×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Disney Parks Attraction Creators Compare Crafting Video Games With Real-World Experiences

Building a playful, inviting experience in a Disney theme park is far from easy, and it’s also surprisingly similar to creating a successful video game.

Today, in a Game Developers Conference talk entitled “Playing with magic: Interactive worlds and Walt Disney imagineering,” Walt Disney Imagineering’s Creative Director Sara Thacher and Executive Creative Director Brent D. Strong explored the strategies that their team uses to engage players in captivating worlds and keeping them surprised and excited to be there.

Both Thacher and Strong primarily work in developing experience in theme parks to transport visitors to the parks to actual physical and immersive experiences. And though GDC is mostly based around the creation and celebration of video games, the experience of constructing real-life experiences in Disney parks around the world translated easily to the discipline of exciting audiences with digital games.

“A lot of these things have to do with games,” Thacher said. “The qualities of making games so impactful and evocative Are also the things that make our guests’ experience possible.”

Building off of the experience of crafting immersive experience for the past 60-plus years of Disney theme parks development, Strong and Thacher used many different examples, currently or soon-to-be present in the parks, to illustrate the many lessons that Disney Parks’ teams have learned.

The basis of the experiences they tried to create were based around putting visitors in the movies that they had seen, though it’s a lot more complicated than that. Strong and Thacher shared many of the successes that Disney has found over the years and a few of the missteps as well.

One of the original attractions in Disneyland was a ride putting people in the world of “Snow White.” A small train led people around different environments from the movie and showed them experiences and characters that they would expect to see.

But it was missing something important.

“You never saw Snow White,” Thacher said “You’re going to be Snow White. The witch is going to give you the apple. It turned out that was pretty confusing.”

A first-person experience, it turns out, needed more to make the experience immersive and satisfying.

“You are literally on rails,” Thacher said. “You’re not making any of those choices. Your fundamental experience is completely different than that of Snow White.”

Thacher and Strong talked about how important it was to give visitors, those wanting to receive an immersive experience a role. They talked about how when you go to the Haunted Mansion, you are welcomed as a guest, or when you go on a river cruise ride, you are identified as a tourist in that environment.

But not just any role would work, they said, it’s important to give people roles as an active participant in the world that they are entering. Visitors need to have something to do in the world, and the world needs to recognize them.

“We never told you that you were being Snow White,” Strong said about the initial attraction at Disneyland. “It’s tough to be a character you already know in scenes you’ve already seen… Being a camera is never really being a role. More important is being in a role that fits.”

It turned out, from their experience, that a world needs to feel alive. A static world is not a good thing, they said.

“Static worlds are creepy worlds,” Strong said. “In horror movies, when things are static, that’s how you know things are about to get really scary.”

More than that, an experience must be contained in a world that responds, moves and changes to the people around it. Thacher gave the example of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” attraction, where visitors enter the collection of The Collector.

There, they will find animatronic creatures that not only recognize when people are in the room, but also react in different ways to people’s movements and actions.

“If the world changes because of things that you do, that world becomes more real and you become more real in that world,” Thacher said.

But the world would be impossible to experience if people were not motivated to take part. To that end, Thacher and Strong described how they created a “magic circle” in the environments they create to encourage participation and give people an “alibi” in joining in.

“When I play online, I put my avatar in a costume that I would not feel comfortable here in GDC,” Strong said. “How do we encourage people to play in real life? How do we get a teenager to wear a silly hat? We’re not asking you to play in the real world, we’re giving you an alait to play in the real world, it gives you permission to play.”

He said that “magic circle” is on plaques when you enter one of the Disney Parks, telling visitors that they are entering a world of fantasy.

Interestingly, the experiences that Disney creates for its parks also involves setting challenges for the visitors as a way to propel the experience forward and back up the idea that visitors are playing a role. The interaction of that role with a challenge, makes the whole experience more believable and real they said. Disney strives to make these challenges an expandable, personal, accessible and satisfying experience.

“There’s something very special when you take that try, fail, succeed lop and put that in the physical space,” Strong said.

