#1185 – Amazing Attractions Extravaganza! Part 1

The need to gain an idea of the impact on the industry that new trends and investments are having can be best achieved on the show floor of the big conventions. And nothing is bigger than this November trade event. We evaluate the highs and lows with a detailed six-part report.

Show of Shows!

The amazing 105th anniversary of the International Association of Amusement Park and Attractions European Expo (IAAPA’23), saw the Orlando County Convention Center (OCCC) play host to some 1,147 exhibitors – representing what some reported as over nine miles of aisles to traverse. All this, as well as a record number of conference sessions.

The event was in support of the IAAPA trade association of some 6,000 memberships of executives, designers, consultants, and operators across the international parks, resort, attraction, amusement, and entertainment facility landscape. It was interesting to see how much licensing content played a part in amusement, attractions, and the show – with guests entering the show floor through the mouth of an ‘Angry Bird’. Some label the show the “Superbowl for the attractions Industry”, and the razzmatazz was in full flow.

For those who attended the show floor, the majority were wedded to their respective booths, or only able to gather a snapshot of trends spread over a handful of booths over the four days of hectic conference, show floor, and partying. 

Luckily, The Stinger Report, supported by our affiliates, was able to gather its usual detailed and exclusive rundown of key trends and developments on and off the Orlando trade floor – in this first part, we look at immersive technology and its part in the attractions business.

Immersive Frontier

While the phrase “Immersive” is bandied around a lot in the sector, we will strive to focus this exclusive IAAPA’23 expo coverage on the overarching XR impacts across the thousands of exhibitors. For clearer understanding, we treat XR (Extended Reality) as the umbrella term for the application of digital interactivity in the entertainment space as it pertains to this market.

Looking at ‘Immersive Attractions’, and the manufacturing scene seems to be split into two camps – those major attractions manufacturers who are prepared to buck the trends and continue to invest only in traditional development; and those manufacturers who have invested in a media-based interactive and immersive future business approach. This is what one trade show attendee defined as the “Silicon against Steel” dichotomy. 

This was reflected with the reveal that the IAAPA Orlando organizers were adding a new Immersive Experience Pavilion to their lineup of spaces. Across the show, exhibitors like Simworx – a leading media-based attractions developer – promoted their latest concepts, ‘Overdrive’ and ‘Zombie Metro Mayhem’. Meanwhile, Lagotronics Projects focused on their real-time interactive immersion systems, and recent partnerships. 

The investment in new immersive platforms to wow the audience was seen once again from DOF Robotics. Presenting on booth was ‘Monster Jam: Grave Digger: ICE’ – the latest version of their VR 6DOF motion experience, incorporating onboard effects for six riders. The latest employment of the ‘Monster Truck’ franchise was seen across the show floor, and the company’s evergreen VR attraction, with their four seat ‘Hurricane 360 VR’ inverted VR ride, was showing its latest film. All these VR systems were using the PICO headset. DOF was also promoting the work of their simulator-based space-themed attraction and other attractions work – including the announcement of their plans for their own ‘Angry Birds’ property.

There was a big presentation from TRIOTECH, crossing all aspects of the immersive entertainment landscape, from immersive dark rides, flying theaters, VR, and new amusement – with some 415 installations globally. The corporation has undergone some restructuring which even saw a returning executive to the fold. Stretched across two booths was their attraction offering launching at IAAPA’23, with ‘SuperFly’ – a dynamic, standing, motionbase for two-riders, in a compact flying theater-style attraction package.

One of the first fruits of the new division of the corporation (TRIOTECH CLCorp) was marking its first installation at ‘NEB’s Fun World’ in Ontario, creating a 46-rider capacity attraction aimed to open in 2025. The company was promoting their next-generation interactive dark coaster, ‘Primordial’, which opened in the US at the Lagoon park. This along with a number of other award-winning installations this year, as the partnership between BoldMove Nation and TRIOTECH is seeing new product awards.

