A Season of Surprises at The Mind Museum

December 26, 2013

Recently, the 65-member Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra rang in The Mind Museum's holiday season with a surprise treat for all museum guests. The brass group played their instruments through the 5 galleries, even up the stairs to meet Stan the T.Rex, before joining the rest of the symphony at the Canopy Plaza for a concert ranging from classical pieces to Filipino medleys to Christmas songs. It was truly an extraordinary musical performance to the delight of many kids and adults, offering a fitting reminder of the spirit of the season and bringing needed cheer to an area still reeling from Typhoon Hainan.


Tags: JRA Journeys

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The Thrill of the Game: New Design Techniques for Museums and Attractions

December 18, 2013

Designer (and Blogger), Colin Cronin

Designer (and Blogger), Colin Cronin

Unless you have been living under a rock in a wifi dead-zone, you’ve probably heard something about these new video game consoles that were released recently. With the PS4™ and Xbox One™ (and last years Wii U™), video games have taken another huge step forward, not just in technology, but also in their prevalence in popular culture.

Practically since their inception, video games have been a part of museum and entertainment experiences. Simple games are in use in queue lines, such as Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. Interactive GestureTek projections are in use in shopping malls and sports venues around the world. And more complicated games are employed at Science Centers to teach topics as varied as coal mining or genetics.

Video games have been incorporated into the queue at Walk Disney World’s Space Mountain®, creating a richer and more engaging experience. Image by Mark Goldhaber via mouseplanet.com.

But besides using video games as elements in museums and amusement parks, what else can we learn from this relatively new element of popular culture? How can we take the lessons and developments of the video game industry and apply them to new entertaining and educational experiences?

Over the last few decades, video games have grown to include multitudes of different concepts, game types, and play styles. While there are games following the antics of Italian plumbers fighting dinosaur kings, some of the most popular recreate real-life experiences, but make them accessible to everyone. One of the first universally recognized video games, in fact, was just a way for everyone to have a Ping-Pong table in their living room.

Pong, one of the earliest home video games, was basically a Ping-Pong simulator.

This trend has continued. Many different examples allow players to act out their NFL or MLB fantasies. In fact, the latest versions of these games give everyone the chance to roleplay as general managers and team owners. In games like “The Sims” and “Second Life”, players lead an avatar through everyday life. Of course, this sometimes includes adventures with ghosts, or aliens, or the ability to fly. But at their core, these games are basically life-simulators.

We can use the same techniques to teach complex subjects in museums. Through the use of interactive experiences (video or otherwise), guests can suddenly access a world that they once thought out of their reach. They can be weather forecasters using a green screen. Or a 5-star master chef cooking amazing meals. Or an international rock star recording a music video. These are unique experiences, and any successful museum needs them to be a success. Guests can learn facts anywhere – books, the Internet, even Twitter. But at a museum, they actually get the chance to live out the experience, and though this experience, they can learn on a variety of topics.

Video games have also moved further and further in the realm of “story”. Early games didn’t have real “storylines” or “characters”. How interesting could the motivations of a Tetris block be, anyway? In recent years, however, the story has become more and more central to the gaming experience. Characters have real personalities and motivations. Games can have plots that twist and turn, and sometimes leave the gamer have a real connection to the digital avatars they are controlling. In fact, in some circles, there is a movement to stop using the term “video game”, with “interactive narrative” being suggested as an alternative.

The Last of Us, released in 2013, became well received for a rich and compelling narrative, and creating a strong emotional connection with the player. Image from Naughty Dog.

Through this development, games have become richer experiences, more memorable events, and created stronger connections with the player. This is a lesson that has also not been lost on experiential designers. While the idea of “story” and “narrative” has always been a major part of entertainment attractions and amusement parks, it has now become central to museum experiences as well. In recent years, exhibits often have had a central storyline for guests to follow and even lead “characters” or “avatars”. Just as with gaming experiences, following a narrative can add depth to any museum exhibit and create a more personal connection to the topic matter. And when you’re trying to get children interested in a topic like erosion, every bit helps.

