Flying and Shooting Machines at the Nation’s Coolest Conference
Posted by Sasha on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
After a week of touring 9 miles of the theme park industry’s latest rides, games, snacks, and attractions, I can sum up the show in two words: flying and shooting. At last week’s International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo, what stood out the most were “flying” ride systems and technologies and the continued use of RFID and infrared technology for competition-based entertainment.
This year’s Expo floor showcased a variety of virtual flying rides like Disney’s Soarin’: rows of seats that move in synchronization with a projected film inside an immersive dome. Some of these rides are still prototypes, while others have been installed in theme parks and visitor destinations around the world. These ride systems vary in terms of their projection systems and seating structures. Some have long rows of benches that move as one unit, while others offer more variability and degrees of freedom.
Like all rides, these flying experiences must satisfy a leisure venue’s primary concerns: throughput (number of people per hour), price, and functionality. The prototype models look cool and fun, but some may not accommodate enough guests per hour to be feasible for a mainstream park with high attendance. Venues such as small theme parks, malls, or museums with relatively lower attendance might be interested in these ride systems, but only if the price tag fits the budget.
What’s exciting about this trend in ride systems is that the attractions industry continues to push the envelope in blending the virtual and physical, making us feel like we can do the impossible — fly!
Another example of entertainment taking flight is the emerging trend of using drones. As we reported this summer, The Walt Disney Company has filed an application for patents to use drones in their theme parks for live shows and events. At least one theme park has already started using drone-like innovations: Korean park Lotte World uses radio controlled, ultra light dirigibles in its “Let’s Dream” show to create the illusion of flying lanterns. The company who designed the lanterns (Airstage) exhibited at IAAPA this year, demonstrating how their balloon-like models can be manually controlled or programmed to follow a precise choreography with a camera tracking system.
Attractions and games alike continue to develop experiences based on RFID and IR interactivity. The Scare Factory, which had its usual array of spooky and startling audio-animatronics, also showcased two experiences using infrared technology on the IAAPA Expo floor. In both of these games, competition is key; the objective is to get in more shots than your opponent(s).
Even water parks are adopting game-like competition to liven up their entertainment offerings. WhiteWater showcased RFID-based competition in Slideboarding, a water slide that uses tech-embedded rafts, RFID targets, and tracking technology. The goal is to hit as many lit targets during your ride down, beating your friends and your own personal score. Though we were introduced to the Slideboarding concept at last year’s IAAPA, WhiteWater had a more polished, market-ready prototype on display this year.
As always, the Expo floor also had its fair share of virtual shooting, ranging from shooting galleries to shooting rides. Triotech, a popular shooting ride exhibitor, had their largest IAAPA booth yet to accommodate three different shoot-em-up simulator rides, including one that implemented projection onto physical props. Simuline’s version used a ride vehicle where two groups sat back-to-back facing their respective projection screens. The ride was bumpy and the shooting a bit inaccurate, but it was interesting to see a model that could accommodate two groups at once. Holovis showcased a more traditional ride vehicle with a wrap-around projection screen, making for a slightly more immersive experience than the flat screen models. Even midway rides (i.e. those more likely to be found at carnivals, fairs, family entertainment centers, and smaller amusement parks) are sporting shooting capabilities, such as Amusement Products’ “Laser Fury 360 Galactic Defense System.”
The IAAPA reveal that caused the most hype in the shooting ride space was Six Flags’ upcoming ride “Justice League: Battle for Metropolis,” opening in 2015 in Texas and St. Louis. This ride is a game changer for Six Flags because their parks are known more for their coaster thrills, not story-based dark rides with scenic design, which is Disney and Universal’s expertise. The 3-D ride will take visitors through Metropolis to battle villains such as Joker and Lex Luthor, armed with guns in a trackless ride vehicle designed by Oceaneering.
What does all this shooting mean for themed entertainment? First, it’s a reminder that using technology in an intelligent and immersive way is key for creating a compelling guest experience. Going a bit deeper, the shooting trend proves that competition is still a popular frame of reference for tech-based experiences. Shooting at IR targets and “collecting” things with RFID technology (such as points or treasure) lends itself to competition with our friends and our own personal score. This is a clever way to hook audiences and compel them to improve by playing the game or riding the ride multiple times. It’s also a good way to foster the feeling of a shared experience, with scores and “game” results being a launch point for interaction with other guests in a leisure venue.
But it’s unclear what the long-term implications are of the shooting trend – will people come to expect more live action shooting in theme parks? These already exist, but typically as temporary Halloween-themed events. Will shooting rides and experiences shift the audience perspective of a theme park experience? Most people plan a visit to a theme park and expect to have fun, experience thrills, and be immersed in fantasy worlds. But do people set out expecting and hoping for competition? It will be interesting to see how this space continues to evolve, and whether the use of “shooting” technology will change the way we approach the design process and our understanding of the guest experience.
Whether it’s shooting, flying, or transporting guests to a make-believe world, the latest technology showcased at IAAPA reminds us that a big part of our job as entertainment designers is to give our guests a chance to experience things that they can’t do at home – in this case, fly and shoot at things in real space. Success for leisure venues lies in continuing to offer deeper and more realistic engagement that rivals home entertainment.