I know that I was somewhat disappointed with Intimidator coasters at both KD and CW when it came to theming. Imagine having some wrecked cars scattered though out the ride or on the final break run having pit signs etc.
Of course some will say those are amusement parks and not theme parks. In today's market, you have to tell a better story.
In other words, things really haven't changed that much. The main difference today is that the stakes have increased, and the level of theming has been raised by technology.
I Respond: And this is why the Disney parks will lead the way. Robert writes about the "need" to acquire "rights to blockbuster entertainment franchises." It's interesting to note that Disney’s "kingdom parks" (WDWMK, DL, TDL, et al) are divided into individual lands that are themselves autonomous entertainment franchises. Indeed, TPI recently reported about WDI's plans to add interactive "gags" in public areas throughout Adventureland. In doing so, WDI adapts a VERY POPULAR entertainment franchise (Adventureland) and enriches its narrative.
After Adventureland, interactive effects in public areas will no doubt appear in Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc.
In this way WDI's "ride designers and creative leaders" will "bring engaging characters and worlds to life in an interactive theme park environment."
I will raise one point: I don't think it is necessary for the parks to buy franchises for their characters. Disney successfully created several franchises inside the parks: Pirates, The Haunted Mansion, Figment. While it may be easier to buy characters, it's not necessary.
To TH's point, I should have written 'acquire or create' blockbuster franchises. And as Pirates has shown, the ride sometimes can be the first property in the franchise. It doesn't always have to be the final piece.
They are still engaged in doing this. There's a reason Six Flags and Cedar Fair exist. They are there to provide roller coasters to the fans.
"So the industry shifted. The focus changed from bigger and faster to more creative and unique. Record-seeking gave way to innovate design, and parks began promoting things like wing seating over raw track specs."
We don't know where it actually shifted. There was always Universal and Disney and hardly anyone in between. Its just that Universal hit it out of the ballpark with the Wizarding World. Besides the fact that they were first with Spiderman, Universal was never directly competitive with Disney until most recently. And even then, Disney still stands alone in how it can command the outrageous prices.
However, I think that the theme park market has pretty much left Disney alone and went on its merry way in distinguishing itself in niche markets like Sea World, Legoland, Busch Gardens, and the coaster parks like Six Flags and Cedar Fair. Disney tried new things too like Animal Kingdom and Disney Studios, but their efforts at being different made its offering more of the same. Nothing that Disney has done could not easily be installed in a Disneyland park.
I can only fear that technology will become too much of a focus and a genuine and 'classic' ride experience will be thrown away if they take this too far. There has to be a balance lol.
Disney's not perfect, but they've been doing this forever. Doesn't mean they didn't mess up, like with DCA's original generic rides. And Universal blew everyone away with Spider-Man and Harry Potter.
The direction of parks as a whole is definitely in full immersion in another world like Hogwarts or Carsland. The original Disneyland already transported you to another "land" as you couldn't see outside of it. WDW really feels like "A Whole New World" (pun intended) with the scale and distance between parks. And Hogwarts IS real.
I just hope that attractions don't all become like King Kong, Transformers, or Toy Story. But I also hope that Coaster Parks realize that you can't just slap a "fastest coaster West of the Mississippi!" label and call it a day.