#1146 – Immersive Entertainment Shines in Orlando – Part 1

In one of the most crowded months for coverage of the sector, November and the beginning of December saw several important trade events and major developments across the entertainment sector. This first-part of our extensive coverage starts with the big trade convention in Orlando that has shaped the global market.

IAAPA Orlando 2022

For many who had held back from last year’s event due to lingering post-pandemic conditions, this year’s 104th International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA’22) convention was a very important show. Held at its long-term home of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, this event represented the first full show not fully in the shadow of the Global Health Crisis and saw many exhibitors working hard to promote new products – with the trends clearly on display. 

Starting off, the Immersive Attractions & Dark Ride” aspects of the show floor included the latest media-based attractions. Exhibitors such as Dynamic Attractions and Dynamic Technologies Group announced their world’s first ‘Dynamic Motion Theater’, comprising live on-stage action and a 360-degree screen, with the audience seated on a circular platform. The attraction is scheduled to be opened at ‘Futuroscope’, in France, under the name of ‘Tornado Chasers’ – receiving its grand opening in August. 

Meanwhile, Intamin announced their ‘Dynamic Motion Stage’ – an immersive attraction, ride system, with four hydraulic cylinders with a central fixed support, with multiple ride pods offering various seating configurations, offering capacity up-to-108 passengers, and the ability to support media-based or physical props storytelling and 4D effects. The system will be able to support dome and screen-based projection and has been promoted as a new level of an immersive ride experience. This marks one of a number of rides of interest from the market for this novel approach to media-based attractions.

Other new developments revealed in this field included those from CAVU and KUKA, revealing their new autonomous ride attraction, using Self Driving Vehicle (SDV) technology from KUKA, able to achieve a dynamic motion profile through AI technology. Meanwhile, Simworx was also promoting their ‘Pegasus’ flying theater concept.

The deployment of “Gamification” into the attraction sector gathers pace with new patents every day, showing the thinking of the attraction developers towards a gamified/interactive future. This was illustrated with the news of a filing of a US patent by water attraction developer Whitewater West Industries. It was revealed that the company had proposed an “Interactive Amusement Attraction and Method” – like other developments seen that offer the ability for riders on waterslides to take part in a game experience hitting embedded trackers on the flume, or special triggers. Scores are accumulated and tracked on screens and smart apps. The concept of interactive game elements is seeing a continued investment across the attractions industry.

Regarding business development news that coincided with IAAPA’22 – ITEC Entertainment (founded in 1985), an entertainment design and project development company, came to the show following their 2021 acquisition by TAIT (founded in 1978), a creative engineering and fabrication company. The acquisition is hoped to create a consolidated operation that can offer a growth strategy across their business’ verticals of live entertainment, theme park and attraction development. ITEC is known recently for their work on the Universal Studios VR attraction in Japan, and with Wanda Group and Walt Disney. Meanwhile TAIT has its live event work with Cirque du Soleil, Nike, and The Metropolitan Opera, to name just a few. No word was given on the amount of the acquisition – and during 2022 the operations undertook major restructuring towards their new goals, seeing several senior executive departures. 

Returning to the show floor, and the addition of immersive display media to all ranks of entertainment was seen on the Vortex Aquatic Structures International booth, with special guests given a demonstration of the ‘Dream Tunnel’. The concept was created in partnership with Super Aqua Club, to develop the media-based water experience. It is aimed at being deployed within attractions such as flumes and water rides, with a combination of laser imagery, waterfall display and audio, to create an immersive experience played within the space. The innovation of the concept was recognized with a IAAPA Brass Ring award. 

Coming to IAAPA’22, with a lot to say, Falcon’s Creative Group presented their new 4D Dark Ride technology, representing the ‘EVO-6’ motion-base tracked ride system in partnership with Oceaneering. At the same time, the company revealed more its plans for the Falcon’s resort project (‘Falcon’s Beyond’), currently in the development stage following the announcement of the partnership with Katmandu Park. What they call the launch of their “Resortainment” brand, will see further announcements regarding the final design.

