Melissa Donahue

Published: May 22, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Well said, Mr. Niles, well said! You've hit the nail on the head.
Dave Stroem

Published: May 22, 2012 at 10:48 AM

I completely agree. IMO this should also be carried out on regular coasters as well.

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.

Dominick D

Published: May 22, 2012 at 10:58 AM

-Slowly claps- Well said Mr. Niles. -Claps faster- BRAVO!!!!! Oh, and cant forget the hippos :)
Anon Mouse

Published: May 22, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Based on the new price increases, Disney stands alone.
Sylvain Comeau

Published: May 22, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Interactivity is part of it, but mostly in the queue. I would say immersiveness is much more important, and using technology and creativity to design rides, lands and environments that place you in another world.

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.

José María Sandoval

Published: May 22, 2012 at 7:43 PM

Curtis Young

Published: May 22, 2012 at 10:59 PM

You've hit the nail on the head. As someone who's studied both theatre directing and Storytelling at the graduate level, youve explained why a great coaster at Six Flags just doesn't do it for me anymore. I look at a park like Holiday World or Dollywood, though,and I'm caught up not in the narratives of the individual rides and attractions, but rather in the mythos of the parks as a whole. The allure IS in the details. Theming is a medium, and the medium is the message.
TH Creative

Published: May 23, 2012 at 8:34 AM

Robert writes: "But to win this race ... You need the rights to blockbuster entertainment franchises. And you need the ride designers and creative leaders who can bring engaging characters and worlds to life in an interactive theme park environment."

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."

Tom Rigg

Published: May 23, 2012 at 10:27 AM

This is brilliant. I'm pretty sure you should convince a University to give you a Doctorate in Themparkology.

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.

Todd Houts

Published: May 23, 2012 at 10:29 AM

Robert it is compelling articles like this that first made me take notice of TPI and what keeps me coming back. Sure the inside or breaking information is great, but I love it when your journalist background shines and you link pieces of information most would see but not connect and create a compelling story out of them. As others have said: Bravo!
Robert Niles

Published: May 23, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

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.

Brandon Townsend

Published: May 23, 2012 at 11:20 AM

I go to Disney World knowing beforehand it's a "theme" park and not a "thrill" park. If I want thrills I go to Cedar Point. They are two totally different experiences in my opinion.
Disney has made attempts to incorporate both with Expedition Everest and Splash Mountain (both rides I love) but they pale in comparison to the visceral excitement of rides such as Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force, or Skyhawk. I believe Universal has done a better job merging the thrills and themes with The Hulk.
I hope amusement parks continue to use narrative and theme elements in new rides. I also hope ride designers continue to strive for bigger and faster thrill rides.
Doug Jenkins

Published: May 23, 2012 at 2:13 PM

It's not between Disney and Universal? Maybe not but they are about the only ones with the resources and know how to do rides like that.
Anon Mouse

Published: May 23, 2012 at 2:25 PM

"A decade ago, amusement parks were engaged in a Coaster War, ever-building taller and faster roller coasters in pursuit of world records for height, speed, length and intensity."

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.

Robert Niles

Published: May 23, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Anon Mouse, I'm writing specifically about roller coasters in those sentences. And, yes, Six Flags and Cedar Fair have given up on the 'tallest' and 'fastest' record-chasing. Let the non-US parks waste money on those White Elephants. I think it's significant that even among coaster parks the focus has shifted from raw specs to finding a creative blending of engaging elements.

Published: May 23, 2012 at 3:03 PM

I've always loved big tall and fast roller coaster, but when I noticed that they were losing charm and just becoming machines, I was loosing interest. I don't truly care about the coaster race, and I honestly felt that the theme park industries were gearing those rides to the wrong crowd. It was the crowd that would go on them, love them, and not going back constantly. The true theme park fans that go back to the parks constantly want (as far as it seems) diversity in their riding experience throughout the day. It's why Disney is such a huge success. They understand the concept of variety within your day. In the early 2000s I noticed the coaster war and was a little disappointed. It wasn't about the enjoyment of the ride or even the ride itself, it was about the label for the park to have. Then the theme park recession happened with Six Flags parks closing and others being threatened of that, while Disney was always staying top dog. I love Six Flags and I love Disney, but if I were to pick, I'd always go with Disney. Hopefully now theme parks realize it's not about the craziest ride, but unique, original, and transporting. I think the new theme park wars is gonna be a good one.

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.

TH Creative

Published: May 23, 2012 at 4:06 PM

How ironic is it that the importance of themed immersion has become the principal objective? Theme parks as genuine theater. Robert and I are decidedly old school WDW CMs. We remember the priority placed on the term "good show."
TH Creative

Published: May 23, 2012 at 4:08 PM

Very exciting.
Brandon Mendoza

Published: May 24, 2012 at 10:31 AM

Just like in the movies, flashy special effects, world records, and tacked on 3D can't make a movie's story better if it's terrible. Only people that care if your coaster is the highest or fastest are the same people impressed with someone's 500 sq ft. closet, or their 100" TV.

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.