Experience Imagination | Episode 6
Show Host: Abhinav Narain – Project Coordinator
Studio Guests: David Consolo- Technical Manager, Andreas Latourrette – Technical Artist, Ben Allen – Technical Artist
Interactivity in Themed Experiences
A look at how interactive technology such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) is used in the storytelling and design of themed experiences and how it could shape the future of immersive experiences.
About the Show:
Experience Imagination is a themed entertainment podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode covers a new topic discussion with a panel of creative professionals. Tune in and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or GooglePlay.
Cecil: You're listening to Experience Imagination, a themed entertainment designed podcast presented by Falcon's Creative Group. Every episode we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals. Hi. I'm Cecil Magpuri, President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon's.
Abhinav: Hey everybody, this is Abhinav Narain, our moderator for the episode. Hey Cecil, how’s it going?
Cecil: Good, how are you doing today?
Abhinav: Doing good.
Abhinav: Today we are talking about interactivity in themed entertainment. Why is this an important topic for us to discuss?
Cecil: You know one of the things that I think as we continue to look at experiences being relevant to the consumers, interactivity is obviously a big part of that. Gaming is now been part of storytelling. It’s a medium that we all embrace now.
Abhinav: And the demographics of gamers has grown as well.
Cecil: Yes, that’s correct. That’s probably our new target market, the gamers.
Cecil: The Millennials. So yeah, interactive is a very important part of our design process.
Abhinav: And who’s joining us in our conversation today?
Cecil: Alright, today, joining us is our interactive team, David Consolo.
David: Hey, how’s it going?
Cecil: Ben Allen
Ben: Glad to be here.
Cecil: And Andreas Latourrette
Andreas: Thanks for having me.
Abhinav: Fantastic, well we’ll get started on that conversation and circle back around to get your thoughts at the end
Cecil: Sounds good
Abhinav: I feel like a lot of us at this company and this industry are migrating to themed entertainment from game design, from that interactive realm. I wanted to get your thoughts on what do you think might be so appealing for someone who originally looked at designing video games and is now looking at themed entertainment?
Ben: For me, personally, it is that challenge. When I first got a VIVE it was to figure out how do I make video games for virtual reality. And that is the similar thing that brought me here. I looked at Falcon’s and the VR technology and all the new stuff they were doing, and I realized that’s what I want to do, I want to work on those challenges every day. I want to figure out how what I know translates into interactives and the best way to go about doing that. So, it brought together essentially just everything I that I wanted in a game job is also what I get here.
Abhinav: But with the added pioneering aspect?
Ben: Yes, yes.
David: My parents moved all the way from Italy, just to live in Disney World. So, from the beginning, we have always been theme park fans and our goals as children, my brother and I, was to make the world a better place. And that was our goal from the beginning. I was like, how can I add to this world, this experience? I’ve been making games pretty much my whole life. Finally, I’m able to employ those skills into something that is basically my destiny.
Andreas: I would say for me, one of the reasons I got into video games was because they made me feel from a pure emotional standpoint the same way I did when I went to a theme park. There was this immersive quality, sense of adventure, discovery, exploration. And now that I have this chance I feel that theme parks are the perfect place to bridge this gap between virtual and real. I can make things that will eventually become tangible. Like National Geographic, where you can touch a coral and then you can go to our coral environment that’s in the virtual world. We’ve now bridged the gap between these two disciplines. That’s why I feel like I want to continue working in this sphere and creating new content.
Abhinav: We talk a lot about the guest experience it’s at the core of what we do. I think we all know there’s an overlap between the guest experience and the player experience. But, it would be great to hear from you guys, what the definition of that overlap really is?
Andreas: Well firstly, the main difference that I’ve always noticed between games and themed entertainment is guests in themed entertainment ride or area, they get to feel things, things are tangible they can touch them with their hands, they can smell them. That all lends itself to the level of immersion you can get out of a themed entertainment attraction whereas players of a game, of any interactive video game, they get agency. So, they get to change things around them, they get to influence them in a way that a lot of times, guests in a theme park do not get to do.