And that challenge takes many different forms. They described the act of participation in the world as a challenge until itself.

“Performance is a form of challenge too,” Thacher said. “Doing that is an act of bravery. It’s an act of helping Belle. You have met her and she can recognize you as someone who’s helped her and as a friend.”

Thacher and Strong also described many other important aspects of creating immersive, engaging and exciting experiences for people including using all of the sense, crafting “friendships” in the experiences and moving the story forward through actions taken. They used the upcoming attraction Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as an example of an experience that brings the whole of the philosophy together.

“You will be able to step into the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit and fly it,” Thacher said. “When you step into that cockpit, You have been given a very clear role, that whole environment is responding to you, you are overcoming challenges and moving the action forward. And you’re meeting friends along the way.”

But through it all, they continually discussed the connection that the work of Disney Imagineering has to video games and the many developers in the audience.

“Many things that we’ve worked to figure out in theme parks are the same that video game makers have faced,” Strong said. “It turns out that these missions are very similar.”

“A lot of these things have to do with games,” Thacher said about the guiding principles Disney Imagineering uses to create their experiences. “The qualities of making games so impactful and evocative Are also the things that make our guests’ experience possible.”

More Gaming

  • harry potter wizards unite

    'Harry Potter: Wizards Unite' Off to Slower Start Than 'Pokemon Go'

    Niantic’s new location-based augmented reality game “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” is off to a solid start — but it doesn’t seem to have quite the same momentum as “Pokemon Go” did when it launched 3 years ago. That’s according to initial estimates from app analytics specialist Sensor Tower. “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” first became available [...]

  • survios at the linq

    Not Just Gambling: Las Vegas Is Becoming a Virtual Reality Hub

    Walk into the Linq on the Las Vegas strip these days, and you might not immediately realize you just stepped into a casino. Instead, you’ll stumble across a series of living-room-like lounge setups, complete with leather couches, big-screen TVs, Xbox Ones and Oculus Go VR headsets. There’s also a bar with a massive wrap-around touch [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Netflix Engineers Developed a Rumble Pack Feature During Latest Hack Day

    A duo of Netflix employees had a unique idea for making the service’s shows even more stirring: They added a rumble pack option to the Netflix app as part of the company’s latest hack day. When watching shows like “Voltron,” the feature makes phones vibrate in sync with the action on the screen, similar to [...]

  • Niantic's Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Game

    ‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ to Launch This Week

    “Pokemon Go” maker Niantic is getting ready to launch its next big game: “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” is set to launch in June 21, the company revealed in a tweet this week. The worldwide launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite begins this Friday, June 21! Keep your eyes peeled and wand ready for more information [...]

  • Sarah Iooss - Twitch

    Twitch Hires Sarah Iooss, Former Mic and Viacom Exec, as Head of North America Sales

    Twitch has tapped Sarah Iooss, most recently EVP of revenue at millennial-news startup Mic, to lead the advertising sales team in North America for the Amazon-owned live-streaming video platform focused on video gaming. Iooss will be based in New York, reporting to chief revenue officer Walker Jacobs, who joined Twitch last fall after serving as [...]

  • littlstar ps4 app

    Littlstar Expands Beyond VR With New PS4 App, Signs Up 30,000 Paying Subscribers (EXCLUSIVE)

    A&E-backed immersive content aggregator Littlstar is expanding beyond virtual reality (VR): The New York-based startup launched a dedicated PlayStation4 app this week, giving users of Sony’s game console access to their personal media libraries, as well as both traditional and 360-degree video content from a variety of publishers. Littlstar also announced that it signed up [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 Production

    'Game of Thrones,' Netflix VFX Among Those to Be Featured in SIGGRAPH Production Talks

    VFX pros behind the final season of “Game of Thrones,” the blockbuster film “Avengers: Endgame,” Pixar’s upcoming “Toy Story 4,” last year’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Netflix series, including “Stranger Things,” and more will give SIGGRAPH 2019 attendees a behind-the-scenes look at their work during the conference’s Production Sessions. There will even be a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content