Our future metaverse? Theme parks are already on the case

Much of the promise of augmented reality so far has been just that – promises of a future seen through filters for our mobile phone apps or simple games that place characters with little movement on our faces. camera screens. But if this whole metaverse thing – the concept of a persistent, evolving online world that we don’t connect to as much as we live inside – is to take off, we’re going to need more.

Our theme parks, which are increasingly focused on the concepts of games and play, can offer a glimpse into the future.

In the not too distant future, Universal Studios Hollywood will import an augmented reality-focused “Mario Kart” themed ride from Japan, an attraction designed to create the illusion that we interact with virtual objects and characters. Unlike most AR- enhanced mobile phone applications, where images are adapted to an individual’s screen, the use of visor-type glasses will allow all guests on the ride to engage with the creations. digital in real time.

And earlier this month, Walt Disney Co. quietly announced that it was “in conversation” with Illumix, an AR company based in Redwood City, Calif., Which has been entrenched in games (“Five Nights at Freddy’s AR: Special Delivery “) and e-commerce, but is growing rapidly in the physical areas. Illumix technology offers a range of experiences, including entertainment that merges physical and digital effects as well as more personal character interactions.

One of the demos premiered by Illumix as part of the experimental Disney Accelerator tech program just showed off extravagant interactions inspired by vintage cartoons in Mickey’s Toontown, an area of ​​Disneyland the company would later announce would be reinvented with more. green spaces and a number of interactive play-oriented activities.

These were tech demonstrations and shouldn’t be taken as guarantees that they will appear in the park, but proof-of-concept projects signal that a future enhanced by augmented reality is drawing near. Among the enticing scenes featured: an animated overlay in the Toontown area of ​​the park with cartoon explosions mixed with real-world smoke, a glimpse of Buzz Lightyear hovering around and through Disney California Adventure, and Minnie Mouse hanging out on a main street, USA, balcony giving birthday wishes to a young fan.

What impressed the most about Illumix’s demos is the way the augmented reality characters seem to move around and understand their surroundings rather than appearing as virtual stickers. Illumix founder Kirin Sinha says she must be touchy when discussing her company’s potential collaborations with Disney, but she ultimately sees the gaming world continuing to influence physical spaces.

“It’s that idea that is constantly evolving – based on other people, your preferences, choices you’ve made in the past, virtual events. We can take what’s going on in the digital content world and bring that to physical experiences, ”Sinha said.

It’s easy to imagine augmented reality providing digital land overlays and making the park more responsive to birthdays and anniversaries. Or, for a theme park history buff like myself, a way for the phone to deliver location-based historical knowledge with the corresponding historical image overlays.

Kirin Sinha, founder of Illumix

Illumix founder Kirin Sinha shows how the company’s augmented reality technology could be used in a Disney theme park. Here, a Buzz Lightyear toy zips into and around Disney California Adventure and could be viewed by all guests using smartphones to view the content. This was a demo of the Disney Accelerator experimental tech program and it’s unclear if it will appear in parks.

(Disney Illumix)

Theme parks, of course, offer perhaps the easiest way to understand the concept of the metaverse, which is often described as a global, persistent virtual world where we shop, play, work, communicate, and watch entertainment – the Metaverse is a virtual theme park, if you will. The first examples, such as “Fortnite” from Epic Games or the universe of the content creation game “Roblox”, are, like “Second Life” before them, anchored in the space of the video game. Meta, the newly renamed Facebook, has focused its conversations on virtual reality or productivity tools such as virtual meetings.

But the concept that we’ll wake up and connect to a virtual world for all of our day-to-day interactions is a bit dystopian, probably distant, and probably never will be a reality unless climate change forces it to be. More likely, this is something akin to the Disneyland model, where entertainment, technology, architecture, and more come together in spaces that blur the lines of technology.

“There is the ‘Ready Player One’ version of a metaverse, where we all live and work and our lives are totally digital. I don’t think that’s ultimately where it’s going, to a point where we’re not in this physical world, ”Sinha said. “I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that people really like to do this.”

“However,” she continues, “if you look at companies that excel in the metaverse, of course, they’ll want to portray the metaverse as a future where everyone will live their entire lives in that company’s world. story you’re going to present, but the reality, if you step back, is that the metaverse is about separating the physical and the digital and combining them.

Lately, Disney has been talking about building their own metaverse, and this is represented by how the worlds of “Star Wars” have influenced a theme park, which in turn has influenced a virtual reality game. Cinema and television merge into a unique world represented in a theme park and interactive entertainment such as games. Disney even teased what appear to be augmented reality glasses that can enhance educational content at a park like Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.

Then, of course, there’s the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser experience, a multi-day “Star Wars” themed hotel that’s described as a cruise ship experience on land.

But it really does offer guests the option to spend thousands of dollars to transform into “Star Wars” avatars, allowing those who wish to rush to the rooms, which start at just under $ 5,000 for two guests, to. immerse yourself in some live action. video game. If it works, it’s the ultimate achievement of a playful and interactive society, one where a metaverse isn’t something we simply connect to but can constantly surround us. Starcruiser’s thesis is that there is no barrier between the storyteller and the participant in the story.

Games and technology have been moving in this direction for decades. It has been the promise of everything from “Dungeons and Dragons” to “The Legend of Zelda” to immersive theater projects such as “Sleep No More”.

Universal’s “Mario Kart” attraction – dubbed Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge at Universal Studios Japan – and the Galactic Starcruiser at Walt Disney World in Florida are ambitious bets that the general public will continue to seek out less passive experiences – an extension a trend that was formalized with Disney’s Toy Story Midway Mania and continues to this day with Disney California Adventure’s Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure.

It’s also a claim that the Metaverse will not define our world as much as it will influence it. Perhaps think of a future where entertainment becomes a kind of theme park without a wall. Let’s just hope that the headaches of both worlds – the strollers and rows of a theme park, and the dangerous disinformation of the modern internet – are sorted out somewhere along the way.

Leave a Comment