In many ways, video games and museum and entertainment experiences have grown up together. Both started as very simple experiments. In video games, you were fighting off space invaders or saving the princess from a giant ape. On the other side, you had huge artifact cases or simple carnival rides. But over the decades, these two mediums have grown far beyond these humble origins -- leading us to motion-control technology, video games starring A-list celebrities, 4-D theaters, and interactive artifact databases. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to place them under the same large heading of “interactive experiences”.

Recently, the connection has become even between video games and museum experiences has grown stronger with the announcement of a new Angry Birds Universe traveling exhibit (designed, produced and toured by Imagine Exhibitions and JRA). As video games continue to grow in popularity and accessibility, this will likely be the first of many experiences inspired by video games. So, in the future, there will be exhibits, using video game techniques, in an exhibit, based on a video game property.

Talk about meta.

Tags: Blog N Learn

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IAAPA Expo Wrap Up 3: New Attractions and Trends 2013

December 13, 2013

JRA VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy

JRA VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy

To wrap up our 2013 IAAPA Expo Wrap Up, we're happy to share Shawn McCoy's Museum Day Presentation on New Attractions and Trends.  Through his entertaining and informative presentation, Shawn takes viewers on a whirlwind, round-the world tour of the latest and greatest attractions, and offers some lessons on what the museum community can learn from them.  Enjoy!

Next week, we hand over the blogging reins to Designer Colin Cronin, who will continue our view of trends by updating us new video game technologies and how they are currently being used in attractions and museums.


Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio , shawn

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IAAPA Wrap Up 2: MagicBands, Glowing Ears and Tugged Heart Strings

December 05, 2013

IAAPA Wrap Up 2 - Magic Bands, Glowing Ears and Tugged Heart Strings:
How Disney Melds Technology and Story

Welcome back to our 2013 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo Wrap Up. One of the “water cooler topics” of this year’s expo was the intersection of technology and experience. By coupling the latest and greatest gadgets with innovative new storytelling strategies, Disney is revolutionizing guests’ interactions with attractions and each other, and we as attraction designers can learn from their example.

One of the first presentations during the Expo was “New Age of Interactive Exhibits and Attractions”, and it featured Jeff Voris of Walt Disney Imagineering R&D. Voris kicked things off with a cautionary note on technology for technology’s sake. “We are making connected experiences through technology,” he began, but “the more things look like technology, the harder it is to draw you into a story.” Disneyland itself, he argued, was the ultimate virtual reality, taking a story and embedding into an environment through the technology of the time. Walt Disney said himself that “Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination in the world.” But while imagination is constant, audiences are changing, as is their amount of free time and the ways visitors connect.

A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the 7 Seas.  Photo courtesy Disney Parks Blog

One of the ways that Disney is changing with its audience is to employ new interactives into its parks. One example is “A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the 7 Seas”. Participants are tasked with helping Captain Jack raid 5 treasures from Adventureland and are armed with a map and a talisman. Along the way, they encounter the formidable pirate Captain Barbarossa, but if they can vanquish him in battle, they are deemed official members of Captain Jack’s crew (Editor’s Note: our own Shawn McCoy recently took his family on this adventure and said it was one of his favorite experiences at the Magic Kingdom). Another interactive game that launched just last month, Mickey’s Fun Wheel Challenge, literally puts guests in control of the giant wheel at Disney California Adventure. Once guests are in the “World of Color” viewing area, all they have to do is join a specific Wi-Fi network on their mobile device within 45 minutes of the show. The wheel then becomes a giant game board, where guests match specific lighting sequences on the wheel to sequences on the device. The winner of the game gets to control the lighting sequence straight from their phone or tablet.

These interactive experiences are just the tip of the iceberg for Walt Disney Imagineering. As we reported during the September SATE Conference, the “Legend of the Fortuna”, a long-form pirate caper currently in beta, raises the bar on guest interaction, offering live actors, mobile gaming and props. Another WDI alternate reality game (ARG) experiment was “The Optimist”, which began with Amelia, a fictional college student, blogging about her journey to discover more about her deceased grandfather. The story of her grandfather, fictionally but not coincidentally, is interwoven with the history of Walt Disney and the World’s Fair. The blog spawned a Twitter account, introduced new fictional characters both online and through live interaction at the D23 Expo, and culminated in an emotional meeting between characters and players at a movie theater, where Amelia’s “film” about her grandfather premiered. Without technology, these kinds of feats would not be possible, but as Voris so aptly explains, “families don’t want to know about the behind-the-scenes work – they want to make memories.”