On the other parts of the booths, amusement offerings presented some big surprises, such as the appearance of a brand-new release with ‘SuperBlaster’ – a four-motion-seat shooting gallery deluxe amusement piece. Many observed it seemed to be a “convertible” style version of the original ‘QUBE’, with an open back, allowing better audience appeal, and enhancements made to the game compared to the original platform – being rolled out with five titles. Distributors and operators had been involved in reshaping the original shooting gallery amusement product for this new design, building on operator feedback to maximize its potential. The rest of the booth was supporting the ‘STORM’, ‘Typhoon’ and ‘XD Dark Ride’ range. 

Across the floor, AlterFace Projects was celebrating its world’s first ‘Action League – Popcorn Revenge’, scheduled for a debut in 2024 at ‘Suzhou Paradise Forest World’, Suzhou City, China. Exhibiting at the show, RWS Global and its subsidiary JRA, were working on a new immersive experience inspired by Netlix’s hit series ‘Squid Game’ (called ‘Squid Game: The Trail’) – scheduled to open at the end of the year in Los Angeles. This marks the latest appearance of this IP in the attractions scene, seen from MR, VR, and now immersive attraction deployment in Out-of-Home Entertainment, and has been part of the success story that has encouraged Netflix to move into LBE themselves. JRA has also worked on the Mexican pilot for ‘Hasbro City FEC’. Such are examples of the IP laden LBE venues that are springing up with a strong immersive element – such as seen with Path Entertainment and their work with Hasbro

IP handling and licensed brands was prevalent across the IAAPA’23 show floor, and even decorated the entrance to the hall, with ‘Angry Birds’ front and center (the property was applied across several booths). Another big IP getting attraction treatment was revealed on the Sally Dark Ride booth with the announcement of ‘SpongeBob’s Crazy Carnival Ride’ – a Las Vegas installation (at the ‘Circus Circus Casino Resort’), in partnership with Paramount and Global Nickelodeon. This is a trackless dark ride, comprising an immersive interactive carnival shooter, through 15 scenes based in the ‘SpongeBob’ universe with Sally animatronics. Also revealed was news of a collaboration between Sally and Intamin, working on a ‘Dark Ride Roller Coaster’.

Trackless ride systems present a serious trend in the current generation of large and mid-scale attractions across resort, park, and LBE installations. This was illustrated with the announcement from Walt Disney Company confirming the deployment of a trackless ride system for their new ‘Shanghai Disneyland’ attraction ‘Zootopia: Hot Pursuit’, scheduled for a 2024 rollout. The importance of branded content was marked by SimEx-Iwerks, fresh from installing at Morgan’s Wonderland the ‘Mars Coaster’ – their latest CGi 4D theater attraction. At IAAPA’23, the company promoted their ‘Flying Ride’ theaters, and licensed 4D content from the ‘Frostbite’ IP and Warner Bros. ‘Scoob!’ property.

Fulldome.pro launched ‘The Super Reality Stand-Up Theatre’, based on their 360 ‘Super Reality Dome’, including physical effects such as wind and water, along with the standing motion platform – in a turn-key platform offering up-to-five-minute experiences. The project is a collaboration between TRIOTECH and their standing motion system and Red Raion 360 dome content.

Regarding the content to feed these media attractions and, during IAAPA’23, Red Raion revealed their latest CGi movie with demos of ‘Alice in Wonderland: Space Match’ – a fun new reinterpretation of the classic children story IP. Across the way and Brogent Technologies celebrated their partnership with Mack Animation, having developed a 10k LED dome, 305-seat flying theater called ‘It’s Africa’ – offering a breathtaking flight over the wonderous landscape.

Celebrating their 30th anniversary, MediaMation came to the show to also celebrate the opening of several new ‘MXD4’ motion-seat-theaters. Demonstration of the new ‘MDX4 Flying EFX’ motion theater system working with a VR headset, running content from Dynamo and others during the event. Regarding VR, the company also promoted their ‘MXD4 Motion Floor’, able to be deployed for arena VR experiences, adding to the immersion effects for such venues. They also launched a Raspberry Pi powered ‘ShowFlow’ motion and effects controller system, offering a smart system in a small package for show control.