TRIOTECH – the company once again came with a big presence to the show, but in a brand-new location on the show floor. The big presence was the recreation of part of their ‘HyperRide’ attraction – with a tracked ride-car moving between screens which the player shoots at. The media-based interactive ride attraction offered impressive movement, and the demonstration gave a glimpse of the entertainment value achievable. TRIOTECH also used IAAPA’22 to launch their new platform called ‘QUBE’ – the amusement-based enclosure offers four motion seats for players, with their own guns to shoot at the action on screen. This is best described as a scaled down variant of the popular ‘Dark Ride Theater’ shooting experience, which should appeal to a wider operator base. 

The ‘QUBE’ systems on display were production prototypes of the final release, but it is expected that this will prove a popular FEC piece for venues still undecided on buying the full-size theater attraction. Also on display was a brand-new experience for its interactive ‘STORM’, a two-player VR amusement piece called ‘Creepy Castle’. TRIOTECH was also keen to reveal their new attraction work, announcing the development of an attraction based on the popular IP, ‘PUBG: Battlegrounds’. Developed in partnership with Lotte World in South Korea, the 8,000-sq.ft. new walkthrough attraction will be called ‘Battlegrounds World Agent’ and will include the popular elements from the ‘Player Unknown Battle Ground’ shooting game, split into three zones. 

DOF – The company came to the Orlando convention with a new redesigned brand look, that was hoped to reflect their vision in transforming the industry and guests’ emotions, and with that revealed their new concepts for the market. Along with demonstrations of the ‘Grave Digger’ and ‘Hurricane’ VR attractions, the company revealed their new project – the ‘Digital Park: Mission Space’. The creation of a multi-stage experience lasts over 30-minutes, and the attraction is broken down into stages, with teams of six players. It also comprises motion simulation and themed experience lead by cast members. The attractions stages include the first being shot into space, interaction with the space station, and then the surface of the moon and interactive elements – along with the ride simulation. The attraction has been created to support from six-to-30 guests at a time, with six sessions per hour. The concept incorporates endless theming (story) options, from space, underwater, time-travelling, and even zombie adventures. The first installation of this attraction has been signed for launch at ‘Camlica Tower’, Istanbul, Turkey – opening in 2023. The concept won the IAAPA Brass Ring award for new design. 

Other exhibitors presenting innovations in concept design for attractions and resorts included Bold Move Nation, showing their ‘AR Quest’ with the new dino-themed ‘Raptor Expedition’ – an interactive walkthrough that falls into the MR category of innovation. The attraction was using the AR portal, as covered in our IAAPA-EMEA’22 reporting. The company is also involved with other AR and VR solutions, with the ‘WaterSlider VR’ experience, along with a “phygital” (the marriage of physical and digital interactivity) VR escape room platform, targeting parks as well as FEC deployment.

Escape Room development, including the use of more media-based elements and gamification, was evident on the show floor, with companies such as GAME OVER Escape Rooms – an international Franchise based in Greece – presenting their new range of experiences, including the launch of their new ‘CUBE Challenges’ game. Specially developed skills, fitness, and brain power are all individual challenges for teams from two-to-six players, with all players wearing tracked wristbands and gathering points counted through the Cube OS.

Regarding the media-based attractions and 4D theater business, exhibitors included SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment, about to celebrate their 30th anniversary and attending the IAAPA convention to announce the fruits of the partnership with Red Raion – with a brand-new, customized CGi film called ‘Frostbite: Dino Island III’ – specially developed for the ‘SimEx-Iwerks FlyRide’ theater system for next year. Along with this, they announced three new experiential attractions. The first of these revealed was the ‘Immersion Theater’ – a scalable attraction comprising special effects and motion seat theater, running the corporation’s selection of films, as a turn-key attraction, and allowing venue operators access to a simple media-theater installation. Initial renderings of the concept placed it in zoological setting as an immersive experience for zoos, as well as smaller leisure parks.

