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GDC 2001: Interactive Theme Park Rides
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GDC 2001: Interactive Theme Park Rides

July 3, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Intuitive user interfaces are crucial for interactive theme park rides.
In order to ensure the high throughput that theme parks demand, there must be no time wasted acclimating the guest to the story, interface, or game rules. One thing Pirates makes extensive use of is an incredibly rich back-story that every guest can relate to - that of being a pirate. The attraction title, music, and theming of the queue line immediately gets the guest in the correct mind-set to play. They know what to expect, what is expected of them, and can then focus on the details of the interface and game rules.

The physical interface must be easy to learn and easy to use the first time a guest plays. Pirates uses very simple, obvious interfaces like a steering wheel to steer and actual cannons to point and shoot virtual cannonballs. We decided to make the helm and cannons active while the guests are boarding the ship. This gives them a few seconds to fire off a test shot or try a turn on the wheel to acclimate to the interface before the pressure of the actual game begins. Extensive guest testing of the interface assured us the design would work with real guests.

Aside from physical interface, the communication between the guest and the game elements must be intuitive. We chose to bend reality in places where it would make the game easier to adapt to and play. Some examples include:

  • We exaggerated the virtual cannonball color to an unexpected light blue color because it contrasted with most other colors in the game and thus made the cannonballs easier to see. We changed the cannonball physics during the final scene of the game to be attached to the ship because the ship moves, bumps and turns too much to keep track of your cannonball otherwise.

  • In the opening scene Jolly Roger delivers an introduction on the left side of the ship. We found many guests looking to the right would not realize he was even onscreen so we slowly darkened the rightmost screens to encourage the guests to look in the direction of Jolly Roger.

  • The captain's throttle can move the boat at about 90 miles per hour and turn on a dime because actual boat physics would have resulted in a very slow and boring game.

  • Instead of programming what the optimal strategy for an enemy pirate ship to defeat the guest whould be, the enemies were developed with rules that would provide a good show. Some examples include:
    • Staying broadside with the guest ship
    • Attacking evenly on both sides of the guest ship
    • Keeping pace with the guest ship
    • Leading guests from the relatively low action open seas into high action scripted scenarios at the islands
    • Sneaking up from offscreen when the guests had nothing to shoot at
    • Staying away from the guest ship while the serpent was onstage

By choosing to be less concerned with reality and more concerned with what was fun, we created an experience that matches guests' expectations of what being a Pirate might feel like. Therefore it is easier to adapt to, quicker to learn, and is a better show.

More emphasis on the real experiences, less emphasis on virtual.

To be successful, the ride must extend beyond what guests can get elsewhere. With the power of graphics supercomputers in video game consoles in the home, these rides simply cannot keep up with the curve to remain fresh from a visual standpoint. To be worth the price of admission, these rides must overwhelm, play to more senses, and provide a real physical experience that cannot be replicated in the living room. In Pirates, the use of a motion base gives guests a unique experience of feeling every cannonball hit, every wave, and the bites of attacking sea monsters. Localized 3D surround sound and tactile speakers create a wide sound bed of cannonballs whizzing by, crew yelling from the rigging, and boat creaks underfoot. Strobe lights help create the explosion of a direct cannonball hit on the helm. 3D stereo glasses not only put the action in your face, but also make the projector screens disappear, creating a very convincing virtual world.

3D stereo glasses not only put the action in your face, but also make the projector screens disappear, creating a very convincing virtual world.

Because guests must run from cannon to cannon to best defend their ship they get a physical experience instead of merely sitting passively in front of a monitor. Guests get social interaction from bumping into each other, taking turns on cannons, barking out orders, and negotiating the rocking ship. The feeling of being tired and practically out of breath after five minutes of plundering with your friends or family is a feeling that you got your money's worth.

In the cannon interface we had a problem that guests could fire the cannons too fast, sometimes more than 5 shots per second thus trashing the enemies before the other players could even get a chance. Software timers to keep the number of shots down created frustration because the cannon was not responding to the guest input. Instead we created haptic blocks to keep the number of shots low. By introducing some weight and friction into the firing mechanism (a pull string) it is physically hard to shoot more than once or twice per second. By solving the problem with real physical methods instead of arbitrary virtual software blocks, the game remains fair and playable. For the ambitious player with enough energy to still shoot a ridiculous number of shots per second, each rapid fire shot decreases in power after the first few shots. This keeps the game balanced between the casual players and the hard core shooters.

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