Making memories is Priority #1 for George A. Kalogridis, President of the Walt Disney Resort. In his Incredibles-themed keynote address, Kalogridis discussed how Disney strives to address the various “merge points” of themed entertainment in the 21st Century:

  1. Technology, story and experience
  2. Studio work and theme parks
  3. Generational – ensuring that toddlers, tweens, teens, couples, parents and grandparents can all enjoy their day at Disney park

Photo courtesy DisneyFoodBlog.com

He began by unveiling the latest and greatest attractions to be found at Disney’s parks, several of which can be found at the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. Instead of being confined to just a ride, Dumbo now has a whole Storybook Circus in which to play. The ride itself has been completely revamped, featuring two sets of rotating elephants, a fountain with colored lighting and a one-of-a-kind queuing system. Upon entering the ride, guests receive a virtual pager that holds their place in line. Meanwhile, kids can enjoy a circus-themed, air-conditioned playground while adults watch from comfortable seating. The new Fantasyland even offers a Tangled themed rest area, complete with tree stumps embedded with charging stations. With its exacting attention to detail and story, the new Fantasyland will continue to be a hit with parents and kids alike.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

In addition to new attractions, Disney is upping the bar with completely re-imagined character interactions. Far from a standard photo opp, “Enchanted Tales with Belle” immerses guests young and old into the story of Beauty and the Beast. A mirror in Maurice’s cottage suddenly turns into a door, where Lumiere and Belle await in the Beast’s library. Guests are then each given a character to play as they re-enact the film’s dancing scene. Since the story is now told by Belle and her guests, no two experiences are alike. “My daughter absolutely loved Enchanted Tales with Belle,” said McCoy, “being able to tell the story together created a lifelong memory for our family.“ Enchanted Tales with Belle is another way that Disney is meshing story with technology for maximum effect and fun for all.

Photo courtesy WDWInfo.com

But for Kalogridis, the biggest Disney technology game changer was MyMagic+, a suite of online and mobile tools enabling the guest to customize their Disney vacation. The MyMagic+ program’s key component is the MagicBand, an RFID wristband that enables Disney guests to enter their (Disney property) hotel room, purchase souvenirs, make FastPass ride and dinner reservations, order photos and have special interactions with Disney characters. Said Kalogridis: “MyMagic+ gives Disney an ability to increase customer satisfaction more than anything we’ve ever done.” But he didn’t want the audience to take his word for it – every member of the audience received a MagicBand loaded with a free day at a WDW park of their choice and three FastPasses so they could try it for themselves.

Kalogridis closed his presentation with a grand demonstration of the power of technology. For the park’s “Glow with the Show” experience, guests purchase interactive Mickey ears for $25, which they then don right before one of the resorts popular evening shows (including “Wishes Nighttime Spectacular” at the Magic Kingdom and “Fantasmic!” at Disney Hollywood Studios). The ears are programmed to light up in choreographic fashion, flashing, twinkling and changing color with the beats of the shows’ music. But again, Kalogridis urged the audience not to take his word for it, so all guests in the room were given the colorful ears, which they were then asked to wear. They were then treated to a sound, light and image presentation crafted just for the IAAPA keynote, so they could “glow with the show” right in the Orange County Convention Center ballroom (check out our video on Facebook). From day to night, and from the time the guest plans their visit at home till the time they return from a memorable trip to the parks, WDI technology is at work, crafting the guest’s vacation story.

So what can we as attraction designers learn from all this?
1. All technology must be in the service of story. It is the ultimate “man behind the curtain.”
2. We must continue to innovate, to push the limits of technology in order to tell our stories better.
3. We need to make sure the story is accessible to all, since visitors are increasingly traveling in multi-generational groups.
4. Guests are becoming increasingly eager to become the authors of their own stories and controllers of their own experiences. Creating opportunities for them to do so creates deeper connections with your attraction, more diverse methods of interaction, and a greater likelihood for repeat visitation.

Next week, we'll wrap up our wrap up with a re-cap of Shawn's IAAPA Museum Day presentation, "Museums and Science Centers, New Trends in Attractions Design."

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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