Other providers of extensive film and content libraries included nWave Studio, announcing their new attraction film ‘Meg and The Lost Scepter’, from the latest feature film ‘Chickenhare and The Hamster of Darkness’. While IAAPA’22 exhibitors TheJuice presented more information about their new VR-based motion ride vehicle, the ‘VipeR’, offering a new, compact, virtual reality motion ride system for up-to-six riders. Making up for lost time during lockdown, some exhibitors were forced to choose from business and exhibiting at the show – one such was MediaMation, unable to attend the show this year due to a very busy schedule of installations, such as the upcoming ‘Legends’ in Arizona, ’Hero Ventures’ in Saudi Arabia, and ‘REELS – MX4D Cinema’ in Dubai.

Speaking of theme park installations, and information was revealed, around the time of IAAPA’22, that Walt Disney World’s Epcot would be seeing the removal of a headlined installation. As previously reported, ‘Play Pavilion’ had been announced in 2019 as being intended to be an immersive and interactive “city”, where guests could interact with Disney characters and play immersive experiences. The space was to have been housed in the previous ‘Wonders of Life’ pavilion and was to include interactive projection walls, and immersive attractions – with some sources suggesting this would have included remodelled amusement pieces. It was not until October this year that Walt Disney Imagineers revealed the project has been dropped and the plans for the ‘Play Pavilion’ abandoned, citing a mixture of budget restraints, staffing concerns, and a need to focus on other core projects. This marks the latest abandonment of a fully interactive media attraction concept by the park designers. It also comes at a time of much upheaval in the design and development staffing, seeing the departure of prominent executives and reappraisal of investment and business focus at Disney

The ability of the next generation of technology to shape the entertainment and attraction scene is amazing and, already on the IAAPA’22 show floor, the latest technology trends were taking hold with AI, Autonomous & Robots. The growth in Machine Learning deployment could be seen for the first time, as the bowling corporation ran a new booth layout called the ‘Brunswick Innovation Hub’ – on their extensive booth they gave space to ‘Servi’, a brand-new service robot platform. The service platform supports new kiosks (‘Sync – Self Service Kiosk’) and self-service sales platforms (‘OrderNow’). At the same time, other innovation on the booth included ‘Duckpin Social’ – the deployment of traditional entertainment repackaged for the Social Entertainment explosion. 

The ability to utilize autonomous platforms to serve the facility guests has seen robot serving gradually adopted in bowling and FEC locations – as it has in some restaurants. It is partly encouraged by the availability of reliable platforms and spurred on by the cost of living and employment shortage. Taking their own booth at the show, Bowlmarc Robotics presented their range of robots supporting the needs of the FEC and bowling facility business, but also looking at wider utilization. Along with the server systems (‘BellaBot’, KettyBot’ and ‘HolaBot’), the company also had an example of their floor cleaning system, the ‘CC1’. The deployment of robot servers in the amusement space was also seen across the street of the show, at the Andretti’s karting and amusement venue, which became a hub for several announcement and events during the days of the show. A ‘BellaBot’ was deployed at the venue to serve guests, demonstrating the application of robot servers in the entertainment arena. Another exhibitor, Hospitality Robots, took space at IAAPA’22 with their selection of serving robots, along with a vacuum and cleaning robot, and guest information robot platforms. The deployment of these systems into the entertainment space has gathered pace across the market, although selecting the right system for the venue is proving difficult with so many options.    

Away from serving robots, we also saw automated vending, from the company Sweet Robowho had examples of their ‘Ice Cream Robot’, ‘Cotton Candy’ and ‘Pop Corn’ automated vending machines using robot assistance. A heavily discussed element of these platforms is their “Vendertainment” offering, with the dispensing of the items offering entertainment for guests due to its novelty.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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