PORT CANAVERAL — While Disney Interactive Studios continues to develop new movie-based games like the upcoming Disney/PixarCars 2 racing title for traditional consoles, Disney Cruise Line is taking a different approach to entertaining the families and kids who set sail on their newest ship, the Disney Dream. Walt Disney Imagineering has created new interactive experiences like the Magic PlayFloor and the Midship Detective Agency adventure game to connect today’s gamers with new characters like Dug the Dog from Up! and classic favorites like Mickey Mouse, Donald and Goofy.
Peter Ricci, show design and production manager for Walt Disney Imagineering, oversaw the new technology for the just-launched Disney Dream and is now working on the Disney Fantasy, which will set sail in early 2012. He said the video games that kids of all ages play today in their homes and on mobile devices and tablets have impacted the way Walt Disney Imagineers do everything from designing a theme park ride like Disney/Pixar Toy Story Midway Mania 4D (which was later turned into a 3D Wii game) to building technology into cruise ships.
“You almost have to be forward-looking to see what our tweens and teens are getting into with today’s games,” Ricci said. “We’ve all had iPods and cell phones in our pockets for a long time now, but now there are video games like Kinect for Xbox 360 and PlayStation Move that offer more immersive experiences. We’ve taken some of these ideas and blended them together for the Magic PlayFloor, which I like to call a giant iPad floor.”
The PlayFloor was designed to allow up to 32 players to team up and interact with a huge 15 by 15 grid of 28 HD gaming screens. There are 16 light pads on the perimeter that detect motion and location and trigger actions as players interact with a dozen different games designed exclusively for this interactive experience.
In Tiana and Naveen’s Swamp Chompers, gamers take control of frogs from The Princess and the Frog and try to eat as many bugs as possible. Tron Disc Defender is like a four-team game of air hockey with players trying to score as many goals as possible. The entire room of participants can take part in games like Rhino Roll, which turns the PlayFloor into a tilting maze featuring characters from Bolt!
There’s a PlayFloor in the Oceaneer’s Lab and the Oceaneer’s Club for kids to play with. The 2012 ship will also feature this interactive floor, although the games will evolve across the system.
“We have the infrastructure all laid out so that we can design and add new games over time to tie into the latest movies and offer a fresh experience for guests who take regular cruises,” said Lysa Migilorati, senior development manager at Walt Disney Imagineering. “As technology progresses, we can push the experience further.”
According to Ricci, a growing number of Walt Disney Imagineers today come from the game development community. This has helped bring new video game experiences to Disney cruise ships, theme parks and resorts.
The Midship Detective Agency game drew inspiration and technology from the recently released Kinect for Xbox 360. Like that controller-less device, the interactive scavenger hunt uses facial recognition and motion sensor technology to allow guests to interact with paintings throughout the ship. There are two unique “cases” families can solve, one featuring the missing 101 Dalmations and another involving Mickey, Donald and Goofy and stolen art.
“Every team of players gets a special detective badge, a piece of paper that uses a 2D barcode and an optical tracking system to determine who you are and what you’re doing to allow for interaction with the different artwork,” said Stephanie Pickens, interactive show designer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “There are 22 pieces of ‘enchanted art’ throughout the ship and players can explore them in any order and have engaging interactions that involve everything from searching rooms to opening a door with a key.”
The actual gameplay is a blend between Wii and Kinect, and Pickens said that’s because she and most members of her team play games for fun. She said they’re constantly trying the latest games and technology as a source of inspiration and then brainstorm on how to take gaming into new directions that will appeal to a broad audience.
Like the PlayFloor, the Midship Detective Agency game has been designed to allow for future “cases” to be added to the scavenger hunt. The paintings can be upgraded. In addition, Ricci said the facial recognition technology will evolve into something more like the Kinect experience.
“We’ve built some technology in there that in the future hopefully we can leverage with facial recognition so that guests can have a personalized experience,” Ricci said. “Ideally, we’d want guests to be able to interact with anything we have on our ships, resorts, and parks just with the key to the world card that you have in your pocket. That way a piece of art will know your name and what you’ve seen and can tailor an experience just for you.”
Video games will play a major role moving forward in creating these more personalized experiences, which Ricci believes will further immerse guests in the Disney experience on land or on sea.