Abhinav: Interesting that you mention the word agency. That is a huge component of game design in general. When clients ask about wanting to incorporate an interactive experience into a themed entertainment space. Would you say that concept of agency, is that what we’re talking about? Interactivity can be a lot of different things, but is the agency I guess the secret ingredient we’re talking about?
Andreas: I honestly say that right now interactives in theme parks are still in their infancy and I think that’s where everyone wants to go with them but at the moment we're not seeing that happen yet. It’s definitely apparent that everyone wants to get to that point. And I think that’s why, so we can get the agency. But right now, I think we’re still solving the issues behind giving it to a mass audience.
Ben: Why do we give players agency? It’s so they can achieve goals. I think if we take it and strip it all the way down to goals. We need to give players goals to achieve and we need to do that in the simplest way possible. So we need to convey those goals and make achieving those goals very simple.
Abhinav: So, I feel like a lot of times theme park attractions and experiences will have a goal in the sense of there’s a story. There’s a conflict and the goal is that we need to somehow solve the conflict. But, even if there’s no interactivity there, there is still a goal. But, what you’re bringing up, it almost sounds like, it’s really the feeling of “I accomplished something”.
Ben: Yes, that’s where agency comes in, how can we in the simplest way let the guest feel like they did achieve that goal. And how do we convey that goal to not only a single person but to a group of people? How do we make one person in a group playing an interactive feel special?
David: I like simple experiences, I like to have fun, I like to be energized, I like to be happy. I like to go to a themed entertainment area and feel like I’m escaping from reality without conflict. Whenever you play a game and you are competing against each other there’s conflict. Whenever there’s a chance that you might lose or gain less points than another family member, you’re creating conflict.
Abhinav: Do you think that adding an interactive experience automatically introduces conflict because there’s a chance you could fail? Or is there a way to capture the best of interactivity but keep it at a simple enough level that it doesn’t take me away from the fact, I’m here to enjoy myself, I’m here to relax.
David: Yes, that’s why I love lifestyle interactives.
Abhinav: Lifestyle interactive, can you go ahead and define what you mean by lifestyle interactive?
David: They’re there for information, they’re there to explain. Edutainment is what we call it. It’s entertaining to watch but it doesn’t put pressure on you to do anything. You sit there like you do when watching a tv show, you inform yourself. I think that interactive games that are lifestyle games can be as fun.
Andreas: To loop back to what I was saying before and to build upon what David said. Because a lot of times these interactives are added on later to increase the lifetime value of the ride or to compensate for the fact more people are coming back to this ride after some time. But if from the very beginning we say the interactives are going to be an integral part of the narrative and not just an add-on then instead of demanding your attention or competing, it’s just what you should keep your attention on in that moment. I think that’s the next step we need to take to get to that innovation point.
Abhinav: If it starts to branch more into that direction, do we feel like the added conflict that the interactivity brings isn’t as much of a challenge anymore because it is so integrated into the story? You’re already expecting a challenge from the story so if it’s integrated enough into the story the challenge that the interactive poses doesn’t feel as troubling?
David: For example, when you’re waiting in the queue for a simple dark ride you’re waiting there and you’re feeling excited to get on this ride and you know after you’re done you're going to enjoy yourself. But let’s say a teenager is waiting in line right before a laser tag game. They’re feeling anxious the whole time they’re waiting they’re like, “am I going to win? Am I going to lose?”. I think that feeling is an interesting thing we should build upon is the anticipation of riding an attraction.
Ben: I think David brings up a good point, it’s almost how we frame the ride, how we frame the experience. Before they even get in the queue, what is the guest expecting when they come in? If they have the notion when I go into this, there will be a challenge and I can lose, it’s much easier to accept. That’s how I feel when I play any video game. I’m accepting and ready for the possibility of defeat and I want to use that experience to loop back into the ride or game and do better next time.
Abhinav: One thing that just occurred to me is that the role of game over has a very different meaning in themed entertainment spaces. When you’re playing a video game at home by yourself you can technically put in as much time as you want. If you get that game over screen and the worst possible thing happened, you can reload from that saved checkpoint and start over again. We don’t always have that luxury in themed entertainment experiences.
David: I think you can be positive about that. You can show them different endings but always end on a positive note. You don’t want to end on a negative note. I think that’s the perfect balance of interactives, but always end on a positive note that leaves you wanting more.
