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Disney’s big Millennium Falcon ride faces a classic game design problem: balancing difficulty

Disney's big Millennium Falcon ride faces a classic game design problem: balancing difficulty

Disney is engaged on one of many largest tasks in its theme park historical past. Galaxy Edge is the Star Wars-themed land that’s coming to Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California subsequent summer time, with the Walt Disney World model opening on the resort’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in Orlando, Florida that winter. Considered one of Galaxy’s Edge’s marque points of interest may have park friends flying the well-known Millennium Falcon, and the undertaking is giving Disney’s Imagineers (that’s what Disney calls it theme park designers and engineers) challenges which are all too acquainted to those who have labored in video video games (Disney declined to touch upon this story).

The Millennium Falcon ride is a simulator, which means that visitors ride in a car that may flip and shake to simulate bigger actions. Coupled with a video display, a simulator may give individuals the feeling flight. It’s just like what the unique Disney Star Wars ride, Star Excursions, has been doing since 1987.

However most simulators, together with Star Excursions, run a ride movie. The car is aware of tips on how to transfer as a result of it is aware of what’s coming subsequent within the film. The Millennium Falcon ride, nevertheless, is rendering its motion in actual time, identical to a video game. And also you aren’t simply watching the motion. Six friends undergo the ride on the similar time, they usually every takes a spot at one of many ship’s stations. Two individuals sitting on the entrance act as pilots, with two gunners and two engineers. You push buttons and use controls prefer it was a actual ship, and your actions will impression what occurs through the ride.

Primarily, you’re enjoying a cooperative video game.

Above: What the within of the ride car will seem like.

Picture Credit score: Disney

Ride to win

“You’re traveling through, potentially, so much space, and your actions determine the branching, where you are in the decision tree, and what happens next,” Disney parks skilled Jim Hill informed GamesBeat. Hill has been overlaying theme parks for many years. He now runs a community of podcasts targeted on theme parks and the Disney firm.

The Millennium Falcon ride is an formidable challenge, and it requires some spectacular know-how to run it. In line with Hill, the ride requires intense pc gear with a view to render its branching motion in actual time. However that’s only one problem that Disney is dealing with. The opposite drawback is one all video game designers deal with: difficulty.

The ride’s conceit has you operating a job for a smuggler referred to as Hondo (whom, in response to my extra Star Wars-knowledgeable editor Jason Wilson, could possibly be the beloved pirate from the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons). You possibly can both fail or achieve your mission. That appears apparent for a video game, however that may be a scary prospect for a theme park ride. When Galaxy’s Edge opens, its points of interest may have big strains. Individuals will probably be ready hours to ride this Millennium Falcon. Disney has to be sure that they aren’t disillusioned, even when they fail.

“What helps is, if you remember from the Star Wars movies, the Millennium Falcon doesn’t necessarily always operate the way it’s supposed to,” Hill defined. “If you remember in The Empire Strikes Back, it was constantly cutting out. Han was beating on systems, or they’d fall out of light speed, that sort of thing. That’s kind of in canon. You’re suddenly having a bad experience, which sets up another comic misadventure. That sort of thing. Disney has tried to make it so that even when things go horribly wrong, it’s as funny as possible.”

“Don’t get me wrong. If you do everything right you’re going to have a really exciting adventure,” Hill continued. “But if, on the other hand, you’re really doing a poor job of it, that’s going to be fun too. But that’s — the problem is, as they’ve been playtesting it — they’ve written what they thought were really funny scripts, that sort of thing. But again, we’re human beings. We want to succeed. It’s the whole notion of, ‘I don’t want to be on the Millennium Falcon when the power is cutting out, or when the TIE Fighters are overtaking us.’ I want to succeed. They’re trying to work with that expectation, tweaking some story elements so at least you don’t go away with a bad taste in your mouth.”

Above: Toy Story Halfway Mania can also be half ride, half game.

Picture Credit score: Disney

Disney’s historical past with gaming

This isn’t the primary time a Disney ride has had gaming parts. Video games return to the beginning of Disneyland in 1955, the place a capturing gallery opened as a part of the Major Road U.S.A piece of the park. And when gaming went digital, Disney introduced these parts to its rides. Toy Story Halfway Mania, which opened in 2008, has friends capturing cannons at 3D movies, aiming at targets and making an attempt to get a excessive rating. That is itself an evolution of the Buzz Lightyear Area Ranger Spin ride, which opened on the Magic Kingdom in 1998. That attraction doesn’t have any fancy 3D screens, however you’re nonetheless aiming a canon and capturing at targets.

You’ll be able to’t lose at Halfway Mania or Area Ranger Spin (or its Disneyland counterpart, the same Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters). Positive, your rating might be dangerous, however in the event you can’t hit a single goal, your ride expertise shall be primarily similar to the all-time excessive scorer.

