The BBC has a great story examining how two of the most recent attractions to open at Walt Disney World point the way toward future development from Walt Disney Imagineering. Disney sees current and future generations of youth who are already so inter-mediated with video games, texting, MP3s, video downloads, and 3-D movies (sometimes all at the same time) that they’re afraid standard attractions just won’t be enough to inspire repeat visits down the line.
“The emerging generation expects more immersive, personal and interactive experiences in every facet of their lives,” says Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering.
The two attractions the article looks at are Toy Story Midway Mania and Kim Possible. TSMM takes the ‘video game’ experience and brings it into the parks in a very Disney way. While Kim Possible is one of the first examples of how Disney can build an attraction using overlay technology. No need to expand the footprint of the park, just intertwine the experience with what is already there.
Sure, WDI can continue to pump out the heart pumping thrill rides like Expedition Everest or new entertainment environments like The American Idol Experience, but really, so can anyone these days (usually with the help of laid off Imagineers). What will set Disney themed environments apart in the future are overlays (or an even more exciting technology called Total Immersion, but that’s coming well down the line).
Just about exactly 8 years ago, I wrote a short story for LaughingPlace.com (unfortunately, the second page of it appears to have gone missing, so I rescued it from the Internet Archive Wayback machine (woo hoo) and have included it in full below the cut) forecasting where this overlay technology might be heading in the future. If it seems familiar, that probably means you’ve used a Pal Mickey before. It also gives you an idea of how long these ideas percolate in Imagineering before making it into the parks. Additionally, I’m almost finished with a novel by Vernor Vinge called “Rainbows End” which takes this overlay concept to the umpteenth level and extends it worldwide via a combination of future social networking and an economy based on themed design and role play.
I think it’s important to remember that it all comes back to quality story telling with the type of rich detail that Disney knows how to intertwine with entertainment. If Disney keeps their eye on that, the technology is just another color on their canvas.