Movies, books, comics, even a 14th century poem have inspired video games, but Toy Story Mania! is the first game designed to recreate a Disney ride experience.
Toy Story Mania! is being developed for the Wii with the help of Disney’s imagineers and designed to replicate the experience of the 4D ride of the same name.
Toy Story Mania! the ride opened in Disney’s California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008. On the ride, park-goers board a carnival tram and ride along a track that whips them in front of large screens featuring stereoscopic 3D animation. The ride also features blasts of air and water, with four plastic pop guns that are used to shoot virtual pies, darts, balls and hoops at the screen to score points.
The attraction is broken up into a practice round and five games, including balloon pop and plate break levels, and a Woody-themed pop-gun shoot-out on a faux western set.
To shoot the virtual ammo, people on the ride pull back on a string attached to the over-sized guns and let go to fire, simulating a pop gun. Disney Interactive show producer Stephanie Pickens, one of the imagineers who worked on the ride, said the gun can register up to ten shots a second.
The ride also tracks each players scores, showing the scores at the end of each run and also listing the park’s high scores for the day and month.
The ride cost an estimated $80 million to create and requires more than 150 computers to run. It is, Pickens said, the first true video game ride in a Disney park.
The team behind the ride faced a lot of challenges, said Sue Bryan, Walt Disney senior show producer.
“It was harder than you might have thought,” she said. “We have 3-year-olds, grandparents, teenagers, avid gamers, people who swear they never want to play a video game who might be riding this.”
And because the ride is relatively short, people need to feel successful instantly to have fun.
“Traditional carnival games are fun, but are not necessarily out to make people feel successful,” she said.
So the team started by creating a mock-up of the ride, building the set with foam core, the car out of plywood and the guns out of PVC pipe.
“Our big goal was immersion,” she said.
After deciding on the ride’s design, the team of imagineers started mocking up guns for the attraction.
“We tested levers, buttons, but we ended up with a pull string because it feels like a pop gun, viscerally, when you use it,” she said.
When Walt Disney Imagineering started working on the virtual portion of the ride, it became a lot like making a game, Pickens said.
The giant screens and the graphics needed to have accurate physics and had to be able to know exactly where the shooter was located and pointing at all times.
“We needed to render projectiles precisely to make sure it feels like it comes out of your gun,” Pickens said.
Both Pixar, the people behind the “Toy Story” movies, and Disney animators worked on the animations for the ride’s games. The games, while relatively simple on their surface, also have a surprising amount of complexity built into them.
Some of the animations have two stages, like a hen house that when shot sprouts chickens. There are also Easter eggs, or secrets built into the games, like clouds that shower high point targets when shot.
When Disney decided to create a video game based on the ride it turned to Papaya Studios.
“We spent a lot of time with the video game development team,” Pickens said. “It’s crazy, crazy detailed.”
While the Wii game doesn’t have air or water effects, some of the games levels will include stereoscopic 3D graphics. Where the ride features 56 game screens, the Wii version has 30 mini games.
Because the game relies on the motion controls of the Wii remote, it does manage to capture much of the same feel of the ride and Disney hopes that spells increased sales. In fact, the game will be sold at the two parks right outside of the ride.
If successful, it sounds like Disney may explore bringing other forms of video game interactivity to some of its parks and with those new rides will likely come new video game ports of theme park reality.
“Interactive play is really popular at our parks,” Bryan said.
Brian Crecente is managing editor of Kotaku.com, a video-game Web site owned by Gawker Media. Join in the discussion at kotaku.com/tag/well-played.