games reporter

At Disney, vid games are along for the ride

Disneyland Resort is taking video gaming 4-D next year. It will launch Toy Story Mania at California Adventure in Anaheim and Disney-MGM Studios outside Orlando, a ride that will blend "manic gameplay with a next-generation ride experience," says Tom Fitzgerald, executive vp and senior creative executive at Walt Disney Engineering.

The ride is the latest example of Walt Disney Imagineers working with Pixar Studios to bring a CGI movie experience to life and follows this week's grand opening of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland in Anaheim.

Fitzgerald, who spoke Monday during a news conference in Anaheim, said Toy Story Mania will feature a variety of video game challenges accompanied by characters from the "Toy Story" films, including Mr. Potato Head, who plays a carnival barker that shrinks a vehicle down to the size of a toy.

Riders will shoot virtual ammunition at targets at specified stops along the way. The guns will change ammunition from darts to colored eggs as the games change from room to room. Thanks to 3-D glasses, the riders will see the ammunition fly. Special bonus shots will unlock additional points.

(The fourth "D," by the way, refers to water, air and other effects that affect the ride experience.)

"Walt Disney used inspirations from the '50s to create the worlds in Disneyland, and over time, we added modern adventures like 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones,' " Fitzgerald says. "But there's a generation of park visitors now who have grown up playing video games, so we're taking things beyond the scope of Buzz Lightyear's Space Rangers Spin and Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. We've raised the bar, and we're using digital media to create these challenges, just like you'd see in a video game."

Fitzgerald says new challenges will be added to keep the ride fresh. "We have the flexibility in the system to not only add new targets or levels to the games, but we could create seasonal overlays like a Christmas theme, which is especially important with repeat visitors that we get at Disneyland," he says.

Pixar will create original CG animation for Toy Story Mania; it also produced 15 minutes for the Nemo ride.

The Submarine Voyage re-creates the CGI characters from "Finding Nemo," which also spawned hit video games from THQ and Disney Interactive Studios, and breathes life into them. The 52-foot-long submarines — which submerged visitors for 40 years, often with a "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" theme — have been retrofitted with quiet electric motors and 4-D sound technology to allow the story to unfold for each visitor at exactly the right time.

In more video game synergy, Disney has created "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" Wi-Fi hot spots at Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Orlando, enabling gamers to download free, exclusive single-player and multiplayer content while they're inside the parks. Each of the three download areas at each park is marked with a pirate's "X."

A representative for Disney Interactive Studios said there is interest in broadening this type of interaction between gamers and the resorts. About 12% of visitors bring a Nintendo DS into the parks, research shows, and that doesn't include the number of portable game systems that might be left in hotel rooms.

Disney Interactive Studios had an Xbox 360 version of "At World's End" on display in the media room for this week's Finding Nemo event, and Nintendo DS hand-helds with the "Pirates" game cartridge were available for reporters to unlock the digital treasures inside Adventureland.