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Environmental Storytelling: Creating Immersive 3D Worlds Using Lessons Learned from the Theme Park Industry
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Environmental Storytelling: Creating Immersive 3D Worlds Using Lessons Learned from the Theme Park Industry

March 1, 2000 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

The Advantages of Computer Environments over Theme Parks.

There are several things that virtual environments can give you that theme parks can not. Foremost is the expensive limitation of building in the physical world. theme park designs need to take into consideration the necessity to push as many people an hour as they can through their various attractions. One attraction alone can cost a 100 million dollars to build, and takes millions more per year to just keep it clean and running. Theme Park experiences run from 30 seconds to 15 minutes in duration and could never rival the 40 hours spent wandering the islands of Myst. Theme parks must always be aware of safety, so my Lara Croft back flips off 10 story cliffs are out of the question.

As a theme park designer, I have had to battle hard and fast to add more expensive themed light fixtures to a particular attraction, while in my computer environments I can just cut and paste. In the computer I am only limited by the number of polygons my machine can crunch and how willing I am to slow my progress down in favor of a room full of themed lamps. I am also reassured that as technology and computer processors get faster, my environments will be even richer and more detailed.

One area the computer has yet to master, is the physical experience of sitting next to your friend, parent, or loved one, and truly "living" through your adventure together. Sure, we can holler over our cubical at Johnson in accounting as we nail him with a rail gun, or wander through EverQuest with players in Japan, Austrailia, and Moscow, but we still can't sit close to our loved ones and friends and experience our adventure together. Goodness knows, one day we will!

Missed Opportunities

In theme parks, Tomb Raider style backflips off of ten story cliffs are out of the question

For the time being, the ability to create virtual worlds is relatively new to us. I have no doubt that in the years to come we will continue to blaze new trails deep into this entertainment medium. Although we break new technological ground with every year that passes, I still find that I am left wanting. I long for the day we break away from rambling labyrinths for their own sake, whether they are dungeon passages, back street alleys, or miles of sewer pipes. I look forward to visiting virtual places that tell me more about where I am and what I am supposed to do. I want to use my wits and knowledge to get myself out of tight spots, and never again have to twitch my way through timed puzzles that force me to repeat my actions over and over to simply reach another level of the game.

With the growing popularity of multiplayer games and the promise of higher band widths, I relish the day I can meet friends and explore these worlds together. Places where our success isn't measured only in frags, and our rewards aren't merely based on how many fire beetles we have killed. I look forward to the day when the act of exploration actually builds relationships between it's players. I want my character to be tested. I want to be given the choice of sacrificing myself for a higher cause, or sacrifice others for my own petty rewards. I want to be given choices that test my relationship with other players. Force us to work together for a common goal, pull us apart, then bring us together, and make us pool our mental and emotional resources to get through this adventure in one piece.

In closing, I want to say that I relish the years to come. I can't wait to see what virtual worlds you will have created for us to explore. Push that envelope and bravely challenge the "way it has always been done before." Use your environments to draw us in deep, and build on the strength of a good Story, making it the back bone of your project. You have the power. You are the storytellers. Now......


  • Take us somewhere we could never go.
  • Let us be someone we could never be.
  • Let us do things we could never do.


Don Carson is a freelance designer and conceptual illustrator. For many years Don worked as a Senior Show Designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, the theme park design arm of the Walt Disney Company. Some of the attractions he helped to design are Splash Mountain for Walt Disney World Florida, and Mickey's Toontown for Disneyland California. Don continues to work as a consultant for Disney from his studio, as well as for companies like the Jim Henson Co., Universal Studios, Microsoft, Zowie Intertainment, Sierra, and Coca Cola. You can reach him at: [email protected], or visit his online portfolio at:

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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