Over at Common Studios in Florida, the older Males in Black: Alien Assault attraction (it opened in 2000) works equally. Visitor shoot at aliens as they undergo a ride monitor, making an attempt to get as excessive a rating as potential. On this ride, your group’s rating will truly influence the ending. Should you do properly sufficient, you’ll see an animatronic alien getting ready your Males in Black go well with, adopted by a video of Will Smith congratulating you. In case you don’t rating sufficient factors, you see a totally different alien reprimand your efficiency earlier than Will Smith erases your reminiscences.

However that’s simply the very finish of Alien Assault. Every little thing earlier than and after is identical for everybody. On the Millennium Falcon ride, your selections will change the expertise as its occurring. And victory can have penalties that reach past the attraction itself. Disney needs Galaxy’s Edge to be an interactive space the place you’re a part of a story. It is going to be in a position to make use of its monitoring and data-gathering know-how to understand how you probably did on the ride, and costumed characters in Galaxy’s Edge will react to you accordingly. When you full your smuggling job, an alien might stroll as much as you and congratulate you on the profitable mission.

Above: Idea artwork for Galaxy’s Edge.

Picture Credit score: Disney


How do you do nicely at something? You follow. For a lot of players, that’s how we discovered to save lots of princesses and win wars towards armies of aliens and robots. We stored enjoying till we have been ok.

However the Millennium Falcon ride gained’t give you a chance to apply earlier than you go on. The attraction is certain to get lengthy strains, so chances are you’ll solely get to expertise the ride as soon as throughout your journey. It’s a lot to anticipate a individual to succeed at flying a spaceship in the event that they’ve by no means accomplished it earlier than.

And that is a cooperative expertise. You’re enjoying with 5 different individuals, a few of which you could have by no means met earlier than. You possibly can be doing nicely, nevertheless it gained’t matter if the remainder of your workforce struggles. It’s one factor to speak with your loved ones and associates in the event that they’re on the identical ride as you. You could really feel snug yelling on the individual on the again that your engines want extra energy if that individual can also be your brother, however you could be much less more likely to talk in case your engineers are strangers.

Disney can overcome a part of this drawback with tutorials. When you’re ready to board the ride, video screens can clarify the ship’s controls intimately. However this answer has its personal drawback: language limitations.

“When you factor in how many guests are international travelers, it has to be a lot more intuitive than they had initially anticipated,” Hill defined.

This drawback extends to the ride itself. You’ll should react to what’s occurring through the attraction. The ride can’t simply give instructions in English, as a result of they gained’t be understood by a giant variety of friends.

Disney might not thoughts that folks gained’t succeed on their first attempt. Simply as you don’t are likely to beat a video game in your first attempt, you in all probability gained’t get the absolute best end result the primary time you ride the Millennium Falcon attraction. That would simply encourage you much more to ride it once more. And in case you don’t have sufficient time to ride it once more that day, it might encourage you to return again to the park simply to have one other swing at it.

However that plan might backfire. Friends might be extra annoyed than motivated by their failures.

Above: The Mission: Area ride car.

Picture Credit score: WDW Information

The balancing act

The simplest answer would simply be to make the ride, nicely, simpler. However that’s one thing Disney is making an attempt to keep away from, based on Hill. Disney has one other space-themed simulator within the Epcot park referred to as Mission: Area, which debuted in 2003 and had a main refurbishment in 2017. This additionally provides every passenger a job, like pilot or engineer, and buttons and switched that they’re alleged to work together with. However with Mission: Area, these buttons don’t truly do something. There isn’t a problem. The ride is all the time the identical, whether or not you personally separate the second rocket or not. It might be one cause why Mission: Area doesn’t command lengthy strains. As I wrote this story, Mission: Area has a 15 minute wait. Epcot’s hottest attraction, Soarin’, has a 75 minute wait.

Galaxy’s Edge is a large funding for Disney, with every model costing $600 million. It’s a response to what Common, Disney’s chief theme park competitor, has completed with Harry Potter. Common has opened Potter-themed lands throughout its parks which have introduced immersion to a new degree, driving guests to Common’s park. Even now, Common is planning a new Forbidden Forest-themed coaster for its Islands of Journey park in Orlando.

Disney’s new Star Wars choices might assist the corporate cool the theme park world’s Potter fever. The formidable Millennium Falcon will have to be a hit to get Galaxy’s Edge off to the recent begin that Disney is hoping for.

And the way will Common counter Disney’s counter? Common’s is now engaged on theme park lands and points of interest based mostly on Nintendo.

Gaming has develop into a everlasting fixture of the theme park world.