenges to the traditional rules of composition. We did a lot of tests to understand where guests would be looking at any given time in a game and focus the bulk of our design effort in those spots. And we had to keep reminding our design partners to do the work on the actual display hardware instead of at their desks (though the latter is easier).
We also had to work to keep the teams from drifting into each other’s areas. The design teams at the different software companies would tend to converge on the same few environments, unaware of the overlap. We worked with the teams to find not only new and intriguing types of places, but at the same time to have them interpret the places differently when a conceptual overlap developed. (For instance, several of our attractions sport volcanic landscapes. How many different lava worlds can you build that look different and are still Disney?)
And through all this we had to keep the places fun, both to look at and to be in. Games require a certain “aesthetics of functionality.” That is, they need to be both inviting, intriguing places to see and intuitive, logical places to navigate. I don’t know how many environments we created and abandoned trying to find ones that met both needs.
Finally, we wanted to have Disney-quality characters to help us tell our stories. These characters would include not only familiar Disney characters such as Aladdin and Hercules, but entirely new characters as well.
However, creating characters in real time uses large amounts of technical resources. They are expensive to create in monetary terms and in terms of computer horsepower available at any given moment. We walked a constant tightrope between the needs of the characters for more facets, textures and layering, and the threat of those needs to kill the frame rate. Because we are Disney, we could never settle for a look that didn’t reach a certain level of quality (and our audience, which demands so much of us, wouldn’t settle for a cut-rate look, either). We had to maintain enough detail and fluidity in the animations so that the characters never feel stiff or unnatural.
We believe that what we’ve done is both evolutionary and revolutionary. We have, in many cases, simply adapted known techniques and technologies to create small advances. But the sum of what we’ve done is far larger. Most people don’t play computer games. More do now than did 10 years ago, but a great many people still find the technology intimidating, the styles of play arcane and the social interactions too artificial to be compelling.
We’ve invented a place that every day draws average people from all walks of life and that encourages them to play the kinds of games that under any other circumstances they’d avoid. And they hopefully come away not only pleased that they did it, but intending to come back and do it some more If there is one thing that we’re most proud of, it’s how many people have already visited DisneyQuest a second, third or fourth time. They are proving, with their enthusiasm (and their wallets), that we’ve done what we intended. We have tried to capture in a single structure a meaningful portion of the Disney theme park magic — and we’ll soon be delivering it to a city near you!