FMX 2022: WEB Slingers – A virtual and physical attraction
At the FMX 2022 the company Disney held a panel talking about location based entertainment, innovative attractions and their company policies on which all of their designs are based on. Brent D. Strong, Executive Director at Walt Disney Imagineering used the example of the new Disney Adventure attraction WEB Slingers to give some insight in the creative process behind the creation of such experiences
The attraction used as an example is a mixture of interactive videogame and physical ride. The guests sit in a cart that moves through a physical location with changing set designs. Each set change comes with a new level of the videogame. Visitors play WEB Slingers by using their own bodies as controllers. By imitating the movements of the superhero Spiderman, visitors can shoot digital webs at spiderbots. Guests move through the ride in carts that have space for four people. Each seat is equipped with a motion tracking camera, taking note not only of the persons movement, but also their all time hand, arm and shoulder positions.
Brent Strong’s presentation talked about two major aspects in the creation of such an attraction, the technical components and developement, as well as the importance of a physical landscape around such a creation.
FMX 2022: The technology behind WEB Slingers
The attraction described in Brent Strong’s Talk uses motiontracking, as well as an interactive video. The goal of the attraction is to create an immersive scenario placing the user inside the universe of its franchise.
A camera follows the movement and body position of every guest in their seat. Through motion tracking and machine learning, the attraction tries to be as accurate as possible. As Strong mentioned in his talk, “while users have access to hardware for interaction, they blame themselves for any inacuraccies, but as soon as you take that away, and make their body the interactive tool, they blame your software for any inaccuracies and mistakes. The reason for that is, that many people, at least believe, to be quite accurate with their body control “. Because a single camera per cart lost too much tracking information, Disney equipped each cart with a camera per seat. That way the system can also support the “aim” of those, with a smaller body frame (also known as children).
The motion tracking cameras create a basic model of a person, without focusing on details like eyes, fingers, clothes or anything not important for the interaction with the game itself. It wouldn’t be Disney though, if they did not include the possibility of adding merchandise. Guests have the chance to buy objects that influence the particle effects in the game. The merchandise objects are a series of gloves that were designed to look after a collection of Marvel superheroes. Visitors of the Disneypark can buy them in areas around the attraction and use them immediately. If the tracking system notices one of those merchandise objects, it changes the projectiles shot, to an object matching the glove used.
FMX 2022: The technology behind WEB Slingers The game itself
The story of the game is made to be quite simple, so players can act freely. Peter Parker builds Spiderbots to help his alter-ego Spiderman out, they escape and go wild. Spiderman, who quite surprisingly appears instead of Peter Parker, then asks the visitors, whether they can help him dealing with the infestation.
While the physical ride moves through several locations, the videogame progresses as well and shows the players a new level each time they arrive at a new destination. During each level players can interact with multiple objects, including Spiderbots, doors, levers and many hidden eastereggs. Since Disney wants its attraction to be interesting for a long time, they hid many information in the game. After playing the game a few times, players might notice, that all interactive surfaces are colored yellow, thus giving them more targets to shoot at. Strong did reason that “while something should be fun the 100th time you do it, it should be fun the first time as well. Otherwise we’d never get people to come back a hundred times anyways. We do aim to create an attraction that never changes its offer yet keeps inspiring the people.”
FMX 2022: The importance of a physical location for Disney
For those that never visited a disney park themselves, I need to describe them first. Each park consists of areas, that represent a franchise using actors, buidlings, food and attractions. Disney treats the entry into an area as the first step into their attraction.
The WEB Slingers attraction is located inside the Avengers Campus, where visitors can meet actors and experience storyline told to them. The attraction needs a lot less information in itself, since the location surrounding it already carries a lot hints. Disney claims, that the idea behind their creations is the core idea of “wish-fullfiment”. For the creation of a new attraction, they look into which desire its franchise could create and how they can seemingly fullfill it.
For their newest area the Avenger Campus, Disney researched which desire its fans could want to see fullfilled. The core idea of the Avengers Campus is togetherness and so visitors are invited to be a part of the avengers as soon as they enter the area. While most amusementparks have many exciting rides that each offer an experience on their own, Disney tries to create rides with extensive borders. That may lead to them having less rides, than one would expect for the size of park, but also create quite detailed attractions, that carry much more information, than an attraction of its size could normally carry.
FMX 2022: VR, AR, …R? The takeaway from Disney’s talk
While Disney did present their new ride as cutting-edge technology, they use TensorFlow similar technology that is already well known. The real point of interest may be their interface between digital components, visitors and real structures. The way the company creates virtual entertainment can also teach us about some of the percieved shortcommings VR still has. Disney does have the space and money to create attraction that are based in the real world and seemingly borderless. Throughout the designed area Disney decided to keep some key information inside the virtual experience, while giving others through set design.
In reality, the areas of interests created by Disney extend far beyond what we can see. The idea of wish fullfillment does require a desire beforehand, meaning Disney creates for those already looking for something. Guests visit a Disneypark because they already know and love the franchise, not just because they want to see a certain attraction. Disney uses their franchises to create attractions that go beyond what they could be technological.
The virtual reality could be the perfect medium for that way of design, since it does have seemingly infinite space and branding options. It is also far easier to take a trip to a virtual place, than to plan a whole holiday going to some location possibly far away. The virtual reality already has a wide array of entertainment to offer and games like VR-Chat already present users with location based entertainment completely based in the virtual world.
Creators have many tools at their disposal with which they can develope new ways to fullfill wishes and desires. Not only can we influence the percieved body of a player, but just as well as what they do with it. We already know of VR experiments, that give patients sensation they thought lost. We already know how to create the sensation of flight in VR. We already know what VR is able to do as it is and with examples like this we can develope VR to what it can be. A virtual world does not need to be a replacement of a real world sensation though, it can be seen as what it is, another way to experience reality.
If you are interested in exploring the possibilities of the virtual world or have further interesting topics and suggestions, feel free to contact us!