Announced in the buildup for the IAAPA’23 event, and UK-based Vision announced a member of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach family dynasty joined the team at Vision to oversee business development for the strategy and analysis in the attractions industry. All to provide the valuable services of psychologists, strategists, and project managers’ work with leisure operators, developers, designers, museum and heritage sites, banks, investors, and governments from around the world, to compile a detailed bank of data that helps shape their analysis. Bringing a wealth of experience from the iconic Blackpool entertainment operation, the new team member will support the development of UK and European client projects for Vision.  

Virtual Horizon

The ubiquity of VR products continued across the IAAPA’23 show coverage. Split into key platforms, we first start with the “VR Kiosk & Standalone” and “VR Enclosure”. Exhibitor VR 360 ACTION came to the show offering a 10-percent discount on expo purchases, along with running a competition on the booth to win their ‘OMG Simulator’ – the two-rider motion seat VR Ride sim. With a $30,000 sticker price, our friends at Arcade Heroes partnered to raffle the system. The company was showing a selection of other VR amusement pieces, including their younger player ‘Baby Shark VR’ ride-on experience.

Barron Games – the amusement foosball and hockey table specialists have also been representing the VR scene with their partnership with Swiss-based developer Somniacs and the ‘Birdly’ full-body immersive flying VR system. The latest version of the system offers a new wingsuit racing experience, along with the launch of ‘BirdlyWorld’, a new “soaring-style” city flying experience. Another VR platform represented is ‘Koliseum’ from Kynoa and, at IAAPA’23, Barron presented the updated version of the platform. The VR soccer system has been enhanced with new external themeing of the arcade table, and players use one of the four HP Reverb VR headsets to view the virtual foosball style immersive soccer arena using an authentic controller. 

Chinese manufacturer Owatch VR came to the international event in Orlando showing a selection of their VR 2.0. series, including their ‘VR Space Travel’ four-rider VR motion experience; along with ‘VR Beat Star’, the VR ride sim with two players on a motion seat and hand tracking, offering a rollercoaster rhythm game styling. All employ the PICIO headset. Another exhibitor with a VR motion experience was IMMOTION, showing the latest of their zoo-based and academic immersive attractions. The company presented their ‘Untamed Africa’ flying theater style enclosure at the show, with six of their motion seat style systems running PICO headsets in a popup enclosure configuration. 

Matrix Technology returned to IAAPA with their unique looking ‘Orb Game’ platform. Futuristic capsules contain up-to-four D-Box motion seats and employ HTC VR headsets to take part in a combative game, blasting opponents’ orbs in a battle of survival. The VR capsule is seen as a possible mobile application, as well as a standalone experience, with eSports stye competition value.

Moving from the VR standalone scene, we now jump into the crowded waters of “VR Arena” systems. HOLOGATE, a busy corporation with a presence from its divisions at three different shows this week (IAAPA, Milipol and I/ITSEC), represented their commercial simulation (via their HGXR division) and entertainment businesses. Promoting some 450 installations across the globe, the company showed their ‘HOLOGATE Areana’ – and hinted at major developments planed soon for the platform, employing the HTC headsets. The ‘Ghostbusters VR Academy’, licensed by Sony VR division, was another major IP on the show floor, also being run on the platform. As with many exhibitors on the Orlando show floor, a Social Entertainment product range was offered, with ‘HOLOGATE Hyper Golf’ – representing the corporation’s fusion of high-tech mini-golf, digital arcade, and social gaming experience, with an example of the nine-hole colourful adventure on display (a detailed run down of Social Entertainment products at the show will follow shortly).

HOLOGATE was one of several exhibitors who were in Orlando, not just for the theme park and attraction show (IAAPA), but also with plans to exhibit at the simulation and training conference (I/ITSEC) – taking place the following week. One of these other exhibitors was Talon Simulations, with their ‘Talon Vortex’ VR simulator system. The ‘Vortex Arcade Simulator’ has been deployed in several VR arcade venues and is also being used to train military drivers with its VR headset representation of the virtual environment and the motion seat and force-feedback steering controls – one such deployment is for “Amphibious Combat Vehicle Driver Trainer”, developed for the US Marines.

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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