Abhinav: Then there’s always a reason to go back and load that last checkpoint. It’s not because there was a really depressing end because you made all the mistakes possible, but because there was something else to discover.
Ben: I like to think of it as a tiered system. The more successful you are the further up you go up in the tiers. Let’s say there are 5 tiers and you make it to the 4th one. Wow you did really well and there’s that positive reinforcement and that good experience, but you didn’t get to that 5th tier. Are you going to let that stand or are you going to come back and get that 5th tier?
Abhinav: There’s always a higher mountain to climb
David: I think the latest interactives are really hitting on that, in Toy Story Mania – the more points you get different plushies. You always get a plushy, a digital plushy, but you might get a better one if you score more.
Abhinav: Obviously VR is one of the first things we think about in terms of interactivity in this space. Because everyone is excited about it. If we want to keep our eyes on the horizon and look at the cutting-edge thing what’s the next step beyond that?
Ben: How do we increase storytelling methods? I was actually very interested in telling a story through VR. What doors does VR open to storytelling. We can put someone in a world, how do we take them out of that a world? How do we alert them that they are in that world, while still being in our world, not in VR? How do we bridge those and what interesting story ideas can we get out of it?
Abhinav: Do you feel there is an actual substantial, tangible increase in storytelling capability and power?
David: I see a lot of potential in the future as far as progression goes. I see people who don’t normally play games be able to play VR. My girlfriend doesn’t like games at all but she loves VR. And now I’m able to experience games in VR with her. It’s a whole encompassing aspect of interactives where we can all experience. It’s a wonderful tool.
BEN: VR is really great at breaking the limitations of actually playing a game. When I sit down at a mouse and keyboard and play a competitive game there is potentially years of experience that goes into that, that allows me to play with other people who also have years of experience. If I can break that down and give you something simple that you hold in each hand that does one thing and most of the interactivity comes from moving it, from physically looking around, that’s what I do every day. More people can play video games that way. That’s why I think that VR is not only the future of video games it’s the future of themed interactive entertainment. I think it’s going to take us there to AR and MR. But we’re in baby steps, you have to start somewhere. That’s where we are right now.
David: Augmented reality used to define the ability to visually see through your phone into the real world. But both of those things were technically digital. And then it started getting into the HoloLens and was considered AR at the time where the real world was visually, the light rays of the real world were going in your eyes with an overlayer of 3D. But now mixed reality is a combination of both and it’s basically defining exactly what augmented reality, the name of it should have been. So now more people are using mixed reality as a VR headset. Mixed reality, in essence, means if the real world in any way, no matter how substantial, is influencing your headset or your view of the 3D world, it’s considered mixed reality. Because you’re importing that information from the real world. For instance, the VIVE is not considered a mixed reality because it doesn’t interface with the real world and allow you to, let’s say dodge a wall. You have to place those walls yourself, those boundaries. However, the mixed reality headset from Microsoft it uses the outside world’s information, similar to the HoloLens to get your positional tracking, and if you go near a desk you see a virtual representation of the world. You don’t see it as a desk, but it tells you, by the way, there’s a point of a desk there. And that is enough evidence to say it’s mixed reality because it’s getting outside information.
Ben: I think I would divide up the 3 very simply with a basic definition. Virtual Reality is creating a completely new world. You put on a headset and you’re somewhere else. No information goes out to the real world or comes back in, except maybe positional tracking at the most.
Augmented Reality is simply an overlay onto the real world, not being influenced by it. With the Google glass, I could take pictures, and I would see what time it was. Something very simple like that. Augmented Reality is very simple.
Abhinav: Like a HUD.
Ben: Like a HUD, yes. Mixed Reality is what David was saying, where you bring a virtual world into the real world. I can look and place an animal in the mixed reality headset. I tap and a little bunny rabbit appears in the corner. If I look around, move maybe, come back the bunny is still in the corner. That’s Mixed Reality and I think that’s where the technology is leading. And I don’t think it’s going to be far future where you go to a theme park and put on a mixed reality headset and walk around the entire theme park. It’s going to be oh we’re going to a theme park, I’m just going to bring my own mixed reality headset that I bring with me everywhere. And it could be just a simple pair of eyeglasses, that would be the far future in my head. But, I do see that being the future of gaming, themed entertainment, phones. I think all of this would be blending into one.
David: We’ve done some interesting interactives in New York. We have a couple of experiences, the first one being a coral reef experience where guests are able to actually point flashlights at 3 monitors and discover facts in a biofluorescent coral reef world. The actual flashlights are able to project a beam of light into the virtual world and 3 guests are able to actually play alongside each other and discover these facts.
Ben: So, coral was actually my first project here, that I worked on The thing that blew my mind about that was that the tracking was not using the headset at all. Traditionally, you would have a headset on and you would see these objects tracked in the headset. He ditched the headset to create a virtual world that you could move a flashlight in real life and see it move in the screen in the screen and your flashlight beam would be projected into a world as if it were a fish tank.
Andreas: David over here figured out this insane technical system for the interactive but then as he’s troubleshooting constantly and creating more refined versions. I’m sitting here going, okay well now it really has to look like a coral reef and that’s a pretty cool thing. You can’t just say it has to be okay. It has to be really good. So that was a challenge and everyday people would come by, give critiques. It was a learning experience and it was a powerful experience.
David: Yeah, it’s three 4k monitors side by side.
Andreas: That’s another distinction to make about today’s technology, and I think this definitely shows that Nat Geo. Compared to 5 years ago the resolution that we’re making interactives at is so much higher that fidelity lends itself to being able to see every minute detail for better or worse. We always have to think about that, how well are we portraying whatever we are tasked to portray. Is going to look grainy? Is it going to look beautiful? Is it going to look blocky? We have to think about these things, we can’t just throw them on the screen and hope for the best. I think that’s something we are all extremely conscious of and it’s a new challenge that’s only going to continue to grow as this industry grows.
Abhinav: I’ll skip the question about what games are you guys are playing.
David: Rainbow 6
Andreas: That’s the best question, I was waiting for the entire day. And now I don’t even, no just kidding.
David: Destiny 2, Rainbow 6, Siege
Ben: Well, now we’re just answering the question.
Abhinav: I want to thank our three panelists for joining us on that conversation. Cecil, any thoughts?
Cecil: Wow, wonderful conversation. It’s nice to hear some of the dynamics of their background and how they gravitated to Falcon’s. That was very enriching for me to hear. And so much information about technology that influences what our future interactive experiences will be. Really refreshing conversation.
Abhinav: We were talking before recording a little about how technology is increasing at such a rate that some of the things that they were describing in the conversation have since the finished recording have now evolved.
Cecil: Yeah, right it matured. The VIVE, you know David Consolo was talking about how the VIVE is truly VR and you know its contained without influence from the outside world and it’s interesting that not but a week ago or two they introduced the cameras that are embedded in the VIVE Pro. That now intakes real content and influences the VR, so it’s happening real time.
Abhinav: Yeah and these are just the things we all have to deal with on a daily basis, that they’ve got to deal with on a daily basis. Keeps it interesting, I guess.
Cecil: Yeah, no doubt. The conversation was really refreshing to hear about how the things that we’re kind of used to experiencing in the theme parks, which you know if you think about theme park experiences are one of the most cutting-edge, visceral and immersive experiences introducing media in some of the, you know, amazing experiences like 4D dark rides and what have you, still are not real-time. You know, they’re not real-time content.
Abhinav: That’s true. It’s baked content.
Cecil: Baked content, so that whole layer of having real-time content with this other visceral and immersive experience.
Abhinav: Give immediate feedback to what every guest is doing.
Cecil: Influence the story, that’s what we’re doing now. And you look at it as really multiple industries now converging to become one. We’re embracing all those attributes from those different industries and implementing them here. So I mean the guest experience becomes even more immersive, it’s not only immersive but now you actually can influence the outcome. So that’s huge, we’re excited for the guest experience.
Abhinav: Total redefinition of what it means to actually be an experience.
Cecil: No doubt, and I think even feature films are starting to recognize that VR is part of the real world.
Cecil: It’s Ready Player One
Abhinav: It’s becoming a valid storytelling topic and medium.
Abhinav: Great, well we’ll see you in the next episode.
Cecil: Sounds good.